Former Intel Chief: Call Off The Drone War (And Maybe the Whole War on Terror)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

ASPEN, Colorado Ground the U.S. drone war in Pakistan. Rethink the idea of spending billions of dollars to pursue al-Qaida. Forget chasing terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, unless the local governments are willing to join in the hunt.

Those arent the words of some human rights activist, or some far-left Congressman. Theyre from retired admiral and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair the man who was, until recently, nominally in charge of the entire American effort to find, track, and take out terrorists. Now, hes calling for that campaign to be reconsidered, and possibly even junked.

Starting with the drone attacks. Yes, they take out some mid-level terrorists, Blair said. But theyre not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, its not going to lower the threat to the U.S. Al-Qaida and its allies have proven it can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign, he said.

The statements wont exactly win Blair new friends in the Obama administration, which forced him out of the top intelligence job about a year after he was nominated. Not only has Obama drastically escalated the drone war thereve been 50 strikes in the first seven months of this year, almost as many as in all of 2009. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the remotely-piloted attacks the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaida leadership.

Plus, American relations with the Pakistani government are at their lowest point in years. And every time Washington tries to tip off Islamabad to a raid, it seems, the targets of the raid seem to conveniently skip town. No wonder the U.S. kept the mother of all unilateral strikes the mission to kill Osama bin Laden a secret from their erstwhile allies in Pakistan.

But Blair believes the cooperation not only with Pakistan, but also with the government in Yemen and with whatever authorities can be found in Somalia is the only way to bring some measure of peace to the worlds ungoverned spaces. We have to change in those three countries, he told the Forum (Full disclosure: Im a moderator on one of the panels here.)

The reconsideration of our relationship with these countries is only the start of the overhaul Blair has in mind, however. He noted that the U.S. intelligence and homeland security communities are spending about $80 billion a year, outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet al-Qaida and its affiliates only have about 4,000 members worldwide. Thats $20 million per terrorist per year, Blair pointed out.

You think woah, $20 million. Is that proportionate? he asked. So I think we need to relook at the strategy to get the money in the right places.

Blair mentioned that 17 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorists since 9/11 14 of them in the Ft. Hood massacre. Meanwhile, auto accidents, murders and rapes combine have killed an estimated 1.5 million people in the past decade. What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem? he asked.

Blair purposely let his own question go unanswered.

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A Dream For Palestine

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The focus of humanitarian concern through out the world is on Palestine. That beleaguered land has been called the world’s largest outdoor prison as its population continues to suffer under the boot of Israeli oppression. This oppression was qualitatively increased during the recent Operation Cast Lead assault by Israel. Visitors to have invariably been impressed by the courage and grit of the residents who live under conditions that would have destroyed the spirit of many.

Often ideas can be better conveyed by an example than by dealing with a whole. This is tragedy and triumph writ small.

The Samouni family of Palestine lost 29 of its members during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Dozens more were injured, many severely. Family members, including young children and the elderly, were forced to survive for days amidst the rubble with medical help forcibly kept away. It is unknown whether many of the initial survivors died slowly awaiting aid.

Ken O’Keefe is a long time human rights activist. He is one of the survivors of the attack last year by Israeli pirates on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Recently Ken met the Samouni family, and a magnificent idea was born, not only for the Samouni family, but for all of Palestine.

“Spending time with the Samouni family and literally becoming a member of this family is beyond a blessing, their cause is the Palestinian cause and together we are going to shatter this blockade once and for all and the proud people of Palestine will once again stand on their own two feet with dignity and freedom.”  

Herewith their story.

Samouni Intertrade Palestine is a commercial and social enterprise which will present the Palestinian people with an opportunity to end their dependence on the charity of others and the negative psychological impact such dependence confers. It will be trade not aid.

People and goods will be transported through the Rafah crossing going in both directions with the eventual goal of a Palestine that is rebuilt and independently functioning.

On the second day of July a convoy will leave London with the goal of arriving in Rafah three weeks later. Members of the Samouni family will be among the drivers. The convoy will carry raw materials for re building the infrastructure of Palestine; they will also carry industrial equipment necessary to economic development.

There are two primary partners: Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project. The former was created by Ken O’Keefe and Lauren Booth (the sister in law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) and grew out of their voyage to Gaza in the late summer of 2008 when two boats broke the decades long Israeli siege of coastal Gaza.

The Samouni Project seeks to provide long term quality education to the more than 200 family members as well as to the surrounding community of Zeitun.

The Samouni family has planted 29 olive trees, one for each family member killed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. They have obtained a community/classroom center with an adjoining playground. The teaching staff has been assembled and is currently preparing a curriculum. The infrastructure of the classroom is in place, and the Samouni family is awaiting the delivery of educational materials to make the classroom a reality. Aloha Palestine has the task of delivering the relevant classroom materials. The supplies are modest by Western standards. In addition to supplies, teaching and administrative costs must be secured. An investment in education is an investment in the future of Palestine.

Many in the West underestimate the effect of dependence on the mind set of those who are the recipients of charity, when that charity becomes a way of life; when independent action to improve one’s future is literally forbidden by an occupying power. It is as if the United States government said to the residents of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that the help they received would be permanent, and that the government would act as if there was a devastating hurricane in perpetuity.

Under Israeli occupation parents are helpless to rebuild their devastated homes and the infrastructure of their towns. This causes them to lose self respect and to lose the respect of those dependent on them. The world knows the physical losses suffered by Palestine under the boot of Israel. What the world does not acknowledge is the greatest loss Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians: the loss of dignity.

The goals of Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project is to transform Palestine from a prison to a thriving Mediterranean city.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process, began in 1995 with the stated purpose on the part of the European Union (EU) to “strengthen its relations with the countries in the Mashriq and Maghreb regions”. The Partnership today comprises 44 members. It was created to establish a common area of peace and stability; a zone of shared prosperity, and a rapprochement between peoples on a social, cultural and humanitarian level.

The state of Israel has done remarkably well with its membership in this partnership. Palestine, on the contrary, has conducted a miniscule amount of trade. Palestinians, in addition, are forced to buy the products of their captor.

Free trade is the linch pin of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and surely Israel has benefited greatly from this. Now it is time for Palestine to take its place in the nations of the region by exercising its acknowledged right to free trade through Egypt. Before the forced resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, access between Gaza and Egypt was severely limited. The current Egyptian Foreign Minister has  stated that it is time to end the blockade.

Both Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Mission are EU based and will hold the EU to its stated obligation to protect its members when such members are practicing safe trade. Safe trade is defined as follows:

The commercial exchange of non-hazardous items that pose no danger to society. Trade conducted transparently and fairly that develops prosperity while fostering stability and building security in the region where it is conducted.

Should there be an attempt to interfere with this lawful process attorneys for these two groups will be prepared to challenge such attempts with immediate legal action.

A Samouni family web site is in progress, and soon the world will be able to see the rise of a Palestinian nation through this family. Soon we will all be members of the Samouni family.

The head of the Samouni family has consented to answer questions posed by The Muslim Observer. The respondent is called Mukhtar which means head of family.

TMO: We are so impressed by what you have suffered and what you have done to turn tragedy into triumph. To begin with, how did you meet Ken O’Keefe?

Mukhtar: Ken O’keefe first came with Noor Al-Harazeen in January 2010, who we already knew as she used to help by giving food-clothes packages, Ken made a video report with us and then he started to come back every week and in order to talk about building a playground and planting an Olive Tree orchard, then we began working together to create the Samouni Project and building a classroom as well.

TMO: Are there NGO’s in Palestine that you will partner with?

Mukhtar: NGO’s no, but we are partnering with Ken O’Keefe in the Samouni Project. But other Societies have helped us with re-building our homes, like Alkitaab Wl Sunna Society.

TMO: Could you share with our readers the strengths that you and your family possess that permitted you to endure Operation Cast Lead and its aftermath and emerge as strong as you are?

Mukhtar:Sure , What happen to us was one of the biggest Gaza massacres in Operation Cast Lead.  During this operation they entered our neighbourhood, shooting at us and taking over our homes, they then put 100 members of our family in one room and started shelling it.  We lost our families, kids were murdered, many were lost.  How we could not share our story!  We want all the world to know what has happened to us and the Palestinians as a whole, we want all the world to know the real Israel.

TMO: Could you tell us some of the proposed curriculum for your school?

Mukhtar: We plan for a full curriculum including Arabic ( Elaab Wa Taalm ), so the kids can read and write, also we will have adult education for the parents who cannot read and write.  We will teach the Quran, also English ( Headway ) so our kids have the ability to connect with the world and act as ambassadors of Palestine.  

To access more information about this project please use the following sites: For Ken O’Keefe: ken.okeefe@alohapalestine.com and http://AlohaPalestine.com.

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The STAY HUMAN Flotilla to Gaza

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Freedom Flotilla II, named the Stay Human flotilla, will sail for the beleaguered Gaza Strip of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the latter part of June. The postponement from the originally scheduled March departure date is due to the complex logistics involved in campaigns to raise money for multiple sailing vessels and to outfit them properly and prepare them for their journey. Another factor is the political turmoil in the region, particularly what is happening in Libya and Syria.

The name Stay Human was chosen to honor the late Italian Palestinian activist Vittorio ‘Vik’ Arrigoni. His recent violent death, under circumstances still in question, left the Palestinian activist community stunned. Tributes poured in from all over the world, and people who knew him and worked with him and were touched by his charm and dedication could only work through their grief by rededicating themselves to his cause.

His favorite expression to his co workers was “Stay Human”, and thus the flotilla name.

“Our message of peace is a call to action, for ordinary people like ourselves, not to hand over our lives to whatever puppeteer is in charge this time round, but to take responsibility for the revolution. First, the inner revolution- to give love to give empathy; It is this that will change the world.”

Two activists who contributed to this article, veteran  human rights activist and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) member, Greta Berlin, and human rights activist, ISM co founder, and member of the Flotilla Steering Committee, Huwaida Arraf, were among the many who paid tribute to “Vik”.

Ms Arraf delivered a tribute at his funeral and Ms Berlin had the following to say: “Nothing that we can write can capture the man who was so full of the joy of life, a man with the pipe in his mouth and the captain’s hat always tilted at an angle on his head.The man with the big smile and gentle nature, someone who used his physical strength to hold small children in his arms, sometimes several at a time. His laughter and his last comments every time we saw him will ring in all of our ears as we board the boats to return to Gaza at the end of May.”

In the past the organizers of the vessels have worked with the government of Cyprus. This coming flotilla is and will be working with the Mediterranean governments of France, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

Ms Berlin urges all our readers to advocate for the flotilla’s safe voyage. People should call their representative, send an email, call the White House, and the State Department and inform them that the American people expect all on board the vessels to be safe.

Most of the monies raised were raised by grass roots fundraising. The only boat scheduled to leave from the United States, named The Audacity of Hope”,  was funded in part by activists going into the streets of New York with buckets and asking for contributions. The organizing group bought a 100 foot boat that will support from 50-60 passengers. Most on board will be from civil society with a few notables.

The boat will not carry cargo but will carry messages and letters from the American people, said Jane Hirschmann of the US Boat to Gaza. The relevant web site is: www.ustogaza.org. Americans who want to send a personal message should access the web site to find out the protocol.

Present estimates give the number of ships in the flotilla as between ten and fifteen. A number of the ships represent joint ventures. The ships are nation oriented though they are networks of national organizations and do not represent a government or an NGO.

There will be high profile people aboard these ships including members of parliament. For security reasons many are not currently named. It is known that they will include Colonel Ann Wright, Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, and Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin as well as Rugby star Trevor Hogan. Mr. Hogan has written an opinion piece in The Irish Herald in which he announced that he will be a part of the flotilla and will be aboard the Irish ship to Gaza.

Foremost among the cargo will be construction supplies, equipment for hospitals, water purification systems, and generators. Organizers would also like to be able to bring solar paneling for Green energy so that Gaza might become more independent  of Israel for its energy needs. However the costs are prohibitive. Individuals who want to contribute but hold back because the amount they can contribute is small should consider that their donation, along with others, will purchase a part of an important commodity. Please access the following web site: www.freegaza.org/donate.  

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza is in need of volunteers, and some of the flotilla passengers may elect to remain in Gaza to work with them. Huwaida Arraf cautions those who wish to remain that pre arrangement must be made with an organization including the ISM. ISM works with fishermen who challenge the limitations that Israel places on their right to move their fishing vessels – and therefore their livelihood – more than a few miles from the Gaza coast. Farmers with ISM help challenge the buffer zones imposed by Israel which zones prevent them from reaching their land.

People who must leave Gaza may be on the departing vessels. Again Ms Arraf cautions that they must have the proper paperwork required by the nations where they hope to be taken as this is an immigration issue that the Free Gaza Movement has no control over. While previous vessels leaving Gaza have dealt with the issue, the permanent opening of the Rafah border renders the issue moot.

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Muslim Americans for Palestine Event

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

muzammil-siddiqi
Muzzamil Siddiqi

The plight of the Palestinian people as they suffer under the boot of Israeli occupation is at the forefront of humanitarian concerns of people throughout the globe. Many individuals and organizations have addressed themselves to the Palestinian plight.

In December of 2009, as the world observed the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead and the devastation wrought then by Israeli forces on an already beleaguered land, a new organization pledged to help Palestine was introduced to the public.

Muslim Americans for Palestine (MAP) is a project of the youth division of the Muslim American Society (MAS). Readers of The Muslim Observer will be familiar with MAP as its formation was announced at the MAS convention during the last weekend of the year. Its objectives are in many ways similar to those of other Palestine oriented group, yet it is also distinctive.

This past Saturday the group held its first formal event, a banquet and fundraiser at the Crowne Park Anaheim Resort in Garden Grove, Ca. Islamic Relief cosponsored the event and was the recipient of the funds collected. Islamic Relief will use the funds for their relief work in Palestine.

After prayers the evening began with a recitation and translation from the Holy Koran. Dinner followed.

During the early evening as people took their seats, two screens presented a video of MAP and its founding principles and goals.

The keynote speaker was Alison Weir, a human rights activist from Northern California. She spoke of the plight of Palestinians from her personal experiences and from the testimony she has received from eye witnesses, victims, and victims families. Her first trip to the oPt was in 2001 and was a fact finding expedition. What she discovered was the reverse of what she had been told by the media and her own government. Her organization, If Americans Knew, and her web site, www.ifamericansknew.org  are excellent and hard hitting sources of knowledge about Palestine.

As she spoke, her quiet voice and her presentation of facts and the inevitable conclusions these facts indicated, captivated the audience. Her emphasis was on the bias of the American media toward the state of Israel and against the Palestinian people. Ms Weir cited major news outlets: The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC Evening News and the Associated Press. “I am not talking about Fox News” she said.  She spoke of their unerring misreporting of deaths, always exaggerating Israeli losses and minimizing Palestinian ones; always manifesting a bias towards Israel with such consistency that it defied simple error or random chance. As she spoke, charts were shown on the two screens, statistical proof the accuracy of her claims. In addition cards were passed out to every guest with similar data.

Ms Weir included National Public Radio in her list of news outlets biased towards Israel.

Ms. Weir concluded by urging her audience toward action.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi was another informative speaker. Dr. Muzammil’s leadership in the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC); the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); the Fiqh Council of North America, and the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC), to name but a few organizations, have made him a sought-after speaker. As a theologian and Islamic scholar he is also famous for his interfaith work.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi spoke of his trip to Palestine with interfaith leaders. The audience gasped when he spoke of the  650 checkpoints imposed on Palestinians by their Israeli occupiers..

“ I never imagined that there would be so many. How do you get through the day?” asked one young woman. As if in answer to her question Dr. Siddiqi spoke of the hardships wrought by these checkpoints on workers, students, and people in need of medical help.

Dr. Siddiqi urged people to visit the oPt and “see with their own eyes” the conditions there.

Dr. Siddiqi also spoke of the place of Jerusalem in the Islamic faith and referenced Koranic verses.

Attorney and human rights activist Reem Salahi spoke of the “Irvine 11”. A murmur passed through the audience with this familiar reference. These eleven students are threatened with expulsion or suspension by the University of California in Irvine (UCI) for exercising their free speech rights during the appearance on campus of Israeli Ambassador to the United State Michael Oren. In addition, the University has referred their case to the District Attorney in Orange County.

Ms Salahi was part of a delegation to Gaza a year ago, a delegation sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild. There the group found numerous violations of International law on the part of the Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead.

Ms Salahi said that to speak of the Irvine 11 was not off subject. They are symbolic of the plight of the Palestinian people. The Israelis are the occupiers and the oppressors. The presence of their representative at UCI is not acceptable.

In dealing with the Israeli/Palestine issue she made an analogy with a boat that should be parallel but is instead diagonal with Israel on top. Muslims want fairness for Palestine: they want to right the boat.

Muslim Americans for Palestine has a three pronged approach to the Palestinian problem: Educate, Empower, Preserve. It is a grass roots organization dedicated to justice and self determination in Palestine. Recognizing the natural affinity between the American Muslim community for Palestine and recognizing also the pioneering spirit embodied in youth, MAP, in accordance with the Islamic faith. has been launched.

For further information, please access the MAP web site at: www.mapalestine.org

Islamic Relief may be accessed at its web site: www.islamic-relief.com.

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Community News (V11-I53)

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Malcolm X’s daughter speaks

Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of the late American Muslim leader Malcolm X, is the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. and Days of Dialogue (MLK/DOD) celebration Jan. 18-22, at the University of Wyoming.

Shabazz, an author, lecturer and human rights activist, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, in the Wyoming Union Ballroom. “Poverty, Politics and Race” is the theme of this year’s event. MLK/DOD renews UW’s commitment to making campus a more welcoming and empowering place for people from different backgrounds, heritages, orientations or abilities. UW events celebrate the continuing impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and ideals.

Author of “Growing Up X,” Shabazz is committed to developing educational programs that foster self-empowerment; expanding government to teach individual responsibility for improving society; and capitalizing on the arts and entertainment to encourage the understanding of history, culture and self expression.

She is the daughter of Malcolm X, an African-American Muslim minister, public speaker and human rights activist. To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, but his detractors accused him of preaching racism, black supremacy and violence. Malcolm X has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Shabazz was only 2 years old and present when her father was assassinated in 1965 in New York.

Shabazz produces “The WAKE-UP Tour,” her exclusive youth empowerment program designed to inspire young people to think and act critically to safeguard their futures. She also is corporation president and trustee of her parents’ legacy, The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational and Cultural Center, Inc. at The Audubon, the place of her father’s assassination.

Among other highlights of MLK/DOD are the annual MLK March and Willena Stanford Supper; panel and book discussions, observation of National Service Day, movies, art reception and entertainment.

Lawsuit claims religious bias

CHICAGO, IL–The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an African-American Muslim who worked as a truck driver in the Chicago area, and who says he was harassed both for his race and for his religion.

Reginal Exson worked as a truck driver for the Cook County location of USF Holland, according to a news release form the council.

Exson says a company representative made insulting remarks calling him a “liar,” making derogatory remarks against African-Americans and telling Exson that lying “must be part of your gene pool.”

In November 2007, Exson suffered severe injuries in an accident that wasn’t his fault, and the company would not honor the work restrictions recommended by his doctor, the lawsuit said. Exson was also punished based on unspecified false allegations, the council said.

Furthermore, a worker’s compensation coordinator allegedly called Exson a “terrorist,” and remarked, “Did you think I was going to let you and Osama bin Laden get off with all this money that we’re paying you?” the council said.

Exson also alleged that his benefits provider, USF Holland parent company YRC Worldwide Inc., would not compensate him for his injuries, nor accommodate his work restrictions.

Iowa poultry plant receives state loan

CHARLES CITY, IA– newly  poultry plant in Charles City with plans to do halal poultry has received a $250,000 loan from Iowa’s Department of Economic Development.

Custom Poultry Processing plans to purchase the former Allstate Quality Foods facility in Charles City and convert it to a poultry processing facility. The plant is expected to process 14 million chickens every year and employ 126 people.

The company will focus on specialty market segments including fresh organic, halal and antibiotic-free poultry. It will offer private label processing as well as developing its own brand. Production is expected to begin by April.

Half of the loan will be forgiven if the company reaches $20 million in sales in three years.

Pakistani and Indian Americans meet

NEWARK, CA– Americans of Indian and Pakistani origin would be meeting on Dec. 25 in New Ark to discuss issues such as running an ethical business and educating their children.

Billed as “Vision 2047: First 100 Years Conference, Creating New Values and Principles for New World Powers,” the conference is sponsored by Universal News Broadcasting and WBT Television. The event will be held at the Chandni restaurant in Newark and will include dinner and classical Ghazal, the Mercury News reported.

“My parents came from the India side of Pakistan in the 1950s,” said Farrukh Shah Khan, a key organizer who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before coming to the US when he was 17. “I have always thought of India as the motherland and Pakistan as the fatherland and I’ve always thought of the shared values the two countries have had.”

Khan, a TV producer at WBT Television and co-founder of San Jose’s Pakistani American Cultural Center, lined up an array of speakers to talk about business, government, culture and education from a South Asian perspective, purposely choosing entrepreneurs, philosophers and educators with nondogmatic viewpoints to speak to an audience of predominantly Hindus and Muslims.

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