Iraq’s Booming Funeral Market

May 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Afif Sarhan, IslamOnline.net

2010-05-11T080728Z_1227782277_GM1E65B18RJ01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-VIOLENCE

Residents carry a coffin of a victim who was killed in Monday’s bomb attack during a funeral in Basra, 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Baghdad, May 11, 2010. Bombers and gunmen officials linked to a battered but still lethal al Qaeda killed more than 100 people on Monday during a day-long wave of attacks on markets, a textile factory, checkpoints and other sites across Iraq.

REUTERS/Atef Hassan

BAGHDAD – With deadly attacks still claiming more lives in the war-torn country, the funeral market in Iraq has turned from a simple work into a booming business.
“Before US-led invasion, I had one ceremony to take care,” mourner Ali Abdel-Kareem al-Shuwafi, 48, told IslamOnline.net on Friday, October 30.

“But in the last four years, I had to hire 12 employees and other 15 who are used when we have many ceremonies to hold in the same day.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence plaguing Iraq since the US invaded the country in 2003 to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.

“Violence in Iraq changed my life. I know that it isn’t a nice sentence to say but it is the true,” said Shuwafi.

“The continuing killings in my country helped me become a wealthy man and able to give a very good life to my family who years ago were suffering with the need of everything.”

Before the US invasion, Shuwafi was hardly able to provide basics to his family.

But his life has totally changed after the US troops invaded the oil-rich country.

“I decided to open a shop in Baghdad two years ago which takes care of everything, the three days mourning process, the burying and other ceremonies asked by our clients,” he said.

Shuwafi had borrowed money from a friend of his to open his shop.

“After few months, I had enough to pay him back and open more two shops, one in Baghdad and one in Basra where my brother takes care,” he said.

“I know I’m successful today because of people suffering, however, I didn’t kill them and just made a way for families to be well supported in a so hard moment of their lives.

“The war changed my life for better but I sometimes I wish that things were like before and I would had been able to improve my living conditions under other ways offered by the government.”

Lucrative

Like Shuwafi, many mourning professionals have made a fortune from the deadly violence.

“There was periods where I had to refuse ceremonies because I didn’t have enough materials to organize it,” Kamal al-Jumeiri, a funeral business owner in Baghdad, told IOL.

“During 2006 and 2007 I was able to make enough money to send my family away to Jordan to protect them and I use to visit my kids and wife every three months.

“My family accuse me of taking advantage and making money from people who were victims but someone had to make it and I had enough conditions to offer my skills.”

Jumeiri recalls that he only owned two coffins to run his business before the US invasion.

“After violence in 2006, I had enough money to open two shops,” he said.

“By two trucks, I import supplies from outside with better quality, offer a proper burial with all stuff needed like chairs for the mourners, recorders, speakers, people to read Qur’anic verses, kitchen apparatus to cook food during the three days ceremony, generators, tents and other specific things that sometimes is asked by grieving families.”

According to Iraqi traditions, families rent tents for the three days of mourning and professional mourners to add emotions by crying while speaking verses of the Qur’an.

In addition, coffee, tea and cigarettes should be offered to visitors during the three days of mourning.

In the last day, food is cooked and offered to all people present, including poor people who usually get close to get free food.

“I moved from a simple mourning workers into a first-class business and most of my clients have wealthy living conditions and hire my work due to my excellent materials used,” said Jumeiri.

The booming funeral market is also sparking rivalry among mourning professionals.

“I suffered threats from other mourning professionals,” said Jumeiri.

“Many of them, not all, have organised gangs to prevent us from keeping work and leave all ceremonies to them but I insisted and have to pay a security guard to follow me.”

Prices for the funeral services have skyrocketed over the violence.

“I lost my father before invasion from heart disease and didn’t spend more than US $50 for all ceremony and coffin,” Haydar Muhammad Khalif, a government employee, told IOL.

“But two months ago, my uncle was killed and we had to pay US $300 for the same ceremony, without any changes.”

Coffins now cost about $80, from only $10 before the US invasion.

A complete ceremony would cost from $150 to $400, from only $60 before the invasion.

“Even to die in Iraq you have to have enough money or you will have to be buried without proper Iraqi Muslim traditions,” said Khalif.

12-20

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

Economist Tallies Rising Cost of Israel on US Taxpayers

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor

Since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion. If divided by today’s population, that is more than $5,700 per person.

This is an estimate by Thomas Stauffer, a consulting economist in Washington. For decades, his analyses of the Middle East scene have made him a frequent thorn in the side of the Israel lobby.

For the first time in many years, Mr. Stauffer has tallied the total cost to the US of its backing of Israel in its drawn-out, violent dispute with the Palestinians. So far, he figures, the bill adds up to more than twice the cost of the Vietnam War.

And now Israel wants more. In a meeting at the White House late last month, Israeli officials made a pitch for $4 billion in additional military aid to defray the rising costs of dealing with the intifada and suicide bombings. They also asked for more than $8 billion in loan guarantees to help the country’s recession-bound economy.

Considering Israel’s deep economic troubles, Stauffer doubts the Israel bonds covered by the loan guarantees will ever be repaid. The bonds are likely to be structured so they don’t pay interest until they reach maturity. If Stauffer is right, the US would end up paying both principal and interest, perhaps 10 years out.
Israel’s request could be part of a supplemental spending bill that’s likely to be passed early next year, perhaps wrapped in with the cost of a war with Iraq.

Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid. It is already due to get $2.04 billion in military assistance and $720 million in economic aid in fiscal 2003. It has been getting $3 billion a year for years.

Adjusting the official aid to 2001 dollars in purchasing power, Israel has been given $240 billion since 1973, Stauffer reckons. In addition, the US has given Egypt $117 billion and Jordan $22 billion in foreign aid in return for signing peace treaties with Israel.

“Consequently, politically, if not administratively, those outlays are part of the total package of support for Israel,” argues Stauffer in a lecture on the total costs of US Middle East policy, commissioned by the US Army War College, for a recent conference at the University of Maine.

These foreign-aid costs are well known. Many Americans would probably say it is money well spent to support a beleagured democracy of some strategic interest. But Stauffer wonders if Americans are aware of the full bill for supporting Israel since some costs, if not hidden, are little known.

One huge cost is not secret. It is the higher cost of oil and other economic damage to the US after Israel-Arab wars.

In 1973, for instance, Arab nations attacked Israel in an attempt to win back territories Israel had conquered in the 1967 war. President Nixon resupplied Israel with US arms, triggering the Arab oil embargo against the US.

That shortfall in oil deliveries kicked off a deep recession. The US lost $420 billion (in 2001 dollars) of output as a result, Stauffer calculates. And a boost in oil prices cost another $450 billion.

Afraid that Arab nations might use their oil clout again, the US set up a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That has since cost, conservatively, $134 billion, Stauffer reckons.

Other US help includes:

• US Jewish charities and organizations have remitted grants or bought Israel bonds worth $50 billion to $60 billion. Though private in origin, the money is “a net drain” on the United States economy, says Stauffer.

• The US has already guaranteed $10 billion in commercial loans to Israel, and $600 million in “housing loans.” (See editor’s note below.) Stauffer expects the US Treasury to cover these.

• The US has given $2.5 billion to support Israel’s Lavi fighter and Arrow missile projects.

• Israel buys discounted, serviceable “excess” US military equipment. Stauffer says these discounts amount to “several billion dollars” over recent years.

• Israel uses roughly 40 percent of its $1.8 billion per year in military aid, ostensibly earmarked for purchase of US weapons, to buy Israeli-made hardware. It also has won the right to require the Defense Department or US defense contractors to buy Israeli-made equipment or subsystems, paying 50 to 60 cents on every defense dollar the US gives to Israel.

US help, financial and technical, has enabled Israel to become a major weapons supplier. Weapons make up almost half of Israel’s manufactured exports. US defense contractors often resent the buy-Israel requirements and the extra competition subsidized by US taxpayers.

• US policy and trade sanctions reduce US exports to the Middle East about $5 billion a year, costing 70,000 or so American jobs, Stauffer estimates. Not requiring Israel to use its US aid to buy American goods, as is usual in foreign aid, costs another 125,000 jobs.

• Israel has blocked some major US arms sales, such as F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s. That cost $40 billion over 10 years, says Stauffer.

Stauffer’s list will be controversial. He’s been assisted in this research by a number of mostly retired military or diplomatic officials who do not go public for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic if they criticize America’s policies toward Israel.

12-15

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

Those City Lights

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

12-9

The Drone Wars

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—that is, pilot-less drones—shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report—and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program—reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese—became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war—that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it.

It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture and coeditor of History Wars, the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past.

12-7

The Dying West Bank

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Fisk, from Jiftlik

Area C doesn’t sound very ominous. A land of stone-sprinkled grey hills and soft green valleys, it’s part of the wreckage of the equally wrecked Oslo Agreement, accounting for 60 per cent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that was eventually supposed to be handed over to its Palestinian inhabitants.

But look at the statistics and leaf through the pile of demolition orders lying on the table in front of Abed Kasab, head of the village council in Jiftlik, and it all looks like ethnic cleansing via bureaucracy. Perverse might be the word for the paperwork involved. Obscene appear to be the results.

Palestinian houses that cannot be permitted to stand, roofs that must be taken down, wells closed, sewage systems demolished; in one village, I even saw a primitive electricity system in which Palestinians must sink their electrical poles cemented into concrete blocks standing on the surface of the dirt road. To place the poles in the earth would ensure their destruction – no Palestinian can dig a hole more than 40cm below the ground.

But let’s return to the bureaucracy. “Ro’i” – if that is indeed the Israeli official’s name, for it is difficult to decipher – signed a batch of demolition papers for Jiftlik last December, all duly delivered, in Arabic and Hebrew, to Mr Kasab. There are 21 of them, running – non-sequentially – from numbers 143912 through 145059, all from “The High Planning Council Monitoring [sic] Sub-Committee of the Civil Administration for the Area of Judea and Samaria”. Judea and Samaria – for ordinary folk – is the occupied West Bank. The first communication is dated 8 December, 2009, the last 17 December.

And as Mr Kasab puts it, that’s the least of his problems. Palestinian requests to build houses are either delayed for years or refused; houses built without permission are ruthlessly torn down; corrugated iron roofs have to be camouflaged with plastic sheets in the hope the “Civil Administration” won’t deem them an extra floor – in which case “Ro’i’s” lads will be round to rip the lot off the top of the house.

In Area C, there are up to 150,000 Palestinians and 300,000 Jewish colonists living – illegally under international law – in 120 official settlements and 100 “unapproved” settlements or, in the language we must use these days, “illegal outposts”; illegal under Israeli as well as international law, that is – as opposed to the 120 internationally illegal colonies which are legal under Israeli law. Jewish settlers, needless to say, don’t have problems with planning permission.

The winter sun blazes through the door of Mr Kasab’s office and cigarette smoke drifts through the room as the angry men of Jiftlik shout their grievances. “I don’t mind if you print my name, I am so angry, I will take the consequences,” he says. “Breathing is the only thing we don’t need a permit for yet!” The rhetoric is tired, but the fury is real. “Buildings, new roads, reservoirs, we have been waiting three years to get permits. We cannot get a permit for a new health clinic. We are short of water for both human and agricultural use. Getting permission to rehabilitate the water system costs 70,000 Israeli shekels [about £14,000] it costs more than the rehabilitation system itself.”

A drive along the wild roads of Area C – from the outskirts of Jerusalem to the semi-humid basin of the Jordan valley – runs through dark hills and bare, stony valleys lined with deep, ancient caves, until, further east, lie the fields of the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers’ palm groves – electrified fences round the groves – and the mud or stone huts of Palestinian sheep farmers. This paradise is a double illusion. One group of inhabitants, the Israelis, may remember their history and live in paradise. The smaller group, the Palestinian Arabs, are able to look across these wonderful lands and remember their history – but they are already out of paradise and into limbo.

Even the western NGOs working in Area C find their work for Palestinians blocked by the Israelis. This is not just a “hitch” in the “peace process” – whatever that is – but an international scandal. Oxfam, for example, asked the Israelis for a permit to build a 300m2 capacity below-ground reservoir along with 700m of underground 4in pipes for the thousands of Palestinians living around Jiftlik. It was refused. They then gave notice that they intended to construct an above-ground installation of two glass-fibre tanks, an above-ground pipe and booster pump. They were told they would need a permit even though the pipes were above ground – and they were refused a permit. As a last resort, Oxfam is now distributing rooftop water tanks.

I came across an even more outrageous example of this apartheid-by-permit in the village of Zbeidat, where the European Union’s humanitarian aid division installed 18 waste water systems to prevent the hamlet’s vile-smelling sewage running through the gardens and across the main road into the fields. The £80,000 system a series of 40ft shafts regularly flushed out by sewage trucks was duly installed because the location lay inside Area B, where no planning permission was required.

Yet now the aid workers have been told by the Israelis that work “must stop” on six of the 18 shafts a prelude to their demolition, although already they are already built beside the road because part of the village stands in Area C. Needless to say, no one neither Palestinians nor Israelis knows the exact borderline between B and C. Thus around £20,000 of European money has been thrown away by the Israeli “Civil Administration.”

But in one way, this storm of permission and non-permission papers is intended to obscure the terrible reality of Area C. Many Israeli activists as well as western NGOs suspect Israel intends to force the Palestinians here to leave their lands and homes and villages and depart into the wretchedness of Areas B and A. B is jointly controlled by Israeli military and civil authorities and Palestinian police, and A by the witless Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Thus would the Palestinians be left to argue over a mere 40 per cent of the occupied West Bank – in itself a tiny fraction of the 22 per cent of Mandated Palestine over which the equally useless Yasser Arafat once hoped to rule. Add to this the designation of 18 per cent of Area C as “closed military areas” by the Israelis and add another 3 per cent preposterously designated as a “nature reserve” – it would be interesting to know what kind of animals roam there – and the result is simple: even without demolition orders, Palestinians cannot build in 70 per cent of Area C.

Along one road, I discovered a series of large concrete blocks erected by the Israeli army in front of Palestinian shacks. “Danger – Firing Area” was printed on each in Hebrew, Arabic and English. “Entrance Forbidden.” What are the Palestinians living here supposed to do? Area C, it should be added, is the richest of the occupied Palestinian lands, with cheese production and animal farms. Many of the 5,000 souls in Jiftlik have been refugees already, their families fled lands to the west of Jerusalem – in present-day Israel – in 1947 and 1948. Their tragedy has not yet ended, of course. What price Palestine?

12-6

Kingdom Donates $50m for Haiti Quake Relief

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sultan Al-Tamimi, Arab News

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will donate $50 million in aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. “On instructions from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, the Kingdom will donate $50 million to assist the Haitian people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said Monday.

The cash donation is thought to be the largest given by a Middle Eastern country, although some have made significant donations in kind. The funds will be channeled through the United Nations.

Last week, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, urged all OIC member states and Islamic organizations to provide help to Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Meanwhile, the Riyadh-based Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND) has become one of the first organizations in the Kingdom to donate to Haiti, with a contribution of $100,000. “The contribution is an extension to the role of the Arab Gulf Program and its humanitarian stand in alleviating the suffering of victims, and it is in response to the urgent call from the Haitian government for humanitarian assistance,” AGFUND spokesman Abdul Latiff said.

Other Middle Eastern countries have chipped in. The United Arab Emirates said a plane carrying 77 tons of basic relief supplies has been sent by the government to Haiti. Jordan sent six tons of relief supplies to Haiti shortly after the quake hit. A field hospital was also dispatched there to help treat survivors, including members of Jordan’s 700-strong peacekeeping contingent in Haiti. Three Jordanian peacekeepers were killed and 23 wounded in the quake.

The United Nations said Monday it has so far received pledges of more than $270 million in emergency relief funding for Haiti, representing nearly half of its target. The funds are meant to go toward food, medication, water and tents for three million people affected by the earthquake, which according to the Haitian government, claimed around 150,000 lives.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive urged donors Monday to swing behind his nation’s massive reconstruction, as aid groups called for Haiti’s billion-dollar foreign debt to be wiped clean.

“I just want to say that the people of Haiti will need to be helped to face this colossal work of reconstruction,” Bellerive told international officials as closed-door talks in Montreal began.

“The government of Haiti wants to assure the entire world that it will remember and be worthy of the exceptional sympathy that it receives,” he added. The talks are aimed at defining key strategies to rebuild the country from the ground up in the wake of the quake.

An umbrella group of Canadian and Haitian aid organizations called on donors to cancel more than $1 billion in foreign debt. “We hope that you use the weight of your governments to convince international financial institutions to cancel Haiti’s entire foreign debt,” said Eric Faustin, director of Rocahd, the Coalition of Canadian-Haitian Development Organizations.

12-6

Is Yemen the New Hot Spot for Terrorism Training?

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Q&A, Aaron Glantz

Editor’s Note: Reports that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, was trained in Yemen have raised the specter of further U.S. military involvement in that country. To get a better sense of what’s going on in Yemen, NAM editor Aaron Glantz spoke with Jillian Schwedler, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

2010-01-06T200542Z_440314731_GM1E6170BC301_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN-QAEDA

A security personnel stands behind a machinegun installed on a vehicle in Sanaa January 6, 2010. Yemeni forces surrounded a suspected al Qaeda regional leader near the capital on Wednesday and captured three militants wounded in a raid, security sources said. Yemen, the poorest Arab country, was thrust into the foreground of the U.S.-led war against Islamist militants after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.                                

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

What was your first reaction when you heard that Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen?

Yemen has fairly porous borders and a lot of people are in and out of there. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s not like going to a camp in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have the same meaning. I mean, you go to a camp in Afghanistan, you’re pretty much going for one reason. It’s not the same as Yemen.

It seems like in the popular discussion, Yemen is becoming associated with fundamentalist clerics and terrorism.

There are definitely a lot of extremists there, but I think the bigger framework to think about Yemen is not as a hotbed of radicalism and terror but as a state where the government does not control all of the land. They’ve been fighting a significant insurgency in the North for six years now and there’s a separatist group in the South that’s in an armed conflict. The Ministry of Interior estimates that there are 60 million weapons outside of government hands in Yemen. And that’s in a country of 20 million people. So it’s a highly-armed, fragmented society and the government hasn’t really had control over the entire country for some time, if ever. So certainly there’s extremism there, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that the government isn’t really in control of.

So who is in the leadership of the government of Yemen?

The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh is essentially a central government, but there are many parts of the country that are not under the central government. There are armed areas that the government doesn’t police and doesn’t have anything to do with, except to offer very limited services. And we’re talking about big chunks of the country in the North and the East particularly. It’s not one little enclave.

And a huge part of the border with Saudi Arabia is not even defined because it’s a desert. There are not a lot of people there but there are chunks of the country that are frontier-land kind of areas where people move between those two states.

Yemen was two countries during the Cold War.

Even calling it two countries becomes sort of a fiction. For years, it was just sort of a bunch of enclaves including the British colony that was there for nearly 100 years in the South, various tribal governments, there was a Northern government. But from the ‘60s, you had two states, a Northern state which was the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Southern state which was the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was a Marxist, Soviet outpost. And so when the Soviet Union fell in 1989, they lost all their funding and then North Yemen was never particularly strong, and so the two decided that they would unite, which they did and initially had democratic elections in which nobody won a majority.

Northern loyalists were assassinating socialists in the South and the unification never really went forward. They unified the country formally, but former governments maintained their owned armies. That culminated in a civil war in 1994 that lasted two months. And the North defeated the South and has been in control ever since under the leadership of the same president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

So it’s really become an Egypt-style government where there’s a president who pretends to be elected and everyone else pretends to have candidates.

So during all this time, what has the U.S. government’s role been?

Well, right after Yemen unified in May 1990, Yemen had the unfortunate opportunity to have a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. So they had the seat during the first Gulf War in 1991 and they abstained from that Security Council vote. They did not vote for the coalition in 1990 and they did not vote against it; they abstained. So the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all punished Yemen by unilaterally cutting all aid to the country. So it was a newly-unified country that had a tremendous amount of aid cut. Millions of Yemeni migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were all deported and that had a devastating affect on the economy in Yemen.

But then relations gradually improved, with the U.S. not really having an interest in Yemen. Then, with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and subsequent events, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has been working very closely with the U.S. government because in some ways these Islamists are threatening to him as well. That said, there’s an Islamist party that’s closely aligned with the regime. So while the government is working with the U.S. to battle extremists, at the same time he’s playing this delicate balancing act that includes allying himself with extremists.

So basically, he’s allying himself with the United States in the war on terror, and with the people who are opposing that at the same time.

Exactly. And I don’t think he’s that brilliant as a politician. It’s just luck that it’s all held together at this point. It’s surprising to me that he’s pulling it off. A lot of people think it could get really bad there really quick.

Already, the Fullbright program has been suspended. People aren’t going there to study or do research. It’s really not safe.

So when you’re watching the news right now, what are you looking for? What are you looking for in these reports that will help you decide what’s going on?

In so much of what’s coming through, I hear mistakes in reports that frustrate me. What I want to know is: Are things realigning? Are new people coming on top? I haven’t seen this in the media, but for example: Saudi Arabia would have a clear interest in Yemen not becoming a failed state. So is Saudi Arabia sending more government and trying to bolster them and is that creating more Wahabi influence? Or this: Are you seeing a lot of the tribal sheiks realigning themselves? Because with that many weapons out of government control a few significant shifts in alignment could be game changers. Those are the kinds of things I’m interested in, but you don’t tend to see them in media a lot.

Jillian Schwedler is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

12-2

Quboor of Prophets and Sahaba

January 5, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

 

 

The Maqam of the Holy Seal of Prophets, Sayyidina Muhammad (s) Rasulallah-s
Sayyida Khadija (ra) Sayda-Khadija-Mecca
Sayyida Fatimatuz Zohra (ra) Sayda-Fatimatuz-Zahra-ra
Sayyida Amina (ra) Sayda-Amina-ra
Sayyidinal Hasan (ra) Say-Hasan-ra
Sayyida Halima (ra) Sayda-Halima-ra
Footprint of Sayyidina Adam (as) from Sri Lanka Say-Adam-as
Maqam Ibrahim (as) Maqam Ibrahim-b&w
Sayyidina Ibrahim, Khalil Allah (as) Say-Ibrahim-al-Khalil-as-
Sayyidina Musa (as) Say-Musa-as
Sayyidina Dawud (as) Say-Dawud-as
Sayyidina Lut (as) Say-Lut-as
Sayyidina Yahya (as) Say-Yahya-as
Sayyidina Harun (as) Say-Harun-as
Sayyidina Saleh (as) Say-Saleh-as
Sayyidina Shuaib (as) Say-Shuaib-as
Sayyidina Zakariyya (as) Say-Zakariyya-as
Sayyidina Yusha (as) Jordan Say-Yousha-as
Sayyidina Habil (as) Jordan Say-Habil-as2
Sayyidina Habil (as) Jordan Say-Habil-as3
Sayyidina Bilal (ra) Say-Bilal-ra
Abu Taleb Abu-Taleb
   

Swiss Vote Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

December 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Juan Cole

swiss miss This campaign poster was banned for being racist, but apparently the goal of the poster, now that is all right.

Swissinfo surveys the headlines in Switzerland Monday morning and finds that the press there universally condemned and expressed dismay at Sunday’s vote. Editors expressed consternation at the inevitable tarnishing of Switzerland’s image and worried about the consequences. Will there be boycotts? Sanctions? Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights?

I can anticipate right now arguments to excuse this outbreak of bigotry in the Alps that will be advanced by our own fringe Right, of Neoconservatives and those who think, without daring saying it, that “white culture” is superior to all other world civilizations and deserves to dominate or wipe the others out.

The first is that it is only natural that white, Christian Europeans should be afraid of being swamped by people adhering to an alien, non-European religion.

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

The European city of Cordoba in the medieval period has been described thusly:

‘ For centuries, Cordoba used to be the jewel of Europe, which dazzled visitors from the North. Visitors marveled at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings. The city is said to have had then 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, and 900 public baths. Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd al-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths.’

So if the Swiss think that Islam is alien to Europe, then they are thinking of a rather small Europe, not the Europe that now actually exists. Minarets dotted Cordoba. The Arnaudia mosque in Banja Luca dates back to the 1400s; it was destroyed along with dozens of others by fanatics in the civil war that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the likely comeback,that Muslims came to Europe from the 700s of the Common Era as conquerors, unlike Christianity, actually both were conquering state religions. It was the conversion of an emperor that gave a favored position to Christianity in Europe, which was a small minority on the continent at the time. And Charlemagne forcibly imposed Christianity on the German tribes up to the Elbe. In the cases both of European Christianity and European Islam, there were many willing converts among the ordinary folk, who thrilled to itinerant preachers or beautiful chanting.

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

‘In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, ‘added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for “worshipping and tolerance.” ‘ He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin who I believe lived in . . . Geneva. Aout 6 percent of the population is Christian.

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance. The International Declaration of Human Rights was crafted with the participation of Pakistan, a Muslim country; the global contemporary rights regime is imperfectly adhered to by all countries– it is a claim on the world’s behavior, something we must all strive for. If the Swiss stepped back from it, they stepped back in absolute terms. It doesn’t help us get to global human rights to say that is o.k. because others are also failing to live up to the Declaration.

The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss.

So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.

11-50

Mideast Firms Ramp Up in Iraq, Western Firms Trail

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Deepa Babington

2009-11-27T155315Z_1505821627_GM1E5BR1TSO01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-OIL

Workers dig a new oil well at South Rumaila oil field, in southern Iraq November 26, 2009. Britain’s BP and China’s CNPC have clinched a final agreement to operate Iraq’s biggest field, Rumaila, and groups led by Italy’s Eni and U.S. major Exxon Mobil have secured initial deals over Zubair and West Qurna Phase One. Picture taken November 26, 2009. 

REUTERS/Atef Hassan

BAGHDAD, Nov 30 (Reuters) – While Western firms notch up high-profile energy deals in Iraq, smaller regional firms from Iran to Turkey are quietly building a broader Iraqi presence by pumping billions of dollars into housing and other projects.

Pledges by companies to invest in Iraq are suddenly taking off as violence falls sharply and the government seeks help to rebuild after years of war, sanctions and bloodshed.

Investors have announced $156.7 billion worth of projects in Iraq this year, not all of which are likely to bear fruit, Dunia Frontier Consultants said in a report.
Much of the spotlight has fallen on mega-deals by Big Oil firms like Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> and BP <BP.L> for oilfields, but high security costs — 26 percent of total costs according to one estimate — have deterred Westerners from other sectors.

Meanwhile, Iranian investors have been piling into the Shi’ite Muslim tourism business, Turkish companies have cornered the market in the Kurdish north and Gulf companies, some run by Iraqi expatriates, are nailing construction deals.

Middle East firms are perhaps more accustomed to operating in difficult environments, and have an easier time navigating Iraqi red tape and corruption, analysts said.

“It is easier for Gulf and regional companies to operate here because they know the mentality here,” said Munther al Fattal, director of investment promotion at the U.S. agency for international development’s Tijara project.

“Security has greatly improved but there still are a lot of impediments such as bureaucracy and lack of transparency.”

While most investment projects announced in Iraq never seem to get off the ground, the growing business clout of regional firms is increasingly obvious.

Turkish firms have been investing in projects in the north and plan an $8 billion mixed development project in the south, while Iranian firms have catered to tourism supporting Shi’ite pilgrimages to the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala as well as industrial projects in Basra in the south, Dunia says.

Lebanese investors have opened up a bank and plan to set up a $500 million residential city and dairy factory in Diwaniya, while investors from the United Arab Emirates have been eyeing residential complexes and infrastructure projects.

US is Small Fry Outside Energy

The United Arab Emirates has emerged as the top foreign investor in Iraq this year with pledges of $37.7 billion, followed by South Korea and the United States, Dunia said.

But South Korea owes its number two spot almost entirely to a planned $20 billion investment in a new industrial city in Anbar province’s untapped gas fields, which appears to be little more than a pipedream or at the very least, aspirational.

The U.S. position in the rankings is almost entirely due to Exxon’s $25 billion contract for the West Qurna oilfield, which has yet to be ratified by the Iraqi cabinet. U.S. investment into Iraq accounts for less than 1 percent of the total if government contracts and oil are excluded.

A look at smaller deals offers a more revealing picture of the players with a wider presence in Iraq.

Lebanon tops the list of investment deals below $1 billion, followed by South Korea, Iran, the UAE and Turkey, Dunia said.

Once again, South Korea’s position in the list is misleading, exaggerated due to a single energy project.

“Once the major energy deals are stripped away, it is largely regional players that dominate,” the Dunia report said.

Some analysts say the dominance of Middle East players is likely to continue.

“Most of the investment will come from Gulf States and Jordan — with a significant contribution from Iran,” said Gavin Jones of Upper Quartile, an Edinburgh-based research firm.

He said repatriation of wealth by Iraqis living in Jordan or the Gulf could account for a sizeable chunk.

(Editing by Michael Christie; Editing by Victoria Main) ((deepa.babington@thomsonreuters.com, Baghdad newsroom, +964 7901 917 023, deepa.babington.reuters.com@reuters.net))

11-50

The Great American Fraud

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

money-stacks2 The U.S. Chief District Attorney, this week, revealed a conspiracy by a Kuwaiti owned and operated food company to bilk the American government out of $8.5 billion in contracts to provide food for troops in Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq. It took the Atlanta-based Grand Jury no time at all to indict the Kuwaiti company. According to the indictment, Agility (formerly known as the Public Warehousing Company) was charged with a veritable ‘laundry list’ of crimes related to defrauding the U.S. Government. Agility provided food for U.S. troops from 2003-2005. The conspiracy was uncovered during a probe into unethical business practices of Middle East vendors.

According to court documents, Agility took painstaking measures to get away with the fraud. Some of the charges include submitting falsified documents, overinflating prices to sometimes triple the local Kuwaiti market value, making false statements and wire fraud. Most damaging is perhaps the revelation that Agility ordered it’s own suppliers to reduce the size of packages so that twice the number of packages would be delivered to unsuspecting U.S. military bases.

Agility is not taking the charges sitting down and has already come out ‘swinging’ and leveling their own verbal barrage at the U.S. government. In a recently released statement to the press, Agility has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and says that the charges are baseless. The company also says that ongoing contracts with the US government, which are not part of the current indictment, remain in tact. However, Agility has been barred from bidding on new contracts with the US until the pending indictment is either proven or dismissed. The press release also went on to say that Agility is putting its’ full confidence in the US system of justice to prove its’ innocence, “An indictment and a complaint are merely allegations. PWC is confidant that once these allegations are examined in court, the will be found to be without merit.” Agility also revealed that the prices it charges for its’ goods and services were predetermined and approved by the U.S. government and that company heads are “surprised and disappointed” by the charges.

This case is only one out of several that have been launched against contractors hired by the U.S. government over the past several years. The most notable is a case of fraud leveled against KBR, which is a subsidiary of Halliburton. The company has been charged with overcharging the U.S. government for oil and other military supplies. Since the news of the Agility fraud broke, the company has ceased all trading in the Kuwait stock market which has seen an 8% drop in its stocks. However, on the Dubai market, Agility continues to rally without incident.

Agility stands to lose plenty if it is found guilty of the charges of fraud. According to a recent report by Goldman Sach’s, the company’s annual revenue is comprised of a meaty 37% of American contracts. A guilty verdict would result in Agility being put on probation and having to repay either twice the gain they received from the contracts or twice the loss that the U.S. government incurred. The U.S. government has promised to deal swiftly with those seeking to defraud it and that the charges against Agility are “only the first step” in dealing with dishonest contractors.

In the meanwhile, Agility continues to look for new ways to break the chains of reliance upon the U.S. government for it’s daily ‘bread’. Agility has diversified itself across the board. The company now sells real estate and even provides freighter service for gold mining companies in Papua New Guinea. However, their new business ventures may prove to be exercises in futility as the U.S. government is unlikely to back down as it relentlessly seeks justice.

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Muslim 500 – A Listing of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World

November 17, 2009 by · 12 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

mabda500cover-v2 A fascinating new book has just been issued by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center (in Jordan) in concert with Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

The book lists the 500 most influential people in the Muslim world, breaking the people into several distinct categories, scholarly, political, administrative, lineage, preachers, women, youth, philanthropy, development, science and technology, arts and culture, media, and radicals.

Before this breakdown begins however, the absolute most influential 50 people are listed, starting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  The top 50 fit into 6 broad categories as follows:  12 are political leaders (kings, generals, presidents), 4 are spiritual leaders (Sufi shaykhs), 14 are national or international religious authorities, 3 are “preachers,” 6 are high-level scholars, 11 are leaders of movements or organizations.

The 500 appear to have been chosen largely in terms of their overt influence, however the top 50 have been chosen and perhaps listed in a “politically correct” order designed not to cause offense.  For example, the first person listed is the Sunni political leader of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah.  The second person listed is the head of the largest Shi’a power, Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei.  As these are not the two Muslim countries with the largest populations, and do not even represent the two countries with the most spiritual or religious relevance (Saudi Arabia yes, Iran no) therefore clearly the decision of spots one or two appears to have been motivated by a sense of political correctness.

In total 72 Americans are among the 500 most influential Muslims, a disproportionately strong showing, but only one among the top 50.  Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson of Zaytuna Institute is listed surprisingly at number 38.  The world leader of the Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi order, however, Sheikh Nazim al Haqqani, with millions of followers worldwide, spiritual adviser to kings, presidents, doctors, lawyers, professors and others across the spectrum of profession, race, and ethnicity on seven continents, is listed at number 49.  While Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has successfully built the Zaytuna Institute, his influence is confined mostly to American academia, scholars and students.  Surprisingly, Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, (at number 34) is listed before any American Muslim. 

It seems strange that Yusuf is the only American listed in the top 50. Especially when Rep. Keith Ellison (D-5-MN), Tariq Ramadan and Ingrid Mattson are listed among the “honorable mentions” in the book (“honorable mentions” were almost among the top 50 but not quite—they are still listed among the 500).  Ingrid Mattson alone is likely more influential than Hamza Yusuf Hanson, for instance.  Not to mention Rep. Keith Ellison.  Even the Nobel prize winner Mohammad Yunus is listed only among the honorable mentions.

Sheikh Hisham Kabbani in the USA is listed among the most influential scholars in the Muslim world, and his relative Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and its leading Sunni scholar, is also among the most influential scholars.  The Shi’a marja Ayatullah Sayeed Mohammad Fadlallah is the other listed scholar for Lebanon. 

The 18 prominent American Muslims in the Scholars section of the book also include Yusuf Estes, Sulayman Nyang, Muzammil Siddiqui, Sherman Jackson, Zaid Shakir, and Nuh Keller.  Two Americans are listed as Political figures in North America.  Nine Americans are listed as Administrative leaders, including Siraj Wahhaj—surprising to list him as an administrative leader rather than a preacher.  One Canadian is listed under the Lineage section, namely Jamal Badawi, but no Americans.  Under the Women heading appear six very recognizable names, perhaps most recognizable among them Ingrid Mattson, the controversial Amina Wadud, and the extremely influential Dalia Mogahed (who wrote the perhaps watershed work Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.)  Two Americans are listed in the Youth category.  Under the Philanthropy category is listed one person, Dr. Tariq Cheema, co-founder of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists.  13 Americans are listed under Development, including strangely the boxer Mohammad Ali.  Four Americans are listed under Science and Technology, perhaps most recognizably Dr. Mehmed Oz, who frequently appears on morning television to help explain medical situations to people, and who shows an interest in the overlap between traditional medicine and spirituality.  Seven Americans are listed under Arts and Culture, including the notable actors Mos Def and Dave Chappelle, also the calligrapher Mohammad Zakaria.  Nine Americans are listed in the Media section, including Fareed Zakaria and the filmmaker Michael Wolfe.

The book’s appendices comprehensively list populations of Muslims in nations worldwide, and its introduction gives a snapshot view of different ideological movements within the Muslim world, breaking down clearly distinctions between traditional Islam and recent radical innovations.

People who are themselves prominent scholars contributed to or edited the book, including of course Georgetown University’s Professor John Esposito and Professor Ibrahim Kalin.  Ed Marques and Usra Ghazi also edited and prepared the book.  The book lists as consultants Dr. Hamza Abed al Karim Hammad, and Siti Sarah Muwahidah, with thanks to other contributors.

The entire book is available online (here:  http://www.rissc.jo/muslim500v-1L.pdf) and we hope that it will be available for sale soon inside the United States.  Currently it is not available.

To encourage the printing and release of the book in the United States you can contact Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at cmcu@georgetown.edu, or by phone at 202-687-8375.

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Elements of US Peace Plan Revealed

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Palestine Center Blog

An elected Palestinian official unveiled details of a US peace plan for a “permanent peaceful solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict” drafted by Pres. Obama, who intends to officially declare it soon, according to Hassan Khraisha, deputy speaker of the Palestinian parliament.

Xinhua reported Khraisha said the plan includes:

* Statehood: the establishment of Palestinian statehood first in the West Bank by 2011. Later, the Gaza Strip will be integrated.

* No Authority Over East Jerusalem: “The plan puts parts of East Jerusalem under the full Israeli sovereignty without any actual Palestinian control on it. But the holy sites will be under Arab and Islamic administration,” said Khraisha.

* Palestinian Foreign Policy: It prevents the Palestinian state from making any foreign military alliances in the region, according to Khraisha.

* Limited Refugee Resettlement: Resettling “a limited number of Palestinian refugees in the Jordan valley and other areas in the West Bank” between Nablus and Ramallah, Khraisha said.

* Not Clear on Refugees in Arab World: The “plan did not show what would be the fate of the Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other Arab and foreign countries.”

* Settlements: the plan talks about keeping big settlements in the West Bank, and to start negotiations on smaller settlements within three months.

* Demilitarization: The Palestinian state would be demilitarized.

* Airspace: Israel exercises control of the airspace above the Palestinian state.

* Factions as Parties: “The new U.S. plan calls for turning the different armed Palestinian factions into political parties which condemn the use of violence against Israel,” said Khraisha.

* Palestinian prisoners: The plan includes an Israeli release of a number of prisoners from its jails as soon as a permanent peace agreement is signed between Israel and the PNA. The prisoners’ release would take three years.

Khraisha, who declined to say from where he got the draft, said that the U.S. administration had finalized the plan with the assistance of some Jewish figures specialized in the Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

Khraisha opposes the U.S. plan, saying “it means to dwarf the Palestinian political project and smashes the legitimate rights of the Palestinians in two basic issues, Jerusalem and the refugees return.”

“The plans and declarations of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to start building up the establishments and the institutions of the future Palestinian statehood might be made in accordance with the U.S. peace plan,” said Khraisha.

He said that the PNA “might deal with the plan, which is very dangerous and it comes in a status of Palestinian weakness due to the current political rift between Hamas and Fatah.”

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The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Fundraiser

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) will hold its yearly banquet and fundraiser October 17th at the Anaheim Hilton Hotel in Anaheim, Ca. The event will feature Ralph Nader, presidential candidate, peace worker and consumer advocate as the keynote speaker. The event will begin at 6:00pm.

The gala will also be a tribute and a memorial to the late Huda El Masri Sosebee, wife of PCRF’s CEO, Steve Sosebee. Huda died on July 15 of this year after a courageous battle against Leukemia. While she held the title of Director of Social Work, her contribution to the PCRF defied parameters. She was a courageous and proud Arab Palestinian who fought for the health and well being of children even in her last weeks of life.

Featured also will be one or more of the children that the PCRF has sponsored for treatment..

The PCRF was founded in 1991 to address the medical and humanitarian needs of children in Palestine. The venue has been expanded to include Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The PCRF often brings children out of Palestine if their needs cannot successfully be met in their home city. While undergoing treatment the child is placed in an Arabic speaking home until his return. There is no charge for the child’s treatment.

The group sends medical missions to Palestine with specialties to treat young patients in local hospitals, and, at the same time, to provide teaching tools to local doctors.

In addition, the PCRF has implemented a program for wheelchair distribution, providing mobility for young people who otherwise would be homebound. A program of eye glass distribution has also been instituted, allowing the young people of the oPt a higher quality of life and an opportunity to optimize their school years.

The PCRF has a Women’s Empowerment Program which provides start-up economic grants to women in Gaza and the West Bank

A summer camp for disabled children is yet another project of this organization.

Makassad Hospital in East Jerusalem has the first Intensive Care United for pediatric heart patients in Palestine due to the efforts of the PCRF.

The PCRF has (501)(c)(3) status and is the only charity permitted by the Department of Homeland Security to have access to Gaza.

Tickets are $100 per person and may be obtained by calling: (562) 432-0005 or writing to: PCRFsc, P. O. Box 791, Palos Verdes Estates, Ca. 90274.

It is suggested that tickets be purchased if possible in advance of the event.

The above mentioned successes of the PCRF are but a small portion of the totality of their work. For more information about the PCRF, please access the web site at: www.pcrf.net.

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Amany Jamal On Demoracy in the Arab East

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–A little over ten months ago, Amany Jamal came to talk to a small group on his work in progress, The Crisis of Political Legitimacy in the Arab World.
It has too often been assumed that the Arab nations do not wish democracy.  This is not true, but the majority of the regions monarchies and republics’ pre-eminent dominant authorities are distrustful of democratic reforms.  The social restructuring towards democratization has not arisen to the same extend as in the second World as yet, and there is a great deal difference to the degree and the liberality that the Arab world desires their democratic forms, and as your author has emphasized before the democracy that develops in any country has to take into account of its traditions, history and the constituencies of the larger geographical zone et al.  The error that the Bush and the Neo-Conservatives made in dealing with the Middle East was to shove down the Jeffersonian tradition in the Near and Middle East and other Islamic zones with the democratic values that had evolved in North America!

A Capitalist economy is not conducive to all types of democracy!   The State should make its own decisions on its own allocations, and not the individual citizens or corporate entities.  Exiting theories to social inequality are emphatically universal.   There are pronounced amoralities within almost every Arab State – except Kuwait.  In most of the topography under study, restrictive legislation is applied toward propping up authoritative regimes. 

“If (a) society is equipped for [democratic] change, it will do so [i.e., change],” further, “…States [do] not necessarily [promote their] society’s preferences.”  Her hypothesis is that “…the elites are worried over jeopardizing their client status with the United States.”  These privileged rules are more likely to oppose democracy.

The more an Arab country lacks development, the more dependent it is upon Washington.  The Arab nations have less bi-lateral ties than they do with the U.S.A.!  Thus, North America has a strong military presence there.   The Arabs, though, are only subordinate partners within the American Empire. 

Today, small Kuwait holds 10 percent of the known world oil reserves, but has one of the highest per capita percentages of militants within the Middle East. The residents in all of the nations are well aware of it potential political weaknesses within the structures of their individual states.  If the Islamists would come to power, they would not necessarily sever ties with the D.C., but there are places where “Anti-American forces are of a concern – such as Jordan” where the Islamists could weaken the Monarchy.  Jordan is considered the most stable realm in the Middle East because of American buttressing.

There still remains a fear among the Iranians that, if the U.S. deserts Baghdad too fast, Tehran will have to cope with a security risk there again.

Amany Jamal finished her remarks of last fall, “…Anti-Americanism has stifled democratization” throughout the neighborhood; therefore, “…The route [towards] democratization lies in addressing the…increase of Anti-Americanism…” within the locale.

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ACCESS Expands Medical Network in Middle East

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By ACCESS

adnanhammad Over the past two weeks, Senior Director of the Community Health & Research Center, Dr. Adnan Hammad, embarked on a trip to the Middle East to spread ACCESS’ medical research knowledge to universities and institutions in Jordan and Morocco. The trip served to educate others as well as expand and strengthen ACCESS’ existing networks with health professionals and medical establishments around the world.

Highlights of the trip included a new partnership with the School of Medicine in Fez, Morocco, which could include potential research collaboration and the establishment of a national cancer screening initiative with the Moroccan National Institute of Public Health (MNIPH). Thanks to ACCESS, MNIPH will also be linked with the American Cancer Society and the National Institute of Cancer.

In Amman, Jordan, Dr. Hammad and other professionals provided a one-day workshop at the King Hussein Cancer Center. The workshop included discussions on cancer control and prevention based on extensive research. Also, after meeting with the leadership of Jordan University of Science and Technology, ACCESS has agreed to help them plan a regional public health conference slated for June 2010. This conference will focus on comparative research between Arab and Arab American health outcomes, such as diabetes, cancer, tobacco use, and environment.

Finally, Dr. Hammad met with Questscope and ANERA, organizations whose mission is to educate and help Middle Eastern youth overcome poverty, abuse, and injustice. Discussions are now ongoing over the establishment of a “Train the Trainers” program for the 5,000-6,000 Iraqi children whose parents have been victims of torture. ACCESS has committed to sending some of it mental health care professionals to provide training workshops this fall.

“ACCESS was proud to contribute its knowledge, experience, and talents in helping the well-being of our community overseas,” said Dr. Hammad “I am a believer that epidemiology does not recognize borders and I am glad I had this opportunity to serve ACCESS and the Arab American Community.”

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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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After the Green Revolution Fails–Invasion Plans Anew

July 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Damian Lataan

With the failure of the Western powers to foment a popular uprising after the 12 June elections in Iran that they hoped would lead to regime change, the West has now had to return to the ‘Iran has nuclear weapons’ meme in order to pave the way for an attack against Iran in the hope that regime change can be affected that way.

In an interview on Sunday, Vice-President Joe Biden, when asked, “…if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?” responded saying: “Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”

Biden was then asked: “You sa y we can’t dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike”, to which he responded, “I’m not going to speculate… on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.”

Yesterday (5 July) ‘Timesonline’ reported that the Saudis had made it clear to Meir Dagan, Israel’s Mossad chief, that they would not object to Israeli overflights if they were on their way to targets in Iran. While a flight to Iran from Israel via Saudi Arabia would be much longer that a direct flight to Iran overflying Jordan and Iraq, a flight via Saudi Arabia would not require permission from any other country; not even the US to fly over Iraq. And if the Israelis can get permission from the Saudis to have support aircraft in the air in Saudi airspace to refuel the Israeli strike aircraft over, say, the Persian Gulf, then an Israeli strike against Iran is feasible.

It’s interesting that the report about the Saudi’s giving clearance for overflights to attack Iran were quickly denied by Netanyahu’s office. Clearly, the Israelis are anxious to bury this information though, one suspects, that it is now too late and the Iran ians will now have their spies in Saudi Arabia scanning the skies and radio bands for high flying aircraft heading west to east across Saudi Arabia toward the Persian Gulf.

It may well be that Israel could be keen to take advantage of the unrest that has recently unsettled Iran but now seems to have died down. A strike now, they may feel, might just reignite the embers of insurrection that still glow especially if there was also a strike against Iran’s security forces and it’s military.

Even if Israel did strike against Iran via Saudi skies, Israel would still need to rely on the US for support. The fuel required for the mission would need to be supplied by the US as would most of the munitions. US forces would also need to be on standby ready to prevent any Iranian retaliatory strikes against Israel and the US. Israel would also need to have its troops on standby at home in preparedness for retaliatory attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

For Israel, a Hamas and Hezbollah strike against them would be what they want. It would provide the casus belli for Israel to invade both the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon – perhaps all of Lebanon – knowing that the Iranians would not be in a position to help them. And with Iran out of the equation, Syria would not dare move against Israel.

With the failure of the post-election Iranian revolution, Israel will now resort to its old rhetoric of ‘Iran has a nuclear weapons program’ to try again to get public opinion onside for when they launch their attack against Iran to effect regime change. With the US now clearly not standing in the way and the Saudis prepared to let the US off the hook with regard to being seen by the world as facilitating an Israeli attack by allowing the Israelis to overfly Iraq despite all the talk of pursuing a “diplomatic solution”, everything seems in place for the Israelis to feel free to attack Iran when ever they feel they are ready.

The prospect of a final confrontation between Israel and Iran is now off the back burner and back on to the front burner. The problem is, If and when it happens, it won’t be a simple make or break fight for Israel or Iran; the repercussions will reverberate around the world for years to come.

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