III. The “Street Fighting Man” in Oakland

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Santa Rosa–Your raconteur finishes his narration on Tariq Ali’s visit to San Francisco Bay on the Prophet Issa (PBUH’s) birthday (Dec. 25th) in this overgrown farm town – like San Jose a hundred miles to its south with a burgeoning high tech concentration with the possibility of tremendous population growth, too – also, fifty miles north of San Francisco and gritty Oakland where the Anglo-Pakistani Tariq Ali spewed forth his vision on Palestine and so much more two months ago. 

“What do you say when the system stops working in the West?”

The Arab Revolution is similar to the French.  It is essentially about equality, but it will, further, create the space for future uprisings.  (Ali perceives the regime changes in the Maghreb and the rest of North Africa plus the Middle East as part of a political radicalization.  Your commentator believes his subject slights his human objects by missing their religious yearning expressed by the disenfranchised Arabs before the “Spring.”  Succinctly, Ali’s vision is an overly secular one.)

Ali deems a new Western Imperialism has arisen simultaneous with (the Israeli War) of 1967.  His perception is that of a weakened Washington.  Further, he predicts that the American Empire Will collapse from within.  (Seeing the Occupy Wall Street Movement so vehemently fought out on the streets of Oakland at that end of last October, and of the Christmastide of this writing, it is still in battle [Occupy Berkeley was just cleared out December 22nd], must have re-enforced his analysis of a crumbling Metropole.)   

Regarding a possible Chinese Imperium, it will be one based on trade like the current Anglo-American “Empire.”

Of the changes arising in North America, Europe and the Arabic realms, “The most important force are [and will be] the citizens” of their land themselves.

Tariq Ali is the man of the moment, but he only sees the political people power.  Yet he fails to acknowledge the spiritual craving of the Fellaheen (i.e., فَلَّاح فَلَّاح) themselves.  The Palestinian struggle and the larger Arab “Spring” go further than territory (the Koranic concept of the Ummah (أمة)). It supersedes this, but it goes to the very souls of the lands’ residents!

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Still Painful, September 11 Has Few Rewards for Hollywood

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – It was a disastrous attack that played out live on television 10 years ago, riveting a horrified nation for days.

But the thought-provoking films and TV shows that followed, depicting the fiery attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath, have mostly been shunned by American audiences who favored escapist movies and almost-reality TV while wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan in the decade that followed.

Culture watchers and media pundits say audiences are not yet ready to relive a memory that remains painful, and some experts note that this particular chapter of American history is still unfinished.
“Films about 9/11 run the risk of being exploitational because they deal with such an epic tragedy and they don’t have a resolution. One of the things Hollywood wants is a happy ending, and you are not going to get it,” said Wheeler Winston Dixon, author of “Film and Television after 9/11” and a professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Ten years on, the trauma of September 11 and the ongoing war against terrorism have left their mark on pop culture in subtle yet omnipresent ways. And perhaps surprisingly, Muslims have escaped the widespread demonization on screen that many feared when followers of Osama bin Laden crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
“After 9/11, I was terrified of the direction this country was going to go toward Muslims,” said Kamran Pasha, one of the few Muslim screenwriters in Hollywood.
“But in many ways, Hollywood is showing more sophistication and empathy toward the Muslim community than I think a lot of people in America are,” Pasha said.

BOX OFFICE FLOPS

Just two mainstream movies, “United 93” and “World Trade Center”, attempted to recreate the events of 9/11, both with strongly patriotic overtones. But the 2006 films together took in less than $250 million at global box offices — about the same as “Avatar” grossed on its opening weekend in 2009.

Stories dealing directly or indirectly with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fared even worse, despite sometimes boasting A-list stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Matt Damon and Reese Witherspoon.

Whether telling of heartbreak among troops and their families (“Brothers”, “Stop-Loss”), conspiracies and cover-ups (“Body of Lies”, “Rendition”) or politics (“Lions for Lambs”), Americans stayed away in droves. “Over There”, the first TV series to depict an ongoing war, was axed in 2005 after just four months.

“I don’t think audiences have wanted to relive one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s recent history. At least, not so soon,” said Claudia Puig, film critic for USA Today.

Even 2010 best picture Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker”, about a bomb disposal team in Iraq, brought in only $49 million at box offices worldwide — a decent sum for a low-budget picture but nowhere near blockbuster status.

Instead, one of Hollywood’s favorite genres, comic book flicks, soared with audiences in movies like “Iron Man”, “X-Men” and “Spider-Man”.

Television, with its quicker production times and lower budgets, was first off the mark on 9/11 with White House series “The West Wing” providing the perfect showcase in October 2001 for a discussion on terrorism, religion, race and intolerance.

Although created before September 11, counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer arrived in 2001 in TV thriller “24”. The series quickly embodied America’s post-September 11 state of mind, particularly in Bauer’s hard-hitting methods to get the bad guy and the show’s initially negative depiction of Muslims.

Yet “24” ended in 2010 with Bauer praying on his deathbed with a Muslim Imam. Pasha called that “a quantum leap from where the show started.”

WHO ARE THE BAD GUYS?

Screen villains have become more rounded and more diverse than pre-2001, when Arabs were already Hollywood’s go-to bad guys after the Middle Eastern plane hijackings of the 1980s.

Lawrence Wright, screenwriter for the 1998 movie “The Siege” about a radical Islamic group attack on New York, said that after September 11 “the world became a lot more complicated. It was indelicate to attack Muslims.”

Pasha said the 2005-06 Showtime TV drama “Sleeper Cell,” which he co-produced, was a “pivotal change” in the depiction of the Muslim community. It featured a Muslim American undercover agent who infiltrates a terrorist cell whose members include a white European woman, a gay Muslim and a Latino man.

“It tried to show the perspective of the al Qaeda guys, showing them as human beings and what could make them do these terrible things,” Pasha said.

Puig said Hollywood is now adapting its viewpoint, with villains in several recent movies being Russian or South American. “Some of that may be due to profiling concerns or political correctness, but it also reflects an expanded outlook on the terrorism genre in films,” she said.

Television also is moving forward.

New York firefighter drama “Rescue Me” began in 2004 and became the only long-running TV series to deal with the human toll of the attacks. The series ends on Sept 7, in what its co-creator and star Denis Leary calls a fitting conclusion.

Upcoming Showtime drama “Homeland” is a political thriller about a U.S. soldier who is suspected of having been turned militant by his captors in Iraq.

“Things have become deeper and more complex. And the heart of this show is really psychological — how America is dealing with the 10-year period post 9/11,” said “Homeland” executive producer Alex Gansa.

Yet, there remains at least one final look back. TV networks will revisit September 11 with numerous news specials and documentaries to mark the 10th anniversary.

Dixon doubts many Americans will be tuning in, even given the killing at U.S. hands in May of Osama bin Laden.

“I don’t think (the TV specials) are going to do well,” he said. “I lived through it once. I really don’t need to live through it again, because there is no happy ending in sight.”

(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and David Storey)

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Special Report: Erdogan: The strongest man in Turkey

August 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has an unspoken pact with the Turkish electorate: he delivers rapid economic growth, jobs and money, and voters let him shape what kind of democracy this Muslim nation of 74 million people becomes.

So far, the deal has served him well.

Erdogan has overseen a near tripling of per capita income in the last decade. That has helped blunt misgivings over the way he deals with dissent, and allowed him to subordinate Turkey’s powerful military, which has long seen itself as guardian of the country’s secular soul. Last year he used a plebiscite on constitutional reform to break the cliques in the judiciary, another bastion of Turkey‘s secular old guard.

The prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), socially conservative and successor to a banned Islamist party, won a third term with 50 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in June thanks largely to the success of its pro-growth free-market policies.

"Erdogan realizes he will be in power as long as the country prospers," Umit Ozlale, an economics professor at TOBB University in Ankara said. "When the economy is on track he handles other challenges from the military, judiciary or from the bureaucracy more easily."

At the same time, many Turks have a sneaking feeling that the prime minister’s road to democracy will always lead to his own party. With the economic boom now wobbling and the resignation on July 29 of the country’s four most senior generals, tensions at the heart of Erdogan’s Turkey are becoming harder to ignore.

"The fear amongst many of the (AKP’s) critics in Turkey is that the party is now overly dominant with fewer checks and balances given its controls all the main levers of the state," said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland.

BEATING THE GENERALS

When Chief of General Staff Isik Kosaner stepped down late last month along with the heads of the army, military and navy, he said he could no longer stand by while 250 fellow officers languished in jail, victims of charges he described as flawed and unjust.

The capitulation of the top brass confirmed what most Turks have known for years: the generals are a spent force in Turkish politics.

In many ways, that’s progress. Generals overthrew three civilian governments between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist-led coalition of which Erdogan was part from power in 1997. Turks respect their military, but most want to keep the uniform out of politics.

Erdogan has managed to do just that. In 2007, the military failed to stop the AKP government installing Abdullah Gul as president. That same year, Erdogan won a second term as prime minister in a parliamentary poll that let the military know they should stop messing with democracy.

That’s created a new dynamic between soldiers and politicians. The new generals Erdogan selected last week may not love the AK Party, but they’re unlikely to ignore fellow officers plotting against the government. When Erdogan chaired a meeting of the Supreme Military Council a few days after the resignations there was no doubting who was in charge. Flanked by grim-faced four-stars, Erdogan sat alone at the top of the table, where he would normally be joined by the chief of general staff.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE

Erdogan’s followers like his forceful personality and the fact he grew up in Istanbul‘s rough Kasimpasa neighborhood, where boys learn to carry themselves with a swagger and have the last word in any argument.

More than that, they appreciate his piety and sense of justice that some ascribe to his studies of Islam. Many see him as uncorruptible.

He connects with ordinary people, using everyday language in his speeches and addressing members of the audience with comments like: "Isn’t that the case, sister?," "Don’t you think so, dear mother?"

They also like that he’s engineered a shift in power away from the old Istanbul-based business houses to the so-called Anatolian tigers in the more conservative heartland of Turkey.

And his appeal goes well beyond Turkey.

The tongue-lashing he gave Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009 over the Gaza offensive, cemented his reputation in the Islamic world.

Last December, just before the uprising in Tunisia started the Arab Spring, a taxi driver in Tunis pointed to a photograph of Erdogan in a newspaper. "Nice man," the cabbie told a Reuters journalist. "The best leader in the Islamic world right now."

THREE TIMES A WINNER

Turkey‘s prime minister has long understood that the key to success is economic growth.

Over the past decade he’s transformed Turkey from a basket case dependent on IMF loans to the 16th largest economy in the world. He wants Turkey to be in the top 10 by 2023.

Flush with money and with their own economy faring far better than the euro zone, Turks have grown less enamored of the prospect of joining the European Union.

Last year Turkey notched up 9 percent growth. An Istanbul banker tells a story about a customer who wanted a loan. When asked how many siblings he had in his family the young man said: "We are four, but God has given us Tayyip, so now we’re five."

There is a sense that as long as Erdogan keeps Turks in jobs and the money rolling in, people won’t mind if the AKP government loses some of the democratic zeal that marked its early years. Erdogan has been very open about his plans for a new constitution that could open the way for him to become president.

Chances of the opposition unseating him are remote, and he has no real rivals within the AKP.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul- and Brussels-based think tank, reckons the greatest risk to Erdogan’s dominance is an economic crisis brought on by an external shock.

"Until then the AKP has a blank check," he said, speaking just before the latest market turmoil. "This situation can continue as long as international markets remain benign, as long as interest rates globally remain low, as long as risk aversion remains low."

"THE FINAL WORD"

That is a dismal prospect for members of the old elites, who fear Erdogan’s AKP aims to roll back the secular state envisioned by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan has already been in office longer than any other leader since Ataturk. Critics refer to the possibility he will rule on as president as the "Putinisation" of Turkey, though the term is seldom seen in the press.

When foreign diplomats in Ankara are asked what action Turkey might take on an issue, the answer is often along the lines of: "In the end Erdogan will have the final word."

Normally it would fall to the judiciary and press to provide a check on the government. But Turkey‘s judges and journalists have also had their wings clipped.

Only last year, Erdogan won backing in a referendum on constitutional reforms that included changes to the way judges are selected. There’s little doubt that the judiciary needed reforming, but critics say that the changes also reduced judges’ independence.

Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries in the World Press Freedom Index produced by media freedom pressure group Reporters without Borders, from 101st in 2007. Washington and Brussels have both aired concerns.

Early this year, with the election looming, police detained around a dozen journalists said to be linked to an alleged anti-government network dubbed Ergenekon, the fabled valley of Turkish legend from where a tribe of Turks escaped their enemies by following a lone wolf.

Opposition politicians and military leaders allege some prosecutors are taking revenge for past state repression of Islamist movements. Armed with leaks from either prosecutors or the police, government-friendly media report the detentions in ways that suggest the suspects are guilty before their cases are heard.

"Many people worry that the arrests of these officers and journalists may be the product of a witch-hunt mentality by those who feel they have the power now and are using the judiciary to settle old scores," said Hurriyet Daily News columnist Semih Idiz.

POLITICAL MAKEOVER

Since coming to power, Erdogan has gone out of his way to be seen as a model of pragmatism. Alcohol may cost more, but little in the way of legislation offers evidence of a religious agenda.

An attempt to lift a ban on women wearing the Muslim headscarf entering universities or working in the public sector has not been revived since it was pushed back in 2004.

In the past year, however, there was barely a murmur when universities began taking a permissive stance toward students in headscarves.

Scaremongering over the spread of Islamism proved a vote- loser for the secular opposition, so they stopped campaigning on it, opting instead to pick holes in Erdogan’s image as a champion of democracy.

The pillar of his political program is a proposal for a new constitution to replace the one drafted after a 1980 military coup. Parliament is expected to begin work on the new charter in October, and it is likely to dominate the political agenda until next summer.

"It will be a constitution emphasizing pluralism rather than a single voice. It will take the individual and their rights as its basis, protecting national unity and our shared values and accepting the wealth of social diversity," Erdogan said late last month.

Critics are unconvinced. When Erdogan has said in the past "democracy is not an objective, it is a vehicle," his foes have pounced, pointing to the words as proof of his autocratic tendencies.

"The new constitutional order will bring not liberty and democracy, as the government is trying to persuade Westerners, but a harsher new order," former Constitutional Court chief judge Yekta Gungor Ozden told Reuters.

WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT?

But the shape of a new constitution is far from clear. Burhan Kuzu, the head of the parliamentary commission looking at it, is a staunch advocate of the presidential system and argues that Turkey prospers from single-party rule and slips back when led by weak coalitions.

Not everyone in the AKP likes the idea of a presidential system: to win the parliamentary votes he needs to alter the constitution, Erdogan will have to reach out to rival parties.

Former justice minister Hikmet Sami Turk told Reuters that many opposition groups will not "accept a presidential system. It could lead to a dictatorial system."

If Erdogan fails to win his changes, he will likely still run for — and win — the presidency in 2014 even if the position remains a figurehead role.

His greatest threat is an economic crisis.

Against conventional wisdom, the central bank cut its policy interest rate to an all-time low on August 4, despite growing concerns about inflation and pressure on the lira currency.

In the last few months, Erdogan said that ideally he’d like to see real interest rates at zero, a notion that makes some worry that populist priorities could hurt the economy.

If inflation rises or the flow of foreign investment dries up, Turkey could easily find itself with a current account deficit climbing beyond 10 percent of GDP, leaving it vulnerable to an economic shock that could persuade voters to desert Erdogan just as they did his predecessors.

Until then, there’s no doubting who’s boss.

(Reported and written by Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir, Tulay Karadeniz, Orhan Coskun, Ozge Ozbilgin and Pinar Aydinli; Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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How Dubai Unraveled a Homicide, Frame by Frame

March 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A mix of old-fashioned legwork and high-tech razzle-dazzle, scouring hundreds of hours of surveillance videos, helped police home in on suspects in a Hamas man’s slaying, blamed on Israel’s Mossad.

By Borzou Daragahi, LA Times

  • Hatem Moussa / Associated Press

Reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Lacking witnesses but blessed with hundreds of hours of video, the cops and spooks worked the case of the slain weapons smuggler like a movie in reverse.

Dubai’s cameras never blink. The security system allows law enforcement to track anyone, from the moment they get off an airplane, to the immigration counter where their passport is scanned, through the baggage claim area to the taxi stand where cameras record who gets into what cars, which log their locations through the city’s automated highway toll system, all the way to their hotels, which also have cameras.

Which brings us to the Bustan Rotana hotel on the night of Jan. 19, and an assassination made to look like a run-of-the-mill heart attack.

The dead man, as the world now knows, was a 50-year-old Hamas commander named Mahmoud Mabhouh, wanted by Israel in the killing of two Israeli soldiers. Once Dubai investigators narrowed the time of death to 8 to 8:30 p.m., they quickly found that seven people in the Bustan Rotana had no business being there.

Using facial recognition software, a source familiar with the investigation said, a team of 20 investigators pored over hours of security camera videos to sketch out a picture of the suspects’ movements and accomplices, a group that has grown to at least 27 people.

They tracked down taxi drivers and grilled them about the suspects. They even traced the trip of a female suspect to a shopping center and discovered what she bought.

For years, the United Arab Emirates has been using its considerable oil wealth to build up its defense and security infrastructure, including the National Security Agency, the secret police, which is playing a key role in the investigation.

"They buy the best," said Kamal Awar, a retired Lebanese army officer and editor of Beirut-based Defense 21, a regional military magazine. "They bought the latest technology in satellite and communications."

In the end, a mixture of high-tech razzle-dazzle and old-fashioned investigative work cracked the case.

"What it takes is a few skilled police officers putting stuff on the board and figuring out who relates to what," said Col. Patrick Lang, a former U.S. military intelligence officer who served in the Persian Gulf for years. "It’s not a magic thing. It’s a question of thinking clearly."

A homicide in disguise

The middle-aged man was splayed out dead in his hotel room as if he’d gone into cardiac arrest. The door was chained from the inside. Coroners surmised that he’d died of natural causes.

But one doctor noticed an abnormality in the blood. He later spotted strange puncture marks on a leg and behind an ear. And after the Palestinian militant group Hamas informed Dubai authorities that the dead man was Mahmoud Mabhouh, they decided it couldn’t hurt to double-check. Blood samples were sent abroad. Days passed.

When the toxicology reports showed that he’d been given a lethal dose of a powerful anesthetic, Dubai authorities knew they had a high-profile homicide on their hands. Though Mabhouh was no friend of the Emirates, authorities were furious about the killing.

"The whole operation was based on one key assumption: that the death will be recorded as a natural death," Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center, a Dubai think tank, said of the assassins. "And that was the downfall. The reason why they were so careless was because they thought there would be no investigation."

At least half of the passports used by the 27 suspects bore the names and registration numbers of Israeli dual citizens who held British, Irish, Australian, French or German passports, leading many experts to believe that Israel’s spy outfit, Mossad, had forged the identities.

Israeli officials have been tight-lipped about the case and refused to confirm or deny the nation’s involvement. None of the suspects captured on video or identified in passport photos, including a bottle-blond and an assortment of beefy, balding guys wearing rectangular glasses, have come forward to deny or confirm their involvement.

Interpol announced last week that it was joining the international investigation.

"Investigative information provided by the authorities in Dubai bore out the international links and broad scope of the number of people involved, as well as the role of two ‘teams’ of individuals identified by the Dubai police as being linked to al-Mabhouh’s murder," Interpol said in a statement.

An unlikely place to strike

Perhaps no hotel in Dubai is less amenable to an assassination than the upscale Bustan Rotana, in the Garhoud district adjacent to the airport. The circular building’s rooms are arrayed around a vast airy atrium.

"If you’re sitting in the lobby you can see the door to every room," said Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Affairs, a think tank with offices in Dubai and Beirut. "If there’s a scuffle, you can see and hear it."

Security experts around the world have also puzzled over the apparent size of the hit team: 27 bearers of Western passports and, according to Hamas, two or three Palestinians.

Some security experts said the assassins knew what they were doing, organizing themselves into evacuation, surveillance and execution teams.

But others see a classic bureaucratic blunder.

"You have a surveillance team and a counter-surveillance team and the technical people as well as the security people around the perimeter," said Lang, the former U.S. military intelligence officer. "Once you start doing that, you have to have shifts. You have to have two or three sets of these people and rotate them. Once you start doing it that way you’re going to have a lot of people."

The assailants apparently entered the hotel room without any struggle, suggesting that someone on the team knew Mabhouh. A fatal dose of the powerful muscle relaxant succinylcholine quickly paralyzes its recipient and ultimately mimics the effects of a heart attack. It should have killed Mabhouh within 15 minutes.

But something must have gone wrong, said the source with knowledge of the investigation, because the assassins pressed a pillow against Mabhouh’s face for one or two minutes until he suffocated. "They were panicking for one reason or another," said the source.

The hit team tidied up the room and laid Mabhouh out as though he’d suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead.

Dubai Police Chief. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told satellite channel Al Arabiya that "the murderers tried their best to mislead us."

A knack for putting things together

Just as police were about to conclude that it was a natural death, a Palestinian man trying to contact Mabhouh learned of his death and telephoned his family in Gaza. It was only then that Hamas officials contacted Dubai police, Tamim said.

"Dubai police are very good at piecing together crimes," analyst Karasik said. "I’ve seen it before when you had robberies or murders occur and you’ll forget about the story and then six months later the guys are arrested via Interpol, brought back here and then they disappear into the system."

Although Mabhouh’s assassins managed to enter the country, kill him and get out without getting caught, the case has generated what most analysts consider unwelcome fallout for Israel, which most suspect of being behind the attack.

Authorities are now reexamining the death of Faisal Husseini, a charismatic Palestinian leader who died in his Kuwait hotel room in 2001.

"Now we know their tradecraft," said Alani. "We know how they operate."

If Mossad agents were behind the attack, the operation blew the identities of 27 agents; it takes up to five years to train each agent.

"They’ll never be able to go outside of Israel again, even with disguises," Karasik said. "Biometrics means all of the contours of your face are on file."

daragahi@latimes.com

Flight 253: US Complicity?

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Michigan Attorney Kurt Haskell discusses the events of Flight 253 and Underwear-Bomber Mutallab

By Adil James, MMNS

kurt haskell February 10—Farmington—The attempted Underwear Bombing has already taken on the aspect of a familiar tableau, with all involved taking their usual hackneyed positions—the gallant police and intelligence authorities, the heroic passengers, all duped by the diabolically wicked Muslim anti-hero, who despicably and cleverly circumvented all the hurdles in his path in order to do the unthinkable.

But there is another dimension to this story, which shows the extent to which, nearly 10 years after 9/11, there is apparently no thought-through system in place to deal with cases of attempted airline hijackings and bombings, where shadowy people who appear to be affiliated with government agencies interfere with the functioning of airport security, where other shadowy people who appear to be terrorists are allowed to slip through the cracks, and where government officials from top to bottom appear either to lie about events or to be simply incredibly misinformed, or inept.

Attorney Kurt Haskell was on Flight 253.  He is a vocal bankruptcy and divorce attorney who has a blog (haskellfamily.blogspot.com).  According to his law firm’s website, he graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a degree in Biology, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and Wayne State University Law School where he earned an LLM in Taxation.  He was a tax attorney for the IRS and opened the Haskell Law Firm in 2001 with his wife, Lori, who is also an attorney—she graduated from Davenport University and Wayne State University Law School.

Kurt and Lori Haskell were together on the eventful trip to and return from Africa; this trip to Africa led him through Amsterdam’s airport and onto flight 253, only a few rows away from a man who had come from Africa towards Detroit but with a very different purpose.

“I saw almost everything,” he explains, as he was sitting only 8 rows away from the bomber.  “He was in row 19, we were in row 27.”  “The whole thing took maybe a minute, it was really quick.” 

As he recounts the event, it happened in the final minutes of the flight to Detroit, “only five or ten minutes from landing.”  A female flight attendant walked past Mr. Haskell saying “it smells like smoke,” and a few moments later Haskell looked and saw a fire in what had been Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s row.  People were yelling “Fire! Fire!”  Someone was yelling “Terrorist!” A different flight attendant, who Haskell said was a black man named Dionne, put out the fire with a fire extinguisher.  Haskell saw two passengers escorting Mutallab, who was then wearing a blanket where his pants had been, towards first class. 

Mutallab has been described as in a “trance-like” state by one first class passenger who saw him after the event, but the word Haskell uses to describe Mutallab, after what must have been a terrifying and adrenaline-soaked event for all concerned, is “emotionless.”

But this was not the first time Haskell had seen Mutallab.  He had seen him before getting on the plane in Amsterdam—and it was this previous brief encounter which strikes the jarring note of discord between the generally accepted story and the truth of the events of Flight 253. 

“We had gone through the security checks,” he was sitting on the ground with his wife playing cards, very close to the ticketing agent who allows people to board the airplane, and he noticed what he described as an oddball pair approaching a ticket agent together.  What was striking about the pair was that they were together.  One was an “Indian-looking” man, dressed sharply, described in Haskell’s blog as the “sharp-dressed man.”  He looked about 50 years old, looked wealthy, was wearing a suit.  The other was Mutallab, looking maybe 15 years old, with “raggy jeans and a white T-shirt.” 

“They went to the ticket agent together,” explains Haskell, who said he overheard the sharp-dressed man say to the ticketing agent “This man needs to board the plane, he has no passport.”  “He’s from Sudan,” said the sharp-dressed man, “We do this all the time.”

At the time Haskell understood this to mean that the man (Mutallab) was a refugee.  Mutallab said nothing during the exchange.

The ticketing agent said the sharp-dressed man would have to go to the manager, and she pointed down the hallway, then the “oddballs together” walked down the hall towards where the manager had pointed.  “It meant so little to me at the time that I didn’t even mention it to my wife,” said Haskell.

It would only become significant in the light of the events that unfolded in the last few minutes of Flight 253.  Fast forward to a blanketed Mutallab being escorted to the front of the airplane.

The plane had nearly finished the flight when Mutallab attempted to ignite the explosive in his underwear… and the ensuing pandemonium only lasted about a minute.  The pilot requested emergency clearance to land, and it was only a short time before the passengers of the flight were all on land, however this is where Haskell witnessed “all [the] screwups” of security personnel in dealing with this attempted bombing.

First the plane spent about 20 to 30 minutes on the runway, explained Haskell.  “We taxied to the gate, which was a big mistake—we didn’t know if there were other bombs on board, or accomplices.”  “They could have blown up the entire terminal,” Haskell said. 

That seems unlikely, since if the terrorists wanted to bomb an airport terminal it seems unnecessary to fly several thousand miles after getting through airport security in Amsterdam. 

Haskell explained that the police got on the plane.  Haskell said he had expected an emergency evacuation. “We don’t know how dangerous the situation is,” he said.  The police said nobody could get off the plane.  Haskell was apprehensive that there was another bomb on board.

“The police never came out of first class,” he said, “they didn’t check on the welfare of the other passengers.”  “The police escorted Mutallab off the plane—he stood in the aisle for about 10 seconds, and I got a good look—he was wearing handcuffs.”  That was the first time that Haskell knew Mutallab was a terrorist, he said.

“Then we were allowed to get off the plane, they let us take all carry-ons off.  Big mistake.  Disturbing the crime scene.”  Mutallab had told the police, Haskell later learned (from news reports and from a client of his who works at the airport), that there was a bomb still on board the plane—but the police never searched the carry-on bags.

“We walked onto the runway, and were escorted to an evacuated baggage claim.  Nobody else was around.  We stood there for an hour.  There were bomb sniffing dogs, 3 of them.  One of them sniffed something in the bag of an Indian man, the ‘man in orange,’ who was wearing an orange shirt.  The dog sat down, which indicates he found an explosive.” 

“Immediately the man was taken away, but not handcuffed.”  He was interviewed in a room, “we couldn’t see inside the room but we could see the door.  Then he was taken out, handcuffed, and taken away.”

An officer came and moved the passengers to another area, saying it was “not safe here,” saying that everyone had seen what had happened earlier (with the man in orange) and could draw their own conclusions about why it wasn’t safe there.

The Flight 253 passengers were then moved, Haskell explained, to “a long narrow hallway, where we were held for four hours.  We couldn’t talk on cell phones, or text anybody.” They were not allowed to eat or drink.  “Mostly we were not allowed to use the bathroom,” he said.

Then, after several hours, a man came up to the passengers and said, “We believe we have those responsible in custody”—the passengers were then “free to go” after short interviews with the FBI.  Haskell did his interview with the FBI and went home.

Haskell emphasizes their use of the plural “those involved” rather than the singular “the one involved.”

The passengers of Flight 253 do not have any formal organization, however Haskell explains that many of the passengers have emailed him through his website, and being in contact with the other passengers he has found one woman who publicly said that she saw Mutallab during his security exam (during which she said he appeared nervous and sweated profusely and ran his hands through his hair) and learned of another passenger whose name has not been made public—who is said to have video-taped the entire terrorist incident on the airplane.

Haskell explains that the video recording was made by a Dutch man who bought a camcorder on his way to visit New York City, and was operating it during the incident because he wanted to learn how to use it, or test it.  According to Haskell’s sources this man’s video is now in the possession of government authorities, however the man has several photographs from the flight still in his possession, and Haskell believes there is a good chance those stills include at least one of the man in orange.

Haskell is astonished at the lack of interest in his story from mainstream media outlets.  Haskell’s eyewitness account strongly indicates government complicity in transporting Mutallab, and also strongly indicates at least one other bomber was on Flight 253. 

However, there is minimal interest in his story, and Haskell feels he has been maligned and his story undermined by official reports.  According to what Haskell saw, either there was another bomber involved, or there was a case of mistaken attribution of terrorist intent against the man in orange—and if so that man must have a motive to expose what has happened to him.  Haskell fully believes there was another terrorist whose involvement is being covered up by law enforcement authorities.

What does all this mean? Haskell discounts several popular theories, namely first that the government wanted the plane to be blown up to justify widespread body scanners and to justify making war on Yemen; second that the government wanted a failed bombing in order to justify the same two results above. 

However, Haskell does believe, based on what he saw and based on cryptic statements from government officials that intelligence officials sometimes let known terrorists into the country in order to track them and see who they contact, that the US government did fully intend to let Mutallab into the country in order to watch him, but did not know that Mutallab never intended to actually arrive at Detroit airport and had stuffed explosives in his underwear in order to kill everyone onboard his airplane before ever touching down in Detroit.

Haskell’s feeling about the incident seems to be primarily one of astonishment at the actions of his own government and the American press to the incident.
If Haskell’s story is wrong, he argues, why is it that no Dutch security video has been released of the events at Amsterdam airport?

“Why aren’t they releasing the video, if my story is not true? Why is the media totally ignoring what I have to say?”

12-7

Nigerians Parents Fear for Students Studying Abroad

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, Olugu Ukpai

My dear God, has it now become a crime to be a Nigerian? The headlines tell me so over and over again. Mutallab: Man Who Shamed Nigeria. Mutallab: The Nigerian Agent of Al Qaeda. The Boy Who Blew Nigeria’s Image.

Umar Faruq Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner has just landed Nigeria, my country of birth, on the list of 14 nations whose nationals are going to be singled out for special checks if they want to fly to the United States. Nigeria has become a uniquely insecure travel terrorism hub, they say.

But Abdulmutallab never studied in Nigeria. He did not have “terror connections” in Nigeria. Instead his initiation into terror clubs happened abroad in the countries where he was sent to study to become a better person.

Abdulmutallab went to a British high school in Togo. He studied in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt. Above all, he studied mechanical engineering at University College, London, one of the oldest in England. It makes me wonder how Nigerian parents who have sent their children to study abroad, and those children studying abroad, are looking at the story of “the boy who blew Nigeria’s image.”

I, too like Abdulmutallab, am a Nigerian student studying in the United Kingdom. I can understand the concerns of Nigerian parents like mine who sent their children abroad in hopes for a better education – a Western style education. Now there is a deep concern among the same parents, especially those at home who are skeptical of the kind of “cults” their children are being exposed to abroad in the name of acquiring “the white man’s” education. A study by the University of Notre Dame in 2009 found that parents tended to know only 10 percent of what their children were doing abroad.

Foreign education is no longer a safe haven. On the other hand fearful parents cannot bring their children back home either. After all, American media reports paint Nigeria as a hotbed of Al Qaeda terror. When I come back to the U.K. after Christmas break I do not know what will befall me. Will I be treated as a terror suspect because I am Nigerian? Will the U.K. government just wash its hands off me while it pockets my high tuition?

Nigerian parents and students worry whether the U.K. government is living up to its promises to protect the students in its charge. Has it allowed terrorist groups to penetrate its universities so that unsuspecting students can fall prey to their wiles? Already there is a systemic breakdown of security in U.K. institutions of higher learning. A King’s College, London report says more and more women are reporting rapes. Nigerian parents worry about their children abroad.

Instead of demonizing Nigeria, the international press and the world at large should be honoring and celebrating the alleged terror suspect’s 70-year-old father, who set aside blood bonds to report his son’s newfound religious extremism to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. I contend that he deserves a Global Citizen Award, and Nigeria should honor him with a National Merit Award. He is an exemplary Nigerian whose act of integrity should be rewarded and recognized. This might help fight terrorism by encouraging others who might have similar useful information.

Instead of ganging up on Nigeria, world powers would do well to review security policies to better protect the lives of international students. Our parents sell their pound of flesh to provide a brighter future for us. No parent would ever dream their “well-behaved and humble” child — as many have described Abdulmutallab — would turn into a terrorist and end up in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of acquiring the “white man’s” education.

Olugu Ukpai is a Ph.D student at School of Law at the University of Reading, U.K. He can be reached at oluukpaiolu@yahoo.com.

12-2

Compassion Changed Robber’s Life

December 10, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Evan Buxbaum, CNN

Mohammad Sohail
Long Island Shopkeeper Mohammad Sohail

December 3, 2009 http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/12/03/convenience.store.compassion/index.html

Shopkeeper Mohammad Sohail says he recited an Islamic oath over the would-be robber after he broke into sobs.

New York (CNN) — Six months ago, a Long Island convenience store owner turned a would-be robbery into an act of compassion. On Wednesday, the shoplifter made amends with a $50 bill and a thank you letter for saving him from a life of crime.

The story began in May 2009, when Mohammad Sohail of Shirley, New York, was closing his Shirley Express convenience store one night. Security camera footage from that evening shows a man wielding a baseball bat barging into the store and demanding money.

Sohail had a rifle ready and quickly aimed it directly in the robber’s face, forcing the man to drop the bat and lay on the ground. Unbeknownst to the man, Sohail never loads his gun.

According to Sohail, the man immediately started to plead with him, tearfully saying, “I’m sorry, I have no food. I have no money. My whole family is hungry. Don’t call the police. Don’t shoot me.”

“When I see him starting crying [those] things, I really feel bad for him,” said Sohail. “I say, oh man, this is something different.”

Sohail made the man pledge never to rob anybody ever again, then gave the man $40 and a loaf bread. Sohail, who is from Pakistan, said the man then wanted to be a Muslim like him, so he recited an Islamic oath and gave the would-be robber the name Nawaz Sharif Zardari.

Sohail went to get some milk, but when he returned the man had fled with the money and food.

Both Mohammad Sohail and Suffolk County Police have no idea who the man is. After the May incident, Sohail explained that he will “absolutely not” be pressing charges, though police are still investigating the case.

Over the past six months, Sohail’s story of sympathy and kindness has inspired many across the country.

The Shirley Express store has received numerous letters of admiration. “No person has ever moved my spirit the way you did. From your biggest admirer,” one letter says. “Great men are capable of great acts. You are a great American,” another reads.

He has also received several checks with such messages for “a couple hundred dollars” in total, says Sohail. He has made a point to give this money “to the people” by offering free bagels, rolls and coffee in his store every night after 9 o’clock.

But the envelope that arrived on Wednesday came as a surprise. Postmarked November 11 without a return address, it enclosed a $50 bill and a note apparently from the would-be robber.

The typed letter begins, “You change My Life (sic),” and goes on to say that the man is sorry for his actions six months ago.

“At the time I had No money No food on my table No Job, and nothing for my family. I know that it was wrong, but I had know (sic) choice. I needed to feed My family. When You had That gun to my head I was 100% that I was going to die,” reads the letter.

The letter says Sohail’s acts inspired him to become a “True Muslim” and that his life has changed dramatically.

“I’m very happy that somebody got to change his life,” Sohail said. “If he is a maybe criminal, maybe is not anymore. So now he is a good person in this community and I’m very glad for that. He’s staying out of trouble, he’s not in a jail, he’s taking care of his family.”

But the letter-writer said he actually did convert, “decided to become a true Muslim,” and turned his life around after Sohail, 47, spared his life.

The letter was signed in type: “Your Muslim Brother.”

“That’s the same guy I gave $40 to,” said Sohail, 62, displaying the typewritten letter at his Shirley Express deli yesterday. There was no return address. It was mailed on Long Island the week before Thanksgiving.

“I’m really thrilled,” said Sohail. “I’m very happy for that guy, because he is now doing good for the community.

“He has a job and he is a good person. I really feel great. Thank God he’s doing good. He’s got a new baby and he’s not in jail,” said Sohail.

11-51

Ramadan Drumroll

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kirk Semple

ramadan1_600

A few hours before dawn, when most New Yorkers are fast asleep, a middle-aged man rolls out of bed in Brooklyn, dons a billowy red outfit and matching turban, climbs into his Lincoln Town Car, drives 15 minutes, pulls out a big drum and — there on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood — starts to play.

Mohammad Boota plays in 20-second bursts outside Pakistani businesses in Brooklyn, as he did at Bismillah Food last month. He has learned that not everyone appreciates his services.

The man, Mohammad Boota, is a Ramadan drummer. Every morning during the holy month, which ends on Sept. 21, drummers stroll the streets of Muslim communities around the world, waking worshipers so they can eat a meal before the day’s fasting begins.

But New York City, renowned for welcoming all manner of cultural traditions, has limits to its hospitality. And so Mr. Boota, a Pakistani immigrant, has spent the past several years learning uncomfortable lessons about noise-complaint hot lines, American profanity and the particular crankiness of non-Muslims rousted from sleep at 3:30 a.m.

“Everywhere they complain,” he said. “People go, like, ‘What the hell? What you doing, man?’ They never know it’s Ramadan.”

Mr. Boota, 53, who immigrated in 1992 and earns his living as a limousine driver, began waking Brooklynites in 2002. At first he moved freely around the borough, picking a neighborhood to work each Ramadan morning.

Not everyone was thrilled, he said. People would throw open their windows and yell at him, or call the police, who, he said, advised him kindly to move along.

As the years went by, he and his barrel drum were effectively banned from one neighborhood after another. He now restricts himself to a short stretch of Coney Island Avenue where many Pakistanis live.

Fearing that even that limited turf may be threatened real estate for him, he has modified his approach even further — playing at well below his customary volume, for only about 15 to 20 seconds in each location, and only once every three or four days.

The complaints have stopped, he said. But as he reflected on his early years of drumming in the streets of New York — before he knew better — wistfulness seeped into his voice. He rattled off the places he used to play, however briefly: “Avenue C, Newkirk Avenue, Ditmas, Foster, Avenue H, I, J and Neptune Avenue.”

“You know,” he reluctantly concluded, “in the United States you can’t do anything without a permit.”

Mr. Boota wants to be a good American, and a good Muslim. “I don’t want to bother other communities’ people,” he said. “Just the Pakistani people.”

Several prominent Muslim organizations in New York said they knew of no other drummers who played on Ramadan mornings. But while the custom’s usefulness has been largely eclipsed by the invention of the alarm clock, it has hung on in many places. Indeed, Mr. Boota said he continues the practice, in spite of the challenges and resistance, as much to keep a tradition alive as to feed a cultural yen of his countrymen.
“They’re waiting for me,” he said.

The daily Ramadan fast runs from the start of dawn to dusk. So shortly after 3 one recent morning, Mr. Boota left his wife, Mumtaz, as she prepared a predawn meal in their Coney Island apartment. About 15 minutes later he pulled his Lincoln to a stop in front of Bismillah Food, a small Pakistani grocery store on Coney Island Avenue, near Foster Avenue. Several men were inside; taxicabs parked outside suggested their occupation.

In one fluid motion, Mr. Boota popped the trunk, cut the motor, leapt out, hoisted the drum’s strap over his shoulder, greeted the owner — “Salaam aleikum” — and, standing in the sidewalk penumbra of the shop’s fluorescent light, began playing.

The men came to the door. “He’s a very popular man here,” one of them said, nodding at Mr. Boota, who wore his usual performance attire: a traditional shalwar kameez, a loose two-piece outfit, elaborately embroidered with gold thread.

Mr. Boota wielded his two drumsticks in a galloping clangor that echoed off the facades of the darkened buildings.

After about 20 seconds, he ended his performance with a punctuative smack of the taut drum heads. There was an exchange of mumbled pleasantries in Arabic, the men moved back inside the store, and as quickly as he had arrived, Mr. Boota was behind the wheel of his car again, driving a block south to another Pakistani-owned business.

“It’s a great noise,” he said.

11-39

Once Upon a Destined Time

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather, MMNS

Wow it’s hot! Didn’t it just rain a few days ago? How can it be this hot, this late? How long is this bus ride? I can’t wait to get into some real air conditioning. After this ride, I totally deserve an ice cold mango shake. I wish the windows opened more. I should’ve gotten a window seat. I hope the sweat doesn’t mess up my shirt. Oh no, my water bottle is empty. This suit is so thick! I wonder if you could fry an egg on the street today. I wonder if anyone has actually tried frying an egg on the street.  Why in the world is that guy wearing a jacket? I wish I wore pants with pockets. What is that guy drinking, it looks nice and cool. Is that coffee? That coffee smells good. These people probably think I’m crazy with coffee on a day like today, but the scent does help keep my mind off the heat. He’s obviously a caffeine addict. If we hit a bump that guy is going to be in big trouble.  I wish they had shades on bus windows. That is how the bus ride would have probably sounded to someone who could read minds. For the rest, it was a long uncomfortable silence with occasional grunts, sighs, and irritated sounds. This was mixed in with the smell of sweat amalgamated with overdoses of cologne and perfume. The air was warm, but people still swarmed unto the buses. Patience torn, people started making fusses. In the end, their stops came just in time.

The last passenger reached in his pocket and took out some dimes.  He paid his due, took two steps and a hop and bid the driver adieu.  The driver shut the doors and the floors shook with sound of the bus’s roars as it tore away. The day was as hot as ever, so this clever man took shade under the bus stop shelter. The book was patiently waiting for him inside; he came inside and let his stuff abide in the corner as he eyed that book with the dark green cover and golden letters, Stories of the Wise and Human. He tried to open it by moving the buckle, but it angrily burned his finger. He gently moved it away with his sleeve and grabbed the book by the soft, but warm, cover and set it on his lap. He started flipping through the book; the first page held the words “one person one page”, the second page was blank, the third was blank, and so on until he found a page with writing. There was thick black ink running through the page with such brio and celerity that it demanded respect. Although it had loops here and there, they were so strong and sharp that they complemented the power of the rest of the script with an air of respectable elegance and refinement. It was as if a samurai had spilled ink on his sword and performed a series of techniques across the face of the paper without scratching the surface, but still staining it with the scarred shadows of a near sempiternal experience. He started reading the silent samurai’s slashes, starting from the first sentence.

I was a student, I am a student, and I plan to continue my pursuit of knowledge in the future; not everything can be learned through a book, some things can only be learned through experience. At the time of this incident I was a university student who had just finished his first year.  I could have gone home but it was really far away and I was trying to save up money; even if I went I would probably be alone because my parents were vacationing at some island resort. My family didn’t really stay in contact with any of our relatives, but it turned out that my father had a close cousin who lived a few hours away from campus and would be glad to have me over for the summer.  I packed my bags, and my scarlet wallet with the silver insignia; I walked to the train station and quickly jumped on the train catching a window seat; I read a book until the ride ended. The city quickly gave way to farmland, pastures, and rolling grass hills. The sky seemed bluer but it might have just been the time of day. It was a nice view but after a point it became redundant; my head started hurting immensely. The man in front of me was sleeping and snoring rather loudly. He had on a long coat and sunglasses. His head was in the crook of his arm in the middle of the table. His other arm was stretched across the table, half of which was limply hanging off the edge of the table. I really tasty scent floated by; I few seats ahead a couple had just been served an extremely delectable looking soup, my mouth started watering. I asked the employee who had served them the soup to get me a bowl of whatever they had.

I took out my wallet and gave the money and asked for a few headache pills too. There was a constant drumming and pounding happening in the left half of my head. It was beat-less and unabating. It kept getting louder and louder. I tried to cover my ears and eyes but it didn’t help. I stayed up late the night before, bad idea.  The pain echoed inward, then inverted and reverberated back out. It was a unpredictable pulse pressing outwards periodically and painfully. I turned to get up and bunch of hot liquid fell all over my chest.  I gasped and saw an employee before me and the soup I had order below me. The employee expressed regret and sympathy followed by a promise to get napkins. I walked to the bathroom and started cleaning my shirt.  I walked back and the employee was standing next to my seat. Before anything was said I asked for the headache pills and a glass of water. I ate the pills, leaned on the window, and closed my eyes. A moment passed and I woke up, extremely hungry.  I looked around a bit and not much had changed.  The employee had probably noticed that I had awoken because in a matter of seconds a hot bowl of soup was placed in front of me along with the money I had given and a sorry note.  I picked up the money to put into my wallet, but I couldn’t find it. I checked my pockets, my bag, the floor, my seat, the seat in front of me, and my backpack. That wallet had all the money I had gathered throughout the year and the savings I held from before. It had to be somewhere. That’s when I realized the man who was sitting in front of me was gone. 

I checked the bathroom but my wallet wasn’t there either. Then I started looking through the train for the man in the jacket, but to no avail. The couple who had ordered the soup not too long ago was gone too and instead an old man was in there spot.

I saw one familiar face and asked him the time. He asked me where my stop was, I answered, and to my dismay I had just missed it. I found the locomotive engineer, conductor, and someone who looked like the manager and told them about my problem. As I went back to my seat I heard the announcement,” If anyone has seen a scarlet wallet with silver insignia please bring it to the nearest employee. I had a dreadful feeling that I knew exactly where it was. The man in the coat had probably stolen it as he left the train; how could I be so irresponsible.  There was nothing I could do but wait. The next stop would arrive in a few minutes.  On the bright side, my head ache was gone and I had a bowl of soup. I ate the soup which was not as appetizing as I thought it would be. The train stopped and people started to get up and leave. I scanned the crowd who was passing by until the last few passengers were leaving, no sight of the jacketed man.  Suddenly, my bag was ripped away from under my arm and taken in through the door behind me. I got up and saw someone running against the flow that the people were walking in. I yelled and ran after him. He was fast and slick, slipping through the tightest spots. I ran as fast as I could and started catching up to him.

We reached the end of the train and he stopped for a second and turned. Just as I was about to grab my bag from him he landed a huge back fist across my face that threw me to the side. He kicked me in the side and tried to choke me. I struggled to loosen his grip but couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe. I bent my knees and back and flipped forward slammed both of us on the ground. I picked him by the color and slammed him against the back door and noticed he had something bulging in his pocket that he was reaching for. His hand went in and I yanked away whatever he had taken out. Then he started looking very odd and dropped him. He was stretching his arm towards something and started breathing funny. It was like he couldn’t move. I looked to the side and saw an inhaler. That’s what was in his pocket. Bitterly, I picked it up and pressed it against his mouth a few times, he started breathing regularly again. I checked his pockets, but he didn’t have my wallet. I picked up my bag with one hand and dragged him with the other all the way to the front of the train.

I told the manager what had happened and ha gave me some napkins to wipe the blood off my face; apparently that’s all they can do, give napkins. The jacketed man walked in with a cane in one hand.  The manager asked me my name, I answered, and the jacketed man walked closer. He took out my scarlet wallet with the silver insignia, I took it. The man sincerely apologized; he was blind. He overheard my predicament and offered to have his driver drive me to my desired destination, I accepted. He told me the rough day he had that led to him taking the train. When he realized he had taken someone else’s wallet he tried his hardest to get it back, hoping that someone else’s day not go as bad as his. We talked and laughed all the way till the end of the ride. He quoted someone as saying,” the true worth of a man manifests when he is surrounded by distress, not when he is relaxing and at rest.” Do not ever let a problem of any sort frustrate you and make you angry.  The reward of good is only good. Be merciful to others and mercy will descend on you.

I had reached my destination, a farm in the middle of nowhere. The jacketed man gave me his card and said to drop by any time. That summer was one of the most serene and relaxing summers I have ever experienced. This summer I got a job in the city, and have been staying here for a while.  The country is nice, but so is the city; I just like trying different things, maybe next summer I’ll go to a tropical island. The bus has just come so I will end here, as I get together all my gear, including my wallet. Patience in times of frustration and irritation is a very powerful thing.  

11-36

Letter for Marwa

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

marwa sherbini wedding
Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini and her husband.

The following touching letter was published in the August 2009 edition of the Muslim Link in honour of the late Marwa El Sherbiny:

On July 1st, 2009 my friend, Marwa El Sherbiny, was killed in a German courtroom. She was there to bear witness against a man who had harassed her in a Dresden park where she was playing with her infant son. This man had called her a terrorist because she wore the hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Marwa had chosen to defend her rights and her dignity by taking legal action. She won the libel case and was in court again to testify at the appeal. Before she had the chance to do so, the same man pulled out a knife and stabbed her to death. She was 32.

When I first heard the news, all I felt was shock and anger. Anger that such a dear person was gone at such a young age; anger that her young son no longer had a mother to hold him tight. Anger that this is what ignorant, senseless hatred has brought us to. I’m angry that careless politicians, spouting fearful rhetoric, created a climate where a mother could be murdered in front of her son, in a court of law, and our society responds with a deafening silence. I imagine I will continue to feel angry for a long time to come, but constantly piercing through that anger, and often overshadowing it, is the memory of a beautiful, kind face and a tender heart.

I met Marwa in 2000 on the first of many trips to her home city of Alexandria, Egypt. One of my strongest memories from that first visit to Egypt was seeing Marwa after she had just decided to start wearing the hijab. As a “westerner” and an outsider I was shocked by her transformation, but not for the reasons one might expect. I was stunned because she was absolutely beautiful. It was not that she wasn’t beautiful before, because she was, only it had become a different sort of beauty. She shined. She looked like an angel. And Marwa was an angel in every way: incredibly strong and extraordinarily gentle. One of the first times I was struck by the beauty of Islam was when I saw it reflected in her face. I will miss one of the most generous souls that I was fortunate enough to be touched by.

Marwa had the strength to stand up for the truth, to stand against discrimination and hatred. She is an example to all Muslim women, like myself, who have silently faced the kind of insults that are sadly becoming a more common reality. Her action was an action to protect us all. I hope and pray that we can follow her example so that her struggle, her loss, will not be in vain.

I will pray for her, I will pray for her little boy, I will pray for her husband, and brother, and mother, and father, and friends – and I will pray for a better world for all of us.

Julia Williams,
Ottawa

11-35

Ban Racism And Not The Burqa

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bindu Gurtoo, Countercurrents.org

So the French president has gone and done it. In the first presidential address in the French Parliament since 1848, the esteemed President talked about… the Burqa! By declaring, quite theatrically in the parliament that there was no place for the burqa in France, Mr. Sarkozy has undone the goodwill that President Obama so painstakingly earned for the West in Cairo last month. Not only that, by making a fatwa like declaration, he has given the Islamic hardliners another opportunity to raise the bogey of western cultural imperialism. Well, what else can one expect from a man who seems to have little clue on how to deal with global recession, or to tackle the rising unemployment in his country or even to get his countrymen and women to put in an honest day’s labour without going on a strike. Bombastic statements such as these confirm the long held belief of the coloured world that liberty is the white man’s concubine who uses her exclusively for his pleasure.

Pray, Mr. Sarkozy, how is burqa a garment of exclusion while the catholic nun’s habit is not? Granted that the burqa condemns the wearer to a claustrophobic formlessness, but, what about the two piece bikini designed by a man for the voyeuristic pleasure of the male gaze? How can a culture which connives in forcing teenagers to attain impossible thinness and applauds bizarre garments as high fashion, or sit in judgment over others’ attires? Come on Frenchies, tell us, as instruments of debasement and oppression, how are decadence, racism, substance abuse, bulimia, porn and pedophilia any less than the burqa? If, by banning the burqa you are trying to rescue Muslim damsels in distress, then may we suggest a more worthy alternative? How about giving the Muslims in your country genuine equal opportunities that are not sabotaged by racial snobbery?

While you rush to ban the burqa the way you banned the turban, why not ban a few other things such as tobacco, liquor and skinny fashion which have debased and destroyed a great many of your people? But we know you are not going to do that, Mr. Sarkozy for these are valued as expressions of the haute French culture. And one does not desecrate one’s culture by rudely hiving off bits, does one? We suspect Mr. Sarkozy that you have learnt your lessons in governance from the redoubtable Robespierre whose guillotine had once worked overtime in the name of democracy.

Perhaps Mr. Sarkozy, it is time you stepped out of the Muslim woman’s wardrobe and directed your attention to some real issues such as climate change, recession and the future of the European Union. Or do we conclude that it is because you are incapable of pondering over these problems that you take refuge in her cupboard? Do come away from her closet, President and let the Muslim woman decide for herself what she would like to wear. Ah! You are only trying to lend a helping hand, aren’t you? Please desist! For history shows us that the helping hand often ends up slapping the helper. As the president of the nation that pioneered popular uprising, you ought to know that revolutions have to germinate in native soil and can never be successfully grafted. Instead, place your trust in the Muslims to decide on the destiny of their cultures for themselves.

Perhaps, Mr. Sarkozy, the time has come for France to follow the example from across the Atlantic of her once good friend and partner- in- revolutions and elect colored leaders? Though it may seem a daunting task for a man of your intellect, but think Mr. Sarkozy, think!

(The author is a member of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers’ Bureau. Email: bindugurtoo@gmail.com, website: www.citizen-news.org

11-31

Hijab Martyr

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Egypt funeral for court stabbing victim

veil-martyr

Sherbini’s body was returned to Egypt from Germany for the funeral in Alexandria [AFP]

An official funeral has been held for a pregnant Egyptian woman stabbed to death as she prepared to give evidence in a German courtroom.

Several government representatives took part in the funeral for 32-year-old Marwa Sherbini in the northern city of Alexandria on Monday.

Sherbini was stabbed 18 times by a German man of Russian descent, formally identified only as Axel W, last week as she was about to give evidence against him as he appealed against his conviction for calling her a “terrorist” for her wearing the hijab.

Her three-year-old son, Mustapha, witnessed the knife attack on his mother, who was three months pregnant with her second child.

‘Hijab Martyr’

Sherbini’s husband, Elwi Ali Okaz, an Egyptian academic, was also critically injured as he tried to protect her.

Al Jazeera’s Rawyeh Rageh, reporting from Alexandria, said that the case had attracted huge attention in Egypt.

“The local council here in Alexandria, the victim’s hometown, has decided to name a street after her and the press is describing her as the ‘Hijab Martyr’,” she said.

“At least two protests are expected to take place in Alexandria and Cairo as this is being seen as a xenophobic and Islamophobic attack.

“People on the street and members of parliament are asking the government not to take the issue lightly.”

Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral, some chanting “Down with Germany” and scuffling with police, witnesses said.

‘Criminal act’

The German embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, said that the attack was not a reflection of German attitudes towards Muslims.

“It is a criminal act. It has nothing to do with persecution against Muslims,” Magdi al-Sayed, a press officer, told the state-run Egyptian Gazette.

“People are looking for victims and Muslims are sometimes seen as a viable option”

Sulaiman Wilms, European Muslim Union

But Sulaiman Wilms, the head of communications at the European Muslim Union, said that the incident was at least partly representative of the situation faced by Muslims across the continent.

“It definitely reflects a certain spillover from certain elements of the public-media discourse, but it also reflects the general violence and degredation of order which we have within European societies in these times of global crisis,” he told Al Jazeera from Cologne.

“People are looking for victims and Muslims are sometimes seen as a viable option.”

Sherbini’s family have called for revenge following the deadly knife attack on Wednesday.

“If she was just stabbed once, I would have said this is a mad man, but the number of times she and her husband were stabbed reflects the extent of racism this man had in him,” Tarek Sherbini, the victim’s brother, said.

“Here in Egypt, we believe in ‘an eye for an eye’. The least we expect is the death penalty for the murderer.”

Source:     Al Jazeera and agencies

Maulana Barakatullah: An Indian Muslim Revolutionary in America

July 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ayub Khan, MMNS

It was a hot summer night in 1927. An elderly and weak looking man entered a community hall in Marysville, California. The gathered crowd of over 800 Indians became ecstatic and greeted him with a  thundering applause. Strings of sparkling tears rolled down the face of  the elderly man. He went up to the stage and began speaking with his usual forceful delivery but suddenly stopped. He couldn’t utter a word. There were wails and sighs from the audience. The elderly man composed himself and smiled; it’s glow sent a cheer through the audience. But he did not speak. A voice that has shaken the corridors of British colonial authorities was soon going to be silent forever. This voice belonged to the great, but almost forgotten, hero of Indian independence movement Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali. Maulana Bhopali’s life is one full of dedication and service-a fiery journalist, a brilliant orator, an erudite Islamic scholar, a nationalist to the core, an author of several books, a polyglot who knew more than seven languages, a prime minister of India’s government -in-exile. He was all this and more.

Maulana Barakatullah passed away on his way to San Francisco on September 20, 1927 and was buried in the Old City Cemetery of Sacramento. His funeral was attended by Indian Americans of all religious persuasions and they hoped that the Maulana’s remains would eventually be transferred to India once it attains independence. But, alas, the wish remained unfulfilled and the Maulana rests in peace in a particularly beautiful section of this historic cemetery.

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Headstone of Maulana Barakatullah’s grave in Sacramento Historic Cemetery (Courtesy: Sharon Patrician)

Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali was born somewhere between 1859 and 1861 in the princely state of Bhopal in India. His father Maulvi Muhammad Shujaat Ullah was a Madrassa teacher originally with meager resources and income. A bright student Barakatullah successfully completed his religious education at Madrasa-e-Sulaimaniya and qualified as an Alim in 1878. He served as a teacher at the same school from 1879-1880. He was able to utilize the intellectual milieu of princely Bhopal and was likely to have come in contact with the scholar-prince Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan Qanauji. He is also reported to have met the pan-Islamist and reformer Jamaluddin Afghani in 1882 and was much impressed of his ideas.

In 1883 he disappeared mysteriously from Bhopal and ended up in Bombay where he enrolled himself in Wilson High School in Khetwadi. Despite being a mature student he did not mind attending the elementary grades. At the insistence of a certain Mr. Scot he began taking private lessons in English from him  in return for teaching Urdu.  Within three years he was proficient enough to qualify for the university entrance examination.

He went to London in 1887 and served as a private tutor teaching Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. He himself learned German, French, and Japanese. He was invited by the British convert Abdullah Quilliam to work at the Muslim Institute in Liverpool  in 1895. He subsequently taught at the Oriental College of University of Liverpool. He later distanced himself from the Muslim Institute over its style of functioning.

While in England he came into contact with Indian revolutionaries at India House. In response to the then British Prime Minister Gladstone’s racist comments about India he launched a flurry of articles and speeches criticizing the policies. As a result his activities were severely restricted. 

He left for New York in 1899 at the insistence of Muslim scholar and activist Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb. In his six year stint in New York he churned out a prolific number of articles related to Islam and India which were published in Webb’s The Muslim World and also in mainstream newspapers such as the Forum. To earn an income he taught Arabic. He developed contacts with the Indian community in other cities of US and Canada and sought to instill the revolutionary spirit in them. While in America he kept in touch with fellow revolutionaries in India and had a scholarly exchange with the poet and nationalist leader Maulana Hasrat Mohani.  In these letters he stressed on the need for Hindu-Muslim unity in the freedom struggle. He became a founder member of the Ghadr Party started by the Indians in San Francisco.

Maulana Barakatullah reached Japan in 1909 and was appointed a professor of oriental languages at the University of Tokyo. He brought out a journal The Islamic Fraternity which was known for its anti-colonial content. After its suppression he brought out another newspaper by the name of El Islam which was banned in British India. As a result of his activities his appointment at the university was terminated in 1914. This, however, did not unnerve Maulana Barakatullah. He treated the world as his playground and moved his activities elsewhere.

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Maulana Barakatullah (extreme right) with the Turko-German Mission

He accompanied the Turko-German Mission to Kabul in 1915 and joined Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Raja Mahendra Pratap to form the Provincial government of India. He served as the Prime Minister of the government-in-exile. In 1919 he met Lenin and sought his help in India’s struggle for freedom. Throughout the the early 1920s he travelled widely in Germany, France, and Russia organizing the expatriate Indian communities on the revolutionary path.

His 1927 visit was his second one to the New World and would prove to be his last. He was suffering from diabetes and had a host of other ailments but his love for the nation was such that he undertook the long journey from Germany along with long time friend and fellow revolutionary Mahendra  Pratap. He arrived in New York in July 1927 and stayed at a hotel in Times Square. On 15th July 1927, he was given a reception by the Indian community at Ceylon Indian Inn on 49th Street. He also met the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The two also spoke at a joint gathering of African-Americans and Indians.   He also travelled to Chicago, Gary, and several other cities of the Midwest renewing his links with the Indian and Irish communities among whom he had many friends.

He arrived at the Yugantar Ashram, the Ghadr Party’s headquarters in San Francisco and was pleased with its work. He then proceeded to Marysville where he was destine to give his last public speech. Throughout this trip his constant companion was Raja Mahendra Pratap who was himself not keeping well and aging. According to Mahendra Pratap’s autobiography the Maulana last words were:  “I have been sincerely struggling all my life for the independence of my country. Today, when I am leaving this world, I have regret that my attempts did not succeed. But at the same time I am also satisfied that hundreds and thousands of others have followed me who are brave and truthful…With satisfaction I place the destiny of my beloved nation in their hands.”

Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali was an epitome of sincerity and dedication towards one’s nation. A die hard to the core he never married as he considered it be distracting from his duty to the freedom struggle. It is an irony that this legendary son of the Indian freedom movement is reduced to the margins of Indian history. His name doesn’t find a mention in the country’s text books nor does his portrait grace the famed halls of the Indian parliament. There is, however, a university named after him in his native Bhopal.

Maulana Barakatullah’s sojourns in America also testify to the long standing links which Indian Muslims have maintained with the new world. Contrary to popular perceptions Indian Muslims did not begin arriving in America in the 1960s but at least sixty years earlier. The registers of cemeteries across California will verify this fact.

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Wary serenity in Berlin mosques

January 4, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Submitted to TMO by independent journalist Frank Payne

Bombings in Madrid and London, riots in Paris. At issue are geopolitics, class and ethnicity. In Germany, it is not terror attacks but alleged plots, police raids, and continuing suspicion. For young Muslims in Berlin, the response to such scrutiny is to be at once welcoming but hyper-vigilant of outsiders.

Neukölln

Scattered groups of Muslim men and women make their way toward Nür Mosque, their faces aglow in the orange light of the setting sun. I watch them through the window of a coffee shop, where American hip hop and R&B music are the soundtrack to an afternoon’s end. The friendly owner of the place is Nayaf, a Palestinian in his mid-thirties who jokes with customers in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English.

This is Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood in Southeast Berlin, populated by Turkish and Arab immigrants sometimes down to the third generation. Finished with my coffee, I too make way toward the mosque. The exterior of Nür Mosque is painted a clean white but like nearly all places of worship for Muslims in Germany is otherwise nondescript. The interior, however, fits the classic image of a mosque: a light green, ornate oriental rug covering the entire floor and wide pillars supporting the roof and walls. There is a store, a small library, and an upstairs kitchen and eatery where one finds traditional foods like baklava and falafel.

In the mosque’s washroom, the lights are off, but rays from a single large window illuminate the room and balance calm shadows. Cool water flows from a row of aluminum faucets while Zaher, a North African, demonstrates the Muslim purification ritual to me. I mimic his motions as he bathes his hands, arms, face, insides of his nose, and feet. Curious onlookers, also washing, ask Zaher about me with friendly smiles.

I take a seat on the floor among dozens of young men, or brothers, as the mosque fills up. All but a few appear to be under the age of 30. The majority appear to be in their teens. Each wears his own style of dress: traditional robes, shirts pressed and tucked, leather jackets, or sports jerseys hanging over baggy jeans a la hip hop style. Flowing beards and shaven heads mix with gelled, slicked-back and spiked hair.

What the individuals of such a varied group have in common, though, is a commitment to their faith, and at this moment, absolute attention to the words of the imam, Abdul-Adhim or Abu Abderrahman. This bond, so communal that exterior differences become seemingly null and void; shows one of the central beauties of Islam, and what some non-Muslims may fear so much about the religion. These are all obviously very different men. Yet, inside these walls, within the context of Islam, they are not disparate individuals. They seem to be indisputably one.

Today Abu Abderrahman, a small, Tunisian-born man between thirty-two and thirty-eight years of age, is speaking about the corruption of Muslim youth. In German, he sermons into a microphone from his own seated position at the front of the congregation. An animated speaker, Abu Abderrahman waves his hands and punctuates every sentence with a wide, jolly grin. His jokes often elicit laughs from the crowd.

I tightly frame the face of a bearded young man in the viewfinder of my camera. My finger on the shutter button, he turns and makes eye contact with me through the lens. In the exact same instant, the imam shouted in a sharp voice over the microphone “halo, no photograph in here!” Dozens of heads turn and hundreds of eyes focus in my direction. Abu Abderrahman is shaking his head in disapproval. I nod and quickly stow the camera away.

During a break in the service, several clerics dressed in white robes approach me one by one. With warm smiles, each says hello and offers a handshake. One man, a native German with chestnut-colored hair and full beard sits down. “There is no danger”, he insists. He talks on, asking questions about the U.S. and proudly admits that he was once a break dancer.

There has only been a misunderstanding. I had taken the imam’s invitation to Nür Mosque as approval to take also photographs. But approval from officials even higher than the imam were necessary in order to do so. “Kein problem”, or “no big deal”, Abu Abderraham insists.

Wedding

It is Easter Monday, and I am meeting the English-speaking Amr at Osloer Strasse U-bahn station for a youth prayer group in the predominantly Arab and South Asian neighborhood known as Wedding. Walking together, Amr tells me the story of Bilal, the namesake of the mosque that we are about to enter. Bilal, an Assyrian slave, converted to Islam then refused to repent even under torture. Moved by his devotion, another follower of the Prophet Muhammad (s) purchased Bilal’s freedom. “Racism existed hundreds of years ago too”, Amr says, but the Prophet Muhammad (s) preached that all men should be accepted into the faith.

In Bilal Mosque, I sit shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, within a circle of twenty men and boys. Amr consults with a leader of the prayer group about my presence and taking my photographs. A small man, with a light beard and gentle voice, he turns and responds in perfect English “let’s see, maybe after (the service), because I know that some brothers will have a problem with this.”

This evenings prayers and discussion is being led by another lightly bearded, married but altogether youthful looking man. Like the imam of Nür Mosque, he has notable abilities as a speaker. He makes eye contact around the circle and punctuates statements with a smile, as if to ask “You understand, yes? You do believe, right?”

After the service I snack on potato chips and soda, chatting with a couple of brothers on either side of me. Amr then calls me over to the main room to sit down on the carpet with him and two others. Their decision is no to photographs. They are seriously worried about negative media attention, specifically about alleged links between German mosques and terrorist activity. One of them mentions that state subsidies for the youth programs are at risk. Likewise, some well-meaning parents might keep their children from attending the mosque if they got the impression that extremism was being taught.

Later, I am struck by one of the men’s positive perception of Muslim life in the United States, based on anecdotes from friends and relatives in the country. Freedom of worship in the United States, he says, means fewer problems for women who wear veils than in Europe.

Burying a Brother

The Turkish Sehitlik Camii Mosque near Platz Luftbrücke is the only Berlin mosque with a dome, minarets, and other traditional Islamic décor. It used to be the Turkish embassy to Germany. Now, it serves a predominantly Turk-German congregation. I meet Amr, my host once again, this time for a funeral. Shorly on arrival, he interrupts our interview to say that we must be silent for the next few minutes. With a friend, he then distances himself physically to pray. He is two rows ahead as other figures gather. In total, we are six rows of about 120 total men. It is noon as the sun peaks from behind high, white clouds. Lying before us is the coffin, draped in black cloth with gold letters in Arabic.


The Sehtilik Mosque

The funeral is for a German convert to Islam. Remarkably, most of those attending did not know him personally. Amr claims to not have known him at all, neither what he looked like, nor how he died. He asks others and gets much of the same response. Yet, all have come en mass to pay their respects to a member of the community.

At the burial grounds, the graves are separated into Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sections. Only yards away from where the young man will be buried is a large headstone for Kaiser Wilheim II inside a small, fenced plot. The funeral continues, with preaching in Arabic. A man of Black African origins then summarizes what has been said in German. Amr translates for me, speaking softly. “The sermon was a reminder that we are all visitors on this earth. And a visitor must always leave the place that he visits. We came from nothing, dirt, dust, and will return to nothing: taking only our deeds with us as we go back to the Creator.”

The only sounds afterward are light street traffic, and occasional cries from the man’s wife. Her deceased husband’s parents comfort her. Then, the thumping of mounds of dirt against the coffin, as worshippers with shovels take turns filling in the grave. Muslims are generally buried in shrouds, but German law mandates the use of coffins.

The Fundamentalist

Amr and I sit down for an interview and a kosher Muslim lunch of roast hen, french fries, salad, and Coke. His beard has grown significantly since I first met him a couple of weeks ago. “By the way, you’re looking at a fundamentalist” he says from across the table. Amr says this with a keenness of how much the term fundamentalist is a watch word for terrorist in Western media and popular culture. However, he brushes off my attempts to distinguish it from the alternate, perhaps more politically correct fundamentalist extremist. These days, most legal authorities, media, and the general public do not bother to make the distinction anyway, he says.

Amr was raised in a devout Islamic household. He is familiar though, with the ways of the Western world from his education in an English-speaking school in Germany and his travels abroad. He speaks four languages – English, German, Arabic, and French – and is well-versed in the nuances of United States society. “I am a Muslim fundamentalist by choice”, he explains, a man who finds genuine insight and intellectual stimulation from the Koran and religious observance. One surmises from talking to him that he gets as much stimulation from Islam as he does from academia and his worldly appreciation of foreign cultures.

So how is Amr, a young fundamentalist Muslim treated by Western society? Echoing the others I spoke with, he feels generally respected by other Germans, but within an undercurrent of fear. On Berlin’s streets, trains, buses, and shops, Amr senses in others a wariness of his Arabic features and traditional, Islamic beard. He is particularly wary of trying to visit the United States for fear of being entered on a terrorist watch list; of being mistakenly detained and interrogated by authorities. Like so many other Arabic and Turkish men in Berlin that I spoke to, he asks that his true name and other specifics about his identity be omitted from this article.

“Islam is peace. If only people would dig deeper, they would find that”. On this point, Amr is most emphatic, stressing that this is what he wants me to leave with. He leans forward, holding his hand eloquently to the side of his face, expressing himself as a professor or an imam would. His large brown eyes hold steadily and benevolently.

Before lunch, Amr and I climb the white marble steps into the dome of Sehitlik Camii Mosque. Inside, an imam in a black, gold-colored rimmed robe and white cap is speaking in Turkish. Rows of adult men sit or kneel in front of him. A few elderly men sit on chairs or on steps at the back. Amr joins the men toward the front to listen and pray.

I absorb the view of the courtyard outside through large windows with wooden doors and the expansive interior. The dominant colors of the mosque are white, green, and gold on the high dome ceiling, marble columns, and wall to wall oriental carpet. The decor is intricate and inspired. Many spiritual people, religious or agnostic, would be moved by such a mosque’s beauty; it’s physical manifestation of man’s quest for spirituality and tranquility.

Amr returns from the front sits on the floor nearby, watching me as I observe everything else. From the nearest window, a white column of light shone down, illuminating his face and everything around him. The other figures closest are partially lit or remain in shadows.

Sitting down too, I see white prayer beads strewn beside a neatly coiled microphone on the rug next to one of the marble columns. It is time for everyone to pray as one. The imam sings the call from the front of the mosque. Then, a teenage boy with black-rimmed glasses, a white Muslim cap covering the black hair on his head, and a moustache and beard sprouting from his face stands directly beside me. He picks up the microphone beside the prayer beads and sings alternatively with the imam. Making neat rows, our feet adjoined, we all pray together, lifting our hands and bowing our heads in rhythm. For the moment, there is no tension with the outside world: only serenity among ourselves and God.

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