Analysis: 2012 Could Prove Even Wilder Ride than 2011

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) – The ancient Mayans attached special significance to 2012, possibly the end of time. That has spawned a rush of apocalyptic literature for the holiday season.

But you don’t have to believe the world is about to end to realize that next year contains perhaps the widest range of political risks to the global economy in recent history.

With elections and leadership changes in the most powerful countries, Europe in crisis, ferment in the Middle East and worsening economic hardship driving unrest and discontent everywhere, 2012 could be just as volatile as 2011 if not worse.

The current year may yet carry a sting in its tail, with worries over the euro and jitters over a possible Israeli strike on Iran likely to keep financial markets and policymakers on tenterhooks all the way to the New Year.

More than three years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers prompted the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, economic turmoil looks to be driving political upheaval in what could become a particularly disruptive feedback loop.

Economic stresses — from rising food prices to worsening economic hardship in the developed world — were at the heart of many of 2011’s political stories. As they intensify, political volatility, gridlock, confrontation and conflict — whether domestic or international — look set to worsen.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Jonathan Wood, global issues analyst at London-based risk consultancy Control Risks. “If you look at what’s been driving events this year, none of the factors has gone away and many of the economic drivers are still growing.”

Presidential elections in the United States, France and Russia and the dual transition of power at the top of China’s Communist Party will add to the uncertainty. They may make it harder for political leaders to find compromises or push through tough policy choices.

GROWING GRIDLOCK?

That, many analysts warn, brings with it a mounting risk of political gridlock coming just as the world needs leadership most. The failure of the U.S. Congressional “super committee” to agree on how to reduce the budget deficit may be a sign of things to come domestically in many countries.

President Barack Obama faces a tough re-election bid, whomever the Republicans choose to challenge him, because of a sluggish economy, 8.6 percent unemployment and a squeeze on the middle classes due to fallen home and stock prices.

A fragile global consensus forged at a 2009 summit of leaders of the Group of 20 major economies may be gone for good, replaced by what Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, calls a rudderless “G-zero” world.

Top of the list of 2012 risks for many analysts is the unresolved sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone.

If the 17-nation European single currency is to survive in its current form, its members will have to confront harsh economic adjustments and seismic political reform. Last week’s Brussels summit, the 16th since the start of the two-year-old crisis, was billed by some as the last chance to save the euro.

While euro zone leaders and some non-euro states agreed to forge a closer fiscal union with stricter budget discipline, the outcome fell short of guaranteeing the euro’s ultimate survival.

At worst, 2012 could still see a disorderly breakup bringing with it a chain of defaults, bank runs and civil unrest, not to mention a savage global economic shock worse than that of 2008.

Ultimately, however, many believe the euro will endure — although not without colossal strains as it tries to reconcile very different economies such as Germany and Greece.

“The greatest single risk is obviously the euro zone but it might also be the risk that is sorted out the quickest,” says Alastair Newton, a former British government official who is chief political analyst at Japanese bank Nomura.

“But even if that happens then you’re still going to have very low growth and a rise in social unrest in the southern euro zone in particular and across Europe in general. Even in the best case scenario, 2012 looks pretty rough.”

For others, the Middle East remains the most important area to watch for potential disruption to the global economy.

Almost a year after the beginning of the “Arab Spring” democracy movement, the region remains in political flux with untested Islamist parties winning power across north Africa and Syria’s uprising slowly turning towards outright civil war.

CONFLICT, UNREST

After the fall of several veteran Western-backed Arab rulers, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is seen as the latest sign of the diminishing influence of Western powers in a region they dominated for some 200 years.

In the resulting vacuum, regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and an isolated and perhaps more erratic Iran appear in increasingly open confrontation.

Western intelligence estimates that Iran is moving closer to a viable nuclear weapon have a shorter timeline, and some analysts say 2012 could be the year when Tehran’s enemies decide to go beyond covert sabotage with a military strike that could spark retaliation against oil supplies in the Gulf.

“The bigger wild card out there is an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and elements of regime control,” says Thomas Barnett, chief strategist of political risk consultancy Wikistrat, saying neither the Israeli nor the Iranian leadership looks inclined to back down. “The setting here is scary… something has got to give in this strategic equation.”

Even if the world avoids a devastating shock such as a Middle East war or a European breakdown, many analysts fear the business of politics and policy-making could become increasingly difficult around the world.

With economic growth slowing and unemployment creeping up, most analysts believe the risks of social unrest will continue to rise across much of the developed and developing world.

“We have all the problems you’d expect from economic hardship. At some stage we will have rising food prices which are always destabilizing and we have a question over whether China will overheat,” says Elizabeth Stephens, head of credit and political risk at London insurance brokers Jardine Lloyd Thompson.

“Even a fall of one or two percentage points of GDP (in China) could be enough to really question social stability if they can’t keep job creation going… We (also) have probable ongoing unrest in Europe and the ongoing transition in the Middle East and North Africa could be quite unstable.”

In the dying days of the year, other long held assumptions of stability have be thrown into question — not least by the rising tide of protest against Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The one certainty for 2012, many believe, is more of the unexpected.

“2011 was a nightmarish year to be a policy maker or an investment portfolio manager but it was a great one to be a political analyst,” says Newton. “I’d certainly expect the same for next year.”

(Reporting By Peter Apps)

13-52

What Europe and America Have in Common

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Harold Bob Jones

Europe and the USA have many things in common, one of which noted currently is the massive debt crisis both are experiencing because of politicians who fail to learn from history.  George Santayana noted that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.  In both Europe and the United States, power-hungry politicians have been trying to buy votes with money we don’t have, taxing not only this generation but every generation in the future, guaranteeing a lower standard of lviing for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  These short-sighted politicos, thinking only of the present, seem to think they can go on forever, steadily increasing the public debt, by just printing more and more money without an equal increase in goods and services, hoping to find someone to buy our consequently less and less valuable bonds.  As history has repeatedly shown us, this does not work.  Every society that has tried this has collapsed.  A prime example is the Soviet Union.  If socialism were a better system, we would all be speaking Russian.  Previousy democratic civilizations and nations that have tried this have collapsed into dictatorship.  Some noteworthy examples are the Greeks, the Romans,and the post-World War I Weimar Republc of Germany, the latter printing so much money that its currency became virtually worthless, bankrupting the country, and resulting in the establishment of Hitler’s Nazi (National Socialist) party dictatorship that brought on the horrors of World War II.

It is time to rid ourselves of such histroy-ignoring, out-of-touch-with-reality, power-mad politicians, ousting them from power, and never let them in office again.

13-50

Iranian Girls Soccer Team No Longer Banned

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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

iran_1610091c It was a happy day for a gaggle of young girls in Iran who were finally being allowed to play ball. The Iranian girls soccer team, who had been banned last month from participating in August’s inaugural Youth Olympics, was now being allowed to compete in the six-nation tournament in Singapore. There was a disagreement between FIFA, the governing body of soccer, and the Iran Football Federation, over what headwear the Iranian girls could don. And on April 5th, FIFA took the step of banning the girls from the upcoming tournament. Thankfully, further discussion ensued, and an agreement was reached the first week of May. “We sent FIFA a sample of our new Islamic dress and fortunately they accepted it,” said Abbas Torabian, director of the International Relations Committee of Iran’s soccer federation. “They announced that there was no objection if the players covered their hair with hats,” he told the Tehran Times. Alas, an accord was reached, but the road traveled to reach the agreement speaks volumes about the state of Islamophobia in this world.

The Iranian National Olympic Committee had originally urged FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to review the ban on the hijab, worn by girls and women as part of Islamic dress code. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, rejected the request, saying FIFA had no other choice but the reject Iran’s requests. He cited FIFA’s rulebook of conduct, with Law 4 stating “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.” So, what this argument attempts to do is to reduce the wearing of the hijib to the level of a political or religious statement, rather than the measure of modesty that it is.

The hijab issue was first examined in 2007 after an 11-year-old girl in Canada was prevented from wearing one for safety reasons. FIFA’s rules-making arm, the International Football Association Board, declined to make an exception for religious clothing. The Quebec Soccer Association said the ban on the hijab is to protect children from being accidentally strangled. This mechanism of strangulation has never been documented in sports, nor has it even been properly explained. And if the covering of the back of the neck is such a violation of sporting principles, then should there not be restrictions also on hair length below the ears?

Faride Shojaee, the vice president of the women’s department of the Iranian Football Federation, said that FIFA officials had previously allowed Iranian athletes to participate in the Olympics with their hijab, “before denying them the right to do so in the letter they sent on Monday.” Several athletes, in fact, competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 wearing a hijab, including Bahrain sprinter Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, her country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies.
The hijab has made its way onto the most wanted list around the globe, but particularly in Europe. France, under Nicholas Sarkoczy, has been well publicized in its growing body of rules outlawing the hijab, particularly in school. Now there is a law on the table in Belgium banning the hijab, and a similar law is being considered in the Netherlands as well. With the growing numbers of Muslims in this world, and the corresponding rise in anti-Islamic sentiment, the hijab does seem to be looked upon as more of a symbol or statement. But that is in the eye of the beholder. An eye that is increasingly becoming jaundiced by Islamophobia.

So, finally, a compromise was reached on, ”… a cap that covers their heads to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Now the Iranian girls are back on track to compete from August 12-25 in Singapore, where about 3,600 athletes, ages 14 to 18, will compete in 26 sports. They will represent Asia against Turkey, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Papua New Guinea. They will have to wear caps instead of hijabs. But, in the end, a happy group of girls will be allowed to play ball. What kind of person would have wanted to prevent that?

12-20

Qaradawi Warns of Niqab Ban Discrimination

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar ElShamy, Gulf Times

FILES-ALGERIA-EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-QARADAWI Qatar-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi urged those European countries which are considering outlawing the full veil (niqab) to review their plans, saying that a wider ban on niqab might prompt clerics to campaign for imposing a “modest dress code” on foreigners living in Muslim countries.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Qaradawi said the recent outlawing of the face-covering veil in public by Belgium along with a French draft law to make it illegal would be a violation of both religious and personal freedoms.

“I hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,” Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.

However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.

“Although I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,” he explained.

“I do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,” he maintained.

Quoting from a letter he had sent to former French president Jacques Chirac, the scholar said the ban imposed on hijab in schools would be a betrayal of the principles of the French Revolution, namely liberty, fraternity and equality.

“I told (president Chirac) that prohibiting women from wearing the hijab would be discrimination against them and make them hate France which is known to be a leading country for freedom,” he added.

In his letter, he had also dismissed the notion that hijab was a religious symbol for Muslims as “untrue”, saying that if it was a symbol, why they were allowed to take it off when they were in the presence of other women or male relatives.

“Wearing hijab for Muslims could not be dealt with as wearing a necklace with a cross pendant for Christians,” he said.

He indicated that the sentiments against niqab or hijab were a reflection of a desire by European countries to impose their culture on others.

“I have received a recent visit by French ambassador Gilles Bonnaud and I explained these things to him. I told him that Muslims believed in the unity of humanity but also believed that each nation should stick to its traits,” he added.

“When Muslims ruled India, they did not close down temples or impose a ban on cremation. It is the duty of each nation to respect the values of the other, but with the European case, we can make it difficult for French and Belgian women who stay in Muslim countries by asking them to stick to a modest dress,” he quoted from the conversation he had with the French ambassador to Qatar. 

12-20

Bosnia, Serbia Pledge to Mend Ties, Lure Investors

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Maja Zuvela

2010-04-24T172727Z_1899635507_GM1E64P023V01_RTRMADP_3_BOSNIA

A Bosnian Muslim woman stands next to graves during a funeral in Vlasenica, in the Serb part of Bosnia, April 24, 2010. The remains of 34 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-95 war, were exhumed from the Ogradice i Pelemis mass graves near Vlasenica and buried.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia and Serbia have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship, soured over the past few years, and reassure investors concerned about regional stability, the Bosnian presidency chairman said on Sunday.

“We have to change the image of the Western Balkan region,” Haris Silajdzic said on his return from an Istanbul summit between the presidents of the two former Yugoslav republics and their host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Saturday.

Relations between Bosnia and Serbia have worsened since 2006, mainly because of Serbia’s arrest and trial of a Bosnian official for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, and other similar arrest warrants.

As part of its policy to heal relations between countries in the region, Turkey has intensified efforts to improve ties between the two Balkan neighbors.

While the three foreign ministers have met several times over the past six months, the Istanbul summit brought together their presidents for the first time.

“We have had different opinions about some issues but the meeting with Serbia’s President Boris Tadic was constructive… I believe it will yield good results,” said Silajdzic.

“Badly needed investments will come only if there is security and stability.”

Bosnia and Serbia signed a declaration pledging to settle the dispute over unresolved borders, property and debt, and discuss a joint approach toward international markets at a planned meeting in Belgrade.

Until now, Silajdzic, a Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite rotating presidency, has ignored invitations to visit Belgrade.

He said the Serbian parliament’s March resolution, apologizing for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Bosnian Serb forces killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, has paved the way for such a visit.

“I am ready to go there now,” Silajdzic said, adding that the Serbian pro-Western president has also promised to attend the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Tadic had said pre-occupation with war topics was counter-productive for the two countries which both aspired to join the European Union.

Bosnia’s presidency Serb member Nebojsa Radmanovic reacted angrily to Silajdzic’s meeting with Tadic, saying he did not have the consent of the other two presidency members to sign the Istanbul declaration and that he may dispute it.

“That is not in line with the constitution,” Radmanovic told reporters in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic which, with the Muslim-Croat federation, makes up Bosnia. Silajdzic said he had informed the presidency about his plans.

Endless ethnic and political quarrels in the past three years have led Bosnia to a state of permanent political crisis, stalling any hope of joining the EU and NATO.

(Additional reporting by Olja Stanic in Banja Luka; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Louise Ireland)

12-18

Egypt Welcomes Volcano-Stranded Tourists

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism is determined to keep the good times rolling for stranded visitors.  Although hotels are overbooked by 7 percent in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada and well over 80 percent in Sharm El Sheikh, hotel owners have been ordered not to expel guests who have overstayed their reservations.

Tour companies must continue to foot the bill for tour groups who overstay and if lodgers are traveling solo, hotels are obliged to offer them low rates. If travelers are in financial trouble, they have been advised to contact their embassies.

Stranded Europeans are taking full advantage.

“The travel agent, they pay all for us, room, food, drinks, everything,” said Ulf Daahlbom of Gothenburg Sweden.  He took a five hour taxi ride from Hurghada to take in the sites in Cairo.  “It was beautiful here.  I have been at the Pyramids and the Egyptian museum.”

Two engineers from Ireland and Scotland couldn’t conceal their smiles as they sat in the shade of a tree after a day in 100 degree heat at the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum.  They had been on their way back home from work in the Suez Canal zone when they were obliged to take an all-expense paid vacation.

Charlotte Krum, a stewardess for Scandinavian Air, has nothing to go back for since her airline has been grounded.  She and her husband and four children were on a Red Sea get-away when spewing volcanic ash extended their stay.  “It’s nice for us to have the opportunity to show them [the children] all the sites in Cairo,” she said. “We just came from the Pyramids and now we go to the museum.  We are trying to make the best out of it.”

Krum and her family came to Cairo to try and get a flight to Greece, but seemed in no hurry. Traveler’s insurance covered the first four days of their stay.  “Everything has been working out quite well.  We have some nice rooms here.”

Egypt jealously protects its biggest money earner: tourism.  About 12 million tourists, at least 65 percent of them from Europe, bring in about 11 billion dollars a year and 12.6 percent of the workforce lives off of tourism.  All guests are welcome, even those who overstay.

While many hotels over overbooked, EgyptAir and other regional carriers sit idle on the tarmac.  They are suffering to the tune of 250 million dollars a day.  Before noon on Monday, more than 16 planes were grounded on Cairo’s tarmacs.

But in Egypt’s airports, you won’t find hapless visitors trying to catch some sleep on makeshift bedrolls, or slumped in plastic chairs. Tour guides are under strict orders not to drop anyone off at the airport until they have confirmed their flights.

12-17

House Mouse

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ibn 2 4-19-10

The house mouse (Mus musculus) is a small rodent, a mouse, one of the most numerous species of the genus Mus.

As a wild animal the house mouse mainly lives associated with humans, causing damage to crops and stored food.

The house mouse has been domesticated as the pet or fancy mouse, and as the laboratory mouse which is one of the most important model organisms in biology and medicine. It is by far the most commonly used genetically altered laboratory mammal.

House mice usually run, walk or stand on all fours; but when eating, fighting or orienting themselves, they stand only on the hind legs, supported by the tail. When running, the horizontal tail serves for balance; the end stands up vertically, unless the mouse is frightened. Mice are good jumpers, climbers, and swimmers.

Mice are mostly active during dusk or night; they do not like bright lights. They have an instinctual fear of so-called “black lighting” and strobe lighting, which leads to a common method of controlling mice in the home. They live in a wide variety of hidden places that are near food sources and construct nests from various soft materials. Mice are territorial and one dominant male usually lives together with several females and young. Dominant males respect each other’s territory and normally enter another’s territory only if it is vacant. If two or more males are held together in a cage, they will often turn aggressive unless they have been raised together from birth.

House mice primarily feed on plant matter, but they will also accept meat and dairy products. Although they are generally known to like fruits, they are repelled by the scent of many varieties of artificial fruit scent, for example strawberry or vanilla-scented candles. The reason for this is unknown, although it dates back to antiquity when Roman Senators used candles scented with strawberry oils to keep mice out of their sleeping chambers. They will drink water but require little of it, relying mainly on the moisture present in their food. They will eat their droppings to acquire nutrients produced by bacteria in their intestines. House mice, like other rodents, do not vomit.

Mice are afraid of rats, which often kill and (partially) eat them. This rat behavior is known as muricide. Despite this behavior free-living populations of rats and mice do exist together in forest areas in North America and elsewhere.

House mice are generally poor competitors and in most areas cannot survive away from human settlements in areas where other small mammals, such as wood mice, are present. However in some areas (such as Australia) mice are able to co-exist with other small rodent species.

House mice usually live in proximity to humans, in or around houses or fields. Originally native to Asia (probably northern India),[17] they spread to the Mediterranean Basin about 8000 BC, only spreading into the rest of Europe around 1000 BC. This time lag is thought to be because the mice require agrarian human settlements above a certain size. They have since been spread to all parts of the globe by humans.

Many studies have been done on mouse phylogenies to reconstruct early human movements. For example one study showed a previously unsuspected early link between Denmark and Madeira on the basis of the origin of the Madeiran mice.

House mice can transmit diseases, and can damage food and food packaging. Some of the diseases the house mouse carries can be deadly; for example, Murine typhus, Rickettsialpox, Tularemia, and the Bubonic plague. These mice can be very dangerous to people if they contaminate anything in their houses, especially food. It is also possible for wild house mice to transmit rabies, therefore a wild house mouse should never be handled. They can also cause substantial damage when feeding on grain. It is thought that house mice were the primary reason for the taming of the domestic cat. Various mousetraps have been developed to catch mice. Generally, rats are more harmful to humans than mice.

The first written reference to mice kept as pets occurs in the Erya, the oldest extant Chinese dictionary, from a mention in an 1100 B.C. version. Human domestication led to numerous strains of “fancy” or hobby mice with a variety of colors and a docile temperament. Domestic varieties of the house mouse called “feeder” mice are also used as food for some carnivorous pet reptiles, arthropods and fish. Mice bred for this purpose are genetically identical to other domestic mice, and can be kept as pets themselves

12-17

The Arabs and the Holocaust

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, by Robert Satloff.
New York: Public Affairs, 2006, 204 pages. Notes to 227.
Bibl. to p. 239. Index to p. 251. $26.00.

Reviewed by Joseph V. Montville

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Robert Satloff was walking in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue which was devoid of traffic in a city stunned by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers that morning. The question came into his mind: “Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?” He judged, as did this writer after the second tower was hit, that Arabs were behind the deed. He wanted to teach Arabs about the Holocaust and the depths of its meaning for Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Satloff decided to answer his question, and this book is the result.

What establishes the nobility of Among the Righteous…is the conviction of its author, a historian, an Arabist and an American Jew, that there is much more to Arab and Muslim humanity than the destructive, suicidal rage that the 9/11 hijackers displayed that momentous day. While he had never heard of “righteous” Arabs—people who took great risks to protect Jews from the Nazis and their underlings–Satloff felt in his bones that he could find some. He did not believe that the apparent absence of knowledge or discussion about the Holocaust among Arabs was the complete picture.

The author thought that if he could prove that Arabs had saved Jewish lives during World War II, they might be induced to face the Holocaust squarely and understand its power in the final thrust to establish the Jewish state in Palestine. He hoped that the shared prosocial values of Islam and Judaism could induce Arab cooperation in his research and generate pride in Arab heroes. He cites Muslim and Jewish sacred literature to make his point. “‘Whoever saves one life saves the entire world,’ says the Qur’an, an echo of the Talmud’s injunction ‘If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.’” (p. 6.) In the process of searching for “righteous” Arabs in North Africa, Israel and Europe, Satloff has filled an important gap in the history of World War II, and he has also reflected the best traditions of Jewish humanism. It is not insignificant that Satloff is also executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which the Jewish weekly, Forward, calls “a think tank known for its pro-Israel views and for its predominantly Jewish board.”1

The narrative concentrates on the North African states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya under French—the first three—and Italian and therefore fascist colonial rule during the Vichy and Mussolini regimes. Half a million Jews lived in these countries, and the Nazi policy of degradation and ultimately destruction was meant to apply also to these trans-Mediterranean people. There were also 30,000 Libyan Jews who faced danger and abuse.

12-16

Tariq Ramadan, Keynote Speaker at SoundVision Fundraiser

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Sunday–April 11–Tariq Ramadan is not what you probably expect. 

Tariq Ramadan

You might expect someone barred by the Bush administration to have an Arabic accent, to have an angry or at least emotional manner of public speaking, but the reality is Tariq Ramadan better fits the mold of a French intellectual than the typical Muslim populist.  In fact, from his nature it does not appear that he has any intentions towards seeking any political power, other than spiritual and intellectual power or accomplishments.

The subject of a six-year ban by the Bush administration, ended only recently by Secretary of State Clinton, speaks English and even Arabic with a French Swiss accent, and has the breezy intellectual worldly air of a French intellectual–he seems as though he has certainty about many things.  For example during his speech he interrupted emotional applause for one popular point that he had emphasized, saying “let me explain the rules,” instructing listeners not to clap during his speech (“not because it is a fatwa, although it is”) and then going on to say that the emotional reaction to his words may detract from what “we are trying to accomplish.”

Tariq Ramadan is called, by the reactionary right, an “Islamist” of Egyptian ancestry. (By Islamist do they mean someone who likes Islam? So is George Bush a Christianist?) In fact it may be his ancestry which scared the Bush administration more than any other fact about him.  His mother’s father was Hassan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  His father was Said Ramadan, who was also prominently involved in Ikhwan, and who married Hassan al-Banna’s daughter.  He was raised in Switzerland, where his famous parents sought refuge from Nasser’s Arab nationalist animosity to the Ikhwan. 

Ramadan is now 48 years old. He is no firebrand.  He was ranked by the British Prospect and American Foreign Policy magazines eightth in a list of the world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals in 2008.  He has authored several books, focusing on the issue of Islam and the West.  He wears his intellectualism on his sleeve–on Sunday he said of his most recent book that he had made it very thin so that American journalists would actually read it, although he complained that they still do not.

Ramadan is in the book 500 Most Influential Muslims–2009, being listed in the Scholars section.  He is even an honorable mention for the top 50 listings in the book. 

His entry in the book is as follows: 

Ramadan is Europe’s preeminent Muslim intellectual writing about Islam in public life. He is a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University and formerly a visiting professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has a weekly television show, ‘Islam and Life’, on Press TV, and is an advisor to the European Union on religion. He has written 15 books and produced over 100 recordings.

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Ramadan did not in his SoundVision speech show real leanings either toward extremist Islamic views nor even towards the strong organization-based approach to Islam of Ikhwan.  Rather he focused on his theme of building consciousness of God through spiritual endeavor, a consciousness of God which would empower one to seek his or her rights when those rights are denied by people (he emphasized Western anti-Muslim people) who overreach their authority in working to the detriment of Muslims.

Ramadan certainly understands the West better than his grandfather did (whose entire reaction to the West came from an unpleasant encounter with a drunk European), and to casual observation it is clear that the younger Ramadan has imbibed its values more than even he probably realizes.

He remains, despite being a European intellectual, a Muslim intellectual as well.  He thinks and speaks and writes about living Islam in a real context.  He thinks about what God says that He wants from us in His Holy Book, and Ramadan endeavors to accomplish that.

Soundvision

Soundvision’s event was, even aside from its invitation of such a memorable figure, very impressive.  The event filled the Burton Hall banquet facility nearly to capacity, with approximately 600 guests in attendance.

There was a description of the difficulties and opportunities that lie before SoundVision and then a fundraiser which appeared to gross approximately $150,000 in about 20 minutes.  There was a dinner and appetizers.

Many prominent Muslms from Southeast Michigan were in attendance, among them CAIR Michigan’s executive director Dawud Walid, Ghalib Begg of CIOM, recently selected by the Detroit News as one of a handful of “Michiganians of the Year,” and many prominent Michigan imams.

Dawud Walid spoke on the importance of SoundVision to his own family, citing the books and videos he has bought for his own children from SoundVision.

There was a brief video by SoundVision, emphasizing the Adam’s World show, with a “One Big Family” soundtrack.

Janaan Hashim, a SoundVision director, spoke at length about SoundVision and its strategic goals–and perhaps her speech did the most to reveal the terrible importance of SoundVision’s work.

Ms. Hashim is an attorney, journalist and teacher, as well as a mother.

The theme for SoundVision’s future was plastered throughout the fundraiser event, “Helping Tomorrow’s Muslims today.”  Ms. Hashim emphasized this meant helping them now.

She showed the terrible current state of Muslim youths by showing a chart of anger among youths aged 18-29 by religion, which showed anger among Muslim youths at 26%, which was almost double the rate for Protestants and Mormons (14% each).

She showed statistics that 75% of American Muslims felt that they had been discriminated against or had witnessed discimination, 12% of Muslim students in New York public schools felt doubt about Islam.  7% of Muslims had been assaulted.

95% of Muslim youths, she said, are in normal public schools, and do not attend Juma’a prayers.  Less than 5% of Muslim youths go to Muslim schools.

Where do the children spend their time? On average, they spend 53 hours per week online, 7 hours and 38 minutes per day.

Hashim quickly demonstrated the overwhelmingly negative nature of the information about Islam–much of it provided directly by people who hate Islam and Muslims, like Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes.

Hashim pointed out that many Muslim youths respond to these many overwhelming pressures by changing their names, possibly even changing religions, or at least by caving in to such pressures as drinking alcohol or joining gangs.  She cited a statistic that 47% of Muslim college students report having drunk alcohol, and about 10% report binge drinking.

“We must rethink things for kids,” she said.  “We must reallocate our resources.”

Therefore Muslims need to create a powerful online alternative to these hate sites that assault the minds of our children with their ignorance and negative stereotypes of Islam.

SoundVision  came up with a thorough plan to address these challenges after one year of research.  This is their strategic plan:  1) they plan 1,000 pieces of new content in the next 12 months; 2) they plan to emphasize new media for ipods, pda’s, iphones, etc.; 3) they plan mega-websites, age specific, and their model is the Disney websites (they intend good sites competitive with Disney); 4) they plan to make it all free (because they need to connect to the 95% who are slipping through the cracks); 5) Weekend 2.0–a web-based Islamic School 2.0 with lesson plans for existing schools, teaching basic Islam; 6) Networking among stake holders–creative arts hubs to allow youngsters to engage in creative activities; 7) Crucial Concepts (to teach skills, values, pluralism, response to objections, citizenship training, and career and marital counseling).

Ms. Hashim explained that much of this work has already been completed:  SoundVision has enlisted the help of 270 artists, scholars, 18 editors.

SoundVision’s website is ranked a very respectable 100,000 on Alexa’s ranking system (The Muslim Observer has risen to about 335,000 over several years of assiduous work).

SoundVision pioneered Adam’s World, the Al-Qari software, Islamic songs, and a Muslim radio program (which in fact is hosted by Ms. Hashim).

She emphasized that SoundVision is at the cutting edge, and that its software has attracted attention for its very high quality and for its advanced technical competence.

In fact SoundVision has pointed out a potential disaster that faces the American Muslim community, but has also stepped forward to face our problems.

12-16

Trains Explained, for kids

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

tufail

A train is a connected series of vehicles for rail transport that move along a track (permanent way) to transport freight or passengers from one place to another. The track usually consists of two rails, but might also be a monorail or maglev guideway.

Propulsion for the train is provided by a separate locomotive, or from individual motors in self-propelled multiple units. Most modern trains are powered by diesel locomotives or by electricity supplied by overhead wires or additional rails, although historically (from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century) the steam locomotive was the dominant form of locomotive power. Other sources of power (such as horses, rope or wire, gravity, pneumatics, and gas turbines) are possible.

The word ‘train’ comes from the Old French trahiner, itself from the Latin trahere ‘pull, draw’.

There are various types of train designed for particular purposes. A train can consist of a combination of one or more locomotives and attached railroad cars, or a self-propelled multiple unit (or occasionally a single powered coach, called a railcar). Trains can also be hauled by horses, pulled by a cable, or run downhill by gravity.

Special kinds of trains running on corresponding special ‘railways’ are atmospheric railways, monorails, high-speed railways, maglev, rubber-tired underground, funicular and cog railways.

A passenger train may consist of one or several locomotives, and one or more coaches. Alternatively, a train may consist entirely of passenger carrying coaches, some or all of which are powered as a “multiple unit”. In many parts of the world, particularly Japan and Europe, high-speed rail is utilized extensively for passenger travel.

Freight trains comprise wagons or trucks rather than carriages, though some parcel and mail trains (especially Travelling Post Offices) are outwardly more like passenger trains.

Trains can also be ‘mixed’, comprising both passenger accommodation and freight vehicles. Such mixed trains are most likely to occur where services are infrequent, and running separate passenger and freight trains is not cost-effective, though the differing needs of passengers and freight usually means this is avoided where possible.

Special trains are also used for track maintenance; in some places, this is called maintenance of way.

In the United Kingdom, a train hauled by two locomotives is said to be “double-headed”, and in Canada and the United States it is quite common for a long freight train to be headed by three or more locomotives. A train with a locomotive attached at each end is described as ‘top and tailed’, this practice typically being used when there are no reversing facilities available. Where a second locomotive is attached temporarily to assist a train up steep banks or grades (or down them by providing braking power) it is referred to as ‘banking’ in the UK, or ‘helper service’ in North America. Recently, many loaded trains in the US have been made up with one or more locomotives in the middle or at the rear of the train, operated remotely from the lead cab. This is referred to as “DP” or “Distributed Power

The railway terminology that is used to describe a ‘train’ varies between countries.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the interchangeable terms set and unit are used to refer to a group of permanently or semi-permanently coupled vehicles, such as those of a multiple unit. While when referring to a train made up of a variety of vehicles, or of several sets/units, the term formation is used. (Although the UK public and media often forgo ‘formation’, for simply ‘train’.) The word rake is also used for a group of coaches or wagons.

In the United Kingdom Section 83(1) of the Railways Act 1993 defines “train” as follows:

    a) two or more items of rolling stock coupled together, at least one of which is a locomotive; or
    b) a locomotive not coupled to any other rolling stock.

United States

In the United States, the term consist is used to describe the group of rail vehicles which make up a train. When referring to motive power, consist refers to the group of locomotives powering the train. Similarly, the term trainset refers to a group of rolling stock that is permanently or semi-permanently coupled together to form a unified set of equipment (the term is most often applied to passenger train configurations).

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway’s 1948 operating rules define a train as: “An engine or more than one engine coupled, with or without cars, displaying markers.”

12-15

It’s All in the Bag

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

handbag Already set to celebrate her ten year anniversary, savvy Lebanese businesswoman Sarah Beydoun has dedicated her life creating a happy medium of harmony between her social activism beliefs and her love of fashion. Through her business, “Sarah’s Bags”, she has found a way to use her skills as an artisan to make a difference in the lives of both the rich and the poor, annihilating social stigmas all along the way.

Born and bred in Lebanon, Beydoun’s modus operandi is none other than most women’s most coveted accessory, the handbag. After writing her thesis about the plight of female Lebanese prisoners languishing in prisons for some of the most heinous crimes, Beydoun recognized an opportunity to make an impact in their lives. She spent some time on the ‘inside’ of a rehab center for female convicts and got up close and personal with their daily struggles. It would be that first encounter that would set the future path for Beydoun and what would become her life’s purpose in “Sarah’s Bags”.

Beydoun sought out her own potential seamstresses in some of the toughest prisons and rehab facilities in Lebanon to create the bags, even teaching inmates how to embroider and sew beads herself. She also reached out to the poorest of the poor in Lebanon’s rural areas to give those women a chance to have a better future. “Sarah’s Bags” currently employs 100 designers who create its entire line of haute couture quality purses.

As Beydoun admits herself, each bag carries with it just a little bit of the impoverished or imprisoned woman who created it. The designs range from glittering spectacles of bling wear to socially aware pieces, like the ones featuring high ranking celebrities like Lebanese singers and even a queen or two. And the results have been outstanding and certainly a surprise to Beydoun. Everyone from top celebrities to the richest elite has clamored to have their own bag.

“Sarah’s Bags” can be found all over the Middle East and in Europe gracing the shelves of the most select boutiques. A single bag starts at $400, with more detailed bags fetching a handsome ransom. The company has also expanded over the years to include everything from shoes to belts to custom-designer jewelry and scarves.

Seeking to mark her tenth anniversary in style, Beydoun plans to handpick ten women to use her purses as their own personal canvas. Each woman will be allowed to share her personal trials and tribulations right on the handbag. In some small measure, they can use the power of the purse to let their voices be heard.

The awards and accolades Beydoun has begun collecting have been quite notable. Most recently, Beydoun’s line of socially aware purses were featured in Washington D.C. as part of the Kennedy Center’s International Festival. The future looks bright for Beydoun as an eager buzz, stretching clean across the globe, surrounds her company. However, the designer remains true to her roots promising to make employing less fortunate women the lifeblood of her company.

12-14

Gold’s Bull Market Turns 9 Years Old

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mary Anne & Pamela Aden

Gold, silver and the metals group are coming down from their January highs, on the eve of gold’s nine year bull market run. Considering the gold price has had nine consistent yearly gains, and it’s still above $1000 is a feat in itself. Gold’s bull market is solid, a new phase has begun and it’s currently declining in a sharp, yet normal downward correction.

Corrections tend to cause fear. And considering the volatility we’ve seen in recent years, the fear level rises fast. The word bubble is the buzz word, and it’s understandable since we’ve had so many over the last decade. The tech bubble was followed by the housing bubble, the credit bubble, and the debt bubble that continues to grow.

The debt bubble is an ongoing reality; it’s international in scope and it’s the biggest ever. This is hanging over our heads and over the markets, and it isn’t going away, it’s just getting bigger.

GOLD RISES WITH UNCERTAINTY

Debt monsters of the past have tended to end in deflationary depressions, but it’s important to understand that gold can rise in this kind of environment. Remember, gold rises during economic uncertainty. In the early 1930s, for example, during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt raised the price of gold almost 70% from $20.65 to $35 an ounce in a struggle to bring back inflation.

Gold is money. It’s the currency of last resort when monetary times are difficult. So when gold rises in all currencies, as it’s been doing for several years, you know the rise is enduring and superior (see Chart 1). So even though gold has no yield or earnings to measure like the other markets do, it has true value.

The central banks are flooding the markets with their own currencies, and competitive devaluations will continue to grow. Many countries depend on exports for economic survival. This means the best price in the current deflationary environment wins, which is what a cheaper currency does.

This situation originally started with globalization and it’s bullish for gold. The U.S. is still in a delicate situation. It needs a weaker dollar to compete and stimulus measures must continue, which are both ultimately bullish for gold.

This is one important reason why we do not think gold or commodities are in a bubble. We believe they are rising within a mega trend that could last several more years, perhaps a decade. Some say that China is in a bubble and if they are, the demand for commodities will fall. China may be overheated but we don’t think it’s in a bubble. Their growth, even if it’s only a part of what they claim, is solid.

Commodities are in demand and this continues growing with each passing month. China is the engine for demand. It’s the biggest consumer of many raw materials, like aluminum, copper and iron ore. In fact, just last month the number of iron ore and coal ships hired to carry cargo to China jumped 38%.

Rio Tinto, the second largest resource company in the world, forecasts that China’s consumption will be more than double by 2020. That’s only 10 years away.

China and other countries are also buying gold. It currently only makes up about 2% of the reserves in emerging markets. With the average being 10%, there is interest and a need to continue adding gold to their reserves.

Aside from central banks, mutual funds are adding gold to their portfolios as well. This month, the second biggest U.S. public pension, the California State Teachers retirement system, is considering investments in commodities in order to boost returns and provide a hedge against inflation.

Yes, gold is slowly making its way into mainstream investing, in large part thanks to the Exchange Traded Funds, ETFs. They have made it easy to invest in gold and commodities.

BAD NEWS COINCIDES WITH DECLINING MARKET

Debt and how it’s handled will be the driving force in the markets looking out to the years ahead. And interest on the debt, compounded, will be the biggest problem.

This is why there are so many doubts that the economic recovery will be sustained. The commodities, metals and energy fell sharply in recent weeks on concern that rising job losses in the U.S., and mounting debt in Europe, will slow economic growth and, therefore, curb demand.

Interestingly, this type of news becomes more common when the markets are due for a downward correction anyway. The great rises in the metals and crude oil were overextended and they’ve been poised for a downward correction.

With copper being the global economic barometer, the fact that it fell sharply for the first time since the rise began a year ago, provided a good example of bad news hitting an overextended market. A bull market decline is now underway.

Gold is a good example too. Its seven month rise that peaked in November, which we call the C rise, was a bullish one that had reached maturity. By gaining 40% and meeting our original target level, we knew the bulk of the rise was over, for the time being.

GOLD: “D” decline underway

A D decline is now underway. These declines tend to be the sharpest intermediate declines in a bull market, and so far this one is following the pattern. Chart 2 shows that gold’s leading indicator (B) declined clearly below its uptrend and it could now fall to the low area while the gold price itself stays under downward pressure.

The $1000 level is a key support area, which is near the prior C peak in 2008. The 65 week moving average, now at $975 is rising and it’s set to reach the $1000 level in a few months, which will further reinforce the support at $1000. For now, $975 to $1000 is the strong support level for gold.

Interestingly, gold at $975 would be a 20% decline from the November $1218 peak. The worst D decline so far in the current bull market was in 2008 during the financial meltdown. Gold fell almost 30% from March to November. This was an extreme case in an extreme situation. A decline to the $950 level would be similar to the 2006 D decline, which was the second worst decline since 2001.

In other words, the extent of the decline is about half over. As for timing… since 2004, the D declines have been lasting about twice as long compared to the first years of the bull. This means we could see the decline end any time from here on out, if it’s on the shorter end, but more likely it could last until April.

Pressure is likely to stay on gold and the metals in the weeks ahead, which means it’s time to take advantage of weakness by adding or buying new positions. Gold’s major trend remains up, indicating it’s headed higher. But for now, it will temporarily remain under downward pressure by staying below $1110.

12-12

France’s Burka Dilemma

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Proposals to ban face veils provoked debate in France’s Muslim community

By Zubeida Malik

France could become the first country in Europe to ban the burka. A draft law submitted to the French parliament would make it illegal for a woman to cover her face in public spaces such as hospitals and trains. But the proposal has divided the country’s five million-strong Muslim community.

26 year-old Anisa wears a bright blue niqab, a piece of clothing that covers her completely except for her eyes and perfectly arched eyebrows.

You can’t miss her among the crowds: maybe it is because of the colour of the niqab or because there is no other woman around who is covered up to this extent.

She has been wearing it for a year-and-a-half. Anisa’s family, who are originally from Morocco, are against her wearing the niqab. But Anisa believes it is her religious duty.

According to official figures there are just 1900 women who wear the burka in France. Most of them are young and a quarter are converts.

But a report from the French intelligence services put this figure much lower at 367, out of an estimated population of five million Muslims, the largest in Europe.
When I met Anisa in the suburbs of Seine-Saint Denis, an area with the highest concentration of Muslims in France, she says that ever since she started wearing the niqab she has had unwelcome attention from the police, has been insulted in the street and is frequently stared at.

Women wearing the burka – a veil which covers the whole face – or the niqab in France are not as visible as those in Britain. But look hard enough in the suburbs and you can find them.

The mosque in the town of Drancy, on the outskirts of Paris, is currently the most controversial in France because the imam here has come out in support of the government’s decision to ban the burka.

Imam Hassan Chalghoumi is now facing death threats and has been given police protection. Ignoring the advice of his advisors he spoke to the Today programme.
He says the burka has nothing to do with religion but the wearing of it was down to tradition.

And the imam added that the burka debate was diverting attention from the real problems facing the Muslim community, including racism, integration and young people dropping out of school early. The imam, who is originally from Tunisia, has the support of the mayor of Drancy.

Tempers are running high at the mosque and there are some it is hard to tell how many want the imam to leave. And there is also a lot of anger and frustration with the media and the police.

Friday prayers when I was there were tense. There were policemen present, plain clothes officers filming and an ambulance on standby, in case anyone got hurt.
Multiculturalism in France is different to that in Britain and the United States. One of the core principles of the Fifth Republic is “laicite”, the separation of church and state.

Religion here is seen as a highly private matter, even more than in the US, where church and state are also constitutionally separated.

Pierre Rousselin from Le Figaro newspaper says that in France people still believe that ‘’foreigners can adapt to the French way of life’’

A commission has spent six months looking into the burka in a review which took evidence from more than 200 people. It recommended proposing a ban on women wearing either the burka or the niqab in hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport.

It is not the first time that the Muslim community in France feels that its been put under the spotlight. In 2004 a law was passed banning the hijab – or headscarf – and all other religious symbols, from state schools. Although the ban affects all religions, the Muslim community here feels that it was aimed at them.

Wider debate

The current controversy comes in the wake of months of debate and President Sarkozy’s speech last year where he said the veils were not welcome in France, but which stopped short of calling for an outright ban.

A draft law has been submitted to parliament but any further action has been put on the back-burner until after the regional elections in France this month.

Sihem Habchi, who describes herself as a Muslim feminist, is director of Ni Putes Ni Soumise – “Neither Whores Nor Submissives”, an influential feminist organisation. She says it is not a question of how many women wear the burka, but one of ‘’democratic principle’’. And she too wants the burka banned.

Ms Habchi says that a ban would ‘’liberate’’ the Muslim community from those who want to hold it back and ‘’use our religion’’.

Adding that her Algerian background allows her to understand this issue and the wider one of women’s rights as a whole, Ms Habchi says ‘’laicite’’ actually protects religion because it means all religions have an equal footing.

Catherine De Wenden, an expert in the history of immigration in France, believes the timing of the current debate is political and is tied in with the regional elections in France.

Although she is personally against banning the burka, she says there it is part of a wider debate in France about national identity, adding that there are many forms of multiculturalism and that France regards religion as a private matter.

Ms De Wenden is concerned that if the ban happens then France will not be seen as a country which practises toleration, a core value of the French Revolution.
But any legislation could have the reverse effect. The young women I spoke to in Drancy said that if the ban became law then they would start to wear the burka for the first time.

12-12

How Muslim Inventors Changed the World

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them

- Saturday, 11 March 2006

Islam Science 1) The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.

2) The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.

3) A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe – where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century – and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.

4) A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn’t. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles’ feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing – concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.

5) Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders’ most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed’s Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.

6) Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam’s foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today – liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.

7) The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

8) Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders’ metal armour and was an effective form of insulation – so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.

9) The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe’s castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world’s – with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V’s castle architect was a Muslim.

10) Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslim doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.

11) The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.

12) The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.

13) The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.

14) The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi’s book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi’s discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.

15) Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal – soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas – see No 4).

16) Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam’s non-representational art. In contrast, Europe’s floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors were “covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned”. Carpets, unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.

17) The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.

18) By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, “is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth”. It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth’s circumference to be 40,253.4km – less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.

19) Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a “self-moving and combusting egg”, and a torpedo – a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.

20) Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.

“1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World” is a new exhibition which began a nationwide tourthis week. It is currently at the Science Museum in Manchester. For more information, go to www.1001inventions.com 

12-9

Those City Lights

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

12-9

The Iranian Greens and the West: A Dangerous Liaison

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sasan Fayazmanesh

In the 1979 Revolution in Iran the liberal forces made a fatal mistake: they adopted the old dictum of the enemy of my enemy is my friend and allied themselves with just about every force that opposed the tyrannical rule of the shah. The result was helping to replace one form of despotism for another: monarchy for theocracy. A similar mistake seems to be made today. Many liberal elements are once again allying themselves with anyone who opposes the current regime in Iran, including the same Western countries that nourished the despotic rule of the shah in the first place.

For decades these countries, particularly the US and Israel, helped the shah to deprive Iranians of their most basic rights and freedoms. With the assistance of these countries, the demented despot silenced all opposition to his rule, built and expanded his notorious secret police, made his opponents disappear, and filled Irans dungeons, particularly the infamous Evin prison that is still in use, with political prisoners. He had them tortured, mutilated, and executed. The US, Israel and their allies, had no problem with these violations of basic human rights in Iran as long as the son of a bitch was their son of a bitch and made them a partner in the plunder of the wealth of the nation.

Afterward, these same countries gave us the dual containment policy that helped Saddam Hussein start one of the longest wars in the 20th century, the Iran-Iraq War. They closed their eyes to Saddams crimes and even assisted him in his criminal acts. With their help, the butcher of Baghdad killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people by deploying chemical agents in the war, bombing civilians and laying cities to waste. The West had no problem with Saddam Hussein as long as he was their son of a bitch. But once the Iraq-Iran War ended and Saddam tried to become a free agent, the US, Israel and their allies gave us the first invasion of Iraq and the subsequent inhumane sanctions against the country, which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Then they brought about the second invasion of Iraq, the shock and awe, indiscriminate bombing of the civilians, sadistic and horrendous treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the savagery in Fallujah, more death, destruction, and mayhem. Then Israel, that only democracy in the Middle East, and its Western allies, gave us the brutal war against the helpless Lebanese and the massacre in Gaza.

Has all this been forgotten? Have the liberal Iranian forces lost their memory? Are they suffering from historical amnesia? Indeed, the behavior of some of the supporters of the Iranian Greens leaves one with no choice but to conclude that they are either experiencing a memory loss or are amazingly ignorant. For example, according to The Washington Post, on November 2, 2009, Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a spokesman in Europe for presidential candidate-turned-dissident Mehdi Karroubi, came to Washington to address the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. True, according to the report, Mr. Mohajeranis talk, which included such things as a rehashing of U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup in Tehran, did not exactly please his audience. But why would a supporter of the Iranian Greens appear before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) crowd in the first place? Doesnt he know what WINEP represents? Has he no idea that this institute is a think tank affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)? Is he not aware that AIPAC is the Israeli fifth column in the US, which, in spite of formulating US foreign policy in the Middle East, is caught every few years in the act of espionage? Is he ignorant of the fact that AIPAC-WINEP has been underwriting every sanction act against Iran since the early 1990s? Is he unaware that AIPAC-WINEP gave us Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and associates, the Bush era architects of the genocidal war in Iraq? Does he not know that AIPAC-WINEP has brought us Dennis Ross and associates, the architects of the Obama era policy of tough diplomacy, a policy that was intended to bring nothing but more sanctions against Iran and, possibly, a war? Is he not aware that AIPAC-WINEPs interest in Iran stops at the doorstep of Eretz Israel and has nothing to do with democracy or human rights in Iran? How forgetful or ignorant can a supporter of the cleric Karroubi be?

Many supporters of Mir Hussein Mossavi have also shown either memory lapses or complete ignorance. . . .

12-9

French Fast Food Chain Quick Sparks Halal Burger Appeal

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Quick-france A French council has lodged a complaint against a fast food chain that serves only meat that conforms with Islamic dietary laws at a local branch.

The mayor of Roubaix, in northern France, said the halal menu constituted “discrimination” against non-Muslims.

The Roubaix branch is one of several restaurants at which the chain, Quick, took non-halal products and pork off the menu in November.

The move has triggered the latest row over France’s Muslim minority.

Several deputies from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party have condemned the move, while Marine Le Pen, a vice-president of the far-right National Front, warned of “Islamisation”.

Their comments came ahead of regional elections in France next month, and against the backdrop of a debate over French national identity launched by Mr Sarkozy’s government.

‘Going too far’

In Roubaix, Mayor Rene Vandierendonck, a socialist, called for a boycott of the Quick branch, and the town council has filed a complaint for discrimination with a regional court in Lille.

“I’m not bothered by the fact that there is a halal menu,” Mr Vandierendonck said.

“But this is going too far because it is the only menu on offer and it has become discrimination.”

Quick decided to take a bacon hamburger off the menu at eight of its 350 branches, replacing it with a halal version that comes with smoked turkey.

It said the move was designed to test the “commercial interest and technical feasibility” of introducing halal menus.

The Quick manager responsible for the Roubaix branch said there had been a slight increase in business after the introduction of halal menus and that he had not received complaints from customers, AFP news agency reported.

France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, estimated at more than five million people.

Debate has recently focused on the Islamic veil, with a French parliamentary committee recommending a partial ban on women wearing Islamic face veils last month.

12-9

US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

Wars Sending US into Ruin

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Obama the peace president is fighting battles his country cannot afford

By Eric Margolis, QMI Agency

2010-02-10T142132Z_01_BTRE61913W200_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-AFGHANISTAN-ASSAULT

U.S. Marines walk during a dust storm in a U.S Marines camp near the town of Marjah in Nad Ali district of Helmand province, February 8, 2010.    

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.

In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug — debt.

More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.

To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defence budget.

No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget.

Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire.

The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.

China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations ­– putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.

This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.

America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud.

If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.

America needs a fair, honest war tax.

The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.

It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.

Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe — what neocons call “full spectrum dominance.”

If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.

12-7

Egypt/Palestine : The Wall of Shame

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tariq Ramadan

2010-02-10T110526Z_497589140_GM1E62A1H2L01_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL

Palestinians tries to break off bricks from a building at an abandoned airport that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 10, 2010. Israel launched an air strike in the southern Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket fire, an army spokesperson said on Wednesday.

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

It is common knowledge that the Palestinians have long been direct victims of the directionless, spineless and hypocritical polices of the Arab leadership. It is equally common knowledge that the State of Israel need make no effort to impose its vision, its methods and its objectives. Given the support of the United States, Europe’s guilty silence and the compliant passivity of the Arab regimes, we know what to expect. The foreign policy of most Arab states has been described with good reason as “pro-Zionist.” Their cowardice and treachery comes as no surprise.

Following last year’s murderous attack on Gaza by Israeli forces, we may have thought we’d seen the worst. That judgment failed to take into account the ingenuity of the “worse yet” scenario produced by the Egyptian regime and the “religious authorities” of al-Azhar. In the name of “national security”, of the fight against “terrorism”, and ultimately, of combating “corruption”, “smuggling” and “drug trafficking”, the Egyptian government is building a wall reaching twenty meters below ground level to stop the “Gazans” from carrying out their “illegal” activities and from digging “smuggling tunnels.” Of course, the Egyptian government has no intention of confining the inhabitants of Gaza to their hell; of course, the measure is dictated only by concern for national security! So persuasive is the argument that the committee of religious experts of al-Azhar quickly endorsed the government decision, declaring it to be “islamically legitimate” (“in conformity with the Shari’a”) for the country to protect its borders. (The al-Azhar scholars were responding to a fatwa issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars that had ruled the exact opposite, that the Egyptian decision was “islamically unacceptable.”)

For shame! So this is how justice is mocked, how power and religion are misused. The Palestinian people, and most of all the inhabitants of Gaza, are denied their dignity and their rights; deprived of access to food, to water and to basic health care. And now, the Egyptian government becomes the ally of Israeli policy at its worst: isolating, strangling, starving, and smothering Palestinian civilian life after having eradicated hundreds. The aim is clear: to choke off all resistance and to destroy its leadership. The Egyptian government has blocked convoys attempting to deliver badly needed aid to the Palestinian people in an effort to raise the siege of Gaza. The mobilization that brought hundreds of women and men from around the world to Rafah was met by refusal upon refusal by the Cairo authorities, along with a strategy of selective humiliation.

For shame! No wonder the Israeli government purring with contentment. After all, a new and “promising” start for the “peace process” has been announced! There will be something for everybody: the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt has spared no efforts to draft a new and “comprehensive” program. A splendid “peace process” indeed, in whose name civilians have suffered months of blockade before their leaders are invited to take their place at the “free” and “respectful” negotiating table. Israel can keep on purring: it can play for more time without making the slightest concession. Settlement activities are to be temporarily frozen—except for construction projects already underway. Finer negotiations would be hard to find!

It cannot be repeated often enough: the Egyptian “national security wall” is a wall of shame. The religious authorities that have legitimized it have behaved exactly like the notorious “ulama” (Muslim scholars) or “Islamic councils” that openly serve power, whether of dictators or the forces of colonialism, or of some self-styled Republic specializing in the manipulation of religion. What can possibly remain of their credibility after issuing a “political fatwa” that lends the Islamic endorsement of craven scholars to the power of dictatorship? Silence would have been far better.

We must condemn these unacceptable acts, and stand beside those who resist with dignity. If successive Israeli governments know one thing—with which we must agree—it is this: the Palestinian people will not surrender. For those who may still harbor doubts, we must add a second certainty, that of time: History is on the side of the Palestinians; it is they who represent, today and tomorrow, hope for the noblest human values. To resist oppression, to defend one’s legitimate rights and one’s land, to never yield to the arrogance and to the lies of the mighty. As for the power of the Israelis, the Egyptians and others, as for the fatwas of government-appointed ulama, these things too will pass; they will pass, and will be forgotten. Happily forgotten. For the duty of memory is transformed into forgetfulness when it comes to the names and the acts of dictators, traitors and cowards.

12-7

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