Clogged Reforms a Speed Bump for Indonesia’s Economy

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neil Chatterjee

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

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

REUTERS/Supri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRACKING SPENDING FLOWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

($1 = 9050 Rupiah)

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

13-48

Remarks by the President at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Supplied Transcript

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center–Washington, D.C.–6:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Washington. 

In my life, and as President, I have had the great pleasure of visiting many of your countries, and I’ve always been grateful for the warmth and the hospitality that you and your fellow citizens have shown me.  And tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to return the hospitality.

For many of you, I know this is the first time visiting our country.  So let me say, on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America.  (Applause.) 

It is an extraordinary privilege to welcome you to this Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.  This has been a coordinated effort across my administration, and I want to thank all the hardworking folks and leaders at all the departments and agencies who made it possible, and who are here tonight.

That includes our United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk.  Where’s Ron?  There he is.  (Applause.)    I especially want to thank the two departments and leaders who took the lead on this summit — Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)   

We’re joined by members of Congress who work every day to help their constituents realize the American Dream, and whose life stories reflect the diversity and equal opportunity that we cherish as Americans:  Nydia Velazquez, who is also, by the way, the chairwoman of our Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives.  (Applause.)  Keith Ellison is here.  (Applause.)  And Andre Carson is here.  (Applause.) 

Most of all, I want to thank all of you for being part of this historic event.  You’ve traveled from across the United States and nearly 60 countries, from Latin America to Africa, Europe to Central Asia, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. 

And you bring with you the rich tapestry of the world’s great traditions and great cultures.  You carry within you the beauty of different colors and creeds, races and religions.  You’re visionaries who pioneered new industries and young entrepreneurs looking to build a business or a community.

But we’ve come together today because of what we share — a belief that we are all bound together by certain common aspirations.  To live with dignity.  To get an education.  To live healthy lives.  Maybe to start a business, without having to pay a bribe to anybody.  To speak freely and have a say in how we are governed.  To live in peace and security and to give our children a better future.

But we’re also here because we know that over the years, despite all we have in common, the United States and Muslim communities around the world too often fell victim to mutual mistrust.

And that’s why I went to Cairo nearly one year ago and called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities — a new beginning based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several years.  But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill.

As President, I’ve worked to ensure that America once again meets its responsibilities, especially when it comes to the security and political issues that have often been a source of tension.  The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq, and we will partner with Iraqi people for their long-term prosperity and security.  In Afghanistan, in Pakistan and beyond, we’re forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, but also to combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities.

I say it again tonight:  Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am President, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.  (Applause.)  And around the world, the United States of America will continue to stand with those who seek justice and progress and the human rights and dignity of all people.

But even as I committed the United States to addressing these security and political concerns, I also made it clear in Cairo that we needed something else — a sustained effort to listen to each other and to learn from each other, to respect one another.  And I pledged to forge a new partnership, not simply between governments, but also between people on the issues that matter most in their daily lives — in your lives. 

Now, many questioned whether this was possible.  Yet over the past year, the United States has been reaching out and listening.  We’ve joined interfaith dialogues and held town halls, roundtables and listening sessions with thousands of people around the world, including many of you.  And like so many people, you’ve extended your hand in return, each in your own way, as entrepreneurs and educators, as leaders of faith and of science. 

I have to say, perhaps the most innovative response was from Dr. Naif al-Mutawa of Kuwait, who joins us here tonight.  Where is Dr. Mutawa?  (Applause.)  His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.  After my speech in Cairo, he had a similar idea.  So in his comic books, Superman and Batman reached out to their Muslim counterparts.  (Laughter.)  And I hear they’re making progress, too.  (Laughter.)  Absolutely.  (Applause.)

By listening to each other we’ve been able to partner with each other.  We’ve expanded educational exchanges, because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century.  Our distinguished science envoys have been visiting several of your countries, exploring ways to increase collaboration on science and technology. 

We’re advancing global health, including our partnership with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to eradicate polio.  This is just one part of our broader engagement with the OIC, led by my Special Envoy, Rashad Hussain, who joins us here tonight.  Where’s Rashad?  (Applause.)

And we’re partnering to expand economic prosperity.  At a government level, I’d note that putting the G20 in the lead on global economic decision-making has brought more voices to the table — including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia.  And here today, we’re fulfilling my commitment in Cairo to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Now, I know some have asked — given all the security and political and social challenges we face, why a summit on entrepreneurship?  The answer is simple. 

Entrepreneurship — because you told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other; where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator; where men and women can take a chance on a dream — taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business and even new industries that can change the world.

Entrepreneurship — because throughout history, the market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty.

Entrepreneurship — because it’s in our mutual economic interest.  Trade between the United States and Muslim-majority countries has grown.  But all this trade, combined, is still only about the same as our trade with one country — Mexico.  So there’s so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries.

And social entrepreneurship — because, as I learned as a community organizer in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.

And that’s why we’re here.  We have Jerry Yang, who transformed how we communicate, with Yahoo.  Is Jerry here?  Where is he?  He’ll be here tomorrow.  As well as entrepreneurs who have opened cybercafés and new forums on the Internet for discussion and development.  Together, you can unleash the technologies that will help shape the 21st century.

We have successes like Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who I met earlier, who built a telecommunications empire that empowered people across Africa.  And we have aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses and hire new workers.  Together you can address the challenges of accessing capital.   We have trailblazers like Sheikha Hanadi of Qatar, along with Waed al Taweel, who I met earlier — a 20-year-old student from the West Bank who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. 

Please read continuation at www.muslimobserver.com.

So together, they represent the incredible talents of women entrepreneurs and remind us that countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper.  I believe that.  (Applause.)

We have pioneers like Chris Hughes, who created Facebook, as well as an online community that brought so many young people into my campaign for President — MyBarackObama.com.  (Laughter.)  We have people like Soraya Salti of Jordan who are empowering the young men and women who will be leaders of tomorrow.  (Applause.)  Together, they represent the great potential and expectations of young people around the world.

And we’ve got social entrepreneurs like Tri Mumpuni, who has helped rural communities in Indonesia — (applause) — harness the electricity, and revenues, of hydro-power.  And Andeisha Farid, an extraordinary woman from Afghanistan, who’s taken great risks to educate the next generation, one girl at a time.  (Applause.)  Together, they point the way to a future where progress is shared and prosperity is sustainable.

And I also happened to notice Dr. Yunus — it’s wonderful to see you again.  I think so many people know the history of Grameen Bank and all the great work that’s been done to help finance entrepreneurship among the poorest of the poor, first throughout South Asia, and now around the world. 

So this is the incredible potential that you represent; the future we can seize together.  So tonight I’m proud to announce a series of new partnerships and initiatives that will do just that.

The United States is launching several new exchange programs.  We will bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.  (Applause.)  So women in technology fields will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development.  And since innovation is central to entrepreneurship, we’re creating new exchanges for science teachers.

We’re forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise — in venture capital, mentorship, and technology incubators — with partners in the Middle East and in Turkey and in Southeast Asia.

And tonight, I can report that the Global Technology and Innovation Fund that I announced in Cairo will potentially mobilize more than $2 billion in investments.  This is private capital, and it will unlock new opportunities for people across our countries in sectors like telecommunications, health care, education, and infrastructure.

And finally, I’m proud that we’re creating here at this summit not only these programs that I’ve just mentioned, but it’s not going to stop here.  Together, we’ve sparked a new era of entrepreneurship — with events all over Washington this week, and upcoming regional conferences around the world. 

Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Prime Minister Erdogan has agreed to host the next Entrepreneurship Summit next year in Turkey.  (Applause.)  And so I thank the Prime Minister and the people and private sector leaders of Turkey for helping to sustain the momentum that we will unleash this week.   

So as I said, there are those who questioned whether we could forge these new beginnings.  And given the magnitude of the challenges we face in the world — and let’s face it, a lot of the bad news that comes through the television each and every day — sometimes it can be tempting to believe that the goodwill and good works of ordinary people are simply insufficient to the task at hand.  But to any who still doubt whether partnerships between people can remake our world, I say look at the men and women who are here today.

Look at the professor who came up with an idea — micro-finance — that empowered the rural poor across his country, especially women and children.  That’s the powerful example of Dr. Yunus.

Look what happened when Muhammad shared his idea with a woman from Pakistan, who has since lifted hundreds of thousands of families and children out of poverty through a foundation whose name literally means “miracle.”  That’s the example of Roshaneh Zafar.  (Applause.) 

Look what happened when that idea spread across the world  — including to people like my own mother, who worked with the rural poor from Pakistan to Indonesia.  That simple idea, began with a single person, has now transformed the lives of millions.  That’s the spirit of entrepreneurship.

So, yes, the new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun.  It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to those who would divide us, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build; not those trapped in the past, but those who, like us, believe with confidence and conviction in a future of justice and progress and the dignity of all human beings regardless of their race, regardless of their religion. 

That’s the enormous potential that we’re hoping to unlock during this conference and hoping to continue not only this week but in the months and years ahead.  So I’m grateful that all of you are participating.  May God bless you all and may God’s peace be upon you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.) 

END 6:22 P.M. EDT

12-19

Sukuk Market Starved of Benchmark Sovereign

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Carolyn Cohn and Shaheen Pasha

LONDON/DUBAI, March 23 (Reuters) – Sovereign borrowing still eludes the Islamic bond, or sukuk, market, leaving investors hungry for a benchmark issue to reinvigorate trading after the credit crunch and the Dubai World crisis.

Where issuance from euro zone and emerging market borrowers in 2010 has been fast and furious, with emerging market borrowers alone issuing over $50 billion, there have been no sovereign sukuk issues at all.

Only one international sukuk has been issued so far this year, a $450 million Islamic bond for Saudi property developer Dar al-Arkan.

A resolution of debt woes at state-owned Dubai World, the mounting of domestic regulatory hurdles for issuers and improved liquidity could bring sovereigns to the sukuk market from around the third quarter.

But for now borrowers have been deterred by thin trading, the extra premium which borrowers have to pay to attract investors into this relatively small and specialist market, question marks over sovereign guarantees and regulatory conundrums.

“There is genuine need for issuance,” said Muneer Khan, partner and head of Islamic finance at law firm Simmons & Simmons in Dubai.

“Government-related issuances and good credit corporate issuances can often open the gates for further corporates.”

A sukuk is similar to a bond but complies with Islamic law, which prohibits the charging or payment of interest.

The typical path for any debt market is that the initial borrowers are sovereigns, seen as relatively risk-free, followed by state-owned entities, and then by corporate borrowers who will offer a higher yield.

“If sovereigns get deals away at a certain level, corporates should trade 30-40-50 basis points above,” said a London-based Islamic finance specialist.

But without sovereign deals, it is hard for corporates to follow.

The Philippines last week shelved plans for a debut sukuk issue, citing legal hurdles.

Indonesia, which has previously issued in the sukuk market, has no plans to issue again before September.

Gulf borrowers such as Bahrain and Dubai have also previously issued sukuk. But trading is weak after the shock payment standstill on Dubai World debt, which includes Islamic debt, and other defaults in a market once boasting a zero default rate.

In addition, the lack of a government guarantee for some state-owned Dubai World debt came as a shock to many investors.

Sukuk prices are generally trading below par and the market is highly illiquid, market participants say, even as benchmark emerging sovereign debt spreads are trading at their tightest over U.S. Treasuries in nearly two years.

Global sukuk issuance is likely to range between $15-17 billion in 2010, down from $19 billion last year, a recent Reuters poll shows. Currently even those forecasts look ambitious — in 2009, nearly all sukuk issues were made by states and quasi-sovereign entities.

“The sukuk market has been doubly affected by the downturn and the situation in the Middle East, so people are not pushing ahead — it’s not an easy market for a first-time borrower,” said Farmida Bi, partner at law firm Norton Rose in London.

European sovereigns have failed to issue any sukuk at all.

The UK was at the forefront of plans for sukuk issuance, and has the legal framework in place. But its original plans coincided with the outbreak of the global financial crisis, and the country has since saddled itself with huge amounts of debt.

“The reality is that the UK government has to fund a 178 billion pound ($266 billion) deficit,” said the Islamic finance specialist.

“To come to the market with a $500 million to $1.0 billion sukuk is not the highest on their priority list.”

France was also hoping to issue a sukuk but has become bogged down in legal changes, and market participants say sukuk issuance in countries such as Turkey remains some way off.

However, there are a few signs of light.

Investors are awaiting a restructuring any day of $26 billion in Dubai World debt, which will draw a line under the four-month old problem.

“The more positive news that comes for resolutions, the better,” said Khan. “It can’t hinder further issuances, but it could help.”

Sovereigns such as Jordan and Kazakhstan have said they want to issue sukuk for the first time, although there is no set timing.

And as markets around the world recover, led by emerging debt which is seeing strong demand, sukuk could yet attract investors.

According to a Gulf regional banker at a major investment bank: “The sukuk market is a natural follower of the debt capital markets and we’re starting to see more activity there. There is liquidity in the bond market.”

12-13

Tough to Leave the Devastated Place

March 25, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By Ilyas Hasan Choudry, MMNS

TMO Editor’s note:  Houston editor Ilyas Choudry spent a week helping earthquake victims in Haiti.  This is his report.

Haiti Downtown - See Buildings Leaning Lets’ say for seven days in a row, you wake up to see dire situation around you. When you woke up the eighth day, you are going to take an airplane to a place, almost like paradise on this earth, as compared to the everyday anguish of the past seven days. But instead of feeling happy to leave the devastated place, you have this extreme lingering sadness inside; telling that you should not leave. May be there is a way to delay your departure and that you can stay for few more weeks or may be months or even years, to see this torturous place come out of the ruins.

This is what I felt on Sunday, March 15th, 2010, when I went through a long queue for more than two hours to aboard American Airlines Flight 1908 from Port-au-Prince to Miami International Airport. I did not want to leave my fellow Haitian human-beings in desperate situation, while I had to begin my journey back to luxurious life in USA. For the past seven days, I had to take cold showers early in the morning (first time after 1987); sharing one bathroom with six other persons, when on few days suddenly realizing that I was the last of the six and that there is very little water left for me; got to eat rice & beans and for a change of menu, I used to eat beans & rice the next day; fridge not laden with food and Coke / Pepsi as electricity was unpredictable and not strong enough for the fridge to work. If it was not for immediate responsibility of my own family in Houston and to earn a living for them, I would have preferred to stay back in Haiti, as so much is needed to be done there, while we live in heaven on earth called USA.

Leogane Haiti - Temporary Wooden Shelter Homes By HHRD Hopefully To Fare Well As Compared To Tarp Tents World came out in a big way to respond to Haitian crisis after the devastating earthquake of January 12th, 2010. Everyone has tried their best in the manner they know to assist. But to be really honest, the world has failed the Haitian people. I feel the hype created about safety and security situation was not appropriate. I drove & walked on the streets of Haiti during these seven days, the Haitians that I have seen on the whole are very nice hardworking people and not threatening (especially after what they had gone through). Provision of safety and security are important things, but the way this fear of insecurity was created and blown out of proportion, it hampered the overall response and made several agencies and NGOs to confine their services to few thousands, the lucky ones who could reach the so-called safe compounds, while real masses were neglected.

Still there have been individuals and non-governmental organizations, working independently or together with the resources of international agencies like UNO, UNICEF, etc. who have tried their best to provide food and health services at grassroots levels in an amicable manner. I am part of one of them called “Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD)”. Visit www.HHRD.Org for more details.

With the help of donors from USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Pakistan and elsewhere, HHRD has provided food and healthcare services at rotational clinics in various communities within Port-au-Prince (like Nazon, Leogane, Ave Lamartinier, Masjid Taweed, Masjid Ya-Sin, etc). Between January 26 and March 19, 2010, HHRD in all have organized 55 clinics, taking care of more than 11,000 Haitians, with the voluntary help of doctors from USA, Turkey, Bangladesh and of course Haiti (paid and volunteer). After March 19, 2010, HHRD will work on establishing some permanent clinics.

I was in Haiti from March 7 till 14, 2010 and was appalled to see that two months have passed, but no real effort has been done by the world community. Near me, what was expected of the Governments of the world was to bring necessary heavy machinery and equipment into Port-au-Prince to remove the rubble. Two months have passed and despite traveling east-&-west and north-&south of Port-au-Prince, the number of heavy machinery that I could see was about six (6). One can go to Centerville (Downtown) Port-au-Prince and see several five to eight story buildings leaning on one side and can fall down onto the pubic anytime. There is rubble all over the place. All the work that one can see on the rubble is that people cutting the steel and securing it for any future reconstruction work.
When Tsunami 2004-2005 & later on last year Earthquake 2009 came in Indonesia and Earthquake 2005 came in Pakistan, the action was swifter in removing debris and rebuilding efforts started within one month or so. But not in Haiti, where more than two months have passed and genuine work to remove the rubble is far from sight. Question is not why work was swiftly done in Indonesia and Pakistan: Query is why not in Haiti: I have no idea why??

I was most impressed to see the resilience of common Haitians, who despite the world almost ignoring them, are coming out every day in the morning, to earn their living. Marketplace is full of people, doing small little businesses to survive and few seen begging. Their high spirits need to be saluted.

Many small NGOs like HHRD are doing their little roles at grassroots level as per their capacities, but they usually get no or little attention of the media, and as such are unable to reach out to larger audiences and people to bring more and more assistance to the common masses.

Like the next immediate need for Haitians is proper shelter with rainy season coming in April 2010. HHRD has come up with an unique idea of taking Youth during their Spring Break from USA, to work on a Shelter Home Village project, where 100 wooden small homes are being constructed in another devastated area called Leogane, Haiti (35 miles west of Downtown Port-au-Prince along Leogane Highway). These Shelter homes will hopefully sustain the rainy season and provide safe haven for three to five years. HHRD contacts in the field for this and other projects are Shahid Hayat 1-347-400-1899 and Saqib Ateeque 1-609-575-7474. For general public to participate in this project, details can be found at www.HHRD.Org

As I write these lines, after a long time, we can see a reassuring response from the world, when our very own former US Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are seen standing with President Rene Preval in front of the earthquake damaged Haitian Presidential Palace. They are reassuring the shattered Haitians that world has not forgotten them 10 weeks after the deadliest earthquake of modern times. The still crushed Haitian Presidential Palace with no work being done on it in the past ten weeks, clearly show that world has not done the real work of rebuilding the Haitians’. Hopefully these words of the former Presidents will bring a different response in the right direction towards true recuperation & reconstruction efforts and not merely handouts.

Otherwise the human spirit is very strong. Long-term micro financing initiatives, physical rehabilitation, and reconstruction of infrastructure work is needed: Not merely a box of food here and there. Haitian people together with the non-governmental entities, including HHRD will continue to exert efforts and rebuild a new Haiti soon, providing common human beings worldwide with an opportunity to serve their fellow Haitians and indeed all this will be possible through the Grace of God.

12-13

US Hopes Obama Trip Will Boost Trade with Indonesia

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Doug Palmer

2010-03-16T103621Z_11355208_GM1E63G1FMP01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA

Barack Obama’s impersonator Ilham Anas of Indonesia poses in front of an image of U.S. President Barack Obama after being interviewed by Reuters TV in Obama’s former school, State Elementary School 01 Menteng, in Jakarta March 16, 2010. Obama is scheduled later this month to visit the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where he is a popular figure. Obama studied at State Elementary School 01 Menteng from 1970-1971.

REUTERS/Dadang Tri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes President Barack Obama’s visit next week to Indonesia will help spur reforms that boost trade with Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous nation.

“Economic nationalism, regulatory uncertainty and unresolved investment disputes give pause to American companies seeking to do business in Indonesia,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in a speech on Wednesday.

To increase trade, “it’s incumbent upon Indonesia to make market-oriented reforms that will make it a more attractive market, not just for U.S. companies but companies all around the world,” Locke said.

“Growing trade with Indonesia is a piece of the president’s broader plan to create jobs here at home by growing market access overseas.”

Obama is returning to the country where he spent part of his youth for talks in Jakarta with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a stop in Bali to meet civil society groups and urge further progress on democracy.

Indonesia — a majority Muslim nation of 230 million people — and the United States are expected to sign a “comprehensive partnership” agreement, which Locke said would be a “blueprint for cooperation on a whole host of issues.”

Two-way trade between the United States and Indonesia was just $18 billion last year, a tiny chunk of the $788 billion in trade the United States did with all Pacific Rim countries in 2009.

“In fact, Indonesia does less trade with the United States than some of its smaller, less populous ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand,” said Locke, who will be leading a clean energy trade mission to Indonesia in May.

The United States exported $5.1 billion of goods last year to Indonesia, led by civilian aircraft and farm goods such as soybeans, animal feeds and cotton.

U.S. imports from Indonesia were just $12.9 billion last year, included clothing and textile goods, furniture, electronics, computer accessories and coffee.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Indonesia just weeks after Obama but Locke downplayed the idea that the back-to-back trips were a demonstration of Washington and Beijing vying for influence.

“I don’t think these visits in any way were set up to compete against each other,” Locke said.

But Ernie Bower, director for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he did see a healthy competition between the United States and China for “hearts, minds and markets” in Southeast Asia.

China “really picked up its game” in Indonesia with help it provided during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and Obama’s trip helps set the stage for more U.S. involvement in a strategically important region, Bower said.

But Indonesia has a long way to go before it is ready to join a proposed regional free trade agreement with the United States, said Mark Orgill, manager for Indonesia at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

A much less ambitious trade deal between ASEAN and China already has raised concerns among Indonesia’s manufacturers, Orgill said.

The United States began talks this week on the proposed Transpacific Partnership pact with Australia, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam and Brunei. Two other ASEAN countries, Malaysia and Thailand, have expressed interest in joining the talks.

“Indonesia fights battles at home” over moves to open its market, Orgill said.

Editing by John O’Callaghan

12-12

Islamic Pluralistic Democracy In Southeast Asia

March 11, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Anwar Ibrahim (b. 1947), leader of the Opposition in the Malaysian parliament and Former Deputy Prime Minister (1993-1998) of Malaysia came here to give an important speech last Fall. Early in his career, he was mentored by the then Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, but he became one of the most prominent critics of Mahathir’s administration; and, thus, ran afoul of his mentor, and was convicted of corruption in 1999 (this is ironic with Mahathir’s Administration’s infamy for the deceit of his Administration).  During 2004 this judgment was reversed by a Federal Court, but later the Deputy PM (Prime Minister) was arrested for sodomy.  (“My high hopes were betrayed…,” for homosexuality is a most serious charge under Islamic law), but, because of an international hue, this charge was, also, abandoned.  During 2008, he was recharged under that accusation, but won a Ryding (a representative seat) to Parliament, nonetheless, by a 15,000 plurality in the same month as the second accusation.  This made him the head of the opposition in government as leader of the Permtang Paug Party.

Although Malaysia does not have the population or the square miles of China or India, it is one of Asia’s tigers by its economic growth and achievement since its Independence from Colonialism.  During 1942-1945, it was occupied by the Japanese.  In 1948, the Federation of Malaysia was formed while still a dependent of London.  It included a third of Borneo and Sabah (counter-claimed by Indonesia) the Malay Peninsula, the contested oil-rich Spratly Islands and, at the time of founding, Singapore which, after Independence (1957), seceded from the union.  The Philippines claimed the entire of the new nation’s territory at inception, too! 

The CIA (the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) describes the constitutional monarchy of Malaysia as a middle income multi-sector country with a bicameral legislature, — with an upper House, the Dawn Negara (Senate) and a lower House of Representatives.  Succinctly the Malays have adopted the English West Minister form of democracy with an adaption of the British legal system. 

Economically, electronics exports are leading the way although its GDP (Gross National Product) has been hit hard by the worldwide recession.  Yet, circa 88% literacy gives hope for even expanding development in the future when negative global pressures subside.  Further the Peninsula of the Malays is rich in natural resources.  Yet, this and industrial development has produced a pollution problem that has to be addressed for the health of their residents.  What are weak in the Monarchy’s future are the demographics of the population:  The age balance between the young and old and middle age is weak.

The Federation is diverse with the majority Islamic Malays being approximately slightly over 50%, but there are Chinese (24%), Indigenous (11%), Indians (7%) and various others (8%).  The national religious and linguistic divisions are just as varied.  Besides Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and even Shamanism co-exist within the same sphere with a population of about 24 million.

Malaysia dominates most of the Malay Isthmus and is located on the strategic Straits of Malacca.  It is roughly the size of the Western American state of New Mexico – 329,750 sq. km. to be exact, but with a tropical-based agriculture that has allowed for an expediently larger and a more diverse populace and development.

There is a high literacy rate within the amalgamated hereditary States and Territories (the latter is appointed by the Central Government) which can counter the imbalance in demographics.   It is important to remember that the super city of Kuala Lampur is not the capital of this new Muslim-dominated country, but a much smaller traditional aristocratic nucleus holds the honor of the political hub.  In this way it can be compared to Karachi and Islamabad.

Although Anwar was incarcerated for seven years in total, he still holds that “Islam and democracy are not incompatible!”  He declared that, although he was in solitary confinement for most of that period, he was able to read; and, thereby, was able to extend his education into new areas.

Although there is a rising tide of Islamaphobia, and the fear of a Muslim totalitarianism, “Sharia embodies the freedom underlying Islamic law.”  The Islamic entrance into Southeast Asia was peaceful.  “It included the seeds of pluralism” as we have seen above. Ibrahim perceives that Malaysian democracy is domiciled peacefully within Modernism.  “The citizens have [utterly] rejected radicalism” through the ballot box!

The abuse of human rights leads to terrorism!  “With free societies, we learn to cope with terrorism.”  He asserted that there were three major parties in Islam, but he failed to elaborate on his statement.  Emphatically, “We should address poverty,” though!

“The Judiciary often mimics their political masters.”  The ruling elite hinder politics.

Talking about America, “[Bush] insisted [that] security [must be] a betrayal [of his international friends].  Cowboy diplomacy has given way to [a more free] consistency.”  Your previous Presidency lacked democracy!

Therefore, optimism will [must] succeed!

12-11

Obama Picks Special Envoy to World Muslim Group (OIC)

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ResizedImage130160-rashad Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama appointed a special envoy Saturday to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the 57-nation organization that calls itself the “collective voice of the Muslim world.”

He is Rashad Hussein, an Indian-American Muslim who has been a deputy associate White House counsel, described by Obama as “an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff.”

Obama made the announcement Saturday in a video message to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. He said he made the move to broaden the outreach strategy toward the Muslim world he laid out last year in Cairo.

“Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Quran, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work,” Obama said. A hafiz is someone who has memorized the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be speaking Sunday at the 7th annual forum and Obama took the opportunity Saturday to laud the event and reiterate what he calls the “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” – a relationship that he says has been marred by “misunderstanding and mistrust.”

“The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq; we are removing all our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August, and we will partner with the Iraqi people on behalf of their long-term security and prosperity. In Afghanistan and beyond, we are forging partnerships to isolate violent extremists, reduce corruption and to promote good governance and development that improves lives.

“We remain unyielding in pursuit of a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians. And the United States will continue to stand for the human rights and dignity of people around the world,” he said.

Obama said his administration has held thousands of events with students, civil society groups, faith leaders and entrepreneurs, including Clinton’s “landmark” visit to Pakistan.

“And I look forward to continuing the dialogue during my visit to Indonesia next month. This dialogue has helped us turn many of the initiatives I outlined in Cairo into action,” the president said.

Obama also listed outreach initiatives toward the Muslim world in education, economic development, science and technology, food security, and global health.
“None of this will be easy. Fully realizing the new beginning we envision will take a long-term commitment. But we have begun.”

Hussain has served as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He posted a message on the White House blog saying he is “honored and humbled” by the appointment.

“I am committed to deepening the partnerships that he (Obama) outlined in his visionary address last summer. I look forward to updating you on the Administration’s efforts in these areas over the coming months,” he said.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference says it is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations and that its 57-state membership is “spread over four continents.”

12-8

Indonesia to Kick Off $1 Billion Green Investment Fund

January 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Sunanda Creagh

2010-01-21T131423Z_273409850_GM1E61L1MT401_RTRMADP_3_RICE-INDONESIA

Workers carry sacks of rice at a paddy field in Karawang, in Indonesia’s West Java province January 21, 2009. Indonesian state procurement agency Bulog will release 300,000 tons of rice out of the government stock this week to stabilize domestic prices, its chief said on Thursday.

REUTERS/Beawiharta

JAKARTA, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Indonesia plans a $1 billion green investment fund this year to drive infrastructure developments that aid growth and help cut greenhouse gas emissions, a finance ministry official said on Tuesday.

Indonesia has promised to slash its emissions by at least 26 percent from business as usual levels by 2020 but recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also vowed to boost economic growth to 7 percent or more by 2014.

At global climate talks in Copenhagen last month, Yudhoyono announced a plan to develop the Indonesia Green Investment Fund, which will catalyse infrastructure development that could speed economic growth, boost food and clean water production and also help cut emissions blamed for global warming.

Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund the Government Investment Unit will put $100 million into the fund and a further $900 million will come from foreign governments including Norway and Australia, plus institutional investors, said Edward Gustely, a senior adviser to the Ministry of Finance.

“We’re in the initial stages but the target is to have this fund operational within this year,” Gustely told Reuters, adding the fund would rival Brazil’s Amazon Fund in size and scope. “There’s no reason why this can’t, in the next five years, scale to $5 billion or more.”

Brazil launched its Amazon Fund last year to promote sustainable development and scientific research in the world’s largest rain forest, with donations from European countries and the first projects unveiled last month.

Indonesia last year became the first country to launch a legal framework for a U.N.-backed scheme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, allowing polluters to earn tradeable carbon credits by paying developing nations not to chop down their trees.

Catalyst

Indonesia’s green investment fund will not offer loans or grants but rather top-up funding needed for projects where a bank lender is seeking an additional equity injection.

“Many technology providers and project sponsors don’t have the balance sheet to top up the required equity needed to secure financing,” said Gustely. “We would come in and play a catalyst role to ensure good projects with good asset quality, with good expertise and proper management, can be deployed and proceed.”

The Copenhagen talks failed to achieve a legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but projects like the Indonesia Green Investment Fund were a way for countries to take initiative at home, said Gustely.

“This is driven by how to create more food, water and energy in a sustainable fashion while trying to achieve Indonesia’s growth objectives,” he said.

Fitrian Ardiansyah, climate change programme director for WWF Indonesia, welcomed the fund but said more needed to be done to reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Indonesian government heavily subsidies fossil fuels, but investment in renewable energy sources is too expensive. The government must help the private sector by making investment in renewable energy sources cheaper, which will address the problem. But at the moment coal plants continue to be built, which does not help,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Pip Freebairn; Editing by Neil Chatterjee)

12-5

Islamic Relief to Help Haiti

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

Islamic Relief USA works with Mormon church to aid Haitian quake victims

2010-01-20T185336Z_1133674928_GM1E61L082001_RTRMADP_3_QUAKE-HAITI

Residents leave Port-au-Prince by a bus after a 6.1 magnitude aftershock in Haiti’s capital January 20, 2010.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

(Alexandria, VA, January 13, 2010) — Islamic Relief USA, America’s largest Muslim relief organization, announced today that it will immediately fly a $1 million shipment of aid to those impacted by yesterday’s earthquake in Haiti. That relief aid will be sent in coordination with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those wishing to donate to Islamic Relief USA’s “Haiti Emergency” appeal may visit www.IslamicReliefUSA.org or call (888) 479-4968. Checks payable to “Islamic Relief USA” may be mailed to: Islamic Relief USA, P.O. Box 5640, Buena Park, CA, 90622.

In October 2009, Islamic Relief USA responded to two Pacific Rim earthquakes by coordinating a massive aid shipment to Samoa and deploying emergency teams in Indonesia.

Islamic Relief partners worldwide also responded to other major disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the Pakistan earthquake in 2005. More than $100 million in relief aid was collected to assist the victims in those disaster areas. Islamic Relief also responded to Hurricane Katrina, delivering aid to more than 60,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

[NOTE: Media professionals interested in speaking to aid workers who have experience in disaster zones or to learn more about ongoing response efforts may contact Islamic Relief USA VP of Fund Development Anwar Khan at 818-216-9723.]

Islamic Relief USA, based in Alexandria, Va., is a non-profit 501(c)(3) humanitarian agency with offices also in California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas. As an international relief and development organization, Islamic Relief strives to alleviate the poverty and suffering of the world’s poorest people. Since its establishment, Islamic Relief has expanded greatly with permanent locations in more than 35 countries worldwide.

For the sixth consecutive year, Islamic Relief USA has been awarded four stars by Charity Navigator, the largest charity evaluator in the country. This prestigious award puts Islamic Relief among the top 2.25 percent of charities in the nation.
Media Contacts: Anwar Khan, 818-216-9723 (mobile), E-mail: anwar@IslamicReliefUSA.org; Mostafa Mahboob, 310-351-0952 (mobile), E-mail: mostafa@IslamicReliefUSA.org

12-4

Gentle, Friendly Face of Indonesia and Islam

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Greg Barton, Theage.com

ABDURRAHMAN ad-DAKHIL WAHID, FORMER INDONESIAN PRESIDENT

2009-12-31T131642Z_1627607473_GM1E5CV1N0R01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-PRESIDENT WHEN the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid succumbed to a long battle with kidney disease and diabetes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for seven days of national mourning. For many millions of Indonesia’s 240 million citizens, the mourning is very personal.

Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, although a controversial president, was deeply loved and admired. Even before becoming Indonesia’s first democratically elected president in October 1999, he had built a towering reputation as a progressive Islamic intellectual and as a leading dissident. In fact, many feared that his unexpected entry into political office would tar his reputation as a social reformer and religious leader.

They were right to be afraid. He was never meant to be a president. It wasn’t just that his style was too unconventional, it was that he refused to play by the rules of the game and to do the sort of deals that politicians need to do. Ironically, however, it was this commitment to idealistically championing reform despite a lack of political backing for which he is currently being remembered, as much as for his contributions as an Islamic intellectual and Muslim community leader. He was the wrong man for the job but it was the right man for the time.

Born into one of Indonesia’s most prominent families of ulama, or Islamic scholars, Wahid went on to lead Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) for 15 years from 1984 until 1999. He succeeded in transforming the culture and orientation of this traditionalist Islamic association; with a membership of about 40 million people, it is the world’s largest Islamic organisation. Along with like-minded colleagues he helped ensure that the NU pesantren, Islamic boarding schools known elsewhere as madrassa, completed a transition to becoming modern schools offering the secular state curriculum alongside religious instruction. This ensured that their mostly poor rural students were able to enter fully into modern Indonesia society.

Wahid’s two grandfathers, Hasyim Asyari and Bisri Syansuri, had been instrumental in establishing NU in 1926, and his father, Wahid Hasyim, was minister of religious affairs under Sukarno and one of NU’s most prominent leaders up until his death in 1952, when the car in which he was travelling with his son, the future president, skidded on a mountain road. As the eldest of six children, Wahid felt a heavy responsibility to follow in his father’s footsteps. His solid pedigree gave him a commanding position to call for reform within NU and to challenge the Indonesian military, including president Suharto, on human rights abuses, corruption, nepotism and abuse of power. Gifted with a brilliant mind and near photographic recall, he blitzed through his pesantren studies as a teenager while sneaking off to the cinema as much as he could.

He also developed a love of literature. His mental gifts, if not his personal discipline, meant that when he arrived at Cairo’s famous al-Azhar University to study Islamic studies in 1963 he quickly found the sort of traditional rote learning in place there to be a disappointment. Neglecting his formal studies he spent his time in informal learning, extending his earlier studies to include French cinema and Western literature (read in the library of the American University) as well as hours of coffee shop debates in the cafes of Cairo.

Wahid was working at the Indonesian embassy in Cairo at the time of the 1965 coup that saw Sukarno toppled and hundreds of thousands of alleged communist sympathisers brutally murdered. He translated diplomatic cables and letters reporting events from back home and was all too aware of the culpability of NU members in aiding and abetting the violence. This led to a lifelong commitment to speaking out on human rights abuses, including those linked to his own community. As president, he sought to rehabilitate former political prisoners.

Bored with al-Azhar, he moved to Baghdad University in 1966, where he completed a degree in Arabic literature. Back home to Indonesia in the early 1970s, he threw himself into NGO activism. Like his father, he enjoyed broad friendships across all communities and was an early proponent of interreligious dialogue. He was also a champion of the rights of minority communities, including Indonesia’s Christians and Chinese, and later as president sought to advance their interests.
His leadership of NU positioned him to fearlessly critique Suharto and his regime, especially when beginning in the early 1990s Suharto sought the support of the radical Islamist elements that he previously persecuted.

To oppose this Wahid joined Djohan Effendi and others in establishing Forum Demokrasi to openly criticise the president’s use of sectarian sentiment for political purposes. In 1994, Wahid and Djohan accepted an invitation from Shimon Peres to visit Israel; they participated in the inauguration of the Peres Centre for Peace. Later, as president, he sought to open formal relations between Indonesia and Israel. Despite this bold move his popularity among his support base in NU remained undiminished and he declared that he was now prepared to run for a third five-year term as executive chairman. Suharto did all that he could to block his re-election but Wahid’s triumph established him as one of the few people who could take on Suharto and get away with it.

Nevertheless, he was forced to seek a rapprochement with Suharto following the latter’s ousting of Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of her own party in 1996 and the violent suppression of her supporters. But when the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia in the 1997, he was again at the head of the movement for reform.

A near fatal stroke in January 1998 robbed him of what was left of his failing eyesight and meant that he spent the first half of 1998 in physical rehabilitation rather than in leading the push against Suharto. Still, following Suharto’s resignation in May, Wahid was able to establish a new party designed to garner the support of members of NU but founded on principles of secularism. The success of this party, PKB, in the 1999 elections set him up for role in government. No one, however, really expected him to become president.

That occurred because Habibie, who wanted to turn his transitional presidency into a full term through election, was thwarted when he supported the referendum in East Timor and Islamist elements and others within parliament moved to block the ascension of Megawati Sukarnoputri. She eventually became president in July 2001 when parliament effectively voted Wahid out of office.

Wahid is remembered today largely for his role as a reformist president, but history is likely to also remember him as one of the 20th century’s leading Islamic intellectuals and as someone who demonstrated how a traditional Islamic scholar can also be modern, democratic and humanitarian.

Professor Greg Barton is Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia at Monash University, and acting director, Centre for Islam and the Modern World. He is also the author of Gus Dur: the Authorised Biography of Abdurrahman Wahid.

12-2

Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Liz Gooch, New York Times

articleLarge
Mohamad Ikram Ashaari and his four wives and children at his home in Kuala Lumpur.      Palani Mohan for International Herald Tributne.

KUALA LUMPUR — Rohaya Mohamad, 44, is an articulate, bespectacled medical doctor who studied at a university in Wales. Juhaidah Yusof, 41, is a shy Islamic studies teacher and mother of eight. Kartini Maarof, 41, is a divorce lawyer and Rubaizah Rejab, a youthful-looking 30-year-old woman, teaches Arabic at a private college.

The lives of these four women are closely entwined — they take care of each others’ children, cook for each other and share a home on weekends.

They also share a husband.

The man at the center of this matrimonial arrangement is Mohamad Ikram Ashaari, the 43-year-old stepson of Hatijah Aam, 54, a Malaysian woman who in August established a club to promote polygamy.

“Men are by nature polygamous,” said Dr. Rohaya, Mr. Ikram’s third wife, flanked by the other three women and Mr. Ikram for an interview on a recent morning. The women were dressed in ankle-length skirts, their hair covered by tudungs, the Malaysian term for headscarf. “We hear of many men having the ‘other woman,’ affairs and prostitution because for men, one woman is not enough. Polygamy is a way to overcome social ills such as this.”

The Ikhwan Polygamy Club is managed by Global Ikhwan, a company whose businesses include bread and noodle factories, a chicken-processing plant, pharmacies, cafes and supermarkets. Mr. Ikram is a director of the company.

While polygamy is legal in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, the club has come under fire from the government and religious leaders, who suspect it may be an attempt to revive Al-Arqam, a defunct Islamic movement headed by Mrs. Hatijah’s husband, Mr. Ashaari Mohamad, who is the founder and owner of Global Ikhwan. Al-Arqam was banned in 1994 for “deviant” religious teachings.

The club denies allegations that it is trying to revive Al-Arqam, and says that the aim of the club is to help single mothers and women past “marrying age” find husbands.

The Ikhwan Polygamy Club says it has 1,000 members across Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the Middle East and Europe. It recently started a branch in Bandung, Indonesia, and plans to open another one in Jakarta. Most of the members are employees of Global Ikwan or former members of Al-Arqam.

Members get together regularly for meetings and relationship counseling, which is given by senior members of the group.

Under Malaysian law, it is legal for Muslim men to marry as many as four wives, although they must obtain permission from an Islamic, or shariah, court to marry more than one. Women’s groups say it has become easier for men to obtain permission to take multiple wives in recent years, a development they say coincides with a rise in Islamic conservatism in Malaysia.

While some states require men to obtain the consent of their existing wives before seeking court permission to marry another wife, Sa’adiah Din, a family lawyer who practices in the shariah courts, said other states no longer required the wives’ consent.

In 2008, 1,791 men applied to the shariah courts, which apply only to the country’s Muslim population, for permission to take another wife, up from 1,694 in 2007. The government could not provide figures on the total number of polygamous marriages, but researchers including Norani Othman, a sociologist at the National University of Malaysia, said the number could be as high as 5 percent of all marriages.
Despite the growing number of polygamous marriages, the club’s effort to promote the practice has put it in the sights of the authorities.

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, a government department that is responsible for the promotion and administration of Islam, is investigating the activities of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club and says it believes Mr. Ashaari and his family may be promoting teachings contrary to Islam. A spokeswoman would not provide further details, saying the investigation was continuing.

Al-Arqam had asserted that Mr. Ashaari had the power to forgive the sins of Muslims, an act Muslims believe can be done only by God. Some reports have suggested that the movement had as many as 10,000 members when it was banned.

A leading religious official, Harussani Bin Haji Zakaria, the mufti of Perak State, said followers of Al-Arqam had claimed that Mr. Ashaari had the power to send people to heaven or hell.

Mr. Harussani said he believed the polygamy club could be a front to resurrect Al-Arqam. “I think because they have been banned they want to attract people to come to him again,” he said, referring to Mr. Ashaari.

The club has also been criticized by women’s groups like Sisters in Islam, a nongovernmental organization based in Malaysia.

Ms. Norani, the sociologist, who is the lead researcher in a Sisters in Islam project investigating polygamy, said the practice could be harmful to women and children, particularly those born to first wives.

She and her fellow researchers have interviewed 2,000 men, women and adult children who have experienced polygamous marriage.

Although she stressed that her comments were based on preliminary observations, Ms. Norani said many of the first wives interviewed reported feelings of resentment and depression after their husbands took a second wife, and “a significant number” had considered divorce.

She said she knew some well-educated, financially independent women in Kuala Lumpur, including business executives and lawyers, who had chosen to become second or third wives.

“Usually they marry late, they do a second or third degree, they put off marriage until later and they find it difficult to find an unmarried man,” she said. “One of them said ‘all the good men are either married or gay.”’

With 17 children among them, ages 6 to 21, Mr. Ikram’s four wives all have their own homes near their workplaces, but on weekends they gather at the family’s five-bedroom house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Most of the older children are at boarding school or university, but the children of primary-school age stay at the family house, where they are usually cared for by the first wife, Juhaidah, during the week.

Mr. Ikram takes turns spending nights with each of his four wives. “It’s like one, two, three, four,” said Dr. Rohaya, pointing to each of the wives.

The wives usually meet Mr. Ikram at the family house but they say there is no strict arrangement, and Mr. Ikram sometimes comes to their individual homes during the week.

On weekends, at the family house, the women take turns doing the cooking.

“We share clothes,” Dr. Rohaya said. “We’re like sisters, really.”

None of the women grew up in polygamous families, and although they admit to having had some initial reservations, they all said they were happy and would recommend polygamous marriage to their daughters.

Mr. Ikram rejected suggestions from the women’s groups that polygamous marriages may benefit men while causing hardship for women.

“Actually, in a polygamous marriage it’s more of a burden to a man than to a woman because the husband has to face four different women, and that’s not easy,” he said, prompting laughter from his wives.

12-2

Surprising Results of CFR Survey

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

What the U.S. Elite Really Thinks About Israel

By Jeffrey Blankfort, Counterpunch

The Council on Foreign Relations is always near the top of the Left’s list of bogeymen that stand accused of pulling the strings of US foreign policy. It is right up there with the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, right? Wrong. If that was the case,  those arguing that US support for Israel is based on it being a “strategic asset”  will have a hard time explaining a Pew Research Center survey on America’s Place in the World, taken of 642 CFR members between October 2 and November 16. The Pew poll  not only reveals that the overwhelming majority, two-thirds of the members of this elite foreign policy institution, believes that the United States has gone overboard in favoring Israel, it doesn’t consider Israel to have much importance to the US in the first place.

What can be concluded from the answers to questions that dealt with the Israel-Palestine conflict is that the general public forms its opinions from what it hears and reads in the mainstream media which are largely biased towards Israel while CFR members have greater access to as well as interest in obtaining more accurate information and are less susceptible to pro-Israel propaganda. That apparently not a single US newspaper saw fit to report on the opinions of CFR members, under those circumstances, is not surprising. The evidence:

(1) That on a list of countries that will be the “more important as Americas allies and partners” in the future, just 4 per cent included Israel which placed it in a tie with South Korea and far behind China, 58 per cent, India, 55 per cent, Brazil, 37 per cent, the EU, 19 per cent, Russia, 17 per cent, Japan, 16 per cent, the UK and Turkey, 10 per cent, Germany, 9 per cent, Mexico, 8 per cent, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and France at 5 per cent. CFR voters were allowed to make up to seven selections.(Q19)

(2) When asked which countries would be less important to the US, Israel, at 9 per cent  was behind 22 countries including Canada and Mexico and in the region Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.(Q20)

(3) What was particularly revealing is that “in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” only 26 per cent of the CFR sided with Israel, compared with 51 per cent of 2000 members of the general public who were polled over the same period. While but 16 per cent of CFR members sided with the Palestinians compared to 12 per cent of the public, 41 per cent of the CFRers sided with “both equally” as opposed to 4 per cent of the public. Supporting neither was 12 per cent of the CFR and 14 per cent of the public. (Q33)

(4) That the CFR has not had a major hand in making US Israel-Palestine policy nor is it in agreement with those who did is strikingly revealed by the response of its members when asked their opinion of US Middle East policies. The problem, according to 67 per cent of CFR members (as compared to 30 per cent of the public) is that the US favored Israeli too much, while only 2 per cent (as opposed to 15 per cent of the public) believed that US policy overly favored the Palestinians.. Twenty-four percent of the CFR believed US policy “struck the right balance” as did 29 per cent of the public. (Q34)

(5) The overwhelming majority of CFR members, 69 per cent, think that Pres.Obama is “striking the right balance” between the Israelis and Palestinians as compared with a slim majority, 51 per cent of the public. Thirteen percent of the CFR believes that Obama is “favoring Israel too much,” as compared with 7 per cent of the public, while 12 per cent thinks he is siding with the Palestinians, a position taken by 16 per cent of the public. (Q35)

Regarding Iran, one detects the same gap between the CFR and the public. Whereas a 64 per cent-34 per cent majority of the polled CFR members see Iran as a major threat to US interests, compared with a 72-20 per cent per cent  majority of the public, only 33 per cent of the CFR  would support an attack on Iran should it get a nuclear weapon as contrasted  with 63 per cent of the public. (Q7)

The percentages are almost reversed when it comes  to Pakistan with 63 per cent of the CFR supporting US military action were “extremists…poised to take over Pakistan,” whereas only 51 per cent of the public would approve such a move. (Q24). This is another indication of the success of Israel’s  porte-paroles in the mainstream media  in  building up the Iran threat while downplaying the potential threats to the stabilty of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The entire Pew survey can be viewed here: http://people-press.org/reports/questionnaires/569.pdf

[Jeffrey Blankfort is a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He an be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net]

Houstonian Corner (V11-I50)

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Helping Hand For Relief & Development Has Started Office in Royal Center Houston

   

Eminent Islamic Scholar Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf Islahi inaugurated the US South Central Region office of Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD), which is located at 11945 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77099, Phone: (713) 984-4558, Fax: (713) 429-1421, Webpage: www.HHRD.Org.

Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf Islahi met with several people from the community, as they kept coming to the OPEN HOUSE of HHRD from 1:30pm. till 4:30pm. Also present on the occasion were ILyas Hasan Choudry, Coordinator of HHRD for US South Central Region; and Maaz Adil, Administrative Assistant of HHRD for US South Central Region.

HHRD is considered most proficient in the field of Basic Healthcare & Disaster Relief Services (Emergency; Short-Term; & Long-Term Recuperation) and are still involved in the field works of Tsunami 2004-2005 (Sri Lanka & Indonesia); Earthquake 2005 (Kashmir & NWFP, Pakistan); Floods of Bangladesh 2006-2007; Earthquake 2008 (Ziarat, Baluchistan, Pakistan); Floods 2008 (NWFP, Pakistan); & IDPs 2009 (Swat & now Waziristan, Pakistan).

Due to the works of HHRD, they have recently received grants of over $3-Million from the World Food Programme of UNO and World Health Organization (WHO).

This year HHRD crossed the record 8,000 mark in the performance of Qurbanis, booked by people from USA and Canada in 60 different countries.

HHRD most famous project is “Orphan Support Program”, where with just $365/Year (or automatic deduction of $30/Month), one can sponsor an orphan (age 0 till 19), to bring food, clothes, education and much happiness to his or her life. These orphans are in about 15 countries, including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Palestine, and Iraq.

In his communiqué, the Executive Director of HHRD Farrukh Raza has remarked: In recent years, HHRD works have been recognized by Americans and International Relief Agencies. This has been due to the Blessings of God; most generous donations by people of USA & Canada of various backgrounds; hard-work of our field & office staff and our partner agencies; and so on. HHRD Office in Houston has brought opportunities of benevolence near the people living in the South Central Region of USA. Our office and programs need the moral & monetary support from all the members of the society. With the end of year approaching us, this is a reminder that general public, professionals as well as businesspersons; need to start thinking and consulting experts to determine their tax status, so that they are able to mutually benefit by donating to a 501 (c) organization. In this case, they must strongly consider HHRD for their contributions in our “Orphan Support Program”; “Water For Life” Wells Projects; “Give the Gift of Eyes” Surgery Program; “Wedding Box” for Needy & Orphan Girls; and Ongoing Disaster Relief Projects. They must consider HHRD because of our credible work in the field and track-record of delivering competent services, due to the Grace of God. Visit www.HHRD.Org for this purpose.”

Cold Front Could Not Stem the Heat in the Run-Off Elections

Temperatures are expected to hover between low 40s and high 50s as the first week of Early Voting started on Monday, November 30th, 2009 in the City of Houston Run-Off Elections, with the last day of Early Voting being Tuesday, December 08th, 2009; and Saturday, December 11, 2009 is the actual voting day. For all election details, one can visit: www.harrisvotes.com.

Despite the cold weather, the Mayoral Race got heated up on the first day of Run-Off Elections, as Candidate Gene Locke launches a damaging commercial against his opponent Annise Parker, who promised to retaliate in kind. Earlier at his fundraising event, City Controller Candidate M. J. Khan said he is very lucky to have got a candidate, who has Federal Liens on his Properties.

Before the end of the first day of Early Voting, Annise Parker did hit back, with an E-Mail Press Release from her Campaign Staff Sue Davis, asking Gene Locke to come clean on several charges of Conflicts of Interest.

Now in the negative commercial, Mr. Locke has criticized Parker for saying she would “take apart the police department”. Ms. Parker has made such remarks on several occasions, including recently at the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Monthly Luncheon, where she said she would not only change the face of METRO, but also change HPD Chief.

Locke defends this advertisement, saying it is accurate and gives chance for voters to reflect on the number one issue of the campaign (Public Safety).

Parker said this Ad is deceptive, and said it shows desperation in Gene Locke’s Campaign.

Later on in the afternoon, Annise Parker Campaign for Mayor called on Gene Locke to say whether he will take himself out from voting on lucrative city contracts that his law partners will bid, if elected mayor.

“Lawyer-Lobbyist Gene Locke continues to demonstrate his disdain for open and transparent government and his disrespect for the voters,” said Adam Harris, Parker’s Campaign Manager. “He still refuses to say whether or not he will vote on millions of dollars of city contracts for his law partners if elected mayor.”

Locke is a partner in the politically connected law firm of Andrews Kurth. The firm has made more than $17 million in the last six years alone from the City of Houston, METRO, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Port Authority of Houston, the same public agencies whose board members Locke would appoint as Mayor – while his law firm, Andrews Kurth, continues to bid for contracts from the city and each of those agencies.

Locke has billed local government agencies like METRO at rates of up to $640 an hour. He billed $574,000 in fees to the Sports Authority alone in the last 30 months.

Gene Locke has refused to release his tax returns for weeks after Ms. Parker voluntarily released hers, and agreed to release them only after being cornered by a Texas Watchdog reporter the week before Thanksgiving.

In one setback to Annise Parker Campaign, the Houston Police Officers’ Union has come up with a stark question for voters’: How would you feel if someone had stolen your identity? The Today, the Houston Police Officers’ Union (HPOU) put out an all-points “press” bulletin asking Houston voters to be wary of false and misleading radio and television ads by mayoral candidate, Ms. Annise Parker. HPOU, Houston’s largest and most respected police officer organization, is warning Houston voters not to be misled by Parker’s radio and television ads, which falsely imply she has the police group’s endorsement. The police organization has endorsed Gene Locke for Mayor in the upcoming runoff election.

11-50

Houstonian Corner (V11-I50)

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Helping Hand For Relief & Development Has Started Office in Royal Center Houston

Picture AE  Picture AF

Sheikh Yousuf Islahi In Houston As Guest At The OPEN HOUSE Of Helping Hand For Relief And Development.

Voting In City of Houston Run-Off Elections Is On December 10, 2009…;

Eminent Islamic Scholar Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf Islahi inaugurated the US South Central Region office of Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD), which is located at 11945 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77099, Phone: (713) 984-4558, Fax: (713) 429-1421, Webpage: www.HHRD.Org.

Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf Islahi met with several people from the community, as they kept coming to the OPEN HOUSE of HHRD from 1:30pm. till 4:30pm. Also present on the occasion were ILyas Hasan Choudry, Coordinator of HHRD for US South Central Region; and Maaz Adil, Administrative Assistant of HHRD for US South Central Region.

HHRD is considered most proficient in the field of Basic Healthcare & Disaster Relief Services (Emergency; Short-Term; & Long-Term Recuperation) and are still involved in the field works of Tsunami 2004-2005 (Sri Lanka & Indonesia); Earthquake 2005 (Kashmir & NWFP, Pakistan); Floods of Bangladesh 2006-2007; Earthquake 2008 (Ziarat, Baluchistan, Pakistan); Floods 2008 (NWFP, Pakistan); & IDPs 2009 (Swat & now Waziristan, Pakistan).

Due to the works of HHRD, they have recently received grants of over $3-Million from the World Food Programme of UNO and World Health Organization (WHO).

This year HHRD crossed the record 8,000 mark in the performance of Qurbanis, booked by people from USA and Canada in 60 different countries.

HHRD most famous project is “Orphan Support Program”, where with just $365/Year (or automatic deduction of $30/Month), one can sponsor an orphan (age 0 till 19), to bring food, clothes, education and much happiness to his or her life. These orphans are in about 15 countries, including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Palestine, and Iraq.

In his communiqué, the Executive Director of HHRD Farrukh Raza has remarked: In recent years, HHRD works have been recognized by Americans and International Relief Agencies. This has been due to the Blessings of God; most generous donations by people of USA & Canada of various backgrounds; hard-work of our field & office staff and our partner agencies; and so on. HHRD Office in Houston has brought opportunities of benevolence near the people living in the South Central Region of USA. Our office and programs need the moral & monetary support from all the members of the society. With the end of year approaching us, this is a reminder that general public, professionals as well as businesspersons; need to start thinking and consulting experts to determine their tax status, so that they are able to mutually benefit by donating to a 501 (c) organization. In this case, they must strongly consider HHRD for their contributions in our “Orphan Support Program”; “Water For Life” Wells Projects; “Give the Gift of Eyes” Surgery Program; “Wedding Box” for Needy & Orphan Girls; and Ongoing Disaster Relief Projects. They must consider HHRD because of our credible work in the field and track-record of delivering competent services, due to the Grace of God. Visit www.HHRD.Org for this purpose.”

Cold Front Could Not Stem the Heat in the Run-Off Elections

Temperatures are expected to hover between low 40s and high 50s as the first week of Early Voting started on Monday, November 30th, 2009 in the City of Houston Run-Off Elections, with the last day of Early Voting being Tuesday, December 08th, 2009; and Saturday, December 11, 2009 is the actual voting day. For all election details, one can visit: www.harrisvotes.com.

Despite the cold weather, the Mayoral Race got heated up on the first day of Run-Off Elections, as Candidate Gene Locke launches a damaging commercial against his opponent Annise Parker, who promised to retaliate in kind. Earlier at his fundraising event, City Controller Candidate M. J. Khan said he is very lucky to have got a candidate, who has Federal Liens on his Properties.

Before the end of the first day of Early Voting, Annise Parker did hit back, with an E-Mail Press Release from her Campaign Staff Sue Davis, asking Gene Locke to come clean on several charges of Conflicts of Interest.

Now in the negative commercial, Mr. Locke has criticized Parker for saying she would “take apart the police department”. Ms. Parker has made such remarks on several occasions, including recently at the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Monthly Luncheon, where she said she would not only change the face of METRO, but also change HPD Chief.

Locke defends this advertisement, saying it is accurate and gives chance for voters to reflect on the number one issue of the campaign (Public Safety).

Parker said this Ad is deceptive, and said it shows desperation in Gene Locke’s Campaign.

Later on in the afternoon, Annise Parker Campaign for Mayor called on Gene Locke to say whether he will take himself out from voting on lucrative city contracts that his law partners will bid, if elected mayor.

“Lawyer-Lobbyist Gene Locke continues to demonstrate his disdain for open and transparent government and his disrespect for the voters,” said Adam Harris, Parker’s Campaign Manager. “He still refuses to say whether or not he will vote on millions of dollars of city contracts for his law partners if elected mayor.”

Locke is a partner in the politically connected law firm of Andrews Kurth. The firm has made more than $17 million in the last six years alone from the City of Houston, METRO, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Port Authority of Houston, the same public agencies whose board members Locke would appoint as Mayor – while his law firm, Andrews Kurth, continues to bid for contracts from the city and each of those agencies.

Locke has billed local government agencies like METRO at rates of up to $640 an hour. He billed $574,000 in fees to the Sports Authority alone in the last 30 months.

Gene Locke has refused to release his tax returns for weeks after Ms. Parker voluntarily released hers, and agreed to release them only after being cornered by a Texas Watchdog reporter the week before Thanksgiving.

In one setback to Annise Parker Campaign, the Houston Police Officers’ Union has come up with a stark question for voters’: How would you feel if someone had stolen your identity? The Today, the Houston Police Officers’ Union (HPOU) put out an all-points “press” bulletin asking Houston voters to be wary of false and misleading radio and television ads by mayoral candidate, Ms. Annise Parker. HPOU, Houston’s largest and most respected police officer organization, is warning Houston voters not to be misled by Parker’s radio and television ads, which falsely imply she has the police group’s endorsement. The police organization has endorsed Gene Locke for Mayor in the upcoming runoff election.

11-50

Survey: Free Market Flawed

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By James Robbins

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.

In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.

Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary.

There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.

Economic regulation

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, it was a victory for ordinary people across Eastern and Central Europe.

It also looked at the time like a crushing victory for free-market capitalism.

Twenty years on, this new global poll suggests confidence in free markets has taken heavy blows from the past 12 months of financial and economic crisis.

More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter – 23% of those who responded – feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil.

And there is very strong support around the world for governments to distribute wealth more evenly. That is backed by majorities in 22 of the 27 countries.

If there is one issue where a global consensus seems to emerge from the survey it is this: there are majorities almost everywhere wanting government to be more active in regulating business.

It is only in Turkey that a majority want less government regulation.

Opinion about the disintegration of the Soviet Union is sharply divided.

Europeans overwhelmingly say it was a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way.

But outside the developed West it is a different picture. Almost seven in 10 Egyptians say the end of the Soviet Union was a bad thing and views are sharply divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia.

11- 47

Southeast Michigan (V11-I36)

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Bloomfield Unity Montessori and Daycare

Farmington–August 25–Ms. Ayesha Ali, co-principal of the Bloomfield Unity Montessori and Daycare took some time to talk with TMO about her school this week.
This Montessori school is in fact not a direct competitor with most of the other Islamic day schools that TMO has interviewed in the past years, as it is a preschool–in fact it is a feeder for the other Islamic schools, like Huda and others.

The Bloomfield Montessori school has about 30 students, and is based inside the BMUC mosque.  The Montessori program focuses on children up to six years old, and has accepted children as young as 8 weeks.

Inspired by the success of the Tawheed Center’s hifz program, which has really become the gold standard for local mosque’s religious instruction, Ms. Ali explained to TMO that the Bloomfield Montessori preschool will offer a hifz program patterned on Tawheed’s–with reliance on Calvert’s home school curriculum, and reliance on Shaykh Ahmad, a trained qari–to instruct the children in tajweed and memorization.

The hifz program at Bloomfield will be for 1st and 2nd grade students.  Ms. Ali explained that “three or four” students have enrolled in the hifz program so far, and that the class will be capped at ten.  The hifz program will cost $600 per month.  The regular Montessori program is $700 per month.  Preschool is $550 per month, and the school is available to parents for the entire year if they want.

Local Mosques and Ramadan

Farmington–August 26–FCNA calculations this year coincided with the Saudi ruling regarding the beginning of Ramadan, leaving most Southeast Michigan Sunni mosques on the same note with regard to the beginning and perhaps also the ending of Ramadan.

FCNA, the Fiqh Council of North America, which calculates based on the physical visibility of the moon in Mecca, determined that the Ramadan moon, which entered early Thursday morning, would not be visible after sunset in Saudi on Thursday therefore the Ramadan month was said to begin Saturday.

The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia in somewhat of a surprise announcement on Thursday said also that fasting would begin Saturday.

Other nations fasting Saturday included Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei–the majority of Sunni nations.  Four nations however began fasting Friday, including Turkey, Albania, Bosnia, and Libya. 

Shi’a followers of the Lebanese marja Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah also began fasting Friday, relying also on calculations.  However, followers of other Shi’a maraja began fasting Saturday.

Local Michigan mosques mainly began fasting Saturday, however with varying reasoning.  The Tawheed Center of Farmington, the Muslim Center of Detroit, and Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center all began Saturday based on following the recommendations of FCNA.

The Flint Islamic Center, MCA of Ann Arbor, and the Grand Blanc Islamic Center began Saturday as well, but for the reason that Saudi Arabia had announced it would begin fasting on Saturday.

MCWS, the Canton mosque, also following FCNA.  ‘Isha and tarawih at MCWS will begin at 10 for the first 10 days, then 9:45 for the second 10 days, and 9:30 for the final 10 days.

Dr. Saleem of the Flint Islamic Center on Corunna explained that ‘Eid will also be based on the Saudi ‘Eid.  ‘Isha and tarawih at FIC will be at 10pm for the first 2 weeks and at 9:30pm for the final 2 weeks.

Flint is having a community dinner every Saturday night, with about 500 people, Dr. Saleem explained to TMO. 

After Ramadan many of the local mosques likely including Flint, intend to participate in the mass ‘Eid celebration at the Rock Financial Showplace, continuing last year’s beginning of the tradition.

11-36

Uyghurs & Chinese Can Live Together in Peace in East Turkestan

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Harun Yahya

www.harunyahya.com
www.eastturkestan.net

2009-07-17T085631Z_01_DBG207_RTRMDNP_3_CHINA-XINJIANG

Ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese Muslims pray together during Friday prayers at Yang Hang mosque in the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 17, 2009.       

REUTERS/David Gray

The efforts being made today to stir up ethnic conflict in East Turkestan are extremely dangerous. Our Muslim brothers in East Turkestan have been subjected to various difficulties for the last 60 years or so, but have never turned to violence and conflict. The Uyghur Turks are a noble people, known for their good manners, honesty, fortitude, reconciliatory natures, obedience to the state, loyalty and devotion. These fine people possess excellent virtues, such as forgiveness, loving peace, lovableness, respect for different ideas and beliefs and judging people according to their moral values rather than their race. There has therefore never been any conflict based on ethnicity with the other peoples living in the region, especially the Han Chinese, and neither will there be any in the future. The Uyghur Turks want a climate in which everyone can live together in peace and security, respecting the right to life of everyone in East Turkestan, no matter what their religion or ethnic origin. Some of the main ways in which this can be brought about are as follows:

1. It is obvious that the Uyghur Turks favor peace and security. But peace in the region can only be ensured if the security of our Uyghur brothers is guaranteed. The international community has important responsibilities in that respect. The support of international societies and organizations is essential if it is to be possible for our Uyghur Turk and Chinese brothers are to be able to live in peace. Democratic pressure from these organizations, especially the UN, on the Chinese government, will ensure that the administration follows a line that is more peaceable toward the problems and legitimate demands of our Uyghur brothers and respects their human rights.  When the necessary encouragement and direction is provided, when the international community acts as a guarantor, it will be easier to establish peace in the region.

2. It is natural for China to be keen to protect its national and economic interests. But this cannot be established through oppression and aggression. The path that will make China prosperous and strengthen its economic and social regeneration lies in a conception that respects human rights, is democratic and loving, and that defends freedom of ideas and belief. The only solution that can calm Chinese fears, such as lack of access to energy resources, economic losses, loss of territory or fragmentation is the foundation of the Turkish-Islamic Union. The Turkish-Islamic Union will establish an environment in which borders are lifted, there is freedom of trade and investment and in which all communities have equal access to energy resources. In this way, China will be able to spread its investments over a wide area from Tanzania to Indonesia and sell its good across a wide territory, and Muslims will be able to invest in China on a large scale. China will regenerate rapidly with the establishment of the Turkish-Islamic Union, will be spared from having to use its citizens as a cheap labor force and will enjoy abundance and plenty all over. 

3. Islam is a religion of peace. All forms of violence are sinful in Islam. In the Qur’an, Allah commands Muslims to be forgiving. A Muslim who abides by the Qur’an and follows our Prophet (s) has a duty to be peace-loving, affectionate, loving, compassionate, patient and moderate. The moral values of the Qur’an oblige Muslims to control their anger, to respond to evil with good, to always speak and behave in a pleasant manner, to forgive under even the most difficult circumstances and to behave justly, even if that conflicts with their own interests. The spread of and learning about Islamic moral values is a great benefit for China. If the Chinese government is concerned about the Han Chinese taking in action in terror attacks and wishes to avoid anarchy and violence, then it must encourage the teaching and dissemination of Islamic moral values. In a China inhabited by people who live by the moral values of the Qur’an there will be no need for military occupation and security measures. The unrest and unease will come to a complete stop. The result will be a society made up of individuals who trust and respect one another, treat one another with understanding, are respectful of and loyal to the state and who all live in peace, that spends its money on the wealth of its own citizens instead of military investment, without investing millions of dollars in armaments and employing thousands of security personnel. And the order and equilibrium sought by China will be established naturally.

4. Our Uyghur brothers’ demands for humane conditions, to live freely according to their religion, to be able to worship as they wish, to protect their own culture and maintain their own existence are all justified and human ones. The most effective way of bringing these about is for the Uyghur people to make a cultural leap forward, to improve themselves with an anti-materialist and anti-Darwinist education, to increase their economic strength, and strengthen themselves both materially and spiritually. The Turkic Uyghur people must not forget that they are the most important representatives of Muslims and Islam in China. They must act as models to the Chinese people with their good manners, nobility, modesty, balance and moderation. An Uyghur people who are culturally advanced and materially stronger will clearly have wide opportunities to defend their own rights and also to describe and spread the moral values of Islam. By Allah’s leave, the future of an Uyghur society that loves Allah, protects its own national culture, is anti-Darwinist and anti-materialist, whose members love one another, which perfectly implements Qur’anic moral values and supports peace, love, tolerance and compassion, will be a very bright and excellent one.

The time we are living in is a very holy one, in which Hazrat Mahdi (as) will appear and in which the Prophet Jesus (as) will return to Earth. The time has now come when war and conflict will come to an end, when armament will come to an end, when people will love and embrace one another as brothers, when they will trust one another and when moral virtues will reign. This is the destiny of Allah. That destiny will also manifest itself in China, and this will be a time when Chinese and Uyghurs live together in friendship, when they all attain wealth, and when they build a bright civilization with joy and enthusiasm.

11-31

Assassinations Anyone?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

CIA claims of cancelled campaign are hogwash

By Eric Margolis

CIA director Leon Panetta just told Congress he cancelled a secret operation to assassinate al-Qaida leaders. The CIA campaign, authorized in 2001, had not yet become operational, claimed Panetta.

I respect Panetta, but his claim is humbug. The U.S. has been trying to kill al-Qaida personnel (real and imagined) since the Clinton administration. These efforts continue under President Barack Obama. Claims by Congress it was never informed are hogwash.

The CIA and Pentagon have been in the assassination business since the early 1950s, using American hit teams or third parties. For example, a CIA-organized attempt to assassinate Lebanon’s leading Shia cleric, Muhammad Fadlallah, using a truck bomb, failed, but killed 83 civilians and wounded 240.

In 1975, I was approached to join the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress investigating CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Add to America’s hit list Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Chile’s Marxist leaders and, very likely, Yasser Arafat.

Libya’s Moammar Khadaffy led me by the hand through the ruins of his private quarters, showing me where a 2,000-pound U.S. bomb hit his bedroom, killing his infant daughter. Most Pakistanis believe, rightly or wrongly, the U.S. played a role in the assassination of President Zia ul-Haq.

To quote Josef Stalin’s favourite saying, “No man. No problem.”

Assassination was outlawed in the U.S. in 1976, but that did not stop attempts by its last three administrations to emulate Israel’s Mossad in the “targeted killing” of enemies. The George W. Bush administration, and now the Obama White House, sidestepped American law by saying the U.S. was at war, and thus legally killing “enemy combatants.” But Congress never declared war.

Washington is buzzing about a secret death squad run by Dick Cheney when he was vice-president and his protege, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This gung-ho general led the Pentagon’s super secret Special Operations Command, which has become a major rival to the CIA in the business of “wet affairs” (as the KGB used to call assassinations) and covert raids.

Democrats are all over Cheney on the death squad issue, as are some Republicans — in order to shield Bush. But the orders likely came from Bush, who bears ultimate responsibility.

Americans are now being deluged by sordid scandals from the Bush years about torture, kidnapping, brutal secret prisons, brainwashing, mass surveillance of American’s phones, e-mail, and banking.

In 2001, as this column previously reported, U.S. Special Forces oversaw the murder at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, of thousands of captured Taliban fighters by Uzbek forces of the Communist warlord, Rashid Dostum.

CIA was paying Dostum, a notorious war criminal from the 1980s, millions to fight Taliban. Dostum is poised to become vice-president of the U.S.-installed government of President Hamid Karzai. Bush hushed up this major war crime.

America is hardly alone in trying to rub out enemies or those who thwart its designs. Britain’s MI-6 and France’s SDECE were notorious for sending out assassins. The late chief of SDECE told me how he had been ordered by then-president Francois Mitterrand to kill Libya’s Khadaffy. Israel’s hit teams are feared around the globe.

History shows that state-directed murder is more often than not counterproductive and inevitably runs out of control, disgracing nations and organizations that practise it.

But U.S. assassins are still at work. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. drones are killing tribesmen almost daily. Over 90% are civilians. Americans have a curious notion that killing people from the air is not murder or even a crime, but somehow clean.

U.S. Predator attacks are illegal and violate U.S. and international law. Pakistan’s government, against which no war has been declared, is not even asked permission or warned of the attacks.

Dropping 2,000-pound bombs on apartment buildings in Gaza or Predator raids on Pakistan’s tribal territory are as much murder as exploding car bombs or suicide bombers.

11-31

World’s Youth Leaders Gather to Address the Challenges of Militarization, Nuclear Weapons and the Misuse of Religion

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Kathmandu_street
File:  A busy street in Kathmandu.

(Kathmandu, July 10, 2009)  The International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, in Kathmandu on 10 July 2009.  Organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, the Summit brought together approximately 100 Nepali and 50 international religious and civil society leaders from 25 countries.[1]   Other prominent participants in the Summit included Mr. Kul C. Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; Mr. Taijiro Kimura, Director, UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General, the World Conference of Religions for Peace; and Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network.

Globally nearly 1,000 people a day die from various kinds of weapons.  Military spending in 2008 reached a new high of $1.464 trillion, even as the global economy faltered and the majority of the world’s population continued to live in extreme poverty.   Four billion dollars worth of small arms are traded legally each year, while another $1 billion is traded illegally.  The world is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions, landmines and other conventional weapons, rising military expenditures at the expense of development, and the misuse of religion in support of violence and war.

His Excellency Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the President of Nepal, stated that “We need to harness the power of the world’s religions to counter violence with the message of peace, love and compassion, especially among the youth of our nations. I want to compliment the Religion and Peace Academy of Nepal (RAPAN) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) for convening a very timely ‘International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security’ in Kathmandu.”

Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and president of Mayors for Peace, a global coalition of mayors from 2,926 cities in 134 countries and regions, stated in his message that “The possibility of proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are growing, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is on the verge of collapse.  Mayors for Peace welcomes the possibility of working with the world’s religious communities and young people through the Religions for Peace global network to promote our 2020 Vision, a program to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Mr. Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF noted that “Youth are the soul of the society.  They are essential to transform culture of violence we are seeing at present to culture of peace, which is an intrinsic and inherent part of Nepali culture.  Based on my long association with Religions for Peace, I am confident that this conference will help advance a powerful campaign for peace and non-violence through multi-religious cooperation in Nepal and around the world.” He urged the World Conference of Religions for Peace to support a massive campaign to rollback violence in Nepal as a direct follow-up of this conference in Nepal, and consider similar campaigns in other post-conflict countries in the world.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, “This Summit intends to further unleash the positive socially transformative power of religion, underline the crucial role of young people in shaping our world, and highlight the added value of multi-religious cooperation and multi-stakeholder approach to disarmament for shared security, development and peace.”

Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network said, “This Summit is a great opportunity for religious youth leaders to discuss major challenges to shared security and develop action plans.  Based upon these, Religions for Peace youth leaders from national, regional and global networks will launch a campaign on reducing military expenditures to advance shared security.”

[1] Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the US.  

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The Muslims of Sri Lanka

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–It is scarcely known that there is an ample society of Muslims caught within the middle of Sri Lanka (Ceylon’s) recent tragically war-torn civil insular nation-State. 

There are three major groups of Muslims in that island’s nation – the “Moors,” Indian (originally from the Subcontinent) Muslims and the Malays.  The two Islamic non-South Asian subminoritities – one from the Middle East and other from Southeastern Asia, with the long-standing immigrants from India, make up about the same percentage as European descendant settlers, the Burghers at 8%.  The rest of the population is made up of the ultra-orthodox Hindus in the Tamil areas, and the majority 70% are Buddhists.  The total population of all main groupings within the island is between 19 through 21 million (2009) persons.  In 2005, the Islamic “Moors” represented 2 million of these souls.  The “Moors” were descended from a troupe of traders from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to Colombo’s island between the Eighteenth until the Fifteenth Century (CE) supposedly (by tradition) from the Arabian Peninsula.  In fact, one source I evaluated claimed that the “Moors were traversing the Indian Ocean between Lanka and Mecca before the Hijra (622 CE).  Nonetheless, the “Moors” had settled partially on Lanka bringing Islam to their ancient culture to the island.  Yet, the earliest came late in the Seventh Century as traders between the Middle East and South Asia.  Yet, most did not settle down on this Southern Asian Island, and took up the culture of the Tamils after they established a permanent residence upon the soil.  Although they first employed Tamil as their “Father” tongue — that parole (speech) used outside the house — (they soon devised Awi, which, in turn has become archaic, was a mixture of Tamil and Arabic.)   By marrying converted wives, they became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural people — Tamil, Sinhalese and English — while maintaining their religion inviolate:  They are largely Sunni Muslims of the Shafi School.  Although they can be described as a multi-ethnic, and religious alliance, they lack a linguistic cohesion, though, anthropologically (since they are tri-lingual).

The second group of Muslims, the Malays, came with the Dutch military during the period when Amsterdam controlled the island, and settled there over Ceylon’s Netherlandish period.  The Malays (originally from) Indonesia, and, thus from insular Southeast Asian origin (Ja Minissu), are some of the most orthodox of Muslims in the world today, but, unlike the “Moors,” they did not take up the surrounding Tamil culture, but they resolutely stuck to an adapted Malay cultural and religious norm.  They make up the smallest of minorities – 5% of the total Lankan Islamic citizenry only.

The third group was an alignment of mainly – although not exclusively — South Indian Muslim merchants, who emigrated southward over several centuries and naturally integrated well into the predominantly Tamil (Hindu) culture there on the other side of “Adam’s Bridge” from Tamil Nadu.

The Muslims were well assimilated and accepted into Ceylonese society, but, during the recent civil war, the Tamil Tigers systematized a process of ethnic cleansing that the once flourishing “Moorish” and other Muslim masses are not represented in the Northern Province anymore.  Most of those inhabitants have been forcibly cast largely into the Puttalam Region.  Also, a small Diaspora has been arising in the Middle East, Australia and even North America.  Now, that the Tigers have been defeated, will Islam be allowed back into their former (own) homes with full property rights restored?  Much of this depends upon us individually, and the pressure we can exert upon our own governments plus the Sri Lankan government, and, thereby, institutions of the International Communities – the U.N. et al., and especially Islamic groupings!

The pictures of those large numbers of noncombatants wretchedly entrapped between the Government and the Tigers’ forces during the former’s last stand last stand are staggering.  Amongst them is a significant number of Muslims, and the Islamic charities must especially address their needs, and become involved in their resettlement back to their ancestral homes with other (First World/Western) International NGOs.

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