The Story of ‘Skateistan’

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

skate

Australian skateboard enthusiasts Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan started a quiet revolution in the Afghan capital of Kabul back in 2007 simply by riding their skateboards around the dusty war-ravaged city. The looks on the faces of the Afghan kids that happened upon them would be the catalyst that would drive the couple to create the very first skate park in the country. The Australian duo’s first skate park venture began with a small patch of land near an old fountain, three skateboards and a handful of interested kids.

Yet, as interest in skateboarding grew and the dangers of the reality of surviving in Kabul set in, both Percovich and Nolan knew that they needed something bigger and better. Thanks to help from donations adding up to over $650,000 and support from the Afghan Olympic Committee, ‘Skateistan’ recently opened its doors to any Afghan youth interested in learning to skateboard. The indoor skateboard arena measures a hefty 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) and is composed of several dizzying obstacles for the Afghan skateboarders to learn and master.

The first obstacle is the ‘baby ramp’ which beginners can learn to skateboard on and perfect their balance. The intermediary obstacles include a set of wooden stairs with a rail and curb followed by a mini ramp with extension. For advanced skateboarders there is the ‘rocket wall’, which is the park’s signature obstacle, and the ‘Afghan gap’ that is made up of two large quarter ramps with a gap in the middle for tricks. There are also novel obstacles littered in between the main attractions, which ensures that every skateboarder has somewhere to ride their board.

More than 200 Afghan skateboarders have already signed up for the skate park roster. Boys and girls from all socio-economic classes learn to skateboard together in a whole new world far removed from the atrocities that years of Taleban rule and the U.S.’s war have wreaked on the country. According to Skateistan’s official website, the founders mission statement declares that, “Skateboarding is a widely-loved platform through which young men and women from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can engage positively with each other. Considering the country’s recent political history, not to mention its longstanding social barriers, we believe that the community-building effects of skateboarding will be especially visible in Afghanistan. Skateistan’s mission is to build cross-cultural understanding and develop youth confidence, leadership, and life skills.”

Not everyone is happy about the success of the skate park. Sports in Afghanistan are considered to be exclusively for males. Women and girls are often deemed to be unsuitable for playing sports. But since skateboarding is so novel in Afghanistan, girls are enjoying the sport well under the radar. However, there have been some reports that a couple of female skateboarders have been beaten by male relatives to deter them from going back to the skate park.

The skateboard services of Skateistan are free for all Afghan children and include the free use of equipment, such as a helmet and skateboard. Off the ramps and obstacles, Afghan skateboarders are also privileged to the opportunity of receiving an education. Classrooms are located in the back of the skate park with subjects like English and Computer skills being offered. Due to the variety and expense of services the skate park offers there is an ever-growing need for volunteers and donors, which are actively sought on the official Skateistan website (www.Skateistan.org ).

While the location of Skateistan might be remote and not easily accessible for non-Afghans, the skate park is already gaining international recognition. This past December founder Oliver Percovich accepted the award for ‘Best Non-Governmental Organization of the Year’ in Monaco, which was presented under the auspices of His Highness Prince Albert II.

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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

January 9, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Your author takes his title from John LeClare; a popular British spy novel by that new title above for the subject today is a former Central Intelligence (CIA) operative, Robert Baer, who had come in from the “Cold” for the purpose of promoting his book The Devil We Know.  Baer was an operative in the Middle East with an expertise with Iran shortly before the Iranian Embassy crisis had begun.  His career with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) spanned twenty-five years before he began to have second thoughts.  He had come to the University of California, one of his alumna maters, campus to talk about his book, and to comment on the Obama’s Administration’s intensely controversial policy relationship with Tehran.

Early in his career he was part of the team to determine who was responsible for the Embassy take over.  During this period, Lebanon was to become part of Persia’s sphere of influence.  “Iran is not so much an opponent to the States than with Israel.”  After the 2006 War with Hezbollah, both the United States and Israel’s influence was driven out of Beirut’s territory.  Iran, thus, has become hegemonic in the eastern reaches of the Middle East.  Essentially, Iran had beaten Israel through proxy (Hezbollah).   Effectively, Tel Aviv did not know what “hit it!”   They were unable to comprehend their own intelligence — which they had been fundamentally at War which they lost.  

Baer considers the Anti-Zionist Shia much more discipled than the Sunni.  Robert Baer has a great deal of respect geopolitically for the Iranians.  “We need Iran…for a peaceful Middle East!”  To come to blows with their million man army, would be suicidal.  According to Bob Baer, their armed forces consume up to 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Further, culturally, they are a more culturally sophisticated than us, for Islam is more flexible than the Occident. 

As Iran backs Hamas, “Al-Qaida is an ideanot an org” as R. Baer, also, stated on the BBC today (January 5th).”  For peace we require Iran!  We have to treat them as a power, hegemonic within their region.  “We can’t use the Bush [Utopian] Doctrine.”  For one thing, “Tehran is in competition with Saudi Arabia.”  Further, “Khomeini isn’t a true Ayatollah.”  His support is in the army.  Washington respects the Iranians as a dynamic power for a peace between us.

“The greatest threat [to Persia] is demographic.”  That is, the imbalance between the growth of the younger generations and the middle and senior age groups.  We should be looking as a partner with them within the Gulf instead of being competitors.  “Iran can become troublesome.”  Therefore, we should “…talk to our opponents…or fail.”

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Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Liz Gooch, New York Times

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

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

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

They also share a husband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joe Sacco’s New Book

January 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Graphic novel on IDF ‘massacres’ in Gaza set to hit bookstores

By The Associated Press

selfportrait_sacco Fans say graphic novelist Joe Sacco has set new standards for the use of the comic book as a documentary medium. Detractors say his portrayals of the Palestinian conflict are filled with distortion, bias and hyperbole.

One thing is certain – the award-winning author of “Palestine” leaves few readers indifferent.

Sacco’s work has more in common with gonzo journalism than your Sunday comic strip: He travels to the world’s hot spots from Iraq to Gaza to Sarajevo, immerses himself in the lives of ordinary people, and sets out to depict their harsh realities – in unflinching ink and paper.

One of his biggest supporters is award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, who directed the 2008 Golden Globe winning cartoon ocumentary “Waltz for Bashir.”

“Whenever I’m asked about animation that influences me, I would say it’s more graphic novels. A tremendous influence on me has been Sacco’s ‘Palestine,’ his work on Bosnia and then Art peigelman’s ‘Maus,’” he said in a telephone interview.

“His work quite simply reflects reality.”

The American-Maltese artist’s latest book, “Footnotes in Gaza,” chronicles two episodes in 1956 in which a U.N. report filed Dec. 15, 1956 says a total of 386 civilians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – events Sacco said have been “virtually airbrushed from history because they have been ignored by the mainstream media.”

Israeli historians dispute these figures.

“It’s a big exaggeration,” said Meir Pail, a leading Israeli military historian and leftist politician. “There was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I don’t know of any massacre.”

Sacco’s passion for the Palestinian cause has opened him up to accusations of bias.

Jose Alaniz, from the University of Washington’s Department of Comparative Literature, said Sacco uses “all sorts of subtle ways” to manipulate the reader.

“Very often he will pick angles in his art work that favor the perspective of the victim: He’ll draw Israeli soldiers or settlers from a low perspective to make them more menacing and towering.”

Alaniz also said Sacco draws children “in such a way to make them seem more victimized.”

Sacco himself admits he takes sides.

“I don’t believe in objectivity as it’s practiced in American journalism. I’m not anti-Israeli … It’s just I very much believe in getting across the Palestinian point of view,” he said.

In “Palestine,” which won the 1996 National Book Award, Sacco reported on the lives of West Bank and Gaza inhabitants in the early 1990s. “Safe Area Gorazde,” which won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel, describes his experiences in Bosnia in 1995-96.

Sacco has been lauded by Edward Said, the renowned literary scholar and Palestinian rights spokesman, who said in his foreword to “Palestine”: “With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”

“Footnotes” – to be released in the United States on Tuesday – sees Sacco’s cartoon self, with the now trademark nondescript owlishly bespectacled eyes, plunge into the squalid trash-strewn, raw concrete alleys of Rafah, and its neighboring town of Khan Younis.

Sacco draws crowded narrow streets, full of prying schoolchildren and unemployed men. His desperate characters – fugitives, widows and sheiks – mix long past fact with fiction.

“What I show in the book is that this massacre is just one element of Palestinian history … and that people are confused about which event, what year they are talking about,” he said.

“Palestinians never seem to have had the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next is upon them.”

Sacco said in doing so he is trying to create a balance to what he calls the United States’ pro-Israeli bias.

A scene in “Palestine” shows an Israeli woman asking: “Shouldn’t you be seeing our side of the story?” Sacco’s cartoon self replies: “I’ve heard nothing but the Israeli side most of my life.”

Sacco says he puts himself into his comics because he wants his readers to see and feel what he does.

“I’m not pretending to be the all powerful, all knowing journalist god … I’m an individual who reacts to people who are sometimes afraid … On a human level, of course that colors the stories I’m telling.”

Folman, who both wrote and directed the 2008 animated documentary film about a 19-year-old Israeli soldier still troubled by nightmares about the Lebanon War, says Sacco has brought something rare to the cartoon genre.

“The way he illustrates says everything about the writing – it’s so unique, there is nothing quite like him,” he explained.

“I really admire the guy … And I feel from his work that we share exactly the same opinions about what’s happening in the Middle East … The day will come when I will meet him and hopefully work with him.”

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Funerals Burden Omani Families

January 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Sultan Qaboos mosque The Middle East region is world-renowned for the often lavish lifestyles of its citizens, as most wealthy Arab states boast all of the designer clothes, houses, yachts, cars and luxury items that anyone could ever shake a stick at. However, the sumptuous lifestyle often extends beyond the grave as funerals and the price tag of entertaining the ensuing mourners rivals that of any party amongst the living. 

No place is this reality more vivid than in Oman, where it is a tradition to have grand feasts fit for a king and his army following the departure of a loved one. Funeral expenses and the costs for providing food for those wanting to pay their respects are often astronomical, numbering in the thousands of dollars. It is not uncommon for a few hundred people to show up as a sign of respect for the deceased. The mourning period often lasts for three days and serving refreshments is expected. In a recent interview, Omani citizen Rahma Saif revealed that more than 200 people showed up at her home to mourn the death of her father, “It is draining both physically and mentally, not to mention the cost of the food. I cared for my father when he was ill for six months and did not sleep well during the time. Immediately after his death, I had to provide a feast for three consecutive days for 200 people each day,” Mourners often stay throughout the day well until the sun has set. Bereaved family members are often too exhausted from catering to the mourners that they do not have the time to mourn the very personal loss themselves.

The Omani government lends a helping hand in funeral costs for low-income families, however it is only a few hundred riyals, which barely covers the cost of the gravedigger and some Arabic coffee for the mourners. Poor families must dig deep into their savings or even sell off valuable possessions to provide a minimum of six square meals for the mourning guests.  In Saif’s case, she had to use all of her father’s savings to feed the mourners, which negated any possible inheritance for his family members.

Contrastingly, many rich Omanis have no problem in hosting a grand feast for mourners and relish in putting on a huge event. Unlike their low-income counterparts, wealthy Omani families have huge bankrolls to pay for the affair and a fleet of servants to tend to the mourners every whim. It’s not uncommon for a high-end funeral service to cost several thousands of dollars, as guests dine on 5-star meals from local upscale restaurants and drink only the finest beverages available.

Critics of the mourning period in Oman have accused our contemporary world of altering an age-old tradition meant to comfort the bereaved into simply an excuse to get a free meal. It’s not surprising that, with the current state of the global economic crisis, more and more people are attending funerals in Oman for the sole reason of getting their fill, turning the occasion into a festivity instead of a time of sadness and introspection. Many skeptics have called for the government to legally shorten the mourning period to one day and put a cap on funeral expenses. Others have called the practice unIslamic and a transgression against a fellow Muslim in his greatest hour of sorrow.

Unfortunately, societal norms might have the final word as many a man is judged, not by the deeds he committed in this world whether good or bad, but by the number of people who showed up at his funeral. And those he left behind cannot escape the rumor mills should they not provide a grand feast for mourners who might label them as miserly. 

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Muslims, in Concert with Jews, Perform Acts of Kindness on Christmas Holiday

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adapted from an Associated Press article by TMO

Detroit–December 25–Many Jews consider Christmas Day an opportunity to serve their community while Christian neighbors celebrate their holiday. This year, what’s also known as Mitzvah Day in southeast Michigan is getting an added boost from Muslims.

For the first time, about 40 Muslims joined 900 Jews for what they call their largest annual day of volunteering. Leaders say it’s a small but significant step in defusing tensions and promoting good will between the religions — particularly on a day that is sacred to Christianity, the third Abrahamic faith.

Mitzvah Day, a nearly 20-year tradition in the Detroit area also practiced in other communities, is so named because Mitzvah means “commandment” in Hebrew and is colloquially translated as a good deed.

The new partnership stemmed from a recent meeting between members of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — which said it was unaware of any similar Mitzvah Day alliances.

The Jewish groups organize Mitzvah Day, which consists of volunteers helping 48 local social service agencies with tasks such as feeding the hungry and delivering toys to children in need.

Victor Begg, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, said he was seeking a public way for the two faith communities to “build bridges of understanding and cooperation,” which led to joining the Mitzvah Day effort.

“These guys are really organized,” he explained to TMO, saying really there was no need for Muslim organizations to try to put together their own event when the event has already been sustained over a long period of time by the Jewish organizations.

“The general public is what we need to give the message to, our entire community,” he said.

Not only are most Muslims and Jews available to serve on Christmas Day, but leaders also recognized a shared commitment to community service. Charity in Judaism is known as “tzedakah.” Actually this Hebrew word is pronounced the same as sadaqa, which is an analogous Islamic term of doing charity.

“It’s an interesting parallel,” said Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “Both of our faiths predispose us to engaging in this sort of thing.”

Muslim and Jewish volunteers will work together at the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac, about 25 miles north of Detroit.

“We felt it was a perfect activity for people to be getting together like this because you work side by side with one or two other people as you’re moving the boxes,” Cohen said. “The grass-roots connection builds relationships on a personal level.”

Cohen said the local bonds are important given global animosities. He said Muslims and Jews here “have serious differences about what happens in the Middle East,” but that shouldn’t be the only dynamic defining their relationship.

Begg added the two faiths can set an example in the Detroit area, which has historically large Jewish and Muslim populations.

“Whatever happens in the Middle East, we have no control over it,” Begg said. “But here, our kids go to the same school, we work together. … We need to focus on building an inclusive community.”

Mitzvah Day is planned months in advance, so the number of Muslim participants is modest to start, but both groups expect it will grow. Next year proves challenging for Jewish volunteers because Christmas falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Details have yet to be worked out, though Cohen and others are considering moving Mitzvah Day. That would give Muslims the opportunity to try a solo run on Christmas, join Jewish groups on another day, or both.

Both Mr. Begg and Mitzvah Day organizers explained that next year it will be impossible for the Jewish organizations to do Mitzvah Day on Christmas Day because it falls on their Sabbath, Saturday, therefore 2010 might be an opportunity for CIOM and area mosques to do a similar event on their own.

The Muslim volunteers this year came mainly from two mosques, the Islamic Center of America, whose Eide Alawan has for decades been involved in community and interfaith outreach work, and Canton’s MCWS mosque, from which about 20 volunteers came.

“The bottom line is we really want to do it together,” Begg said.

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Community News (V12-I1)

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Salman Khan, Math tutor to the world

Salman-Khan The name Salman Khan evokes the images of a Bollywood personality. But there is another 33 year old with the same name who is changing the way people learn math and along the way changing lives of people for the better.

Salman Khan, a Mountain View resident, has posted 800 plus tutorial videos on his website the Khan Academy which interactively teach math at all levels. These videos are viewed 35, 000 times a day.

Salman Khan, who holds engineering and science degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School, says it all started in 2004 when he was tutoring his cousin Nadia, who was having having trouble with her math, through the telephone and Yahoo Doodle as a shared notepad. She ended up getting ahead in her class and also started tutoring her brothers.

Nephews and family friends soon followed. But scheduling conflicts and repeated lectures prompted him to post instructional videos on YouTube that his proliferating pupils could watch when they had the time.

Realizing the immense potential of his method and the possibilities of the internet Khan formed the Khan Academy, a non profit organization. The nonprofit generated thousands in advertising revenue this year through YouTube and could become self-sustainable as a one-person operation within a year. Khan is in talks with several foundations for capital that could enable him to expand the organization’s reach.

For his services Khan was awarded the 2009 Tech Award for Education. The Tech Awards website praises the Khan Academy as follows:

Millions of students around the world lack access to high quality instruction, especially in the sciences and math. The Khan Academy provides it for free in a way that can be accessed on-demand at a student’s own pace.

The videos are directly teaching tens of thousands of students on every continent on a daily basis. Other non-profit groups have even begun distributing off-line versions of the library to rural and underserved areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Lilburn sued for denying mosque permission

LILBURN, GA–The Dar-e-Abbas, a local Muslim congregation, is suing the the Lilburn city council for discrimination in denying the required zoning to build a mosque. The council had denied the zoning request citing traffic and other issues. The Muslim group says that the council caved into pressure from residents.
Doug Dillard, an attorney for the Muslim group told the WABE Radio, ‘There’s seven churches within a two mile radius of this facility. Within half of mile there’s a Baptist church. They have 110,000 square feet on 11 acres. We were asking for 28, 000 square feet on 8 acres, so it was clearly discriminatory and their decision had no basis.’

The congregation filed the lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits local governments from restricting land access to religious groups.

Madison mosque decision in Jan.

JACKSON, MI–The Madison County zoning board would decide in January whether to allow the Mississippi Muslim Association to build a mosque on US 51. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet on Jan 4.

The association owns five acres just north of the Madison city limits and proposes to build the Magnolia Islamic Center, a worship center to serve the 100-plus local families who now attend a mosque in south Jackson. The association has met resistance from nearby landowners and residents, who say the project is not the best use for the property.

The association earlier this month received conditional approval from the county’s planning commission for the site plan detailing the landscaping and building design.

The plans for the Islamic center call for a 10,000-square-foot, two-story building made of red brick with a standing seam metal roof. The first floor will contain the prayer hall, multi-purpose room, office, restrooms and kitchen. The second floor will contain a prayer hall, classrooms, restrooms and office. The building is based on a capacity of 650.

Toronto’s Muslim convention sends message of unity

TORONTO, Dec. 29, 2009–Speakers at a three day  Islamic convention held in Toronto on the weekend (Dec. 25-27) urged Muslims to live up to their responsibility to save the world. The Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention, in its eighth year, was attended by more than 15,000 people from across Canada and some from the US and elsewhere. The convention is unique as it is completely organized and managed by the youth.

The convention theme, SOS: Saving the Ship of Humanity,  hosted more than a dozen hi profile speakers from the USA, Canada, and the Middle East. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, the former minister of justice of Mauritania and a member of the Islamic Fiqh Council, said that Muslim youth must not forget the spiritual legacy of their predecessors bust must reconnect with that tradition.

Dr. Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, was another main speaker at the event and spoke on the universal message of Islam.

The convention saw a steady stream of people converting to Islam.

Dr. Tarek Al Suwaidan (a leading scholar and public speaker from Kuwait) spoke on Islam and the modern world. He said Muslims should look up to the character of Ali (RA)  as a role model for their own lives. He also spoke at length about Islam and science and criticised those who try to force in strange assertions in such an exercise. He stated that scientific facts can never contradict Islam but scientific theories can. He said the distinction should always be kept in mind.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf urged the assembled gathering to live up their responsibilities and fight for a sustainable and peaceful world. He said Muslims should shun bickering over minor issues and instead unite. He also said that Muslims should avoid indulging in takfeer of fellow Muslims.

Shaykh Habib Ali Al Jifri, Dr. Tareq Ramadan, Dr. Abdul Hakeem Murad, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Imam Zaid Shakir, and a host of other scholars spoke at the convention. 

Prominent Canadian politicians including Derek Lee and Liberal Finance critic John McCallum also spoke at the convention and appreciated the efforts of Canada’s Muslim youth to build an inclusive society.

The convention’s entertainment session featured live performances by Maher Zain, Irfan Makki, Junaid Jamshed, Bennami and Grammy award winning  Outlandish. The Allah Made Me Funny comedy troupe also performed.

As part of its social outreach the convention raised more than 1000 winter coats and close to 10,000 meals for the needy in the Greater Toronto Area.

The convention featured a large bazaar selling books, clothing, and other Islamic items. Prominently missing from this year’s convention were the packaged Halal food product companies. An interest free MasterCard from the UM Financial group was launched at the event.

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Book Review

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ayesha Jalal,Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.), $29.95.

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Madison (Wisc.)–With many contemporary books, I find myself merely skimming over the text.  (I think this comes from reading information over the computer.)  This book by Professor Jalal is too absorbing to do that, though. 

I was commissioned to do a scholarly a chapter on Jihadi websites here and in an abridged form in Orlando during early April.  I was encouraged to read Ayesha Jalal because it is the latest and most authoritative statement on Indian Jihadism.

Jalal goes into the fascinating South Asian history and theology of Jihad.  This is a challenging book to comprehend, but it is well worth it.

To a sincere traditional Jihadist, Shari a does not prohibit nationalist wars.  Therefore, a Jihad is not always a “physical” struggle for God (Allah [SWT]).  Still, some temporal rulers employ the concept against the “infidel” (both those who practice different forms of Islam and the non-Muslim), and, thus, in essence these rulers along with their militaristic entourages are imperialistic.  Still, there are those who believe that there is an intrinsic relationship between outward physical Jihad and violent resistance and faith in their concepts of religious concepts of personal and collective identity.

Nonetheless, Jihad has high ideals, but the tragic end to so many Jihadi fighters has led to a eulogistic and nostalgic fog concerning their actions.

Even such outstanding thinkers such as Muhammad Iqbal theorized on Jihad, but he saw Jihad in the original Arabic sense which denoted “a struggle within, or as he states in a poem:

“Jihad with death does not befit a warrior

One [who] has faith [is] alive and war[s] with himself.”

Iqbal’s originality gives elucidation to the love of God (i.e. Allah [SWT]).  Further, Muhammad Iqbal saw his poetry as an explication upon the Koran; consequently, therefore, he wrote upon his vision of inward Jihad “In…the ‘sword’ of men” which found expressed in his life, throughout.

Finally, in her study, Jalal brings Jihad into the contemporary period, and the perversion of the concept of Jihad amongst a minority of Muslims who have reinterpreted it as a violent struggle: “Equating Jihad with violence and terror makes a sheer tragedy of a concept… [that]… remains [at] the core of Islamic ethics.”

Dr. Jalal points to the lack of understanding by the counter-insurgent:  While The American-led [War on Terror until recently promoted] a military dictator in Pakistan [Musharraf] while seeking, at the same time, to spread democracy in the Middle East…”

Your critic considers Ayesha Jalal’s study to be an essential one on the subject.  It is important reading for all Muslims – especially here in the West – where one hears so much erroneous claims and counter-claims on Jihadism.  

Parisians of Allah is not only a book for education for Muslims, but the information presented can here help to explain the true nature of Islam to those outside the faith and to clarify the misrepresentation on many subjects to the non-Islamic world.

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Christmas Infectious in Middle East

December 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

-Christmas-Tree-Decorated Strands of colorful Christmas lights adorn the shop windows of too many stores to count, as employees decked out in red Santa hats greet customers with cheerful holiday grins. However, the setting is not in the suburbs of America but rather in the sand swept deserts of the Middle East. The majority of countries that make up the Middle East exercise religious freedom, which is in accordance with the religion of Islam. In many parts of the region Churches often reside on the same streets as Mosques and religious symbols, from Crucifixes to Buddhas, can be seen hanging from people’s necks and even rear view mirrors.

However, freedom of religion is primarily tolerated in the more liberal Gulf States while other Middle East countries, like Saudi Arabia, have a zero tolerance policy for any religion other than Islam. Churches and other religious buildings, other than Mosques, are strictly forbidden while displaying religious symbols in public are considered to be crimes punishable by imprisonment, lashings or deportation.

The large Christian population residing in the Middle East is the main reason why Christian holidays like Christmas are celebrated with such fanfare. The region is renowned for its’ hospitality towards guests. And encouraging a non-Muslim holiday to be celebrated in a Muslim country is just one of the many ways Gulf countries extend a hand of understanding to its non-Muslim inhabitants. Many Christians living in the Middle East put their own spin on Christmas and make it just as memorable as Christmases of the past back in their homelands.

In the city of Dubai, in the UAE, shoppers are greeted by a bedazzled 50-foot Christmas tree at Wafi City Mall which also boasts its very own ‘Santa’s Village’. In Kuwait, all of the 5-star hotels and restaurants offer a Christmas feast fit for a king as guests dine on roasted turkey with all the trimmings while Nat King Cole Christmas songs play in the background. The only thing missing from the menu is the Christmas ham, as pork is forbidden in most Middle East countries. However, it can still be found on the ‘Black Market’ most likely in an aluminum can or dried into meat jerky. In Bahrain, Christian members of the expatriate community often host their own Christmas parties and exchange gifts between one another. Christmas carols and singing programs are widespread in the western schools of most Gulf States.

And while Saudi Arabia forbids wanton public displays of religion, with the exception of Islam, the government does allow its expatriate community to celebrate Christmas within the privacy of their own homes. Granted, sticking a glittering Christmas tree in the front window could land any holidaymaker in the slammer, but an inconspicuous tree tucked safely away from being seen is acceptable. However, Christians in Saudi Arabia are hard pressed to find decorations for the aforementioned tree let alone the tree itself, although it is possible to find tinsel and baubles in the expatriate underground. Clever shopkeepers also do their part in offering a few Christmas items for their Christian customers. Tiny Christmas tree bulbs can often be found in the jewelry section of some stores and the odd plastic fir tree and even strands of lights can be found in the toy section, as many Asian expatriates use them year round to secularly decorate their homes. Many Christians in Saudi Arabia have also taken to making their own decorations, such as strings of popcorn and baked ornaments made of cinnamon paste.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) was an exemplar in religious freedom and never persecuted anyone based on his or her religious beliefs. So it is only natural for the holiday of Christmas to be welcome in the conservative Middle East, even though the degrees to which it is publicly celebrated varies as much as all those colorful bulbs strewn up on a tree.

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The Mythical European Umma

December 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Diab, Guardian

Muslims in Europe are secretly amassing an arsenal of the deadliest in biological weaponry: the demographic time bomb. The first phase of the Muslim invasion – or should I say reinvasion – of Europe has already begun with the deployment of an expeditionary force of womb-men: a fearsome army of mutant ninja warriors whose function is to go forth and multiply. Their turbo-charged and perhaps even genetically modified uteruses mass produce the deadly biological agent which is currently being stockpiled in Muslim homes across the continent.

And their mission: to create Eurabia – or, better said, since many European Muslims are not Arabs, to turn the EU into the European Umma. Having been driven out of Europe once and unable to reconquer it through force of arms, those crafty and cunning Muslims are back to do it through the Trojan horse of immigration and reproduction.

Some dismiss this demographic time bomb as being far-fetched and as fantastical as Saddam Hussein’s non-existent arsenal of WMD, but yet another smoking gun has been found in the Netherlands. Troubling evidence has emerged that Muhammad has become the most popular boy’s name in the country’s four biggest cities. And a similar situation is emerging in other European urban centres.

In fact, five centuries after the reconquest of Granada, that last Muslim stronghold, Eurabia has established its first de facto capital in Rotterdam. And when the number of Muhammads and other assorted Mohammedans become a majority over the coming century – as the great Bernard Lewis warned – they will form an army of mujahideen of Talibanesque horror which will subjugate the natives and make them live as second-class dhimmis under sharia law.

As far-fetched conspiracy theories go, the Eurabia myth is one of the most persistent and dangerous of recent years – and the Daily Telegraph fanned the controversy this month with its claims that it had carried out an investigation which revealed that the EU’s Muslim population would jump from the current 4-5% to an improbable 20% by 2050.The six-paragraph article gives no indication of how the projections were arrived at, nor the assumptions upon which they were based. In fact, as the BBC pointed out in a piece debunking a popular YouTube hit on “Muslim Demographics”, population projection is an inexact science. It cites, as an example, the projections made in the 1930s that the UK’s population would fall to 20 million by the end of the 20th century.

Most projections that foresee a massive increase in Europe’s Muslim population are based on certain assumptions which are hard to justify. They assume that recent immigration trends will continue indefinitely for decades to come, but this is unlikely as Europe continuously raises the immigration bar for non-EU citizens, and it is not far-fetched to expect that many European countries may call a halt to immigration or draw their future immigrants from certain more “desirable” countries. The projections also assume that European Muslims will continue to have a significantly higher fertility rate than the population at large. But evidence suggests that the fertility rates of Muslim women are gradually converging with those of the wider population. And there are signs that the fertility rate among the white population of some European countries, such as France, is recovering.

So, given that the only hard facts we can be sure of is that a small minority of about 4% of the EU’s population is Muslim, why is this fear of a coming Eurabia so strong in certain quarters? Many of the biggest proponents of the Muslim demographic time bomb myth are cheerleaders of and apologists for US imperialism in the Middle East, such as Bat Y’eor and Bernard Lewis.

Some Europeans, particularly from conservative and Christian circles and the intolerant wing of liberalism, have fallen for the myth for a variety of reasons. One is the relatively rapid shift in western Europe towards multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in recent decades, which has caused a certain sense of alienation and insecurity, especially for those whose economic security has been undermined by neo-liberal economics and globalisation. Other reasons are the massive lifestyle and social changes. These have caused distress for traditionalists and people who still identify themselves as Christian: they have seen their religion die a slow death, while Islam seems to go from strength to strength.

Then, there is the plain old fear stoked by the overexposure given to the most intolerant Islamic fringe groups and individuals. Certainly, there are some European Muslims who want to live according to sharia and there is even a lunatic fringe who would like to see Europe incorporated into some fantastical global caliphate. But Muslims in Europe are not some unified, monolithic force. Not only are they ethnically diverse and from communities that are not the greatest fans of each other – consider the animosity between Moroccans and Algerians, for example – they are also as varied ideologically as the rest of the population.

Although Muslims tend to be more religious and conservative than the rest of society, there are also plenty of secular, non-practising, cultural and even non-believing Muslims. In addition, it is impossible to tell what kind of identities future European Muslims will have, but I suspect that the future cultural fault lines in Europe will not run along traditional religious lines, but will pit believers against non-believers, creating a kind unity of purpose between conservative Muslims and Christians intent on preserving faith in a “Godless Europe”. While Eurabia is a fantasy, Europe is almost certainly going to become more diverse in the future, and so a debate is worth having about how to adapt to this reality and what constitutes citizenship in an increasingly mobile world.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

mall_of_the_emirates_dubai_03

Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Stolen glances, quiet giggles and flushed faces are just a few of the hallmarks of mingling with the opposite sex in the Middle East. Dating is wholly unacceptable and considered politically incorrect in the conservative Gulf region, which applies the letter of the Islamic law when it comes to relations between members of the opposite sex. However, as with most social aspects of life that governments attempt to control, where there is a will there is a way.

Tweens, teens and twenty-some things in the Middle East have come up with their own brand of dating that is not only secretive but also kept largely away from the public eye. Since a suitor driving up to a girl’s home is not an option, many Arab youths have capitalized on the abundance of luxury malls in the region. Many boys and girls cruise the malls looking for someone that catches their eye. Most malls are so enormous that is it easy to slip away from one’s family should the occasion arise. And while the ‘hunt’ may be extremely public, communications are kept excruciatingly secret. In many cases the boy will walk past a girl that catches his eye and slip his phone number to her on a piece of paper. It’s really up to her what she does with it, as some girls might call the boy and others may simply crunch the paper into a nearby garbage can. And in other cases both boys and girls interested in this new form of dating use technology to hook up.

Bluetooth cellular phone technology is the biggest ally for Arab youths wanting to find that special someone. Amorous boys and girls often send out random Bluetooth messages in both Arabic and English. Then they wait to see who will respond and reply back. It’s a little known fact that Bluetooth messaging has ignited countless numbers of romances in the Gulf. Unfortunately, many married men and women that happen to have their Blue Tooth switched on in the vicinity often get caught up in the wide-scoped message, which can create suspicion within their own union.

Once the match is made, actually going out on a date is almost a mission impossible. In the conservative Middle East, males enjoy more freedom than their female counterparts. For a girl to successfully get away from her parent’s watchful eyes she would have to lie and, most likely, enlist the help of some of her girlfriends to turn the date into a reality. And the date itself typically takes place on a local beach or garden, as it would be impractical to go to a restaurant or even the movies.

Two of the most relaxed Middle Eastern countries, when it comes to cruising for dates, are Kuwait and Bahrain. The opportunities for meeting are immense and there is very little enforcement when it comes to youths of the opposite sex scoping each other out. Contrastingly, Saudi Arabia takes a hard line against co-mingling and has its own religious police force to maintain segregation between the sexes. Even the UAE is becoming more stringent when it comes to public displays of affection.

The reality of this secretive form of dating is that Arab youths are dealing with adult issues that they may not be ready to cope with due to lack of sexual education in the region. They also lack parental support and intuition since the dating falls far below most parent’s radar. It’s very common to read in local newspapers about a young girl running off with a boyfriend. Instances of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and ‘date rape’ are on the rise. Unfortunately, due to the secretive nature of relationships between youths in the Gulf and most Arab governments unwillingness to admit that there is a problem, statistics revealing the magnitude of the issue are not readily available.

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Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Schachtman, Wired Magazine

Even worse…

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military depends on an array of drones to snoop on and stalk insurgents. Now it looks as if insurgents are tapping into those same drones’ broadcasts, to see what the flying robot spies see. If true — and widespread — it’s potentially one of the most serious military security breaches in years.

“U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds,” Wall Street Journal reports. “In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.”

How’d the militants manage to get access to such secret data? Basically by pointing satellite dishes up, and waiting for the drone feeds to pour in. According to the Journal, militants have exploited a weakness: The data links between the drone and the ground control station were never encrypted. Which meant that pretty much anyone could tap into the overhead surveillance that many commanders feel is America’s most important advantage in its two wars. Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones that are the focal point for the secret U.S. war in Pakistan.

Using cheap, downloadable programs like SkyGrabber, militants were apparently able to watch and record the video feed — and potentially be tipped off when U.S. and coalition forces are stalking them. The $26 software was originally designed to let users download movies and songs off of the internet. Turns out, the program lets you nab Predator drone feeds just as easily as pirated copies of The Hangover.

And here’s the real scandal: Military officials have known about this potential vulnerability since the Bosnia campaign. That was over 10 years ago. And, as Declan McCullagh observes, there have been a series of government reports warning of the problem since then. But the Pentagon assumed that their adversaries in the Middle East and Central Asia wouldn’t have the smarts to tap into the communications link. That’s despite presentations like this 1996 doozy from Air Combat Command, which noted that that “the Predator UAV is designed to operate with unencrypted data links.”

If you think militants are going to be content to just observe spy drone feeds, it’s time to reconsider. “Folks are not merely going to listen/watch what we do when they intercept the feeds, but also start to conduct ‘battles of persuasion’; that is, hacking with the intent to disrupt or change the content, or even ‘persuade’ the system to do their own bidding,” Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, tells Danger Room.

This has long been the nightmare scenario within Pentagon cybersecurity circles: a hacker not looking to take down the military grid, but to exploit it for his own purposes. How does a soldier trust an order, if he doesn’t know who else is listening — or who gave the order, in the first place? “For a sophisticated adversary, it’s to his advantage to keep your network up and running. He can learn what you know. He can cause confusion, delay your response times — and shape your actions,” one Defense Department cybersecurity official tells Danger Room.

Despite this rather massive vulnerability, drone operations show no signs of letting up. According to the Associated Press, “two suspected U.S. missile strikes, one using multiple drones, killed 17 people in a Pakistani tribal region.”

Meanwhile, military officials assure are scrambling to plug the hole. “The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones,”  the Journal notes. “Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes.”

So it may be quite some time before this enormous security breach is filled.

– Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman

American Hikers in Iran Are Too Useful to Release

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

William O. Beeman, Commentary, New America Media

NAM Editor’s Note: American hikers Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd are a precious catch for Iran, which is hoping to get some political mileage from their detention, observes NAM contributor William Beeman. Bauer freelanced for NAM.

the-three-hikers

Three Americans, journalist Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd, have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009 for entering the Islamic Republic from Iraq at a remote mountain border without visas. Now, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki has announced that they will be tried in Iranian courts. It is likely they will be charged with espionage.

The three Americans appear to have strayed innocently into Iranian territory, but they have provided an unusually strong opportunity for the Iranian government to continue to engage the United States in tit-for-tat attacks.

Superficially, the detention and eventual trial of these three individuals resembles the earlier detention of a number of Iranian Americans traveling in Iran, the most recent being journalist Roxana Saberi, who was released last summer after having been charged with espionage. Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh remains in custody facing a 12-year jail sentence after his espionage conviction.

The case against Bauer and his friends provides many political advantages to the Iranian government.

First, there can be no question that people who stray over international borders without proper documentation are subject to scrutiny and legal action. Here, the Iranians have an open and shut justification for holding the three hikers, and can claim indisputable high legal ground for their actions.

Second, Iran wants to make the point that foreign spies are operating in its sovereign territory. The United States has admitted to maintaining operatives in Iran, as has Israel. Israel has even bragged about assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist. Thus, although the three Americans are probably not spies, they serve as reminders to the Iranian public and to the international community of the real spies that Iranian authorities have not caught.

Third, Iran has reportedly linked the American detainees to 11 Iranians that have been held by U.S. federal officials, as reported by Laura Rozen in the blog, Politico . These individuals are charged with violating export laws — essentially by supplying arms and military equipment to Iran. They were arrested in several European countries, and have been held incognito and incommunicado for more than a year in some cases. The Iranians certainly hope to see movement on releasing these detainees.

Iran also charges the United States with engineering the disappearance of nuclear researcher Shahram Amiri during his pilgrimage to Mecca last spring.

Finally, the Iranian government is desperate for a distraction from the unprecedented opposition disturbances in protest of the June 12 presidential elections. December 18 marks the beginning of the month of Muharram, when Shi’a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (s), murdered in 680 C.E. There will be street processions, religious demonstrations and ritual mourning for 10 days. This is the perfect smokescreen for anti-government demonstrations.

To add to the government consternation, sections of the regular Iranian military have threatened to emerge from their barracks to protect “the people” from the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and Basij units that have been attacking the anti-government opposition. A big show trial against “foreign spies” will reinforce the Iranian government claims to its own citizenry that all the troubles in the Islamic Republic today are being fomented by foreign agents.

It is clear that both the United States and Iran have a lot of human traffic to account for on each others’ soil. The real impediment to sorting out these matters is that the United States and Iran still have no comprehensive way to talk to each other. Moreover, there is too much to be gained in both nations by mutual demonization to move forward toward rational discussion. Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program remains a red herring, preventing any real progress in reaching an accord between the two nations.

For the hapless hikers, the worst-case scenario is one where they get caught up in the maelstrom of events that have nothing to do with their meager crime, and end up as object lessons in the mutual hostilities between Iran and the West.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and is past president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His most recent book is “’The Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.” (Chicago, 2008).

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Paan—Red-Stained Scourge of the Middle East

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Paan2_new For many residents of Kuwait, litter and pollution have taken a back seat to a more heinous environmental disaster. As the tiny Gulf State continues to looks for ways to improve its global reputation as a country that cares for the environment, at least one segment of the society is determined to pollute the landscape as mindlessly as they can.

It used to be that second-hand cigarette smoke was at the top of everyone’s list of noxious pollutants. However, in many parts of the Middle East, poor Southeast Asian laborers have dotted the landscape with their own homemade pollutant. Commonly known as “Paan”, which is a concoction of natural and chemical substances bundled into a Betel leaf, this chewing-tobacco like substance creates dark red tinged saliva, which the person chewing it usually spits out at any available target. Paan stains can be found outside of buildings, inside elevators, at bus stops and just about anywhere the public shares a common place. As a result, the spit stains its target thus leaving a blood-like appearance on the surface. Most residents would agree that the red hued Paan stains are more offensive than graffiti especially since they contain millions of disease carrying bacteria.

Many business owners in Kuwait have called upon the Kuwaiti government to intervene. Paan is banned in Kuwait, as most of the ingredients are forbidden entry into the country. However, it is widely available on the Black Market, as clever businessmen have found ways to smuggle the ingredients into the country. Since Paan is more affordable than cigarettes, it is a hot commodity with an eager market. Yet enforcing a law against Paan could be difficult, as it would really entail looking in the mouths of every possible offender. However, Paan-spewing crimes might soon appear in Public Service Announcements (PSA) that already educate the public about litter and saving water. Perhaps future PSA’s will include proper receptacles for spitting as well as the dangers of chewing it.

2052708660_1 Paan is just as deadly, if not more so, than cigarette smoking. Since the Paan rests against the interior of the mouth when it is chewed, it can cause a host of oral mouth cancers that affect the throat, cheeks and tongue. Treatment for the cancers may involve the removal of the entire jaw or portion of the mouth.  Chewing Paan also permanently stains the teeth red and causes the gums to recede, which can cause the teeth to fall out prematurely.  And it also creates severely bad breath and is fast becoming a social stigma.

Kuwait is not the only Gulf state suffering from Paan chewing and the by-products of the habit. Dubai has seen its share of Paan stained surfaces and is cracking down hard on anyone who chews or sells it. According to the Director General of the Municipality, Hussain Nasser Lootah, anyone partaking in Paan will face harsh penalties, which includes a fine and deportation. The Dubai government has also offered a $1400 reward for anyone that offers information about people who sell or chew Paan. The municipality recently launched an awareness campaign by distributing leaflets to inform the public about the dangers and unhygienic nature of Paan chewing. In addition, the Dubai government has also launched a media campaign in local newspapers and magazines informing the public about the new laws that will punish Paan dealers and chewers to the fullest extent of the law. 

Even European countries are not spared from Paan staining their capitals, as more and more Southeast Asian immigrants flood to the region looking for a better life. London, for example, is just one city that has recently faced a spat of red-tinged spittle staining its most treasured landmarks.

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Iran: Time To Leave The NPT?

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nader Bagherzadeh & Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich

Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) acknowledges the “inalienable right” of non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) to research, develop, and use nuclear energy for non-weapons purposes. The NPT also supports the “fullest possible exchange” of such nuclear-related information and technology between nuclear weapons states (P5) and non-nuclear weapons states. Iran, a NNWS has been denied its “inalienable rights” while support and the exchange of nuclear-related information has been withheld. This begs the question why Iran should continue to honor the NPT?

Indications are that Tehran did not believe that in the international arena, its biggest foe would be injustice. When former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton was busy engineering completely illegal sanctions against Iran, it was with the goal of testing Tehran’s patience in the hope of having it exit the NPT so that he could muster up support for yet another war against an Islamic country in the Middle East. But Iran remained steadfast and in sharp contrast to the United States, it continued to respect international laws in the firm belief that justice would prevail. It did not.

Since 2003, the IAEA has consistently failed its obligations towards Iran as defined by the 1974 Safeguards Agreement. It has failed to facilitate refueling of a small reactor in Tehran, used mostly for short-lived medical isotopes. It has cancelled several key technical assistance programs with Iran, some of them related to nuclear safety issues, under pressure from the US. At America’s behest, the IAEA has become a conventional weapon inspector agency, seeking information about national secrets of Iran related to missiles and conventional bomb making capabilities; which is completely outside of its jurisdiction, as spelled out in the 1974 agreement. In violation of Article 9 of the 1974 Agreement, the IAEA has shared Iran’s sensitive nuclear technology with member nations, as well as outside nuclear experts with dubious connections to Iran’s enemies. And most importantly, the Agency with tremendous pressure from US, has elevated a technical non-compliance matter to the level Chapter 7 UNSC sanctions, which should have been used when there is a clear indication of a nuclear weapons program.

The Agency’s clear violation of Iran’s rights under the NPT leads one to wonder if the IAEA is ever going to clear Iran’s file and revert it back to the normal status while the US is exerting pressure. It is unrealistic for Iran’s leadership to assume that by fully engaging the IAEA, sometime in the near future, this agency, working against the wishes of Obama’s administration, will clear Iran’s path to have nascent enrichment capability. After all, the so called “laptop” filled with mostly fabricated information against Iran’s nuclear programs did not show up until it was clear that the IAEA was going to declare 6 outstanding concerns on Iran’s past nuclear activities were no longer valid.

Although Obama has extended his hand towards Iran, the policy of “zero-enrichment” has not changed an iota from Bush’s policy. When Obama chose Gary Samore and Dennis Ross to handle Iran’s nuclear case, it was obvious that Obama did not have any major changes in mind, and the goal was to use a softer approach to gather more support for putting pressure, or as Ross calls it “bigger sticks.” Moreover, a recent trip by Ross to Beijing to convince Chinese leadership to sign up for more sanctions against Iran on behalf of Obama, shows that not only Ross was not marginalized after he was transferred from the State Department to the White House, but he is practically in the driver’s seat for Obama’s Iran policy.

In addition to the West’s shaping of IAEA’s illegitimate position on Iran’s nuclear file, relentless fabricated attacks by the western media has finally resulted in portraying Iran as an outlaw when it comes to the nuclear activities. The propaganda machine led by the likes of Fred Hiatt of Washington Post and Nicolas Goldberg of Los Angeles Times, have helped create such an environment that a recent Pew poll showed that more than 50% of Americans support a US military strike against Iran while the U.S. is in a quagmire in the graveyard of the empires – Afghanistan, and continues to be engaged in its sixth year war in Iraq.

The latest IAEA’s report which continued its demands from Iran to go beyond its obligations under the NPT safeguards and Subsidiary Arrangement Code 3.1 is another misrepresentation of the truth by the Agency. Iran’s Majlis (parliament) never approved this code which requires reporting any nuclear project at the point of inception. It is ironic that a major NPT member (i.e. US) is allowed to threaten Iran’s nuclear facilities with military strikes, but when Iran rightfully wants to prevent that from happening by using passive defensive majors, she is censured by the Board.

Iran’s continued cooperation with the IAEA may be a call for equality. Their security in pursuing their goal stems from the justness of their cause, itself a compelling reason to delay a war with the US. However, this cooperation is not serving the development of peaceful nuclear energy in Iran. The Agency has been a tool in the hands of major powers and it does not seem that the status will change anytime soon. The way Obama is pushing the chess pieces against Iran by seeking an oil embargo and crippling sanctions, he may be boxed into a war, even if he is ostensibly against it. Perhaps it is time for Iran to reconsider her membership and leave the NPT.

Dr. Nader Bagherzadeh is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Irvine, California.

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich has a Master’s in Public Diplomacy from USC Annenberg. She is an independent researcher and writer.

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When the Floodwaters Rose

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

floods

This past week, just prior to the Eid al Adha holidays, the Gulf regions of the Middle East saw exceptional rainfall that caused massive flooding, death and destruction. Nowhere was the rain more violent than in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Meteorologists have estimated that approximately 90 millimeters of rain fell in just under six hours.

The Red Sea port city of Jeddah was affected the most by the sudden and unexpected burst of showers. More than 100 people died, with that number expected to rise as the murky waters recede and possibly reveal more bodies beneath the mud. A lot went wrong on what is being touted as ‘The Wednesday Disaster’ and most of it could have been prevented.

Financial corruption, big business and living above the laws are just a few of the charges that angry Saudi Arabian citizens are leveling at their own government. However, the city of Jeddah is a low-lying area, which is prone to flooding. Questions are now being raised about whether or not the areas hardest hit should have been inhabited at all. New projects in the region have also come under scrutiny, such as the ‘Abdullah Bridge and Tunnel’, which was completely inundated by the floodwaters. The lack of drainage maintenance has also been an ongoing problem in Jeddah for more than three years as most drains and sewers are inoperable, clogged with debris.

Citizens had little to no warning about the impending rainfall and flooding. The majority of those who died were trapped inside cars or buses and drowned to death. Those who survived were left stranded for hours, as civil authorities did not have the appropriate equipment, skills or training to launch a massive search and rescue operation. The entire incident is reminiscent of the emergency services fiasco following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

By all calculations, Saudi Arabian security personnel may have been spread a bit too thin as the Kingdom hosted an estimated 3 million pilgrims during the recent Hajj season. The government put most of its energy and resources into ensuring that worshippers were safe while performing Islam’s most holy rituals. All measures were taken to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus with medical staff on alert around the clock. Security forces also had to keep a watchful eye as pilgrims tested out a new bridge meant to diversify traffic from congested areas to prevent stampedes, which have plagued past Hajj seasons. The clouds opening up and unleashing waves of fury upon unsuspecting residents took most everyone by surprise.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has ordered an all-inclusive investigation into the flooding disaster. The governor of Makkah, which includes the city of Jeddah, Prince Khalid bin Faisal will head up the inquiry. According to the state-run news agency, King Abdullah was quoted as saying, “We cannot overlook the errors and omissions that must be dealt with firmly.” King Abdullah has also stepped in to ease the suffering of the flood victims. He has ordered the Ministry of Housing to make available more than 2,000 apartments for flood victims whose homes were lost or damaged due to the flooding. King Abdullah has also earmarked more than $260,000 compensation for each flood victim’s family.

However, despite the Saudi government’s attempts to make things right, public sentiment is still turning sour. Since public protests are banned in the Kingdom, disgruntled citizens have taken their complaints to the Internet. The social-networking media mogul, Facebook, has been the heir apparent for the Saudi Arabian people and their supporters to vent some good old-fashioned anger. The most popular page on Facebook is the ‘Popular Campaign to Save the City of Jeddah’. Within in only days of the page’s creation, more than 11,000 users joined and an estimated 22,000 comments were written. One of the cyber protestors wrote, “We’ve been talking about this issue for years. Everybody knew this disaster was coming. There’s only one reason: it’s corruption.”

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Swiss Vote Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

December 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Juan Cole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mideast Firms Ramp Up in Iraq, Western Firms Trail

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Deepa Babington

2009-11-27T155315Z_1505821627_GM1E5BR1TSO01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-OIL

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

REUTERS/Atef Hassan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US is Small Fry Outside Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Journey of a Lifetime

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

2009-11-24T065219Z_497529973_GM1E5BO15BZ01_RTRMADP_3_HAJJ The journey to attend the Hajj pilgrimage is an essential pillar of Islam that all Muslims of means must perform at least once in a lifetime. Pilgrims from all over the world began to pour into the holy city of Makkah weeks ago with an estimated 2.5 million Muslims expected to perform the Hajj rituals this year.

The Hajj season has, for years, presented a host of difficulties for Muslims performing the sacred journey, which reveals the fleeting nature of the material world we live in. However, this year has revealed even more trials that pilgrims will have to cope with. The primary concern is, of course, the H1N1 virus. Before the pilgrimage has even commenced, 20 pilgrims have been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus while 4 people had died. Many of the pilgrims have been inoculated against the deadly H1N1 virus, however many have not. And recent scenes coming out of Makkah via satellite television show that only a handful of the masses are donning the infamous white surgical masks as a means of prevention. More than 20,000 medical personnel have been dispatched throughout the city and in the city of Medina to cope with H1N1 virus as well as other maladies that pilgrims may become afflicted with. Pilgrims arriving at the airport are being screened for H1N1 symptoms before they enter the Kingdom and the government has ordered a veritable army of doctors to be on duty around the clock.

This Hajj season also sees renewed tensions erupting between the Saudi Arabian government and the Iranian government over the way the latter perceives its pilgrims have been discriminated against during past pilgrimages. The war of words between both governments exploded recently when Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei said, “Such acts are against the unity of Muslims and contribute to the goals and wishes of the US and foreign intelligence services. The Saudi government should fulfill its duty in confronting these acts.” To which the Saudi Arabian government retorted, “The kingdom does not permit any party to disrupt the security of the pilgrims or to attempt to divide the ranks of Muslims.” It is a very really concern this hajj season that sectarian violence could break out during Islam’s most holy occasion. More than 100,000 security personnel have been dispatched to maintain order and keep the pilgrims safe.

The current hajj season also marks the unveiling of a newly built bridge that will help diversify the traffic at one of the most important areas of the Hajj – the Jamarat or ritual ‘Stoning of the Devil’. This area is the most highly congested and where stampedes have occurred in the past killing pilgrims. The most horrific stampede occurred in 2006 when 364 pilgrims were crushed to death and scores more were maimed or injured. The 5-storey walkway is over 3,000 feet long and over 260 feet wide. It was built at a cost of over $1 billion and the Saudi government hopes that it will facilitate pilgrims as a safe passageway while simultaneously assisting them in fulfilling a Hajj rite.

And as if the dark cloud looming over this year’s hajj could not get any bigger, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of a coup by extremists who seized the Grand Mosque in a stunning act of aggression that sent shockwaves reverberating around the world. Saudi Arabian and French security personnel eventually stormed the mosque in a bloody battle that cost hundreds of lives.

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The Great American Fraud

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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