Community News (V12-I14)

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Shah R. Ali Receives Soros Fellowship

679E This is a second in our continuing series on profiles of young Muslim American achievers who are recipients of 2010 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. 

Shah R. Ali came to the USA  from Pakistan at the age of 10. He quickly adapted to life in New Jersey and excelled in math and science: he spent two summers doing research in chemistry at New York University. He graduated summa cum laude in three years from the Honors College at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, where he spent additional years on a nanotechnology project to detect dopamine for potential diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. His work led to several first- and second-author publications in Journal of the American Chemical Society and Analytical Chemistry, among others.

Now 25, and a second-year medical student at Stanford University, Shah is working in the lab of Irving Weissman, where he is studying cardiogenesis using embryonic stem cells. He has recently become interested in neglected tropical diseases: in addition to helping organize a conference at Stanford Law School on access and drug development for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), he is leading the Stanford chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines and a related lecture series. He has also interned at the Institute for OneWorld Health. He hopes to dedicate his career to drug development for NTDs.

St. Cloud rally in support of Muslim students

ST.CLOUD,MN–A rally was held on Monday in support of Muslim students who attend St.Cloud schools. About thirty people showed up.

The St. Cloud Times reported on Monday that the group claimed that school staff members are not doing enough to keep Muslim students from being harassed and sometimes contribute to it.

The rally crowd Monday was mostly adults. They chanted and held signs that said “Discrimination is intolerable” or “St. Cloud school district must integrate” among other things.

Superintendent Steve Jordahl says the staff responds appropriately to each complaint and denies that staff members aren’t doing enough to stop harassment of Muslim students.

A Muslim civil rights group in Minnesota has called for a federal probe of harassment complaints at two St. Cloud schools.

Kamran Pasha speaks at Islam Awareness Week

BOSTON, MA–Boston University’s Islam Society celebrated the second day of Islam Awareness Week Hollywood- style.

Screenwriter, director and writer Kamran Pasha detailed his experiences and challenges as one of the first Muslim-Americans in the film and publishing industries at the Islam Society’s “Lights, Camera, Islam! The Story of a Muslim in Hollywood,” the Daily Free Press reported.

He encouraged the audience to pursue diverse careers which can be fulfilling.

College of Arts and Sciences junior and Islamic Society President Hassan Awaisi said he really appreciated that Pasha encouraged members of the Muslim community to pursue fields that are viewed by Muslim society as “unconventional” and insecure.

“He encouraged everyone to see they can be a devout and practicing Muslim by using their talents to serve God through arts, film and music,” he said. “By sharing personal stories, Pasha allowed people to identify with him and revealed issues many Muslims are dealing with such as inferiority and modernization.”

New mosque opens in Highland

HIGHLAND, IN–The Illiana Islamic Association opened a new 24,000 square foot facility in Highland. The Muslim community now comprises of around 150 families. They earlier used to rent places for worship.

Iman Mongy Elquesny, of the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center in Merrilville, reminded the congregation that with the new facility also comes responsibility.

“Don’t think you’re done now,” he said, smiling. “Today is the beginning because today, you have exposed yourself. You’ll be asked to visit places and have people visit you.”

The leadership of the mosque thanked the township for their cooperation in securing the facility.

Muslim Students Bring Food, Conversation to Florida Homeless

By Imran Siddiqui, Voice of America

In the southern U.S. state of Florida, a group of American Muslim students is running a non-profit organization called Project Downtown.  The project’s goal is to help the poor, poor people of all backgrounds and cultures.  Our correspondent went down to the city of Tampa, Florida to learn more about Project Downtown and the Muslim students who belong to it.

Like just about any major city in the United States, the city of Tampa has its share of homeless people.  But it also has people who are reaching out to help Tampa’s homeless. 

“We are here because, in Islam, we are supposed to feed the hungry,” said one of the students. “So that’s our purpose here.  That’s all.”

The students belong to Project Downtown, an organization that started about two years ago in Miami and now has branches other U.S. cities.  The Tampa members of Project Downtown say what motivated them was seeing people in need.

“Project Downtown was started by a couple of groups and a couple of university students back in Miami, and people have been gathering money after seeing a problem in the community, went out and bought sandwiches,” said another student. “They went to the local city hall and started feeding.”

The city of Tampa has almost 350,000 people.  It is estimated that about 11,000 of these are homeless.  That’s about three percent of the population.  For the students of Project Downtown, the religion of the people they are helping does not matter.  What matters is that they are in need.  Jill Moreida is a member of Project Downturn.

“We come up to them,” said Jill Moreida. “We don’t just give them food and walk away.  We don’t feed them like they’re at the zoo.  We make friends with them; we talk with them.  We interact with them.  Week after week after week.  And we know stories about their family.  We know when they’re sick.  We get to develop relationships with them.”

“Oh, we wait for them!  We wait!  You see, we waited in the rain,” said a homeless man. “We got caught in the rain!   We feel beautiful with them coming.”

As the relationships develop, Jill says, the homeless gain a new understanding of Islam.

“They say they cannot believe how amazing the Muslims are,” said Moreida. “And it’s acts like that, that not only are we serving…we do it for the sake of Allah, when we’re feeding them.  But there’s a bigger message being brought, and it’s exposing a whole new realm of people to Islam.  Teaching them to not be afraid of us, to not have that stereotype that we’re going to hurt them or anything.”

Project Downtown is one of several outreach efforts sponsored by the Muslim community of Florida.  Its funding comes from other Muslim groups in the state, including the Tampa Bay Muslim Alliance.  Dr. Hussein Nagamiya, a cardiologist, is head of the alliance.

“Our main idea is to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to address their needs, because these are homeless people, and they don’t have anywhere to go,” said Hussein Nagamiya. “So, we give them conveyances such as bicycles that were given away.  We conduct their [medical] tests.  Some of them may never have a test in the entire year.  We detect diseases for them and send them on to free clinics, etc.” 

In addition to helping the poor and teaching people about Islam, organizations like Project Downtown and the Tampa Bay Muslim Alliance hope to achieve another goal: Showing their fellow Americans that, in the words of Dr. Nagamiya, the vast majority of American Muslims are good citizens who make positive contributions to the United States.  (Courtesy: Voice of America)

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Thousands Take to the Streets to Demand: U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq now…

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

On Saturday, thousands of people converged at the White House for the March 20 March on Washington—the largest anti-war demonstration since the announcement of the escalation of the Afghanistan war. By the time the march started at 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled up to 10,000 protesters.

Transportation to Washington, D.C., was organized from over 50 cities in 20 states. Demonstrators rallied and marched shoulder to shoulder to demand “U.S. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now,” “Free Palestine,” “Reparations for Haiti” and “No sanctions against Iran” as well as “Money for jobs, education and health care!”

Speakers at the Washington rally represented a broad cross section of the anti-war movement, including veterans and military families, labor, youth and students, immigrant right groups, and the Muslim and Arab American community.

Following the rally, a militant march led by veterans, active-duty service members and military families made its way through the streets of D.C. carrying coffins draped in Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, Somali, Yemeni, Haitian and U.S. flags, among those of other countries, as a symbol of the human cost of war and occupation. Coffins were dropped off along the way at Halliburton, the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and other institutions connected to the war profiteering, propaganda, and human suffering. The final coffin drop-off was at the White House—the decision-making center of U.S. imperialism.

The demonstration received substantial media coverage. It was featured in a major story on page A3 on the Sunday Washington Post (click here to read it). An Associated Press article on the March on Washington was picked up by a large number of newspapers and media outlets in the United States and abroad.

Joint demonstrations in San Francisco and Los Angeles drew 5,000 protesters each.

In San Francisco, the demonstration included the participation of UNITE HERE Local 2 hotel workers, who are presently fighting for a contract; students, teachers and parents who have been organizing against education budget cutbacks; and community members and activists who have been engaged in a struggle to stop fare hikes and service cuts.

In Los Angeles, demonstrators marched through the streets of Hollywood carrying not only coffins but also large tombstones that read “R.I.P. Health care / Jobs / Public Education / Housing,” to draw attention to the economic war being waged against working-class people at home in order to fund the wars abroad. Essential social services are being slashed to pay for the largest defense budget in history.

The March 20 demonstrations mark a new phase for the anti-war movement. A new layer of activists joined these actions in large numbers, including numerous youth and students from multinational, working-class communities. A sharp connection was drawn between the wars abroad and the war against working people at home. Though smaller than the demonstrations of 2007, this mobilization was larger than the demonstration last year—the first major anti-war action under the Obama administration. The real-life experience of the past year has shown that what we need is not a change in the presidency, but a change in the system that thrives on war, militarism and profits.

These demonstrations were a success thanks to the committed work of thousands of organizers and volunteers around the country. They raised funds, spread the word through posters and flyers, organized buses and other transportation, and carried out all the work that was needed on the day of the demonstration. We took to the streets in force even as the government tried to silence us with tens of thousands of dollars in illegal fines for postering in Washington, D.C., and felony charges against activists for postering in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

We want to especially thank all those who made generous donations for this mobilization. Without those contributions, we could not have carried out this work.
March 20 was an important step forward for the anti-war movement. We must continue to build on this momentum in the months ahead. Your donation will help us recover much-needed funds that helped pay for this weekend’s successful demonstration, as well as prepare for the actions to come.

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The Road to Armageddon

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

Armageddon The Washington Times is a newspaper that looks with favor upon the Bush/Cheney/Obama/neocon wars of aggression in the Middle East and favors making terrorists pay for 9/11. Therefore, I was surprised to learn on February 24 that the most popular story on the paper’s website for the past three days was the “Inside the Beltway” report, “Explosive News,” about the 31 press conferences in cities in the US and abroad on February 19 held by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, an organization of professionals which now has 1,000 members.

I was even more surprised that the news report treated the press conference seriously. How did three World Trade Center skyscrapers suddenly disintegrate into fine dust? How did massive steel beams in three skyscrapers suddenly fail as a result of short-lived, isolated, and low temperature fires? “A thousand architects and engineers want to know, and are calling on Congress to order a new investigation into the destruction of the Twin Towers and Building 7,” reports the Washington Times.

The paper reports that the architects and engineers have concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology provided “insufficient, contradictory and fraudulent accounts of the circumstances of the towers’ destruction” and are “calling for a grand jury investigation of NIST officials.”

The newspaper reports that Richard Gage, the spokesperson for the architects and engineers said: “Government officials will be notified that “Misprision of Treason,’ U.S. Code 18 (Sec. 2382) is a serious federal offense, which requires those with evidence of treason to act. The implications are enormous and may have profound impact on the forthcoming Khalid Sheik Mohammed trial.”

There is now an organization, Firefighters for 9/11 Truth. At the main press conference in San Francisco, Eric Lawyer,the head of that organization, announced the firefighters’ support for the architects and engineers’ demands. He reported that no forensic investigation was made of the fires that are alleged to have destroyed the three buildings and that this failure constitutes a crime.

Mandated procedures were not followed, and instead of being preserved and investigated, the crime scene was destroyed. He also reported that there are more than one hundred first responders who heard and experienced explosions and that there is radio, audio and video evidence of explosions.

Also at the press conference, physicist Steven Jones presented the evidence of nano-thermite in the residue of the WTC buildings found by an international panel of scientists led by University of Copenhagen nano-chemist Professor Niels Harrit. Nano-thermite is a high-tech explosive/pyrotechnic capable of instantly melting steel girders.

Before we yell “conspiracy theory,” we should be aware that the architects, engineers, firefighters, and scientists offer no theory. They provide evidence that challenges the official theory. This evidence is not going to go away.

If expressing doubts or reservations about the official story in the 9/11 Commission Report makes a person a conspiracy theory kook, then we have to include both co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission and the Commission’s legal counsel, all of whom have written books in which they clearly state that they were lied to by government officials when they conducted their investigation, or, rather, when they presided over the investigation conducted by executive director Philip Zelikow, a member of President George W. Bush’s transition team and Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a co-author of Bush Secretary of State Condi “Mushroom Cloud” Rice.

There will always be Americans who will believe whatever the government tells them no matter how many times they know the government has lied to them. Despite expensive wars that threaten Social Security and Medicare, wars based on non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, non-existent Saddam Hussein connections to al Qaida, non-existent Afghan participation in the 9/11 attacks, and the non-existent Iranian nukes that are being hyped as the reason for the next American war of aggression in the Middle East, more than half of the U.S. population still believes the fantastic story that the government has told them about 9/11, a Muslim conspiracy that outwitted the entire Western world.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter to these Americans how often the government changes its story. For example, Americans first heard of Osama bin Laden because the Bush regime pinned the 9/11 attacks on him. Over the years video after video was served up to the gullible American public of bin Laden’s pronouncements. Experts dismissed the videos as fakes, but Americans remained their gullible selves. Then suddenly last year a new 9/11 “mastermind” emerged to take bin Laden’s place, the captive Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the detainee waterboarded 183 times until he confessed to masterminding the 9/11 attack.

In the Middle Ages confessions extracted by torture constituted evidence, but self-incrimination has been a no-no in the U.S. legal system since our founding. But with the Bush regime and the Republican federal judges, whom we were assured would defend the U.S. Constitution, the self-incrimination of Sheik Mohammed stands today as the only evidence the U.S. government has that Muslim terrorists pulled off 9/11.

If a person considers the feats attributed to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, they are simply unbelievable. Sheik Mohammed is a more brilliant, capable superhero than V in the fantasy movie, “V for Vendetta.” Sheik Mohammed outwitted all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies along with those of all U.S. allies or puppets, including Israel’s Mossad. No intelligence service on earth, or all of them combined, was a match for Sheik Mohammed.

Sheik Mohammed outwitted the U.S. National Security Council, Dick Cheney, the Pentagon, the State Department, NORAD, the U.S. Air Force, and Air Traffic Control. He caused Airport Security to fail four times in one morning. He caused the state-of-the-art air defenses of the Pentagon to fail, allowing a hijacked airliner, which was off course all morning while the U.S. Air Force, for the first time in history, was unable to get aloft intercepter aircraft, to crash into the Pentagon.

Sheik Mohammed was able to perform these feats with unqualified pilots.

Sheik Mohammed, even as a waterboarded detainee, has managed to prevent the FBI from releasing the many confiscated videos that would show, according to the official story, the hijacked airliner hitting the Penagon.

How naive do you have to be to believe that any human, or for that matter Hollywood fantasy character, is this powerful and capable?

If Sheik Mohammed has these superhuman capabilities, how did the incompetent Americans catch him? This guy is a patsy tortured into confession in order to keep the American naifs believing the government’s conspiracy theory.

What is going on here is that the U.S. government has to bring the 9/11 mystery to an end. The government must put on trial and convict a culprit so that it can close the case before it explodes. Anyone waterboarded 183 times would confess to anything.

The U.S. government has responded to the evidence being arrayed against its outlandish 9/11 conspiracy theory by redefining the war on terror from external to internal enemies. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on February 21 that American extremists are now as big a concern as international terrorists. Extremists, of course, are people who get in the way of the government’s agenda, such as the 1,000 Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. The group used to be 100, now it is 1,000. What if it becomes 10,000?

Cass Sunstein, an Obama regime official, has a solution for the 9/11 skeptics: Infiltrate them and provoke them into statements and actions that can be used to discredit or to arrest them. But get rid of them at all cost.

Why employ such extreme measures against alleged kooks if they only provide entertainment and laughs? Is the government worried that they are on to something?

Instead, why doesn’t the U.S. government simply confront the evidence that is presented and answer it?

If the architects, engineers, firefighters, and scientists are merely kooks, it would be a simple matter to acknowledge their evidence and refute it. Why is it necessary to infiltrate them with police agents and to set them up?

Many Americans would reply that “their” government would never even dream of killing Americans by hijacking airliners and destroying buildings in order to advance a government agenda. But on February 3, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee that the U.S. government can assassinate its own citizens when they are overseas. No arrest, trial, or conviction of a capital crime is necessary. Just straight out murder.

Obviously, if the U.S. government can murder its citizens abroad it can murder them at home, and has done so. For example, 100 Branch Davidians were murdered in Waco, Texas, by the Clinton administration for no legitimate reason. The government just decided to use its power knowing that it could get away with it, which it did.

Americans who think “their” government is some kind of morally pure operation would do well to familiarize themselves with Operation Northwoods. Operation Northwoods was a plot drawn up by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff for the CIA to commit acts of terrorism in American cities and fabricate evidence blaming Castro so that the U.S. could gain domestic and international support for regime change in Cuba. The secret plan was nixed by President John F. Kennedy and was declassified by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board. It is available online in the National Security Archive. There are numerous online accounts available, including Wikipedia. James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets, also summarizes the plot:

“Operation Northwoods, which had the written approval of the Chairman [Gen. Lemnitzer] and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.”

Prior to 9/11 the American neoconservatives were explicit that the wars of aggression that they intended to launch in the Middle East required “a new Pearl Harbor.”

For their own good and that of the wider world, Americans need to pay attention to the growing body of experts who are telling them that the government’s account of 9/11 fails their investigation. 9/11 launched the neoconservative plan for U.S. world hegemony.

As I write, the U.S. government is purchasing the agreement of foreign governments that border Russia to accept U.S. missile interceptor bases. The U.S. intends to ring Russia with U.S. missile bases from Poland through central Europe and Kosovo to Georgia, Azerbaijan and central Asia. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke declared on February 20 that al Qaida is moving into former central Asian constituent parts of the Soviet Union, such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Holbrooke is soliciting U.S. bases in these former Soviet republics under the guise of the ever-expanding “war on terror.”

The U.S. has already encircled Iran with military bases. The U.S. government intends to neutralize China by seizing control over the Middle East and cutting China off from oil.

This plan assumes that Russia and China, nuclear armed states, will be intimidated by U.S. anti-missile defenses and acquiesce to U.S. hegemony and that China will lack oil for its industries and military.

The U.S. government is delusional. Russian military and political leaders have responded to the obvious threat by declaring NATO a direct threat to the security of Russia and by announcing a change in Russian war doctrine to the pre-emptive launch of nuclear weapons. The Chinese are too confident to be bullied by a washed-up American “superpower.”

The morons in Washington are pushing the envelope of nuclear war. The insane drive for American hegemony threatens life on earth. The American people, by accepting the lies and deceptions of “their” government, are facilitating this outcome.

[Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, was published by Random House in March, 2008. His latest book, How The Economy Was Lost, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press.]

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True Love for the Divine

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Valentine Day let us find true love.

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

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The Manhunt of Epic Proportions

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

spy The scene plays out like something you would see in a chilling Hollywood thriller or spy movie. A team of seasoned assassins, eleven altogether, plots and plans a ‘hit’ to be carried out against an unsuspecting victim. In this case, the target was a Hamas official named Mahmud Al-Mabhuh and his death is not fiction but rather a stone-cold reality. Last January in the tiny Gulf nation of Dubai, the corpse of  Al-Mabhuh was found in his luxury hotel suite. The apparent mode of death was suffocation, however a coroner’s official report regarding the exact cause of death is still pending.

According to the lead investigator, Dubai police chief Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the team of assassins were composed of both men and women from various European countries. This past week, the Dubai government released a series of photos of the eleven suspects and began creating a timeline up until the point where the assassins completed their mission and fled the tiny Gulf emirate. Composed of six Britains, three Irish, one French and one German national, authorities believe that the team entered the country around the same time that Al-Mabhuh did and followed him straight to his hotel room.

Once there, hotel video cameras corroborate the intricate plot of the assassins, which included several hotel rooms, disguises and the tools necessary to deprive Al-Mabhuh of his life. According to Tamim, at least 4 of the assassins broke into Al-Mabhuh’s hotel room while he was out. They waited for him to come back and then took less than 10 minutes to kill him. Once the deed was done, the assassins executed an almost perfect escape plan, exiting Dubai on separate commercial airplanes in under 20 hours.

The release of the eleven suspects passport information, by the Dubai government, should have provided more answers than it did questions. Unfortunately, it has left even more unanswered questions. By all accounts, the Irish assassins do not even exist according to the government of Ireland.  The passport number for the supposedly German assassin is wrong. And a few of the assassins named are actually Israeli citizens who have ironclad alibis and have never even traveled to Dubai. The Dubai police have not revealed exactly how they obtained the information about the assassins. However, many Hamas-friendly political analysts have speculated that the assassination was a poorly carried out murder plot designed by the long arm of Israel’s Mossad, or Secret Service.

It’s no mystery that there was no love lost between Al-Mabhuh and Israel. Al-Mabhuh was one of the original founders of Hamas. Israel also accused him, in recent years, of participating in a 1989 murder of two Israeli soldiers. And Israel has, for years, blamed Al-Mabhuh for orchestrating teams of smugglers to bring missiles into the Gaza Strip to help Hamas to continue to fight the Israeli occupation. But according to former Mossad officer Rami Igra, in an interview with the Israel Army Radio, the plan looks professional but really “…doesn’t look like an Israeli operation.” The primary reason being the assassin’s total lack of regard for the hundreds and hundreds of security cameras all over Dubai, almost as if they wanted to be filmed so as to lay blame elsewhere. And according to some speculators, the real culprits might be too close for Hamas’s comfort such as in the company of their rivals found in the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Movement.

The government of Dubai has reached out to the global community for assistance in solving the murder and this week launched an international manhunt to bring the assassins to justice. It’s not surprising that Dubai is eager to put the murderers behind bars, as it is fast becoming the site of several high profile murders.

Back in 2007, the famous Lebanese singer Susan Tamim was slain in her luxury high rise Dubai condo by none other than a hit man for her estranged boyfriend.

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Houstonian Corner (V12-I1)

December 31, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

AMJA Seminar: “Muslim Family in USA”

Houston, Texas: Several hundred Muslim families this past Saturday attended the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) Free One-Day Educational Seminar on “Muslim Family in USA” at the recently constructed beautiful Norris Conference Center in Town Center (I-10 and BW 8).

Program was divided into four parts: Adults, Adolescents, Youngsters, and Children. Various contemporary issues related to family values, marriage, youth, etc. were discussed in details. Topics included: “Organized Konfusion”; “The Hollywood Effect”; “Choosing One’s Spouse”; Goals, Purpose and Definition of Marriage”; Spouses’ Rights and Duties; Marital Discord and Establishing a Happy Family; “Nominal Marriage and Nominal Divorce”; and others.

Some of the famous scholars present on the occasion were: Dr. Salah AL-Sawi, Secretary General of AMJA & President of Shariah Academy of America; Dr. Main Al-Qudah, Imam MAS Katy Center & Assistant Professor Shariah Academy; Dr. Mwafak Ghalayeny, Imam the Islamic Center of Grand Blank City Michigan & Faculty Member of Islamic American University; Dr. Hatem AL-Haj, Board Certified Pediatrician & Dean of Shariah Academy; Dr. Waleed Edrees Meneese, Vice-Chairman of North American Imams Federation & Vice-President of Islamic University of Minnesota; Dr. Waleed Basyouni, Imam Clear Lake Islamic Center; Dr. Mohamed Na’em Saey, Professor of Jurisprudence; Shaikh Moustafa Mahmoud Imam ISGH; Michael Fjetland of Islam in Spanish; Imam Yahya Gant of ISGH; Shaikh Abdul Aziz Aboulhassan Imam ISGH; and many others.

For getting more information including DVD of the various presentations, one can visit www.AMJAOnline.Org

Houston Helping Hand to Send Container for Needy Pakistanis

Houston, Texas: With the dedicated & constant help and support of International Courier Services, and Volunteers of Dr. Saleha Khumawala, the Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD), is ready to send a Container for the Needy to Pakistan from Houston. HHRD has sent the following appeal:

You can donate new or used household items like kitchenware, bed sheets, comforters, blankets, leather jackets, sweaters, towels, bikes, toys, wheel chairs, crutches, pots and pans, dishes, rugs, carpet, computers, printers, clothes, shoes, accessories, basically everything that’s in good useable condition. No junk or unusable items please!!! We need to maximize the valuable shipping space. Since the task is such an enormous one we need your cooperation in sorting and packing the items you donate in the following way:

1) Separate winter and summer clothing;
2) Use separate boxes for clothing for women and children. NO western suits for women;
3) Tie shoes/sandals pairs to ensure that they stay together;
4) For sets of shalwar-kameez tightly fold and secure the set;
5) Fitted/flat sheets, comforters, quilts, towels etc. should be tightly rolled and secured;
6) All household items in separate boxes from clothes etc.;
7) In addition please make a donation of any amount ($50-$100) you can to help cover shipping, port clearing and distribution costs.

The check should be made payable to: Helping Hand For Relief & Development (tax-deductible receipt will be issued): Checks can be mailed to: 11945 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77099.

Please sort everything as instructed and pack in separate boxes and mark the contents on the outside with a marker (DONOT seal /tape the boxes).

HHRD cannot accept any appliances or food.

Please take all your stuff in boxes and DROP off on: Saturday and Sunday – January 16 & 17, 2010 – Between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the following location.
ICS Shipping Co.; 6160 Westview Dr.; Houston, Texas 77055; (713) 688-4599

DIRECTIONS to ICS Shipping:  From Inside the 610 loop; Go on I-10 west; Exit Silber Street; Make a right turn on Silber; Make a right on Westview, go about ¼ mile; 6160 Westview is on the left; (281) 793-8455 cell  Khurram Iqbal.

We need at least 30 Volunteers on January 16 and 17, 2010. Please call us and let us know which day you can help. For any other questions please call: Maaz Adil (281) 468-2238- Rana Farooqui (713) 453-8388 (after 4 p.m.).

12-1

The Kuwaiti Quartet

May 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

610xggg Political crisis has marred the growth and development of Kuwait for the past few years as political upheaval has been the order of the day. The entire government has resigned no less than five times and the democratically elected parliament has been dissolved thrice in only a matter of years with the most recent dissolution coming just a few months ago. Even before candidates hung up their campaign posters or voters could go to the polls, there was an air of change floating around in Kuwait. Citizens have long tired of the bickering between the Emiri elected cabinet and the members of parliament chosen by the public. There were more ‘grillings’, where MP’s make accusations against another MP, than parliamentary decisions to pull Kuwait out of the current economic crisis it is wallowing in and put it back on track with its’ neighboring Arab rivals.

It has been a mere four years since women were granted suffrage rights and the right to run for parliamentary elections in Kuwait. Female candidates failed to win seats in the past two parliamentary elections. But this past week, history turned one giant page when a total of 4 female candidates won seats in the newly formed Kuwaiti Parliament. A total of 210 candidates, 16 of which were female, vyed for a coveted seat in the 50 member strong Parliament. “Frustration with the past two parliaments pushed voters to seek change. And here it comes in the form of this sweeping victory for women,” Massouma al-Mubarak told reporters following her victory.

Quite notably all four newly elected female MP’s were educated in the USA and hold Doctorates in their specific fields. Massouma Al Mubarak is a political science professor and was Kuwait’s first female Emiri appointed Cabinet minister. Rola Dashti is an economist and activist for women’s rights. She was at the forefront of the battle to win voting rights for Kuwaiti women since it began. Salwa al Jasser is an Education professor and Aseel al Awhadi is a Philosophy professor.

Supporters of the female candidates set off fireworks and feted them in a barrage of wild cheers and congratulatory celebrations rivaling even the poshest of Hollywood after parties.  However, there are several male MP’s who are unhappy with having to share parliament with women. Islamic fundamentalists have made statements to the local media that women do not belong in politics and have insisted that all of the female MP’s wear the Islamic hijab whenever Parliament is in session. Only two out of the four newly elected females MP’s observe the Islamic headscarf.

It remains to be seen if the Kuwaiti Quartet will be able to change the political scene in Kuwait, which has always operated on a crisis-by-crisis basis. Kuwaiti political analysts expect the power struggle between MP’s in the Parliament to continue regardless of gender. If this week is any indication, the Kuwaiti Quartet is already facing an uphill battle in their bid to makeover Kuwaiti politics. MP Massouma Al Mubarak was accused of trying to push through more female politicians into the Cabinet and the Kuwait Quartet were also accused of trying to form their own bloc to stand united against the male members of Parliament.

The State of Kuwait is often referred to as a ‘half democracy’ since only the Emir controls the Cabinet while the public chooses Parliamentarians.  Kuwaiti activists have long petitioned for the formation of political parties and for Kuwait to be a true democracy where the public has the right to choose all elected officials.

11-23

American TV Popular in the Middle East

March 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

friends There certainly is no love lost between most Middle East countries and the US, where peaceful coexistence is often stormier than two dogs fighting over a juicy bone.  Years of bias, perpetrated by American foreign policy, has left a bitter taste in the hearts and minds of the denizens of the Gulf that won’t easily be washed away by mere ‘sweet talk’ from the Obama administration. However, politics aside, there is a quiet love affair between the East and West that has only grown more intense over the past few years. Regardless of the innumerable ‘fatwas’ issued about the evils of the boob tube or outright condemnations by Muslim clerics, western television and cinema is the daily bread of many Gulf residents, and have  made an irrevocable mark on the social fabric of the region.

Talk-Diva Oprah Winfrey’s show is just as popular in Kuwait as it is in the suburbs of California. Dramas like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ have Gulf dwellers glued to their television screens, just like their American counterparts, on sofas in the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.  And even syndicated shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ still resonate with the Gulf audience. And while English is not the primary language spoken in the region, all the programming is made complete with Arabic subtitles at the bottom. A notable side effect of the translation crawler is that many Arab speakers are learning to speak English, courtesy of the western programming.

There are two primary satellite television stations situated in Saudi Arabia and Dubai that send out American programming 24/7 throughout the whole Gulf region.  The media giant of the Gulf is known as the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and is completely financed by Saudi Arabia. The MBC Group has evolved over the years to include 5 separate channels including MBC3 which airs American cartoons dubbed in Arabic, MBC4 which airs American sitcoms and dramas, as well as the newest channel named MBCMax which airs the latest Hollywood blockbusters to grace the silver screen. The second biggest media giant in the Middle East is known as OneTV, which is owned and operated by the UAE. It combines the best of both worlds, to include western sitcoms and movies in its monthly repertoire.

Both media empires compete for viewers’ attention by offering the most sought-after shows without charging a single penny. Unlike the popular Showtime channel, which is the predominant pay channel in the Gulf, and rakes in billions of oil soaked dollars every year from their subscribers. However, thanks to cutthroat advertisers hocking everything from shampoo to cooking oil, the television business is becoming more lucrative in the Gulf  than the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath the land. Advertisers scoop airtime up as fast as it becomes available, much to the chagrin of viewers who have to wait between 4-5 minutes for the commercials to end, with each show having no less than 3 commercial breaks.

Surprisingly, the key to the success of satellite television in the Middle East is censorship, which keeps everyone happy. Scenes depicting intimacy or even a kiss are cut off. Programming dealing with things such as homosexuality or teenage pregnancy is usually not aired. It is really up to the code of morals followed by each country where the stations are based. For example, the MBC group based in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia almost never shows intimate situations, whereas OneTV based in liberal Dubai has been known to allow some kissing scenes to appear on its viewer’s screens. For the most part, there is not a lot of governmental regulation as to what is aired by either the stations airing the programming or the countries receiving the feed.

However, one country has gone to great lengths to block American television and cinema. Iran only allows a handful of approved American serials to be played on the state-run news station. As a result, young Iranians are downloading their favorite American serials from the Internet or purchasing them from video dealers.
With the Middle East region constantly feeling the strain of threat, whether from internally or from abroad, western television offers viewers in the Gulf a chance to forget their problems and indulge in a bit of escapism, resplendent in jaw dropping comedy and breathtaking stuntmanship that could only be concocted in Hollywood and exported to the rest of the world.

11-11

Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Awaken Bollywood

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The India film stars dictate fashion and customs, but they usually aren’t politically active. The recent killings seem to have changed that.

Courtesy Anupama Chopra, LA Times

Reporting from Mumbai — Amitabh Bachchan slept with a gun. On Nov. 26, as 10 terrorists orchestrated mayhem at Mumbai’s landmark hotels and train station, Bollywood’s most enduring superstar pulled out his revolver.

The following day, he wrote on his blog: “As an Indian, I need to live in my own land, on my own soil with dignity and without fear. And I need an assurance on that. I am ashamed to say this and not afraid to share this now with the rest of the cyber world, that last night as the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver and put it under my pillow. For a very disturbed sleep.”

As the bloody face-off between the terrorists and Indian commandos continued for three days, Aamir Khan, another major star and avid blogger, wrote: “Terrorists are not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. They are not people of religion or God . . . an incident such as this really exposes how ill equipped we are as a society as far as proper leaders go. We desperately need young, dynamic, honest, intelligent and upright leaders who actually care for the country.”

A few days after the attack, Shah Rukh Khan, who is known to Hindi film viewers as King Khan and routinely described as more famous than Tom Cruise, told a leading television channel, “I have read the Holy Koran. It states that if you heal one man, you heal the whole of mankind and if you hurt one man, you hurt the whole of mankind. . . . There is an Islam from Allah and very unfortunately, there is an Islam from the mullahs.”

This impassioned, unflinching outburst is rare for Bollywood. Mumbai’s Hindi film industry produces 200-odd films each year for an estimated annual audience of 3.6 billion. Bollywood and its stars dictate fashions, language, rituals and aspirations for millions of Indians and non-Indians around the globe. In Britain and the U.S., Bollywood box office is largely driven by Indian immigrants, but in countries such as Malaysia, Poland and Germany, even locals are avid consumers. Hindi films vary from fantastical entertainers to realistic, low-budget urbane dramas that usually appeal to more educated audiences. Bollywood is one of the few film industries globally that has withstood the Hollywood goliath. In fact, Hollywood is pushing for a piece of the booming Bollywood pie; studios such as Sony and Warner are producing Hindi films.

But despite its cultural clout, Bollywood has largely been an insular, apolitical space — columnist and author Shobhaa De, more acerbically, described it as “apathetic.” Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, stars here have rarely aligned themselves with causes. Even those who join political parties usually serve an ornamental function.

Like much of India’s elite and middle class, the film industry has preferred to disengage from politics and the invariably messy functioning of the world’s largest democracy. “Most Bollywood actors claim their job is to entertain the masses — nothing more, nothing less,” De said. “It is the Republic of Bollywood movie stars owe any allegiance to.”

But the terrorist attacks, which claimed 164 lives (plus those of nine gunmen), have forced the film industry to abandon its customary neutral stance. In blogs, media, petitions and peace marches, Bollywood has come forward to denounce the attacks and demand better governance. Most significantly, many leading Muslim stars who until now rarely delved into the controversies of religion have condemned the attacks as “un-Islamic.” They have, as Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University put it, “reclaimed their religion.” In an interview, actor Anil Kapoor, now appearing in “ Slumdog Millionaire,” called the attacks “a tipping point,” adding: “I think things will be different now.”

The film industry can play a prominent role in India’s post 26/11 citizens’ movement, not only because of its cultural cachet but also because Bollywood is and always has been inherently secular. India is home to about 151 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The majority Hindus and minority Muslims share a long and tragic history, and politicians of every hue have exploited this divide. Hindu-Muslim relations are usually in a state of simmer, and the decades-old distrust routinely boils over in riots, murder and more recently terrorism.

Intriguingly, Bollywood has largely managed to resist this communal caldron. Through the decades, Hindus and Muslims have worked together without any palpable friction. In fact the biggest stars in contemporary Bollywood are Muslim (this includes the reigning superstar trinity of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan). In “Maximum City,” his bestselling book on Mumbai, Suketu Mehta described the Hindi film industry as having “the secularism of a brothel.” “All are welcome,” he wrote, “as long as they carry or make money.”

Among Bollywood’s earliest stars were Australian-born Mary Ann Evans, known to her fans as Fearless Nadia — a whip-wielding, iconic action heroine in the 1930s; the Jewish Florence Ezekiel, known to her fans as Nadira, a legendary vamp who seduced with her smoldering looks in the 1950s; and the Anglo-Indian-Burmese Helen, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was Bollywood’s most famous dancer.
Box office is king

Writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar, president of an organization called Muslims for Secular Democracy, disapproves of Mehta’s brothel comparison but agreed that in the 40-odd years that he had been working in Bollywood, he had never encountered bias. “There is a method in the madness,” he said. “People in films — from the biggest stars to the smallest — know that their survival is in the success of the film. When you go to the racecourse, you cannot not bet on the winning horse because the jockey is of some other religion. You want to win the race so you cannot afford to be communal.”

Bollywood’s reigning deity is the box office. Consequently, Akhtar pointed out, even actors and technicians who are high-profile members of the right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party will behave “in a totally separate manner within the industry.”

Attempts to divide the industry on religious lines have found little support. In July, a little-known terror outfit called the Indian Mujahideen issued death threats via e-mail to leading Muslim actors, urging them to stop acting in movies or face the consequences. The industry collectively denounced the mail and Saif Ali, one of the actors threatened, responded in a newspaper saying that he would “rather be shot than not do a shot.”

Eight years ago, a Hindu actor named Hrithik Roshan became an overnight sensation with his debut film, “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” (Say You Love Me). As the film ran to packed houses, a right-wing Hindu magazine, Panchjanya, ran a cover story insisting that Roshan was the Hindu answer to the Muslim Khan supremacy in Bollywood. The claim was resoundingly ignored. These contrived divisions also have little meaning in Bollywood because many of the leading stars have had interfaith marriages.

Even at historic turning points such as the 1947 partition, when Hindu-Muslim relations were violently fraught, the film industry has remained impervious to religious bias. In the 1940s and 1950s, the industry was also less self-focused and inward-looking. Cultural groups such as the Progressive Writers’ Assn. and the India Peoples’ Theatre Assn. exerted a great influence on the leading writers, actors and directors of the time. The filmmakers and their films reflected an awareness and engagement with social causes.

But by the 1970s, a disconnect had set in. Prakash pinned it on “the Amitabh Bachchan phenomenon.” After the actor had a string of successive hits, the media labeled him “a one-man industry.” According to Prakash: “The Bollywood space changed then and became about celebrity.”

Star-driven culture

This celebrity has only amplified in recent years. The post-liberalization media explosion and consumerist culture have converted actors into brands and they are constantly “on,” whether in cinema halls, television shows or newspapers and magazines. Hindi cinema and especially its stars dominate India’s cultural landscape, enjoying a super-size visibility. Media doggedly report on the minutiae of their lives, from love affairs to diet to favored hair stylist. Political parties have often attempted to turn this visibility into votes by using stars to campaign for them, but Bollywood stars in politics have largely been, in De’s words, “a monumental joke.”

Prakash agreed. “Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood has became a space only for stardom,” he said. “Politics is problematic, and it’s not conducive to stardom. It only gets in the way.”
Aamir Khan discovered this the hard way in 2006, when he joined activists demanding the rehabilitation of farmers displaced by the construction of a dam in the western state of Gujarat. The government demanded an apology. When he refused, multiplex owners in Gujarat refused to screen the actor’s film “Fanaa” (Destroyed). Though the film eventually became a blockbuster, losses from the Gujarat ban — deemed unconstitutional by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — ran into the millions. Not surprisingly then, silence and insularity are the preferred mode here.
Actress Preity Zinta, one of the industry’s more outspoken stars, said the prevailing silence also had to do with the quality of leadership. “Where are our icons?” she asked. “Give me one inspiring leader and I will not even think twice before offering support. Look at the political class abroad. I jumped as high as anyone in America when Obama won.”
Terrorism has provided the impetus that politicians could not. Zinta was among the thousands of people who gathered Dec. 3 at the Gateway of India (opposite the Taj Mahal hotel) to protest the attacks and demand better security. The gathering, organized spontaneously through e-mail, text messages and Facebook, was described in leading newspapers as unprecedented.
Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar’s son and a filmmaker-actor, was also at the Gateway. When the firing started Nov. 26, Farhan was shooting the first episode of a “Saturday Night Live”-style television show called “Oye It’s Friday.” Farhan, who hosts the show, and his producers stopped work because, he said, “we were too depressed to continue.” But a few days later, they regrouped to rewrite a part of the show. The first episode now included several biting comic lines about politicians and their legendary incompetence. “There has been no event of this magnitude, nothing this drastic to get people polarized,” Farhan said. “But now people have had enough. We’re not going to take it lying down anymore.”
The big question is: How long will the anger last? Skeptics like De don’t envision a more politically sensitized Bollywood, but many such as Zinta and Farhan believe and hope that a sustained involvement will follow. But even if the current activism dilutes with time, the Hindi film industry, an inclusive, successful global brand, will remain a symbol of unity in a deeply fractured country.
Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema. Her books include “King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema.”