Musharraf wants to enter into Pakistani Politics with a Big Bang

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I will surely be in Pakistan before the next General Elections for one last contest: Musharraf in Houston

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         “You have mentioned in your English and Urdu newspapers that return of Musharraf is imminent. Now I will have to prove this statement,” said former President of Pakistan General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf, while talking to Pakistan Chronicle & Pakistan Journal Newspapers Publisher Tariq Nehal Khan and Marketing & Distribution Manager Mohammad Jameel Siddiqui, at luncheon held in his and his wife Mrs. Sehba Musharraf’s honor at the residence of famous Houston Attorney Nauman (Noami) Hussain. One day before this luncheon meeting, General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf and his wife had reached Houston and had meetings with members of a reputable think tank.

Large number of Pakistani Community and American personalities were present on the luncheon occasion, including Stephen Prentiss Payne, a most famous American lobbyist from Houston, Texas, who has been Mr. Musharraf’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C.; Counsel General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem and his wife; Former City Councilman Masrur Javed Khan; Former Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Dr. Naseem Ashraf and many more. Sumptuous luncheon of Mezban Restaurant and Demasis Mediterranean Restaurant was served.

Naomi Hussain introduced Pervez Musharraf as the person, who after President Bush said either you are with us or with the terrorists; stood besides USA. Musharraf started his ten minutes presentation by thanking Naomi Hussain & his wife and everyone in the large gathering and said whatever he did after 9/11 was first in the interest of Pakistan, then of the world and of course USA.

Talking about his political future, he said disinformation is being implanted into various Pakistani media that when I recently visited Washington, D.C., not a single important person met me. If it is not for privacy issues, he said he would have mentioned the names of top officials, with whom he had concrete talks; and that would have meant restless days and sleepless nights for these persons, who are merely doing false propaganda.

Former President Pervez Musarraf said that ground realty is recently I started my face-book and got the most clicks by any person in a day in the whole world, resulting in an interview with Becky Anderson of CNN in London England. I do a Q-&-A session every 14th day on my face-book and 85% of the people want me to return to Pakistan and play a positive role in the political arena of Pakistan. Several seasoned and credible politicians of Pakistan recently met him in Middle East and everyone wants his return. Nature is with him in that he is the only alive notable personality of Pakistan, who has the chance to take politicians, bureaucracy and arm-forces of Pakistan together and that present & future of Pakistan needs a personality, who especially has these credentials.

He said at present with no real responsibilities and traveling to various places for speaking tours, he is living very peacefully and in serenity. But when calls to return for the betterment of Pakistan reach him, they make him to think hard and he is at presently considering to remain living comfortably or returning to Pakistan and work hard to make the country the best in the world. He said he is strongly inclined to return as Pakistan comes first; for sure before the next national elections and final word will be coming from his camp within the next two months.

“I just do not want to return and be a mediocre player in Pakistani politics. I want to return with a big bang and give Pakistani people a real third choice in politics, where present government has failed miserably in resolving issues and problems have compounded, while on the other hand, we have Nawaz Sharif & PML (N). Mr. Sharif has some kink in his brain, as he is always confronting with some; previously with 4 Generals and presently making agreements with the government but then at time becoming angry and at other times remains quiet. I have called Mr. Sharif a Closet Taleban, who as in Urdu we say have beard in the tummy; he is most dangerous for Pakistan and for everybody. I am sure I will able to provide the most viable Third National Choice in the next elections. Pakistan deserves better leadership and if I do not try, that will not be good. I am not scared of failure. I will give it the best try,” said Musharraf amidst applause.

General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf said there is figure of Pakistan, who is more than 25 years veteran politician, but now-a-days dormant (he said he does not want to give his name). When recently he called him to get suggestions about future and referenced the scene from a famous cowboy movie, where only one bullet is left and person is contemplating to go back for one last fight or not. Musharraf was told by this politician that it is better to go back for one last fight and he may very well find this dormant politician besides him.

Former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf said the way so many people have here to Naomi’s home, similarly people in other cities, like recently Chicago have met him. But all this effort is scattered. He said if you see him to work hard for Pakistan and Pakistanis, it is necessary that those who are in favor of my thumping return to Pakistan, collect their resources and efforts.

12-20

3 Muslim Women Elected in UK Polls

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

LONDON: Two Pakistani-British women were among the three women who became the first Muslim females to be elected to the British parliament following their success in the Thursday’s UK national polls.

Yasmin Qureshi, a 47-year-old practising barrister, held on to the Labour seat from Bolton south east constituency (north west England), by taking 18,782 votes against her Conservative party rival Andy Morgan, who polled 15,827 votes.

Qureshi was contesting the election in place of Dr Brian Iddon who has retired from politics.

The other successful woman was Oxford-educated Barrister Shabana Mahmood, a Labour candidate who won with 19,950 votes.

She defeated her nearest Liberal-Democrat rival Ayoub Khan who bagged 9,845 votes.

Another Muslim candidate Nusrat Ghani who fought the election on Conservative Party ticket secured 4,277 votes. Mahmood defended the seat that was previously held by former International Development Secretary Clare Short who stepped down from Birmingham Ladywood constituency.

The third successful Muslim woman to have secured her passage to the Westminster was Rushanara Ali of the Bangladeshi-descent, who won East London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow with 21,784 votes and in the process wrested the seat from Respect Unity Coalition whose candidate Abjol Miah got 8,532 votes.

In second place was Ajmal Mansoor of Liberal-Democrat with 10,210 votes.

However, the other Labour aspirant Maryam Khan, a 27-year-old solicitor contesting from Bury North, went down fighting to her Conservative Party rival David Nuttal who polled 18,070 votes against Khan’s 15,827.

Khan was chosen to defend the seat previously held by David Chaytor, who was barred by the Labour Party from standing again and is being prosecuted over his expenses as a former MP. Labour also suffered defeat in Dewsbury, north west England, where sitting MP Shahid Malik, a junior minister, lost to his Conservative rival Simon Reevell by a narrow margin of 1,526 votes.

Reevell polled 18,898 votes against 17,372 votes by Malik.

However, according to analysts, Malik’s chances were dented by another Pakistan-origin candidate Khizer Iqbal who stood as independent and returned with crucial 3,813 votes in a seven-corner contest. In Luton South constituency, Pakistan-origin councillor Qurban Hussein of Liberal-Democrat failed to unseat his Labour rival Gavin Shuker who secured 14,725 votes. Hussein, in fact, finished third with 9,567 votes behind the second placed Nigel Huddleston of the Tory party. app.

12-20

The Reality of Life in Greece

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Christopher Humphrys, Daily Mail

athens-greece A dream job? I thought so. I had left the grey skies of London and the big black hole in my bank account for the sunny skies of Greece. My salary as a cellist playing in a small Greek orchestra was relatively modest, but I could still afford to eat out every night, rent a nice apartment and spend long summer holidays on the Greek islands.

By the time I met my beautiful future wife, Penelope, my mind was made up. I could see no reason for ever wanting to live anywhere else but Greece.

That was 20 years ago. This week, as Greece woke up to the reality that it was effectively a bankrupt nation, I could see many reasons.

Civil unrest: Protesters clash with riot police over Greek ‘austerity measures’

Here’s a snapshot of everyday life in a nation on the brink of civil catastrophe.

Before I set out for work on my motorbike yesterday morning, I first had to plan a route that would avoid the latest demonstration and the inevitable tear-gas that would accompany it.

As I passed the debris of the previous night’s riots, I heard the police helicopters buzzing overhead and tried to avoid eye contact with the nervous policemen on almost every street corner, fingering their carbines.

The vibrant but essentially law-abiding city of Athens has become a tense and slightly threatening place to live. It’s all happening because of the Greek economy, which this week collapsed even further as global credit agencies downgraded the rating of Greek government bonds to ‘junk’ status.

But in truth, the rot set in long ago. For decades, Greece has been living a lie. To say the nation has been living beyond its means is the understatement of the century. We have been indulging in an orgy of over- spending and over-borrowing beyond the wildest imagination.

Let me introduce you to my oldest friend, John, the man I went to school with in Britain and the man who first persuaded me to try for a job in Athens. He was already living here. In the years since then, he has become as Greek as the Elgin Marbles. He has a Greek wife, Greek children and a deep love of the country he thinks of as his own.

greece But today he is desperately looking for a job back in Britain. And that’s because five years ago he managed to do something we all hankered after: he got a job with the state orchestra.

The important part of that sentence is the word ‘state’. It’s not a very good orchestra, but when you work for it you are on the state’s payroll, and that’s the gravy train that just about everyone in Greece wanted to board. It meant a job for life. The pension was eye-watering by British standards and so were the benefits.

Try this for size: a full year’s maternity leave; a year’s sabbatical if it took your fancy; and no matter how badly you played your music, you were utterly secure in the knowledge that you would never be sacked. These rules applied to every single state job in the land.

Now, in the spending cuts that are surely going to have to be made, John is terrified that his gold-star state job could vanish overnight — a bleak prospect with unemployment spiralling, but one that looks increasingly likely.

Unrealistic: Greeks may protest, but for too long they have relied on EU cash

Take another friend of mine, whose father died when she was only 25 years old. She inherited his state pension even though she was a well-to-do lawyer in her own right.

I have plenty of other friends who work for the state. I use the word ‘work’ loosely. Some of them are conscientious and do their nine-tofive hours with a degree of enthusiasm. But the fact is that some didn’t even bother turning up for work at all; they do other jobs instead, but still collect their state salaries.

I think of them as ‘ghost workers’ — and every Greek knows at least one of them. These ghosts have been milking the taxpayer for every penny they could take.

Now, let’s look at that word ‘ taxpayer’. In Greece, tax has long been something regarded by most people as entirely optional. You may choose to pay it, or you may not. There are a hundred ways of finding loopholes — some of them legal, many of them not.

The state has always acknowledged as much. And so, rather than pursuing the tax cheats with all the might of the law, they offered an amnesty: instead of being investigated for tax evasion, people were able to volunteer a one-off payment to make the problem go away.

How much? Just e2,000. And that’s it. No questions asked, even if you had been avoiding a tax liability of tens of thousands.

Greece 5400 But then, why on earth would the politicians seek to end this blatant corruption when they have been at [the receiving end].

One government minister was found to have built an enormous villa on the side of a mountain in a highly desirable location just outside Athens. Not only did he have no planning permission, but he built it with cheap labour supplied by illegal immigrants. His penalty, when the papers made a big fuss about it, was to be demoted — but his house still stands.

It’s impossible to calculate how many houses in Athens have been built illegally. What is certain is that somebody, somewhere, has been making a huge amount of money in bribes from the owners.

The standard way of doing business in this country is to resort to a ‘little brown envelope’. It’s not only corruption, such dishonesty denies the state income that should be paying for the schools, the hospitals and every other public service.

And here’s the strange thing. Those public services are, by most standards, very good. I have always found the health service here to be at least as good as Britain’s, probably better. And it’s entirely free.

So how can they afford it when people don’t pay their taxes? The answer, of course, is: Greece can’t. It’s bankrupt.

Nor can the country afford those staggeringly generous state pensions (my father-in-law’s pension is rather higher than my salary), nor the ghost jobs nor — God forbid — the Olympics that they staged with such fanfare in 2004. They cost more than e10 billion, and the long-term benefits from them have been effectively zero.

Yes, there’s a shiny new Metro underground train system and whole areas of the city have been tarted up — but it was done with borrowed money that has yet to be paid back. And those magnificent new stadiums are decaying before our eyes — a sad reminder of why hubris is a Greek word.

Perhaps the greatest corruption of all was the way Greece managed to join the euro. There was no way in the world the government could have met the strict financial criteria, so they took another route: they lied.

With the help of foreign bankers they simply misled Brussels and everyone else as to the true degree to which the state was in hock to the lenders.

They imagined that being members of the euro would cement Greece’s position as a modern, successful European country. Now, as we know all too well, the opposite has been the case.

Certainly, Greece has benefited enormously from being a member of the European Union. This is a fiercely patriotic country and you will see the Greek flag flying everywhere you go.

But here’s a sobering thought: almost every significant building, road, even park has been financed at least in part by you, dear reader. It’s your taxes — routed through payments to the EU — that have helped Greece look the way it does today. But now, of course, the gravy train has careered off the track and is causing carnage.

Yes, the Greek government is now embarking on what is called an austerity program. But it still doesn’t look anything like austere enough.

Here’s an example. It decided that if you own a swimming pool, you must, by definition, be pretty well-off and therefore you should be paying a certain amount in tax. If not, you’re in trouble.

And, of course, it’s easy for officialdom to spot the pool owners: they just look at the pictures conveniently provided on the website Google Earth. So what do the owners do? They cover their pools with green covers so that it looks as though they have nice, big lawns. Old habits die hard.

My own fear is that corruption and tax evasion and borrowing are so deeply ingrained in the Greek culture that even the austerity measures taken, and the combined bail-outs from other EU nations and the International Monetary Fund, will simply not work. Too little, and much too late.

And what then? Well, maybe we will be forced out of the euro — and maybe that will be good for us.

Many of us who live here will not be sorry to see the back of the euro, because one catastrophic sideeffect of joining the single market has been that the cost of living has pretty much doubled.

Meanwhile, the country must learn to live within its means. It must recognise that the state is not some sort of Santa Claus who can always pull another surprise goodie out of his bottomless sack.

For the past couple of years the Greek tourist authority has been selling the delights of this glorious country with the slogan ‘Live your myth in Greece’.

How appropriate that sounds today. We have been living a myth in Greece for far too long. It is now disintegrating, and all of us are deeply worried about what will take its place.

What a sobering lesson for Britain, as you slowly face up to the enormity of your own economic crisis.

12-19

Kandaharis Want Peace Talks

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service

2010-05-05T121705Z_1095639419_GM1E6551KBZ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan women clad in burqas and a child receive food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

An opinion survey of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province funded by the U.S. Army has revealed that 94 percent of respondents support negotiating with the Taliban over military confrontation with the insurgent group and 85 percent regard the Taliban as “our Afghan brothers.”

The survey, conducted by a private U.S. contractor last December, covered Kandahar City and other districts in the province into which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is planning to introduce more troops in the biggest operation of the entire war. Those districts include Arghandab, Zhari, rural Kandahar, and Panjwayi.

Afghan interviewers conducted the survey only in areas which were not under Taliban control.

The decisive rejection of the use of foreign troops against the Taliban by the population in Kandahar casts further doubt on the fundamental premise of the Kandahar campaign, scheduled to begin in June, that the population and tribal elders in those districts would welcome a U.S.-NATO troop presence to expel the Taliban.

That assumption was dealt a serious blow at a meeting on April 4 at which tribal elders from all over Kandahar told President Hamid Karzai they were not happy with the planned military operation.

An unclassified report on the opinion survey was published in March by Glevum Associates, a Washington-based “strategic communications” company under contract for the Human Terrain Systems program in Afghanistan. A link to the report was first provided by the Web site Danger Room which reported the survey April 16.

Ninety-one percent of the respondents supported the convening of a “Loya Jirga,” or “grand assembly” of leaders as a way of ending the conflict, with 54 percent “strongly” supporting it, and 37 percent “somewhat” supporting it. That figure appears to reflect support for President Karzai’s proposal for a “peace Jirga” in which the Taliban would be invited to participate.

The degree to which the population in the districts where McChrystal plans to send troops rejects military confrontation and believes in a peaceful negotiated settlement is suggested by a revealing vignette recounted by Time magazine’s Joe Klein in the April 15 issue.

Klein accompanied U.S. Army Capt. Jeremiah Ellis when he visited a 17-year-old boy in Zhari district whose house Ellis wanted to use an observation post. When Ellis asked the boy how he thought the war would end, he answered, “Whenever you guys get out from here, things will get better.”

“The elders will sit down with the Taliban, and the Taliban will lay down their arms.”

The Kandahar offensive seems likely to dramatize the contrast between the U.S. insistence on a military approach to the Taliban control of large parts of southern Afghanistan and the overwhelming preference of the Pashtun population for initiating peace negotiations with the Taliban as Karzai has proposed.

Ironically, highlighting that contradiction in the coming months could encourage President Barack Obama to support Karzai’s effort to begin negotiations with the Taliban now rather than waiting until mid-2011, as the U.S. military has been advocating since last December.

Obama told a meeting of his “war cabinet” last month that it might be time to start negotiations with the Taliban, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have opposed any move toward negotiations until Gen. McChrystal is able to demonstrate clear success in weakening the Taliban.

The Taliban ruling council has taken advantage of the recent evidence of contradictions between Pashtuns in Kandahar and the U.S. military over the Kandahar offensive by signaling in an interview with the Sunday Times of London that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is prepared to engage in “sincere and honest” talks.

In a meeting in an unidentified Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan reported Sunday, two Taliban officials told the newspaper that Omar’s aims were now limited to the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners, and the restoration of security. It was the first major signal of interest in negotiations since the arrest of Mullah Omar’s second in command, Mullah Baradar, in late January.

The report of the Glevum survey revealed that more people in Kandahar regard checkpoints maintained by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) and ANA and ANP vehicles as the biggest threat to their security while traveling than identified either Taliban roadside bombs or Taliban checkpoints as the main threat.

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents in the survey said the biggest threat to their security while traveling were the ANA and ANP checkpoints on the road, and 56 percent said ANA/ANP vehicles were the biggest threat. Only 44 percent identified roadside bombs as the biggest threat – the same percentage of respondents who regard convoys of the International Security Assistance Force – the NATO command under Gen. McChrystal – as the primary threat to their security.

Only 37 percent of the respondents regarded Taliban checkpoints as the main threat to their security.

In Kandahar City, the main target of the coming U.S. military offensive in Kandahar, the gap between perceptions of threats to travel security from government forces and from the Taliban is even wider.

Sixty-five percent of the respondents in Kandahar City said they regard ANA/ANP checkpoints as the main threat to their security, whereas roadside bombs are the main problem for 42 percent of the respondents.

The survey supports the U.S. military’s suspicion that the transgressions of local officials of the Afghan government, who are linked mainly to President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar province council and the main warlord in the province, have pushed the population into the arms of the Taliban.

An overwhelming 84 percent of the respondents agreed that corruption is the main cause of the conflict, and two-thirds agreed that government corruption “makes us look elsewhere.” That language used in the questionnaire was obviously intended to allow respondents to hint that they were supporting the Taliban insurgents in response to the corruption, without saying so explicitly.

More than half the respondents (53 percent) endorsed the statement that the Taliban are “incorruptible.”

“Corruption” is a term that is often understood to include not only demands for payments for services and passage through checkpoints but violence by police against innocent civilians.

The form of government corruption that has been exploited most successfully by the Taliban in Kandahar is the threat to destroy opium crops if the farmers do not pay a large bribe. The survey did not ask any questions about opium growing and Afghan attitudes toward the government and the Taliban, although that was one of the key questions that Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the head of intelligence for Gen. McChrystal, had sought clarification of.

12-19

Negotiating with the Taliban?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Sleeping” with the Enemy”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Differences Between the U.S., Afghani and Indian Governments

Point Isabel, Point Richmond (Calif.)–Your author is taking his subtitle from a less than notable American film of several years ago to finish up his report on the recent Indian Ambassador to Kabul’s comments , Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

At the moment your reporter finds himself at a lovely promontory pointing into San Francisco Bay, and it seems strange to be considering so many matters so far away that I begun two weeks ago from Berkeley.  At that time I decided to divide the presentation into two parts because of its length.

Mukhopadhaya continued on how the political position amongst the American voters regarding Afghanistan was shifting away from support to criticism of official military policy in the Hindu Kush.  Therefore, the District of Columbia had to change its tactics in response.

Pakistan operates in this War as it perceives to its own interests.  Thus, the Ambassador deems that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) allies in the Hindu Kush consider Rawalpindi to be unreliable — which is far from the truth in your writer’s opinion. 

Both the U.S. and Pakistan are targeting the Taliban, (but Islamabad only considers one branch of the Taliban to be hostile to their interests.  The other four branches – which are within their territory, too – they do not consider a threat, and all these parties are comparatively accommodating to the other – including Pakistan.  Up to 80% of the Pakistani Taliban resides in the federally administered Northwest Provinces.)

The Americans and Pakistani Armies mutually oppose one “clan” of Taliban, and they are fully within Islamabad’s Federally Administered Territories.  Thus, Peshawar sees no threat to their survival from the Afghani Taliban. 

Further, Washington sees no alternative to the Karzai government that the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives as militarily undependable.  At the same time, the U.S. Administration comprehends Kazai’s Presidency to be a corruptible one – an uneasy alliance to say the least! 

In the London Conference on the Afghani conflict last January (2010), the European and Canadian allies supported the “Afghanization” of the War and the “regularization” (normalization) of our relations with the Taliban!  This, hopefully, would lead to meaningful discussions and, eventually, peace within the Mountains!  These talks should be mutually respectful between each party – including the Taliban.

At same time, the Indian representative from New Delhi’s Department of External Affairs had to take a dig at their traditional competitors:  “We need leadership from the Pakistanis!”  (This struggle beyond the Khyber is an opportunity to bring these two South Asian nuclear neighbors closer together instead of tearing them further apart to the dangerous detriment to all!)  His Excellency accused D.C. of a failure of leadership during this international crisis.  To settle the military security, he urged U.S.-Pakistan operations.  (Of course, the loss of Islamabad’s national sovereignty would be totally unacceptable to its Muslim citizenry, and put the security of Pakistan’s topography under question for its Western and regional allies!)  Simultaneously, the Saudis close allies to both, are working with Islamabad and Washington to bring their policies closer together.

On the other hand, the Taliban itself is fed-up.  The London Conference approved the Taliban’s grasp of the countryside while NATO and the Afghani government would occupy the cities.  This is not the battle plan of these “Students.”  They wish to hold the total fasces within the dry, cold hills, and their mindset is far from compromise at this time.

Yet the Americans presume that they have an upper hand, and, correspondingly, are in the position of strength to negotiate with their adversaries.  Actually, it is the Pakistanis who are central for negotiating with the problem some Quetta branch of the Talibani. The Pakistani Army has already begun to begin dialogue in Baluchistan.  Rawalpindi considers it has made some progress, and the Generals at their Military Headquarters are encouraged by their discourse with the irregular tribesmen.

The U.S.A. has been following a contradictory policy in the Af-Pak itself.  While D.C. has been throwing development funds in Southern Afghanistan, it has been shoring up the military on the frontlines in Pakistan.

Ultimately, though, Ambassador Maukapadya does not discern a desire by the Taliban to parley.  In the late 1990s, the Taliban regime in Kabul led the U.S. on their intentions.  (Your essayist has some questions about this, and that is His Excellency is not separating the goals of a Nationalist Taliban and an Internationalist Al’Quaeda.)  Would the Taliban be willing to form a coalition government with Karzai or whoever may succeed him (them)?  (Whatever, a re-establishment of the regime of the 1990s is totally unacceptable to International Civil Society without the checks and balances of the partnership of all Afghani peoples and tribes!)  The Ambassador is “…not optimistic.” 

There is preparation for a major NATO assault upon the Taliban stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar, the center of Talibani power.  Maukapadya  does not feel the battle will turn the War around.

Concurrently, Europe and North America and their regional associates are employing dual strategies against the Taliban who are replying in kind.  This War is far from coming to a mutually acceptable denouement.

12-17

Why Do I Want to be a Journalist?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

This is the second place essay, by Aysha Jamali, on the subject “Why do I want to be a journalist?” She received Second Prize, a $1,000 scholarship.

By Aysha Jamali

Aysha Jamali-photo A journalist strives, researches, listens and educates. A journalist’s role is vast and has been a necessary ingredient in society throughout the history of the world. Media influences what we know about the world around us, how we form our opinions on issues and which issues are the most important to us. A journalist’s responsibility is to report with the intention of being honest and fair in representing what goes on in the world. That is my interest: to uphold the duties of media’s mediators.

Wickham Steed, an editor of The Times of London, said that journalism is “something more than a craft, something other than an industry, something between art and a ministry.” It’s a field that requires skill and creativity, but it also requires a sense of obligation to the people. And there are several obligations.

One obligation of the journalist is to keep a check on those in power. Governments and corporate organizations are often in a position to abuse their power. They serve the larger population, but are often run by a smaller elite circle. “Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing” says that “democracy is the healthiest when the public is informed about the activities of captains of industry and chieftains in public office.” It is the journalist’s responsibility to scrutinize those captains and chieftains in the elite circle, so that the common people can have a say in their policies and the actions affecting them.

Journalists also look out for those who can’t look out for themselves. The minority always needs a spokesperson whether it’s a daughter who lost her father because of hospital malpractice, a school in a low-income district with no money for textbooks, or hundreds of upset and recently unemployed workers from a billion dollar company.

A journalist’s responsibility is also to provide the public with unbiased information on current issues. A decision is so difficult to make when both sides are white-washing and sugar-coating the truth. Journalists are there to investigate and determine accurate from inaccurate. They provide not only facts but the scoop behind the facts. Journalist T. D. Allman said, “Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right.” It’s with this type of fact-finding that people can make rational decisions.

Another role of the journalist is to bring to concern issues that are otherwise not discussed. In the book “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” Bruce W. Sanford said that “most people would not see that they were being denied information about the world around them.” This requires the journalist to hunt for these hidden stories, and it can put the journalist at odds with bosses and peers. Stepping away from the mainstream is difficult but something a journalist should remember is often an obligation.

My background has taught me about the need for such responsibilities. My family and my Islamic faith have taught me that judging others is the wrong path to take since you don’t always know the whole story. I learned that what you hear is not always the truth, so you need to stay skeptical. I learned that there is always another opinion about a situation, so you need to stay open-minded. It’s because of this that I read about a war, a robbery or a movie release and I want to know what else is there that the media isn’t telling me. Did those people really initiate the shooting? Was that person trying to feed his family with the stolen money? Is this actor passionate about his role in the movie?

Beyond finding out the truth, I want to share the new ideas and incidents I discover. My question is always: why didn’t I know this before and why isn’t anyone spreading this around? I love a chance to sit down and hash out the day’s news. I relish the idea of communicating information to get myself and other people to think in different ways. It’s my inquisitive attitude and my itch to share information that attracted me to journalism.

Getting people to think in different ways is also a significant reason to have a diverse media. You can’t have variation if everyone thinks the same way. In “Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite,” Bernard Goldberg said, “It’s past time that we moved from a newsroom that simply looks like America to one that thinks like America – a newsroom that better reflects America in its highly varied beliefs and values and passions.”  A diversified newsroom is an atmosphere that permits the contribution of unique experiences and attitudes.

Media diversity is also important for avoiding cultural taboos and clearing up misconceptions. This brings to the mind the controversial shooting of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, imam of a local Detroit mosque. Local news stations reported on broadcast and on their Web sites that he was the ringleader of a group called the “Ummah.” Actually, all Muslims consider themselves to be a part of an ummah, which is an Arabic word roughly translated as community. It’s similar to Christians belonging to a church community. The mainstream media failed to clarify whether Imam Abdullah’s “Ummah” was just confused with the general concept of the Muslim ummah. If there were more people with that type of knowledge and background present in the newsroom, then confusions like that wouldn’t happen as often. When there’s less confusion in the media, the public is getting accurate information and putting its trust back in its sources.

The need to keep a check on bias by representing all sides of a story is also a reason why the media should be diverse. It only makes sense for the media to be as diverse as the people and the views they are representing. With the melting-pot that is the United States, we should be seeing people of all backgrounds in our media. In “Arrogance,” Goldberg said that “despite the overwhelming evidence, despite all the examples of bias that were documented in my book and others, despite the surveys that show that large numbers of Americans consider the elite media too liberal … the elite remains in denial.” Diversity breaks down that elite circle to allow for proper representation.

These roles are a part of the backbone that holds up a journalist as someone who strives, researches, listens and educates. I believe it should be every journalist’s goal to uphold the field’s values. I hope to make my career as a journalist by internalizing these values. I hope to use my Muslim identity and first generation immigrant background in striving for fair media representation through diversity. This should be the journalist’s drive. This is my drive.

12-17

Upgrade: Islamic Finance 2.0

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Gulfnews.com

sharia_finance_dollar Future of Industry lies in move from sharia-compliant to sharia-based approach

Dubai : We are at an important crossroads in Islamic finance and banking, and I want to explore, in this column, the future of Islamic finance.

We hear about 1.5 billion Muslims, but has Islamic finance benefited the ‘man on the street?’ What is so ‘Islamic’ about Islamic finance?

Have we simply been putting an Islamic wrapper around conventional structures and products and placing a blessing them?

I’ve been in Islamic finance for more than a decade. This inaugural article will set the non-technical tone for the important areas I want to explore in the future, and I encourage the readers to comment as the Islamic finance community’s collective psyche, experience and insight will benefit the industry.

We in Islamic finance want to see a group blueprint of the industry going forward, including the building of two-way bridges — be it with South-east Asia or with Group of 20 (G20) countries.

Islamic finance is, at one level, for all those interested in “boring finance”, asset or project backed/based financing and non-turbo-charged investing (without derivatives and excessive leverage) in selected real economic sectors.

Islam does not necessarily have a monopoly on ethics because these are common shared values with other religions and philosophies. However, the former has ‘codified,’ via scholars, screens and structures into financial contracts having links to permissible real economic activities.

Sharia compliance

Among the 57 Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, not one Muslim country in the last 40 years has ‘Islamised’ its economy for general acceptance; not Sudan, Pakistan or Iran.

The $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) industry operates in a world economy of inter-connected interest rates, debt and other similar factors, hence Sharia scholars have allowed a permissible amount of impurity as long as the industry moves towards removing such impermissibilities.

Put differently, scholars, as Sharia gatekeepers, are seeking progress and prosperity, which is different from modernisation. Thus the reference rates in Islamic mortgages, syndicated loans, sukuks and other financing are the efficient cost of capital credit of the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and/or the Treasury.
However, where is the industry with a methodology for an Islamic interbank offer rate (Ibor)?

There are over 555 Islamic funds with $35 billion (Dh129 billion) of assets under management, and, if we focus on Islamic equity funds, the question that comes to mind is this: ‘What is the link between a Sharia-screened company from any of the five index providers to Islamic finance or a Muslim country?’

The screening results in a universe that can be deemed as a style of investing — ‘non-financial, low debt social-ethical investing.’

Thus, some of the Sharia-compliant companies include Microsoft, BP Amoco, Pfizer (with a bias towards energy, health care, and technology), yet what is their link or connection to Islamic finance?

Could such companies and, in the aggregate, present day Sharia-compliant Islamic indices, be deemed an economic indicator of Islamic finance in a Muslim country? We now need to look at Sharia-based Islamic indices.

IFIs and sukuks

We hear and read about 300 Islamic financial institutions (IFIs) in 75 countries, and the need for larger balance sheets to compete against the ‘big boys’ on the project finance deal table for instance, hence, a call for the consolidation or the creation of established Islamic mega-banks.

A concern with such an Islamic mega-bank revolves round whether it poses a systemic and confidence risk in the home country as concentrated exposure without many compliant-hedging mechanisms?

Is there a need to think about safety nets and stress tests before central banks allows for an Islamic mega-bank?

The sukuk market, roughly equated to Islamic bonds, is now worth over $107 billion, having been the locomotive of Islamic finance during the petro-liquidity spike.

However, recent bankruptcies, defaults, and restructuring exercises, have been portrayed by western media as the beginning of the end of Islamic finance.

In an embryonic industry, like the 40-year-old Islamic finance, these growing pains are welcomed and will actually strengthen the industry, as precedents become known and down-side risk is better understood.

Sukuk growth and development appear to be following the ‘path’ of the Eurobond market, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and General Electric (GE) sukuk issuances in late 2009 underline the merits of such financing in turbulence.

Contribution factor

We have a number of Islamic finance conferences, and a number of Islamic finance awards.

It is often strange to see or read when different conference organisers or magazines have, for instance, a ‘best Islamic bank’ award, and each names a different bank.

It has been said in certain quarters that some of these awards are driven by sponsorships rather than actual votes or, ideally speaking, real contribution to the industry.

At this stage in Islamic finance, awards should emphasise ‘contribution’ and not ‘best,’ as that latter implies mature and connected Islamic financial institutions globally.

The foremost contribution to Islamic finance has been made by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Governor Zeti Akhthar Aziz, and, obviously, the real Sharia scholars, regulators like the United Kingdom’s FSA, central banks like the Central bank of Bahrain, and conventional banks with windows and subsidiaries.

Shaikh Mohammad, a standalone stakeholder, raised the profile of Islamic finance globally via the Dubai brand before oil reached $140 a barrel, and Zeti, as a globe-trotting ambassador, made her a separate asset class in Islamic finance.

They have established the awareness and macro framework, and now the industry has to move towards Islamic finance 2.0.

Pulse of Islamic finance

One of the serious issues the markets are tackling is to how to find an effective, overall pulse of Islamic finance. In most instances, numbers such as $1 trillion and the like are used to demonstrate the awesome potential of this industry.

However, how can we really gauge what’s happening to the industry on a daily basis?

The path to Sharia-based Islamic finance is expected to have speed-bumps, pot-holes, diversion road signs, construction vehicles with signs such as ‘do not follow’, but lets raise the issues from Sharia-compliance to get to the destination of Sharia-based.

The writer is the global head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters. The views expressed in this column are his own and should not be attributed to his organisation.

12-14

Iranian Student With $750 Turns Billionaire — Made by Islamic Art

April 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By William Green, Bloomberg

stoneHead_plate March 30 (Bloomberg) — Nasser David Khalili stands in an exhibition hall in St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace, gazing at an 18th-century painted enamel of flowers that’s one of 25,000 works of art he owns. “I’d have paid anything for it,” he says, appraising this miniature by Frenchman Philippe Parpette. “There’s no way I’d have let anybody else buy it.”

Khalili, 64, an Iranian-born billionaire who lives in London, has come to Russia to unveil his fifth art collection: On this overcast December afternoon, 320 of his 1,200 enamel treasures will go on display at the State Hermitage Museum, home to the collection of Catherine the Great, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its May issue.

Having flown in on a chartered plane, Khalili is relishing a private preview, peering through tinted eyeglasses at such possessions as a gilded clock with matching candelabras that once adorned the home of U.S. railroad tycoon William Vanderbilt. Khalili, who says he has a photographic memory, recalls paying $16,500 for these three pieces 34 years ago. He estimates that they’d now cost $600,000.

In all, Khalili says the enamels he has lent the museum are insured for more than 100 million pounds ($150 million). Even so, they are a trifle compared with the obsession that’s consumed him for four decades: his 20,000 pieces of Islamic art. “His collection is certainly the best in private hands,” says Edward Gibbs, Sotheby’s London-based head of Middle Eastern art. “He is the man who has everything. He’s come to define the market.”

Khalili is revealing his latest collection just as the $43 billion global art market is showing signs of reviving — with an Alberto Giacometti sculpture selling for a record 65 million pounds in February to a buyer later identified by dealers as London-based billionaire Lily Safra. In the Islamic art world, prices for the best pieces have been buoyed by a new generation of Middle Eastern buyers, including museums in Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

“There’s fierce competition for anything unique, rare, beautiful or important,” Gibbs says, noting that an Islamic textile Sotheby’s estimated would fetch $250,000 to $350,000 in a March 2009 auction went to Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art for $3.4 million.

The limited supply in this niche within the art market has made Khalili’s collection all the more precious, says Claire Penhallurick, an Islamic art consultant for Bonhams auction house. She says it’s impossible to guess what his entire collection is worth.

“How could you value something that’s unique and irreplaceable?” Penhallurick says. “If you had all the money in the world, you couldn’t assemble his collection now.”

When an exhibition of 471 of Khalili’s Islamic pieces opened at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in October, they alone were insured for almost 600 million pounds.

The story behind how Khalili built his fortune has long been shrouded in secrets. As a property developer, he shunned publicity and didn’t slap his name on buildings or the company that is his main investment vehicle. He has also operated under the radar when buying art.

“During the collecting, I don’t say anything,” Khalili says. “When it’s done, then I speak.”

His elusiveness has fueled much speculation, often revolving around how he financed his collecting. Khalili, who left Iran in 1967 with $750, says he’s since spent $650 million on art. London’s Sunday Times, which estimated his fortune at 5.8 billion pounds in 2007, gave up guessing his worth the following year and removed him from its annual rich list.

Khalili, whose works are held in a family trust, says he used subterfuge to amass his Islamic collection, pretending for several years to be an art dealer so he could acquire pieces at wholesale prices. While his stealth has often obscured the scale of his buying, the magazine ARTnews says Khalili is one of Britain’s top collectors, along with Safra and private museum owner Charles Saatchi.

The Iranian says he’s aware of whispers within the art trade that he grew rich buying Islamic works for Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Sitting in his office in London’s Mayfair neighborhood, where the treasures on display include an 8th- century bronze camel and a 7,000-year-old stone sculpture, Khalili beats his chest with his hand when asked about the rumors.

“I didn’t buy anything for anybody. Nobody, right?” he says. “I bought for myself. This is all bulls—, all right?”

The questions surrounding Khalili stem in part from his emergence in the 1980s as a trailblazer in Islamic collecting.

“There was this sudden transformation,” says William Robinson, director of Islamic art at Christie’s International. “In the late 1980s he was the No. 1 buyer.” Robinson and others thought he was buying as the exclusive agent for a powerful client. “It was assumed that the Sultan of Brunei was behind it,” Robinson says. “I really don’t know.”

Brunei’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Britain’s press also fueled speculation about the source of Khalili’s riches. “He spends on a scale no art collector has done before,” London’s Independent wrote in 1994. “Yet no one knows where his money comes from. … (Khalili) vehemently denies the suggestion that he has been secretly investing the sultan’s money rather than his own.”

Khalili says he met the Sultan of Brunei around 1984, after the U.K.’s Foreign Office asked him to advise the monarch on creating an Islamic gallery at the Brunei Museum.

“He had about 10,000 pieces,” Khalili says. “I chose about 1,000 pieces and said, ‘Throw the rest away. They’re junk.’”

As a favor, he says, he selected several items for the Sultan to buy at auction and the Khalili family trust sold him a dozen pieces from its Islamic collection, including Qurans, metalwork and textiles, for about 4 million pounds.

Khalili dismisses rumors that he sold art to the Sultan at inflated prices, pointing out that he later convinced him to donate 10 million pounds to the University of London for an Islamic gallery.

“If you rip somebody off, would they turn around and give you 10 million pounds to build a gallery?” he asks.

It’s now obvious he was buying for himself, Khalili says, since his Islamic collection is cataloged in 19 books written by an army of scholars he has hired to document its provenance and authenticity.

Khalili, who has also built collections of Japanese Meiji art, Spanish metalwork and Swedish textiles since 1975, says the value of his artworks is irrelevant, because he will never sell them.

“All five collections are priceless: 2 billion pounds, 3 billion pounds, 4 billion pounds, it doesn’t make any difference,” he says. “These collections cannot be replaced.”

His Islamic treasures include a 14th-century Iranian world history by Rashid al-Din Fadlallah, which he says cost him 12 million pounds in 1990. “It’s one of the greatest illustrated manuscripts in the world,” says Tim Stanley, senior curator for the Middle East at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Khalili, who holds both U.S. and U.K. passports, offered to lend his Islamic collection to the British nation in 1992 if the government provided a museum to house it. Khalili says he stipulated that the loan would become a gift after 15 years if the collection was exhibited to his satisfaction; if not, he could take it back.

Outsider in London

“The offer to the British government was a really terrible one,” says Anna Somers Cocks, editor-in-chief of the London- based monthly Art Newspaper, because of this risk. After months with no response, Khalili abandoned the plan. Still lacking a permanent home, most of his artworks are stored in warehouses in London and Geneva.

Michael Franses, a U.K.-based retired dealer in rare carpets who’s known Khalili since the 1970s, says this rebuff reflected Khalili’s outsider status in his adopted country.

“The British establishment was very closed,” Franses says. “I don’t think people trusted him because he was Iranian and strange and different.”

That setback is a distant memory as Khalili strides through the Hermitage, musing on how far he’s come since leaving Iran. His artworks have been showcased by 40 museums, including the Victoria & Albert and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Khalili also prides himself on the honors he has won for his philanthropy. An observant Jew who says he avoids discussions of politics, Khalili co-founded the Maimonides Foundation in 1995 to foster dialogue between Jews and Muslims through sports, cultural events and education. He also endowed a research center for Middle Eastern culture at the University of Oxford.

In recognition of Khalili’s interfaith work, Pope Benedict XVI anointed him last year as a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Sylvester.
“I’m self-made. I’ve done it all on my own,” says Khalili, whose 14-page resume is headlined: “Scholar, Benefactor and Collector.”

Khalili sees no contradiction in being Jewish and owning an Islamic collection.

“I fell in love with it because it was the most beautiful and diverse art,” he says.

In 2005, at the launch party for Khalili’s book The Timeline History of Islamic Art and Architecture, Iran’s then- ambassador to London, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, hailed him as “an ambassador for the culture of Islam.”

First Treasure

Khalili’s journey to the top of the art world began in Iran on Dec. 18, 1945. The fourth of five children, he grew up in Tehran. His mother counseled divorced women. His father — like his father before him — visited homes to acquire artworks he could sell for a few dollars profit.

As a child, Khalili tagged along when his father traded art, once joining him at the home of a former education minister with a collection of pen boxes. The 12-year-old yeshiva student was enraptured by a lacquer pen box painted with 800 men and horses, each one different. Khalili recalls that when he rhapsodized about the box, the owner’s eyes filled with tears.

“He turned round to my dad and said, ‘I’m not selling this to you. I’m giving this to your son,’” Khalili says. He still has the pen box in his Islamic collection. “So the first piece I didn’t buy; I was given,” he says.

Art Mentor

After high school, Khalili did national service, training as an army medic. At 22, he left Iran for New York, where he worked at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant while studying at Queens College, part of New York’s public education system. One evening, as Khalili sipped cream to soothe an ulcer, the restaurant manager scolded him for taking it without permission. Khalili threw his waiter’s jacket at his boss and decided he’d trade art to pay his school fees.

At an auction of Russian enamels months later, Khalili noticed the main bidder was Alan Hartman, whose family ran a Manhattan antiques store. Khalili borrowed several enamels from Hartman on consignment. He says he sold them that evening for a $26,000 profit to Iranian collectors he knew on Long Island, where many wealthy Iranians were settling. (Khalili’s four siblings have since moved there.)

Hartman, now 80, says he wanted to help because Khalili was a Jewish immigrant struggling to build a new life. “We felt sorry for him,” he says.

“Alan and I did a hell of a lot after that,” Khalili says. “In two years, I was a millionaire.”

Friends say it was typical of Khalili that he’d launched himself by charming a stranger into lending him art.

“He has a way of winning people over,” says Sotheby’s Gibbs.

Tactile Billionaire

In person, Khalili exudes warmth: Meeting someone for the first time, he’s liable to introduce himself with a hug. He stands close to people, resting his hand on their arm, shoulder or back.

Before graduating from Queens in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences, Khalili was already amassing his own collection.

“I used to buy a group of objects — let’s say, 10 objects for $100,000 — keep 3 or 4 of the best aside and sell the rest for $250,000,” he says. “I used my knowledge to create money to finance my dream.”

In 1978, Khalili married Marion Easton, an Englishwoman he’d met while buying jewelry from her in a London antique store, and they settled in the U.K. capital. They have three sons: Daniel, 28, a jewelry designer, and twins Benjamin and Raphael, 25, who invest family money in startups such as PlayPit Games Ltd., an online entertainment company.

Decoy Shop

In addition to dealing art, Khalili says he began in the late 1970s to buy commercial properties in the U.K., France, Portugal and Spain.

“As he made money with property, he put it into art,” says Franses, the retired carpet dealer. “He was only ever interested in the art.”

Khalili approached him whenever he had cash to spare, buying such rarities as two 16th-century rugs that Franses says would now cost 2 million pounds each.

Khalili deployed misdirection to his advantage when he opened an Islamic art store in London in 1978. For three years, Khalili says he used the shop as a ruse to obtain dealers’ prices.

“I never sold anything there; I used that place as a decoy and bought unbelievable stuff,” he says.

“His timing was impeccable,” says Penhallurick. Islamic art was such a backwater that dedicated Islamic auctions didn’t begin until the 1970s. Khalili — whose main rivals at the time included the Kuwaiti royal family and the David Collection, owned by a Danish foundation — says many pieces he acquired then would now cost 10 to 50 times more.

Beautiful and Overlooked

“Anything that is beautiful and was overlooked, I bought,” says Khalili, who received a Ph.D. in Islamic lacquer at the University of London in 1988.

By the mid-1980s, Khalili says, his purchases were partly funded by venture capital investments that he declines to name. He says he made 30 times his money off shares he had bought in the late 1970s in a company developing technology to treat tumors. In 1987, he says he pocketed $15 million from the sale of a private company that made indigestion pills.

Khalili says he stopped trading art around 1980 and bankrolled his collecting primarily with profits from property. In a typical deal, he says, he paid 32.5 million pounds in 1992 for Cameron Toll, an Edinburgh shopping mall, selling it two years later for 55 million pounds as the market revived. Public records show Khalili has owned various private property companies.

Property Development

His main vehicle, Favermead Ltd., was incorporated in the U.K. in 1992 and sold 97 million pounds of property in 1995 alone, according to the company’s financial statements.

“Business is the least of my pride,” Khalili says. “Compared to collecting, it’s a piece of cake.”

Still, he currently owns a 60,000-square-foot (5,574- square-meter) business park in Exeter, England; a 32,000-square- foot building in Mayfair; and a site in central London where he plans to build a 320,000-square-foot, 13-story office tower when the real estate market recovers.

“If he starts building in the next 12 months, it’ll be very good timing as there’s very little available in the market,” says Gerald Ronson, CEO of London-based developer Heron International, which also bid for the central London site.

Mayfair Mansion

One personal property venture proved more problematic.

In 1993, Khalili began combining two buildings in Kensington that once housed the Russian and Egyptian embassies into a 55,000-square-foot home. Khalili says he spent 90 million pounds on the house, including 45 million pounds on the refurbishment. He employed 400 craftsmen for 4 years, installing 3,200 square meters of marble, a Turkish bath and underground parking for 20 cars. Marion Khalili says she refused to move in, deeming the house too palatial.

In 2001, Khalili unloaded the property for 50 million pounds to Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, who sold it to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal for 57 million pounds in 2004, according to public records. Khalili now lives instead in a seven-story Edwardian mansion in Mayfair.

These days, Khalili says, his buying of Islamic art has slowed. With competition intensifying, he’s turned his attention elsewhere. One afternoon in late February, he reveals that he’s already begun his sixth collection. This time, Khalili says, he’s acquired an existing trove of nearly 200 pieces, to which he’ll add more treasures.

And the collection’s theme?

“I’m not telling you,” Khalili says with a smile. With that, he draws a veil on the next chapter in the improbable story of the Iranian yeshiva student who became the world’s leading private collector of Islamic art.

–Editors: David Ellis, Jonathan Neumann

Imran Khan–His Mission

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Liz Hoggard

imran khan I don’t have to do this, Imran Khan tells me earnestly. “I could have a very easy existence. I could go on TV and make so much money, live like a king.” Instead the retired international cricketer, and former husband of Jemima Khan, has dedicated his life to politics back home in Pakistan. Jemima, the daughter of the late financier, Sir James Goldsmith, may just have bought a £15 million stately pile in Oxfordshire, but Imran lives hand-to-mouth on a farm outside Islamabad. He grows his own vegetables and tends cows on his land in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Since he founded his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (the Movement for Justice), in 1996 on an anti-corruption platform, he has campaigned against the elite hogging all the resources. He personally sold all his cricketing memorabilia to fund a cancer hospital in memory of his mother, who died of the disease, and he has opened a vocational college in a poverty-stricken area of Pakistan.

Imran, 57, took nothing from Jemima’s fortune when they divorced, so when he runs out of money he does a brief stint as a TV pundit. But he is completely unmaterialistic. “You achieve inner peace when you give away what you have,” he says.

This week he is in London to talk about the crisis in Pakistan, but he has never liked city life. His parents used to take him up in the hills each summer as a boy, and now he takes his sons Sulaiman, 13, and Kasim, 10, hiking and shooting partridge when they visit his farm. He has built them a mini-cricket ground. “They are quite good,” he laughs.

Gone is the handsome playboy who spent his nights in Annabel’s and squired gorgeous women, including Susannah Constantine and painter Emma Sergeant, around town. He still has those patrician looks but these days Imran would rather stay up all night talking politics than nightclubbing.

Last week I watched him give a talk to students in London. Mostly bright, politicised young Pakistani-Muslims, they treated him like a rock star. His sense of urgency was palpable, as is his fear that Pakistan might implode at any minute.

Already, it is routinely described as a “failed state”. From day one he opposed the War on Terror and “the American puppet politicians in Pakistan”. The decision to send the army into the tribal areas of the North West Frontier, to flush out al Qaeda terrorists, simply fuelled extremism. “It’s civil war in the making,” he says shaking his head. “They were like a bull in a china shop, fighting one or two guerrillas with aerial bombing of villages. That turned people against the army and a new phenomenon was created: the Pakistan Taliban.” It’s made him believe even more passionately in socio-economic justice. “You will have no problem with extremists in Pakistan if you have democracy with a welfare state,” he tells the audience.

By the end of the evening he looked shattered. Half his life is spent in transit and his close friend tells me he is wearing jeans instead of the usual suit because he forgot to pack a belt.

When I meet him two days later at Ormeley Lodge, near Richmond Park, he is still fielding calls about a wave of bombings in Pakistan, and trying to have high tea with his sons. The Georgian childhood home of his former wife is where Imran stays whenever he is in London, as a guest of her mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith. The wing where we meet is modest: with a pool table and well-worn sofas.

He speaks cordially — if carefully —about his ex-wife. “It’s a very tricky thing, divorce, and toughest on the children. But as divorces go, ours has been the most amicable. The anger and bitterness comes when there is infidelity. But there was no infidelity,” he says firmly. “I realised her unhappiness in Pakistan and she, after trying her best, found she just couldn’t live there. So that’s why it ended, it was just a geographical problem, and we couldn’t sustain a marriage like that. If you care for someone you don’t want to see them unhappy. My connection with the Goldsmith household is just as it’s always been. They [Jemima’s siblings, Zac and Ben] are like my younger brothers. And Annabel is as close to me.”

His marriage suffered because of his political zeal — he didn’t stand in the 2007 election, arguing that there could be no democracy while the judges were still controlled by the ruling party. But now politics is a mission for him, not a career. “If someone offered me a political career, I would shoot myself. Having to get votes through making compromises, no thank you.

“The classic example in England is Tony Blair.

How did the people go wrong with him lying all the way? He sold the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction. If there had been conscientious politicians in your assembly who weren’t worried about their political careers, he would never have got away with it.”

Many people think his involvement in politics is a way to keep alight the adulation he craved as a cricketer, but after leaving Aitchison College in Lahore (the equivalent of Eton), he studied politics at Keble College, Oxford. Former cricketing colleagues — Imran played for Worcestershire and Sussex — recall an intense young man who hated pubs (as a Muslim he doesn’t drink) and public speaking. He returned to cricket once more at the World Cup in 1992, aged 39 when he captained Pakistan to victory.

But his spiritual awakening had come in his early thirties after witnessing his mother’s agonising death from cancer, without access to proper treatment and painkilling drugs. “She was in such agony that after she passed away I had to consciously discipline myself to shut out the memory of her pain.”

He consulted a mystic who “made me realise I had a responsibility to society because I was given so much. It created selflessness.” Imran approached Pakistan’s richest men — many had been schoolfriends — for help in raising £25 million to build a cancer hospital, but quickly learned that wealth and generosity don’t always go hand in hand. Instead, he took to an open jeep and toured 29 cities in six weeks, asking ordinary people for help. “In those six weeks I changed. I realised the generosity of tea boys, taxi drivers, the poorest people bringing 10 rupee notes and also their faith. I collected £14 million in those six weeks.” Today the hospital treats 70 per cent of patients for free.

Although the dictatorial president, Pervez Musharraf, resigned in 2008, Imran has no faith in the current “democratic” government, now headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. Imran talks passionately about how the rich in Pakistan travel by jet and have tax-evading bank accounts in Switzerland.

He may insist that support for his Movement for Justice party is growing, but the truth is he is still perceived as a maverick outsider. And his romantic past hasn’t helped. Conservative voters bring up the love child with Sita White (Imran has never publicly acknowledged Tyrian, now 17, as his daughter; but since her mother died in 2004, he has been involved in her upbringing). And of course there’s his marriage to Jemima, a half-Jewish, half Catholic heiress.

Despite converting to Islam and learning Urdu, Jemima — 20 years Imran’s junior and still at university when they met — was accused (falsely) of trying to smuggle antique tiles out of Pakistan. The final straw, says Imran, was in 2002 when she was accused of studying under “the blasphemer Salman Rushdie” because his book, The Satanic Verses, had appeared on her university reading list. Protesters torched posters of Jemima. “She was really shaken up by that and moved to England, so that was a big crisis for me.”

Two years later the marriage ended. Jemima has continued to impress as Unicef special representative — and a passionate advocate for democracy in Pakistan. “Frankly I never understood the media image of her as a socialite,” Imran tells me. “I never thought she would fit into that role because she’s very bright, she’s very political.”

But then Imran is a mass of contradictions himself. In the past, he has argued that the pressure on women to work has contributed to the breakdown of society in the West: “My mother was the biggest influence on my life, a proper mother.” Yet he believes that “a woman should be able to reach her full potential”, and he set up his university in a remote, conservative part of Pakistan precisely so local women could get an education for the first time in the region’s history. And he reminds me his three sisters are high-powered career women with children.

Pakistan is Imran’s passion and he feels little nostalgia for London — except as the place where his sons live: “Fatherhood has given me the greatest pleasure in my life. And hence it was very painful, the divorce, because that [being separated from them] was the main aspect. But I am basically a goal-orientated person, it’s never been about making money or a job. My passion is there so I only come to England to see my children.” Imran has a core group of friends he has known for 40 years here. Setting up this interview, I came across a devoted group of Londoners — from lecturers to hairdressers — who give up time and money to support his party. “They know I do not have to do this, that it’s a big personal sacrifice,” he says.

He finds it desperately sad that he has to defend being a Muslim. “The most important thing to understand is what’s happening in Pakistan, and this war on terror is not a religious issue, it’s a political issue.” No religion allows terrorism, Imran insists, but “people pushed into desperate situations will do desperate acts”.

It doesn’t make him popular. He’s been dubbed a Taliban supporter by the same enemies who once called him a Zionist sympathiser. Critics say his politics are idealistic and unworkable in a country bailed out of chaos periodically by military regimes, but Imran insists democracy can be a street movement: “Yes there’s a fear, will Pakistan survive? But in a way it’s very encouraging because you can see the politicisation of the youth. That’s how it starts, in the campuses. Sixty-five per cent of Pakistanis are below the age of 25.”

This probably explains why four days ago, with the help of Jemima, Imran set up his own Twitter page. Back home, he says current affairs programmes get higher ratings than Big Brother.

“Our Paxmans are the most watched in Pakistan today.” Is he handing over the baton? He smiles wearily. “Basically I want the young to come in and upset the whole equation.”

12-13

US Silencing Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Haymarket Books

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States. Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the United States after more than five years of delays and denials.

Fellow Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we have `free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only redemption available for the US government in this situation is to issue Omer’s visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”

Omer was to visit Houston, Santa Fe and Chicago, where local publisher Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community and political organizations.

Rather than cancel the meeting, organizers are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the US consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa. They are also proceeding with the event as planned, via live satellite or skype, if necessary.

U.S. consulate information:

Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688

ConsularAmster@state.gov

Background on Mohammed Omer:

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Palestinians in Gazan attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel and other necessities for survival.

Omer was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights. If the delay on his visa continues, he will take part in the event via live satellite connection or Skype.

12-13

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

Dr. Syed Tanveer Rab, Cardiologist

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dr Syed Tanveer Rab Hybrid revascularization is a combination of coronary artery bypass surgery and percutaneous coronary intervention. Physicians at Emory University have been performing these procedures off-pump in a minimally invasive fashion, without breaking open the test. Their hybrid approach has been hailed as a best of both worlds strategy.

Among the physicians at Emory who have been developing and polishing this technique is Dr. Syed Tanveer Rab. He received his Medical degree in 1979 from the University of Karachi Pakistan. Between 1980 and 1983 he trained in the United Kingdom at Hammersmith Hospital, London, Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle and the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. Between 1983 and 1986 he completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. He trained at Emory University between 1986-1990 in Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology. Between 1991-1998 he developed an extensive system of satellite cardiology clinics in North Georgia and in 1998 joined the Emory faculty. He is Board Certified in Medicine, Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology and is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and Society of Coronary Angiography and Interventions.

12-12

Non-Muslim’s Use of Islamic Law to Resolve Disputes Scares Some, in Britain

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Guardian, UK

Muslim Arbitration Tribunal reports 15% rise in non-Muslims employing Shari’ah law in commercial cases

Islam.Shariah Campaigners have voiced concerns over a growing number of non-Muslims using Islamic law to resolve legal disputes in Britain despite controversy over the role of Shari’ah law.

A spokesman for the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) said that there had been a 15% rise in the number of non-Muslims using Shari’ah arbitrations in commercial cases this year. Last year, more than 20 non-Muslims chose to arbitrate cases at the network of tribunals, which operate in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester, Nuneaton and Luton. “We are offering a cheap and effective service for Muslim and non-Muslims,” said MAT spokesperson Fareed Chedie.

“95% of the people who come to us for arbitration do not feel they need legal representation.” Chedie said that tribunals deal mainly with civil and commercial cases, including mosque disputes referred by the Charity Commission. But the tribunals have also continued to hear cases in the field of family law and divorce, Chedie said.

“We are increasingly dealing with reconciliation and mediation in marriage,” said Chedie. “Many of these are cases where women have petitioned because they have a difficult marriage and want some guidance and direction. If they then want to terminate the marriage then we can help with that.”

The increase in marriage and divorce cases comes as one law firm has begun offering advice on civil Scots law and Shari’ah law, making it the first in Britain to offer both civil and Islamic law as part of one service.

Glasgow law firm Hamilton Burns says that it is responding to a greater demand from Muslim clients who want advice on Shari’ah law alongside civil advice under Scots law. It has teamed up with Shaykh Amer Jamil, a Muslim scholar who specialises in Islamic family law.

“We hope that by incorporating Shari’ah family jurisprudence against a background of domestic Scottish legislation, we can provide our clients with as much relevant information as possible,” said Niall Mickel, a solicitor advocate and managing partner at Hamilton Burns. But some groups have criticised the move by the Scottish firm, arguing that the recognition of Shari’ah law decisions in Britain is regressive and harmful to women.

“We have a petition signed by more than 22,000 people saying that all religious tribunals should be prevented from operating within or outside the legal system,” said Maryam Namazie, a spokeswoman for the One Law for All Campaign, which campaigns against Shari’ah law in Britain. “I have spoken to women who are losing custody of their children in the Shari’ah councils – under Shari’ah law custody of a child goes to the husband after a certain age, irrespective of the welfare of the child.

There are cases of domestic violence where women have dropped criminal charges and the Shari’ah councils have sent the husbands on anger-management courses. That is just not how we deal with domestic violence in this country,” Namazie said. Many Muslim lawyers have challenged criticism of Shari’ah law in Britain as “islamophobic”, arguing that there is a distinction between Shari’ah councils – which largely operate outside the law – and arbitration tribunals, which are subject to the Arbitration Act passed by parliament.

“The media get this out of context and hyped up,” said Dr Saba Al-Makhtar, from the Arab Lawyers Association. “Under English law there is room to settle disputes on any ground that it is acceptable to the parties involved, provided it doesn’t conflict with English law .… it is an extremely good idea.

Critics deny that the campaign against Shari’ah law is targeted specifically against Muslims, however. “Our campaign is focusing on Shari’ah but we are against all religious tribunals including the Jewish beth din,” said Namazie.

“Human rights are non-negotiable and religious tribunals puts religion before people’s rights and their freedoms. Law based on any religion – whether the Bible, Torah or the Quran – is completely antithetical to rights woman have in this day and age. Many of the rights women have now result in the UK is the result of a hard fight to wrestle control out of church hands.”

12-12

Islamic Pluralistic Democracy In Southeast Asia

March 11, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, optimism will [must] succeed!

12-11

Iranian President Visits Afghanistan

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Reports from Xinhua

2010-03-10T130705Z_585848497_GM1E63A1MOO01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN-IRAN

TEHRAN, March 9 (Xinhua) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday.

“It has been decided that the president will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday,” Mehmanparast told reporters in his weekly press conference.

The visit will mark Ahmadinejad’s first official visit to the country since the re-election of Hamid Karzai as Afghan president.

An unidentified Afghan official said Monday that Ahmadinejad has postponed visit to Afghanistan which is originally scheduled on Monday.

Afghan President to visit Pakistan for seeking help to hold talks with Taliban

ISLAMABAD, March 9 (Xinhua) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay a two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday and is expected to officially ask Pakistan for its assistance in the talks with Taliban, political analysts here said.

They said that the president will also seek the extradition of the top Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from Pakistan to Afghanistan for a court trial.

Sources from Pakistani Foreign Office said that President Karzai will meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and some other civil society members.

Anti-terrorism battle, U.S. army surge, repatriation of Afghan refugees and progress in the war-ravaged country will also be discussed during the meeting with Pakistani high-ups, they said.

Analysts believed that Pakistan will raise the issue of border infiltration of militants from Afghanistan and of its missing persons while Afghanistan will seek details for the recovery of the abducted Afghan diplomat Abdul Khaliq Faraakhi.

Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has asked for Baradar extradition when he held a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik in Islamabad last month. But circumstances changed when a Pakistani court ordered not to hand over Mullah Bardar to any country.

Saleem Safi, a leading journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, told Xinhua that President Karzai’s visit is very important because the situation has changed and American authorities have given a green signal for negotiations with Taliban, adding that Pakistan could play a crucial role in the negotiations with Taliban.

It is the first visit of Karzai to Pakistan after he won his second term as President in November 2009, Safi said.

“Approach in Pakistan’s policy towards President Karzai has changed too much but there is slight shift in policy towards Afghanistan,” said the expert.

Maryana Babar, an analyst on foreign affairs agreed that the visit is very important in the backdrop of the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan, in which Pakistan has asked for a role in the negotiations process.

Babar said that Pakistani Army Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, in his recent trip to Kabul, told the Afghan government and U.S. authorities that Pakistan could provide training to Afghan troops.

She said that the Afghan president would bring a plan of action and will ask Pakistan’s assistance in the process of reconciliation and reintegration with Taliban as Karzai has openly asked Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia for assistance in bringing Afghan Taliban to talk table on the sidelines of London conference in January.

12-11

Who Killed Mahmoud al-Mamdouh in Dubai?

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amy Teibel, Arizona Daily Star

Mamdouh mossad X

KHALIL HAMRA  Palestinian Fayeq al-Mabhouh sits in front of posters of his brother and Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, left and right, who was assassinated in Dubai, and Hamas member Mohammed Hussein Mabhouh, in the family house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt Tuesday after releasing names and photos of an alleged 11-member hit squad accused of stalking and killing Mabhouh last month in a plot that mixed cold precision with spy caper disguises such as fake beards and wigs.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

This combination image made from undated photos released by the Dubai Ruler’s Media Office on Monday, Feb. 15, 2010, which were claimed by Dubai’s Police Chief to show eleven suspects wanted in connection with the killing of a Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in his Dubai hotel room last month.

Israel’s foreign minister said Wednesday there was no reason to assume the Mossad assassinated a Hamas military commander in Dubai, even as suspicions mounted that the country’s vaunted spy agency made the hit using the identities of Israelis with European passports.

While few people are privy to the cloak-and-dagger operations of the Mossad, senior Israeli security officials not directly involved with the affair said they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive and the use of Israeli identities. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a government order not to discuss the case, characterized it as a significant Mossad bungle.

The suspicions ratcheted up pressure on Israel to be more forthcoming over the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a man it claims supplied Gaza’s Hamas rulers with the most dangerous weapons it possesses. Israeli critics pointed the finger at Mossad, accusing it of sloppiness and endangering Israeli citizens.

Dubai police this week released names, photos, and passport numbers of 11 members of an alleged hit-squad that killed al-Mabhouh in his luxury Dubai hotel room last month. Dubai said all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appear to be stolen and at least seven matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.

“I don’t know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio in Israel’s first official comments on the affair.

But Lieberman did not deny involvement outright, saying Israel rightly maintains a policy of ambiguity where security operations are concerned.

“Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,” he said. “There is no reason for Israel to change this policy.”

Amir Oren, a military analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz, called for the ouster of Mossad director Meir Dagan.

“What is needed now is a swift decision to terminate Dagan’s contract and to appoint a new Mossad chief,” wrote Oren in a front-page commentary. “There’s no disease without a cure.”

The Iranian-backed Hamas has been blaming Israel for al-Mabhouh’s killing from the beginning.

“The investigation of the police of Dubai proves what Hamas had said from the first minute, that Israel’s Mossad is responsible for the assassination,” Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator in Gaza, said Wednesday.

Al-Mabhouh was one of the founders of the Hamas militant group, which has carried out hundreds of attacks and suicide bombings targeting Israelis, and now rules the Gaza Strip. He also was involved in the 1989 capturing and killing of two Israeli soldiers.

Israel considered him to be the point man in smuggling Iranian rockets into Gaza that would be capable of striking the Jewish state’s Tel Aviv heartland.

Al-Mabhouh was targeted in three previous assassination attempts, his brother Hussein told The Associated Press.

At least seven people who live in Israel share names with suspects identified by Dubai police. One, a British-Israeli citizen named Melvyn Adam Mildiner, said the passport photo on the Dubai wanted flier was not him but the passport number was correct. He also denied having been to Dubai.

Another of the seven, Stephen Hodes, denied any link to the case in an interview with Israel Radio and said he, too, had never visited Dubai.

“I’m shocked. I don’t know how they got to me. Those aren’t my photographs, of course,” Hodes said. “I don’t know how they got to my details, who took them. …. I’m simply afraid. These are powerful forces.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday promised an inquiry into the use of fake British passports in the killing.

“We are looking at this at this very moment,” Brown told London’s LBC radio. “We have got to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.” He did not assess blame for the forgeries.

Several senior British lawmakers said Israel’s envoy should be summoned to the Foreign Office to explain what his country’s role in the slaying was.

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the smallest of Britain’s three main parties, said that “if the Israeli government was party to behavior of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations.”

Menzies Campbell, who serves on the House of Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the Israeli government has some explaining to do” and called for the ambassador to be summoned “in double-quick time.”

The committee’s chairman, Mike Gapes, a member of Britain’s ruling Labour party, added that the assassination was either the work of Israelis “or someone trying to make sure it looks like the Israelis.”

Like Lieberman, Israeli security analyst Ephraim Kam said the use of Israeli identities did not prove the Mossad killed al-Mabhouh.

“I cannot see a reason why the Mossad would use the names of Israelis here or citizens who live here,” Kam said.

Rafi Eitan, a former Cabinet minister and Mossad agent who took part in the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, thought Israel’s foes were trying to frame it by using the identities of Israelis.

“It means some foreign service, an enemy of Israel, wanted to taint Israel. It took the names of Israeli citizens, doctored the passports … and thus tainted us,” Eitan said.

Lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy commander of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, said he would ask to convene a meeting of the Israeli parliament’s powerful foreign affairs and defense committee to discuss the matter.

“No one should use someone’s identity without his permission or without his understanding in some way what it is being used for,” Hasson told Israel Radio.

The Mossad has been accused of identity theft before. New Zealand convicted and jailed two Israelis in 2005 of trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. New Zealand demanded _ and won _ an apology from Israel, which Auckland said proved the pair were spies.

But this would be the first time that the Mossad has been suspected of using the identities of its own citizens.

If the Israeli government was behind the identity theft, it broke Israeli laws against impersonation and fraud, said Nirit Moskovich of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Kam, the security analyst, said the people whose identities were released could be in danger from Hamas.

“I think they should be careful,” he said.

The affair could have unwanted diplomatic repercussions for Israel if it indeed used the foreign passports of its own nationals. Several British lawmakers on Wednesday called for the Israeli ambassador to be summoned to the Foreign Office immediately to explain what happened.

The affair could also have fallout for the Mossad as an agency, and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Dagan personally.

Netanyahu’s first tenure in the late 1990s was marred by the Mossad’s botched attempt at assassinating the man who now is Hamas’ supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal.

But while Haaretz commentator Oren was calling for Dagan’s head, analyst Ronen Bergman of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper deemed the operation a success.

“Al-Mabhouh is dead and all the partners to the operation left Dubai safely,” he said.

____
Associated Press reporter Rizek Abdel Jawad contributed to this report from the Gaza Strip.

12-8

Is Iran Running a Bluff?

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick J. Buchanan

Did Robert Gibbs let the cat out of the bag?

Last week, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the world that Iran, unable to get fuel rods from the West for its U.S.-built reactor, which makes medical isotopes, had begun to enrich its own uranium to 20 percent.

From his perch in the West Wing, Gibbs scoffed: He [Ahmadinejad] says many things, and many of them turn out to be untrue. We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching.

But wait a minute. If Iran does not have the capability to enrich to 20 percent for fuel rods, how can Iran enrich to 90 percent for a bomb?

What was Gibbs implying?

Is he confirming reports that Irans centrifuges are breaking down or have been sabotaged? Is he saying that impurities, such as molybdenum, in the feed stock of Irans centrifuges at Natanz are damaging the centrifuges and contaminating the uranium?

What explains Gibbs confidence? Perhaps this.

According to a report last week by David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security, Irans problems in its centrifuge program are greater than expected. Iran is unlikely to deploy enough gas centrifuges to make enriched uranium for commercial nuclear power reactors [Iran’s stated nuclear goal] for a long time, if ever, particularly if [UN] sanctions remain in force.

Thus, ISIS is saying Iran cannot make usable fuel for the nuclear power plant it is building, and Gibbs is saying Iran lacks the capability to make fuel rods for its research reactor.

Which suggests Iran’s vaunted nuclear program is a busted flush.

ISIS insists, however, that Iran may still be able to build a bomb. Yet, to do that, Iran would have to divert nearly all of its low-enriched uranium at Natanz, now under UN watch, to a new cascade of centrifuges, enrich that to 90 percent, then explode a nuclear device.

Should Iran do that, however, it would have burned up all its bomb-grade uranium and lack enough low-enriched uranium for a second test. And Tehran would be facing a stunned and shaken Israel with hundreds of nukes and an America with thousands, without a single nuke of its own.

Is Iran running a bluff? And if Gibbs and Albright are right, how long can Iran keep up this pretense of rapid nuclear progress?

Which brings us to the declaration by Ahmadinejad on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which produced this headline in the New York Times: Iran Boasts of Capacity to Make Bomb Fuel.

Accurate as far as it went, this headline was so incomplete as to mislead. For here is what Ahmadinejad said in full:

When we say that we dont build nuclear bombs, it means that we wont do so because we dont believe in having it. The Iranian nation is brave enough that if one day we wanted to build nuclear bombs, we would announce it publicly without being afraid of you.

Right now in Natanz we have the capability to enrich to more than 20 percent and to more than 80 percent, but because we dont need to, we wont do so.

On Friday, Ahmadinejad sounded like Ronald Reagan: We believe that not only the Middle East but the whole world should be free of nuclear weapons, because we see such weapons as inhumane.

Now, if as Albright suggests, Tehran cannot produce fuel for nuclear power plants, and if, as Gibbs suggests, Iran is not capable of enriching to 20 percent for fuel for its research reactor, is Ahmadinejad, in renouncing the bomb, making a virtue of necessity?

After all, if you cant build them, denounce them as inhumane.

Last December, however, the Times of London reported it had a secret document, which intelligence agencies dated to early 2007, proving that Iran was working on the final component of a neutron initiator, the trigger for an atom bomb.

If true, this would leave egg all over the faces of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies whose December 2007 consensus was that Iran stopped seeking a bomb in 2003.
The Times credited an Asian intelligence service for having ably assisted with its story.

U.S. intelligence, however, has not confirmed the authenticity of the document, and Iran calls it a transparent forgery. When former CIA man Phil Giraldi sounded out ex-colleagues still in the trade, they, too, called the Times document a forgery.

Shades of Saddam seeking yellowcake from Niger.

Are the folks who lied us into war on Iraq, to strip it of weapons it did not have, now trying to lie us into war on Iran, to strip it of weapons it does not have?

Maybe the Senate should find out before voting sanctions that will put us on the road to such a war, which would fill up all the empty beds at Walter Reed.

12-8

Open Letter to Islamophobe Dutch MP Geert Wilders

February 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Dear Mr Wilders,

They say you can only take a horse to the water, you cant make it drink. But human beings are not horses. Unlike animals, they can be reasoned with. I offer these few remarks in the faint hope you are amenable to reason.

It is about your recent speech to the Alliance of Patriots in New York. In which you paint an apocalyptic picture of the Islamization of Europe. You describe some European cities with Muslim neighborhoods in lurid terms. It is a world where women walk around in figureless tents. Their husbands, or slave holders, if you prefer, walk three steps ahead. Mr Wilders, I live bang near one of those areas in West London. I often visit Whitechapel and Edgware Road parts of our colorful Londonistan I have never seen a Muslim woman walking behind her husband. Rather, the mothers stroll about in a proud, dignified manner, alongside the men. Nothing in their behavior suggests a subordinate role, let alone slavery. And there are tons of lively, even feisty Muslim girls wearing all sorts of gear. True, they may not, as a rule, behave like permissive, liberated females, baring the flesh, hugging and kissing partners in public, no. I would even guess most of them don’t sleep with boys before marriage. But since when are chastity, modesty and self-restraint so bad? The traditional, Christian mores of the Western civilization which you claim to uphold used to prize such things, no?

25 per cent of the population of Europe will be Muslim just 12 years from now. Lies, damned lies and statistics, someone said. But if you want native Europeans to stay numerically supreme, how about encouraging them to have more children? To urge them not to use contraceptives, the pills? To give up abortion? To bolster family values? Stop bashing Islam. Embrace the Christian religion in its conservative, sound traditions and all will be kosher.

Thousands of mosques across Europe. With larger congregations than churches, you notice. Well, whose fault is that? Do perhaps Muslims stand at church doors, stopping the eager faithful from worshipping the Lord? Methinks you should rather address yourself to Christians. Look at Muslims you should say. Look at how many regularly pray. How keen they are on the observances of their religion. You should do the same. Exactly. The flourishing of mosques across Europe should serve as a stimulus to Christians. A window of opportunity. As an urgent reminder to get back to their vital, life-giving roots the worship of the One True God. Why blame pious Muslims for the faults of lukewarm or nominal Christians, eh?

In Amsterdam gays are beaten up almost exclusively by Muslims. Awful, if true. Funnily enough, I recall the words of Pym Fortuyn, the gay right-wing politician murdered by a fanatic. I have nothing against Moroccans I have slept with so many of them. From Andre Gide to William Burroughs, the Arab world has been one of artistic gays favorite fun destinations. Tangiers nickname was Sodom on Sea. Homophobia cant be all that endemic amongst Arabs, I should imagine.

The history of the Holocaust can no longer be taught because of Muslim sensitivity. How bizarre. First, a godson of mine has been to Auschwitz, on a school trip. Part of a program to learn about wartime horrors. School curricula in Britain do in fact include projects about WWII and persecutions of Jews and other people. London’s Imperial War Museum has a holocaust section, which I viewed just the other day. What’s more, TV channels force-feed viewers with a daily, obsessive dose of films and programs about the war and Germanys crimes. If anybody should complain about this state of affairs, it should be Germans. It fuels Germanophobia, the lurking, masochistic English vice. Do todays Germans deserve such constant pilloring? After all, isn’t Germany amongst the strongest supporters of your beloved state of Israel?

Ok, you don’t like Muslims. Yet they are not going to go away. Your case is analogous to that of the man whose garden was infested by ladybirds. They were everywhere. He didn’’t like them. He tried several methods to get rid of them. Sprays, insecticides, this and that. Nothing worked. The ladybirds kept being around. Indeed, they multiplied. The guy was getting obsessed with them, growing paranoid, bitter, haunted. Eventually, he sent an e-mail to a wise old friend, an experienced gardener: What should I do about the damned ladybirds?

The reply came: I suggest you learn to love them.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

12-7

Pres. Obama’s Economic Policies

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Hudson

Reality had to raise its ugly head. Barack Obama was elected with overwhelming approval to inaugurate an era of change. And at his November 25 press conference, he said that his decisive victory gave him a mandate to change the direction in which America is moving. But his recent economic and foreign policy appointments make it clear that when he chose “change” as his campaign slogan, he was NOT referring to the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors, nor to foreign policy. These are where the vested interests concentrate their wealth and power. And change already has been accelerating here. Unfortunately, its direction has been for the top 1% of America’s population to raise their share of in the returns to wealth from 37% ten years ago to 57% five years ago and an estimated nearly 70% today.

The change that Mr. Obama is talking about is largely marginal to this wealth, not touching its economic substance – or its direction. No doubt he will bring about a welcome change in race relations, environmental regulations, and a more civil rule of law. And he probably will give wage earners an income-tax break (thereby enabling them to keep on paying their bank debts, incidentally). As for the rich, they prefer not to earn income in the first place. Taxes need to be paid on income, so they take their returns in the form of capital gains. And simply avoiding losses is the order of the day in the present meltdown.

Where losses cannot be avoided, the government will bail out the rich on their financial investments, but not wage earners on their debts. On that Friday night last October when Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain held their final debate, Mr. Obama was fully on board with the bailouts. And this week’s appointment of the “Yeltsin” team who sponsored Russia’s privatization giveaways in the mid-1990s Larry Summers and his protégés from the Clinton’s notorious Robert Rubin regime shows that he knows his place when it comes to the proper relationship between a political candidate and his major backers. It is to protect the vested interests first of all, while focusing voters’ attention on policies whose main appeal is their ability to distract attention from the fact that no real change is being made at the economic core and its power relationships.

This is not what most people hoped for. But their hopes were so strong that it was easier to indulge in happy dreams and put one’s faith in a prince than to look at the systemic problems that need to be restructured in order for real change to occur. Individuals do not determine who owes what to whom, who is employed by whom or what laws govern their work and investment. Institutional economic and political structures are the key. And somehow the focus has been on the politics of personalities, not on the economic forces at work.

This is as true abroad as it is in the United States. Two weeks ago I was at an economic meeting on “financialization” in Germany. Most of the attendees with whom I spoke expressed the hope – indeed, almost a smug conviction – that Obama would be like Gorbachev in Russia: a man who saw the need for deep structural change but chose to bide his time, seeming to “play the game” with the protective coloration of going along, but then introducing a revolutionary reform program once in office.

Instead, after resembling President Carter by running a brilliant presidential primary campaign to win the nomination (will a similarly disappointing administration be about to come?), Obama is looking more like Boris Yeltsin – a political umbrella for the kleptocrats to whom the public domain and decades of public wealth were given with no quid pro quo.

Obama’s ties with the Yeltsin administration are as direct as could be. He has appointed as his economic advisors the same anti-labor, pro-financial team that brought the kleptocrats to power in Russia in the mid-1990s. His advisor Robert Rubin has managed to put his protégés in key Obama administration posts: Larry Summers, who as head of the World Bank forced privatization at give-away prices to kleptocrats; Geithner of the New York Fed; and a monetarist economist from Berkeley, as right-wing a university as Chicago. These are the protective guard-dogs of America’s vested interests.

If you are a billionaire, your first concern is simply to preserve your wealth, to avoid having to take a loss in the value of your financial claims on the economy – claims for repayment of loans and investment, as well as interest and dividends, and enough capital gains to compensate for the price inflation that erodes the spending power of more lowly income-earners.

This year has changed the typical fate of financial wealth in the face of bursting financial bubbles. Traditionally, business booms culminate in a wave of bankruptcies that wipe out bad debts–and the savings that have been invested on the ‘asset’ side of the balance sheet. This year has changed all that. The bad debts are being kept on the books–but transferred from the banks to the federal government, mainly the Federal Reserve and Treasury. The bank bailouts have aimed not so much to protect the banks themselves, but to enable them to pay off on the bad bets they made vis-à-vis the nation’s hedge funds and other institutional investors in the derivatives market.

To participate in a hedge fund, one needs to prove that one can afford to lose their money and not be much the worse off for it in terms of actual living conditions. So the $306 billion in federal guarantees of the junk mortgage packages sold by Citibank, and the $135 billion bailout of the insurance contracts written by A.I.G. to protect swap contracts from loss, could have been avoided without much impact on the “real” economy.

In fact, writing down these financial claims ON the economy would have paved the way for writing down its debt burden. If the subprime and other mortgage debts had been permitted to decline to the neighborhood of 22 cents on a dollar they were trading for, this would have made it possible to write down debts to match the price at which mortgage holders had bought these loans for. But the financial overhead of American wealth “saved” in the form of creditor claims on indebted homeowners, industrial companies and junk-insurance companies such as A.I.G. has been protected against erosion by this year’s federal bailout program.

Bloomberg has added up these programs and finds that they $7.7 trillion dollars – nearly half an entire year’s GDP. By acting to support the market for bad-mortgage loans (but not for real estate itself), the seemingly endless series of Paulson bailouts seeks to be to keep today’s debt overhead intact rather than writing it down. Service charges on this indebtedness will divert peoples’ income from consumption to paying creditors. It will help financial investors, not labor or industry. It will keep the cost of living and doing business high, preventing the U.S. economy from working its way out of debt by becoming competitive once again.

With all these trillions of dollars of bailing out the wealthy, one might easily forget to ask what is being left out. For one thing, the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp, whose $25 billion deficit is not bailed out. This year, underfunded corporate pension plans are supposed to “catch up” to full funding so as to protect the PBGC, in accordance with a law passed by Congress two years ago. If underfunded plans don’t meet the scheduled 92% coverage for this year, they have to bring their set-asides fully up to the 100% funding level. The stock market plunge has dashed their hopes to do this. The result will be to force many industrial companies into a financial bind.

On the auto front, the Bush Administration has brought pressure to force the big three Detroit companies into bankruptcy as a way to annul their defined-benefit pension plans – with no plans at all bail out money owed to labor by restoring the PBGC to solvency. State and local pension plans are almost entirely unfunded, and are at even more risk as their tax revenues plunge and property tax payments are stopped on housing and commercial buildings that have foreclosed.

And speaking of state and local finances, what role is local government to play in Mr. Obama’s promise to rebuild infrastructure, headed by transportation? Given their strapped position, one is hearing a surge of Wall Street plans to spend enormous sums. Whereas Obama’s economic team made fortunes for Russian kleptocrats by giving them public-sector assets already in place, their American counterparts are going to have to get rich by actually building new projects. In such cases the benefits are as large as the total amount of money being spent – but not in the way that most people understand at first glance. Construction contracts for new public transport systems, bridges and roads and urban or rural modernization may be entirely honest and provided at a fair cost. But it is a byproduct of such investment that it creates an amount that is of equal or often even greater magnitude in the form of rent-of-location – that is, vast windfall gains for well-located real estate.

This is where Mr. Obama’s Chicago political experience comes in so handy. It is in fact a game tailor-made for his team. Hundreds of millions of dollars were made in gentrifying Chicago’s notorious but conveniently centrally located public housing for low-income families. The developments sponsored by Mr. Obama’s mentors, the Pritzker family, the University of Chicago and assorted real estate reverends opened up vast new land sites, with public support to boot. (The house where I grew up in Hyde Park-Kenwood, a block or so from Mr. Obama’s house, was torn down along with the rest of the entire block as part of Mayor Daley’s urban renewal program in the late 1950s – after the University’s block busters had run down the neighborhood, then panicked the whites into selling to the blacks at extortionate price markups and mortgage rate premiums, then tearing down the houses into which the blacks had moved. It’s an old real estate game that one learns quickly in Chicago politics.) As Thorstein Veblen noted, any American city’s politics is best understood by viewing it as a real estate development.

The gains from providing better transport infrastructure typically are so large that transportation investment could be self-financing by taxing these property gains recapturing the added rental value in the form of property windfall taxes. London’s tube extension to Canary Wharf, for example, cost the city £8 billion but increased real estate values along the route by some £13 billion. The city could have financed the entire project by issuing bonds that would have been repaid out of taxes levied on the windfall gains created by this public expenditure.

Likewise in New York City, the transport authority has just announced that subway and bus fares will be jacked up (adding no less than $10 to the monthly commute card) and services cut back sharply. Mayor Bloomberg has just stopped work on the 2nd Avenue subway, its completion will add at least as much to upper East Side property values as the subway costs itself. The city thus could finance its construction not by issuing bonds to be paid off by city and state taxpayers in combination with user fees paid as fares. Taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay, and riders could enjoy subsidized fares simply by taxing the real estate owners.

But I see no prospect of this being done. Real estate is still the name of the game, because it remains the largest asset category in every economy today just as much as under feudalism. The difference from feudalism is that whereas landlords received the rental value of their lands in centuries past, today’s property owners acquire ownership not by military conquest (the Norman invasion of 1066 in England’s case) but by borrowing from the banks. To a mortgage banker, a commercial developer or real estate company is a prime customer, the bulwark of bank balance sheets. It is hard to imagine a new American infrastructure program not turning into a new well of real estate gains for the FIRE sector. Real estate owners on favorably situated sites will sell out to buyers-on-credit, creating a vast new and profitable loan market for banks. The debt spiral will continue upward.

The fact that state and local budgets are too burdened to afford infrastructure spending themselves will lead to it being privatized from the outset. Probably London’s notorious public-private partnerships (a Labour Party refinement more Thatcherite than even Margaret Thatcher herself could have got away with) probably will become the basic model. Users will pay higher fees rather than enjoying the subsidized or free access typical in public infrastructure spending during the Progressive Era. The main purpose of public enterprise back then was to keep prices down for basic services, thus lowering the cost of living and doing business in America. But today, infrastructure spending will be just one more item adding to America’s debt overhead to make its economy even less competitive with foreign ones than it is.

The moral is, next time a candidate promises change, ask him to say just what changes he has in mind. During the Presidential debates, only Dennis Kucinich came out and said each specific law that he had put before Congress to implement each change he promised. But most of the public didn’t want to know the details – they simply liked hearing the word “change.”

Here are some purely fiscal and financial changes that a future presidential candidate might propose – changes that I don’t expect to be hearing any more about during the next four years. Just to get the discussion going, why shouldn’t these merely marginal changes within the existing system be implemented right now by a presidential candidate who is still bragging about his “mandate for change”:

    * Regarding fiscal policy, re-introduce the estate tax, along with (at the very least) the Clinton era’s progressive-tax schedule.

    * Tax capital gains at the same rate as wages and profits, rather than at half the rate; and make these taxes be paid at the point of sale of real estate or other assets, not deferred ad infinitum if the gains simply are invested in yet more wealth.

    * Require a cost-benefit analysis of any publicly backed infrastructure spending so as to recapture all “external economies” (such as windfall real estate price gains) as the first line of financing such investment.

    * Tax corporate borrowing that is used merely to pay stock dividends or buy back one’s own stock at least at 50%.

    * Close the practice of offshore tax avoidance, and bring criminal cases against accounting firms abetting this practice.

    * Only let a building be depreciated once, not repeatedly as a tax writeoff.

    * Refocus state and local taxation on the property tax, remembering that whatever the tax collector relinquishes is simply “freed” to be paid to the banks as interest.

    * In the sphere of bad-debt banking, when a government agency takes over a bank or company that has negative net worth, the stockholders must be wiped out as their stock has lost all market value. Bondholders must stand in line behind the government in case of insolvency.

    * Write down mortgage debts to the ability of property owners to pay and/or the present market value. Banks that have made loans to these borrowers must take responsibility for their decision that the owners could afford to pay. Even better, apply New York State’s existing Fraudulent Conveyance law, and simply annul loans that are beyond the ability of debtors to pay.

None of this involves real structural change. It is simply more economically efficient under existing laws and practices – something like actually enforcing environmental law, anti-fraud and anti-crime laws, and the original intent of our tax legislation. It is a small step back toward the Progressive Era a century ago – the era that set America on the path of prosperity that made the 20th century the American century.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

12-6

Karzai to Pay Taliban to Lay Down Their Arms

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheedullah Massoud (AFP)

2010-01-27T192506Z_1489401820_GM1E61S09H201_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Hamid Karzai waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street after his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London January 27, 2010.  

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs 

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an ambitious Western-funded plan Friday to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms in an effort to quell a crippling insurgency.

His comments to the BBC came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan’ s “political fabric”, but said any future role would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.

Karzai’s plan echoed similar proposals by Washington to try and bring low and mid-level extremists back into mainstream society, but the leadership of Islamist insurgent groups remain hostile to negotiations.

Militants led by the Taliban movement have been waging an increasingly deadly rebellion against the Afghan government and foreign troops since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from power in late 2001.

“We know as the Afghan people we must have peace at any cost,” Karzai said in the television interview aired Friday ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London next week, where he will present the plan.

“Those that we approach to return will be provided with the abilities to work, to find jobs, to have protection, to resettle in their own communities.”

The Taliban gives its foot-soldiers higher salaries than the Afghan government can afford to pay its forces, and the president said his project would have international backing to provide the necessary funds.

Hardline Taliban supporters, who were members of Al-Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme, Karzai added.

The Taliban leadership have repeatedly rebuffed peace talks in the past, and on Friday a spokesman for the militia, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated that they would not negotiate with Karzai’s government.

“Our only and main goal is the freedom and independence of our country. We cannot be bought by money and bounties. The Taliban will not sell themselves off for cash,” Mujahid said, reacting to Karzai’s comments.

“We insist on our previous stance that we will not negotiate with this government. Any negotiation now would mean accepting being a slave of America. Our goal is enforcing an Islamic government and withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who commands another radical Islamist group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, would come to the table with the US and Afghan government, but only under strict conditions, his spokesman Zubair Sediqi said.

“All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally. A permanent ceasefire must be enforced. All prisoners from all side must be freed. An interim administration must take charge for one year,” Sediqi told AFP.

Karzai has in the past urged the United States to back talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar but Washington has resisted negotiations with any figures linked to wider extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

On a visit to Pakistan — which has come under intense US pressure to do more to wipe out Islamist extremists along its border with Afghanistan — Gates said the Taliban had to prove they wanted a role in Afghanistan’s future.

“The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participating in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families,” he told reporters.

Gates had said earlier that some lower-ranking insurgents might be open to making peace with Kabul, but warned that the senior-most Taliban leaders would unlikely reconcile with Afghanistan’s government.

In Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a long-term non-military strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy aims to to rebuild the Afghan farm sector, improve governance and bring extremists back into mainstream society.

It complements a military strategy in which President Barack Obama announced on December 1 he would deploy another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

Extra troop commitments from NATO allies are expected to take to around 150,000 the total number of foreign troops operating in Afghanistan under US and NATO command in the coming year.

12-5

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