Nathan Brown: Arab Democratic Movements

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Today is a hot (unusually muggy day from a hurricane a [thousand miles south] off the Pacific Coast of Mexico).  I am looking back to  a discussion documented in my notebooks in Berkeley with Nathan Brown and Mohammed Hafez–Brown is not Muslim, but he is a great scholar of Islam.  Professor Brown spoke to those present on understanding Islamicist politics and their electoral opposition to the often corrupt parties in power in their nation states.

Islamist Arab Parties – especially in Egypt – have had great successes in elections, but they almost never win. 

Mainstream “democracy” is manipulated by Arab leaders.  This is why Islamist Parties mostly refuse to take part in elections and often react violently by resisting against their rulers and their pseudo-“Parliaments.”  On the other hand, examples can be had in the victory of the Islamic Parties in Algeria which the Party in power refused to  recognize the results leading to a protracted civil war.  Another instance can be found in the Gaza 2006 election that Jimmy Carter and his observation team described as the fairest that they had ever witnessed, but both Israel and the United States and Egypt refused to recognize! 

Outside the Islamic world political Islamicism is equated with Nazism, but “It is more like [European] ‘Christian’ Democracy in that it, too, makes a religious reference to its politics.”  The slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Be prepared!” which resonates from the Koran itself, and is on the visual crest of the Party.  The Brotherhood began as a secular movement to help individuals to become better Muslims, but later its philosophy flowed into politics.

Dr. Brown maintained that “Elections in the Middle East have predicable results, but uncertain rules.”  For the most part they are designed for the government to win.  Those Islamists who contend find it  advantageous for them (see my article on Da’wa and Democratic Politics in a back issue of this  publication) although they are “not recognized as a full political party” by the establishment.  Yet they are able to weather a harsh political climate. 

They are “highly ideological, and enforce their principles;” so, that they “will not rupture into discordant fissures although debate and schism has arisen over minute issues.”

Hard decisions have to be made over elections.  Elections can raise the primacy of politics over religion which is always a concern amongst devout people.

11-37

Breastfeeding Rates too Low Despite Global Education Programs

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

mother-and-child Despite widespread awareness of the importance of breastfeeding to the human child, mothers in developed countries demonstrate low rates of compliance with global recommendations. Nursing past six months is the exception rather than the rule. Bottle-feeding infants has become normal. Exclusive and extensive breastfeeding has become a pastime primarily for the rich with some interesting exceptions. Nordic countries exhibit the overall highest European breastfeeding rate with England ranking lowest. UAE ruling class mothers exclusively breastfeed the longest among Arabs while Iraq suffers the lowest breastfeeding rates. US Whites and Native Americans are most likely to breastfeed while Blacks and Hispanics are the least likely.

Class plays a large role in decision to breastfeed, for far fewer women belonging to the routine and manual labor socio-economic group nurse beyond six weeks than is typical of professional women and full time mothers. Yet, religion and philosophy also affect women’s decision to breastfeed. In Singapore non-Malay Muslim women are 6.7 times more likely to breastfeed than Buddhist women although Malays have the lowest rate. Urban babies receive half the breast milk of rural babies. The youngest mothers tend to supplement with bottles from birth.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF work hard to promote breastfeeding worldwide, but their success is undermined by factors such as free infant formula distribution, hospital practices and lack of personal support. Breastfeeding is a learned skill requiring effort and focus. Good intentions are not always enough to establish lactation. “Baby-friendly hospital” initiatives in many countries have significantly increased breastfeeding but rates are still well below optimum health guidelines.

Almost all new mothers attempt breastfeeding but few continue for the recommended period. According to UNICEF the early introduction of bottle-feeding and complementary food leads to premature weaning, the primary cause of malnutrition in children under age two worldwide.

Many women give up nursing in favor of bottle-feeding out of a sense of powerless over the situation. These mothers often wanted very much to nurse their child, but they lost their chance. Hospitals fail to promote exclusive breastfeeding of newborns. Most new mothers receive free samples of formula because of multi-million dollar deals between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and come home with their babies already addicted to the bottle. Coaxing a newborn child to breastfeed after he has been bottle-fed even just once or twice can be a big struggle. Success may be impossible without the aid of a midwife or lactation counselor because unfortunately even the older generation of mothers lack sufficient knowledge.

When newborns reject the breast, mothers typically try for a while, then give up and supply a bottle. This teaches the baby that refusing to nurse will be rewarded. Parents must exercise “tough love” by declining to give the baby a bottle even if it takes several hours or even days for the baby to nurse willingly. (If the baby gets dehydrated, do give him water with a cup or medicine dropper, but introducing a bottle creates “nipple confusion” which is disastrous for the mother-child relationship).

Some women give up on breastfeeding because the husband insists. This tragedy reveals a stripping away at women’s postnatal rights and sets a dangerous precedent. Nursing a baby is an exhausting and time-consuming job requiring family help, encouragement, and support especially from the father to enable mother and child to be together undisturbed as much as possible particularly during the first 40 days of the baby’s life.

Many women manage to make it through those hardest days in the beginning and then stop breastfeeding after a few weeks out of fear of insufficient milk supply. These mothers need to increase their consumption of calories and to get adequate rest. Under no circumstances should they give their baby a bottle because this will only decrease the supply of breastmilk. Sometimes it is actually the doctor’s advice to start feeding their babies solids before 6 months that leads to premature weaning. A mother needs to weigh the fun of spoon-feeding her infant against the risk of premature rejection of the breast.

Thus bottle-feeding rates remain high despite awareness that breastmilk alone contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones and immune factors that a baby needs.

“Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding has to become a high priority in all sectors of society,” said Dr. Mahendra Sheth, UNICEF Regional Health and Nutrition Adviser for the Middle East and North Africa. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by complementary feeding between 6-9 months with continued breastfeeding through the first year could save an estimated 1.5 million lives annually. 

Women receiving adequate advice can often prolong nursing even after returning to work outside the home. Premature or weak infants in particular need breast milk for the best odds in life.

Pregnant women should read books on how to breastfeed and understand fully the necessary commitment to avoid making a tragic mistake to be remembered with regret.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women.

11-36

Back to School?

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

School Bus - Cartoon 7 The photo spreads in local sales circulars in Kuwait bear all the familiar ‘back to school’ images of kids wearing cute outfits complete with backpacks swung over an arm. The ‘back to school’ sales placards cover the storefronts over most businesses that are competing for each sale as the global downturn continues to dig in. However, despite the familiar images, there is nothing ordinary about this school year that is set to start in only a few days.

The H1N1 virus, known as the ‘swine flu’, has cast a dark shadow over the Holy Month of Ramadan and impending school year that is set to start on the first of September in all Gulf countries. More than 1,100 people in Kuwait alone have already been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, and while almost all of the patients have recovered, three people have died as a result of the H1N1 virus. The Kuwaiti government has been vigilant in providing public service announcements, via various media, since the spring when the first few cases were reported in Mexico and later America. The H1N1 virus ahs spread to all regions of the Middle East as each country can only count as the rapidity of infection rises.

In Kuwait, in particular, many parents have been sounding the alarm as the summer holidays have slowly begun to fade away. Concerned ministries, primarily the Ministries of Health and Education, met this past week to discuss the possible closing of schools to avoid the spread of the H1N1 virus. The results were less than fruitful. The joint decision as of press time is to only postpone the start of Kindergarten classes in both public and private schools for 10 days. Regular classes are set to resume as usual on September 1st.

The Kuwaiti government has also this week developed a swine flu plan, which is supposed to be put into effect by school administrators in the tiny Gulf state. Desks will be positioned 1 meter apart and congregating, in the cafeteria or at the playground, will be forbidden. Health Minister Helal Al-Sayer further announced that, in the event that a single student comes down with the H1N1 virus, the entire class will be closed indefinitely. He also said that if any school reports more than 5% of the student population are infected with the H1N1 virus then the entire school will be closed.  Individual students, who are suspected of having the H1N1 virus by teachers while in class, will be quarantined until health officials can properly diagnose their affliction. Al-Sayer further announced that 120 schools would be outfitted with special clinics specifically for the treatment of students suffering from the H1N1 virus.  The remaining schools in the country have no such facilities and it remains to be seen if health officials will monitor each school individually.

Kuwait is not the only Middle Eastern country to take ‘back to school’ swine flu precautions. Several private schools in Dubai have also postponed the start of the school year by several days. However, no Gulf country has taken as drastic measures as Oman. The country has cancelled the school term for both private and public schools until mid-December when the H1N1 vaccine, expected to be available in September, will have immunized pupils from the deadly virus. So far 5 people have died in Oman from the H1N1 virus.

When asked about the current decision the Kuwaiti government has made to continue with the start of the school year as normal, a Pakistani housewife and resident of Kuwait who wishes to remain anonymous said, “ What’s the point in closing a class after a student gets sick? The whole class will already be infected. I can only pray that the Minster will change the decision before school starts.”

11-36

Saddam’s WMD Strategy

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Monterey–August 21st –Ibrahim Al-Marashi from the IE University of Spain currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies here in Central California talked about his research from the so-far retrievable Iraqi archives on what was accurate and inaccurate about their accused WMDs.  Many myths were exposed and some truths were confirmed by his study on these papers on why we and Britain went to war against Baghdad in 2003.

What he found in the Arabic documents was ambiguous language to disguise any possible WMDs.  The first documents were captured in 1991 by the Kurdish opposition in the North.  They were handed over to Human Rights Watch, an organization close to the US government, for propaganda purposes.   Others were seized in Kuwait during the 1991 War.  Most of the previous documents were produced in the 1990s by the Iraqi governments.  One of the primary causes of this were that Hussein held back his best troops, the elite Republican Guard on the Iraqi side of the border, and the lesser trained troops were thrust toward Kuwait City. 

During the Second Iraq War, the various international forces were under joint command, and retrieval of documents was done by several various armies.   The secondary-primary source was the interrogation of Saddam Hussein himself after his capture.

During the blockade before the second war, there was a lack of paper to record the archives.   Yet they were documented in detail on alternative materials. 
Ibrahim went into the history of Iraq, starting with the first king installed by the British after World War I. 

Between the World War periods, the Army stayed out of politics,  but after the second war, began to intervene in the body politic.  Coups and counter-coups  ruled the period.  The Leftist Baath Party finally took power in ‘68, and  ideologized the Army.  The Baath Party led, and their Military Establishment followed.  

Saddam Hussein came to command in an internal coup in ‘79.

In the 1970s the Iraqis began their WMD program.  The Weapons were never named directly but in a disguised manner.  Chemical weapons became special armaments.  Their Chemical “Mace” became a special resource that led to the 1987 attacks against  their Iraqi Kurdish citizens.  Many of the assailed residents of Kurdistan suffered excruciating blinding.

Although Baghdad utilized chemicals in their eight year War with their eastern neighbors, Iraq urged their former enemy, Iran, to join them to exploit their mutual chemical capabilities against Israel, but there were no documents that specially alluded to the scud attacks upon Israel. 

In 1991 the Iraqi forces did not use Weapons of Mass Destruction against the Coalition.  Saddam was not willing to use his WMDs (basically chemical) against the US Army for fear that the Americans would retaliate with their own overwhelming gas and / or nuclear capacity.  Curiously, though, the Iraqi Army was not even issued gas masks, but the Baathists felt the United States was deterred by their (potential) Weapons of Mass Destruction during 1991, but, on the other hand, during the 2003 assault, the Allies were prepared for WMDs to be applied against them.     

The American military objective in Iraq was to achieve (Iraqi) State security.  The rumor of Weapons of Mass Destruction impacted Civilian-(U.S) Military relations.  The ethnic conflicts made political communications difficult, too.

Dr. Al-Marashsi studied docs that were written between 1990 through 2003.  He started on his project in 2002.  It took him seven years to go through 100,000 transcripts so far.  Yet his team has not had a chance to index the papers!

High ranking Baghdadi Generals forged manuscripts for personal gain selling them to Western scandal tabloids.  Ibrahim Al’Marashi was able to debunk most of them, but an academic paper of his was plagiarized, and was used as “proof” for the British Government to attack Baghdad in 2003.  A discussion of the relation between academia – honestly and dishonestly—and security policy is a tight one.  Ibrahim ended his presentation with his conclusion that the U.S. and the U.K. should have done more research before they attacked the Middle East!

11-36

Life in Gaza… and the Peace Process

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

New York City–August 12th–It is hard for the Muslim to realize that Jews are not the enemy for the atrocities within our mutual Holy Land, rather the perverted doctrine of Zionism is the culprit.

I was fortunate to be on a conference call with Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the U.S. Office of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  This independent Israeli Information Center documents abuses under their law, and has been able to make a difference legally and in the sight of public opinion.

This call was sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace to examine the conditions on the ground especially in Gaza and how it impacts the larger peace prospects.

Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the American Office of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories–is a highly respected analyst.  He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family here in New York, and was educated in a Yeshiva (much like an Islamic Madrassa).   Strangely, he had grown up in an extremist Jewish environment, and during his earlier career supported the Settler Movement until he began to question the status quo.
Plitnick’s B’Tselem attempts to guarantee rights within the Occupied Teritories. 

Yet Gaza itself, which is no longer under law “an Occupied Territory” although Israel still holds responsibility for it under International law due to its brutal blockade — has not changed since the War.  Historically, the Strip has been a dependent district for centuries – Turks, Egyptians, British Israelis et al.  At the moment it is legally beholden to Tel Aviv for supplies which responsibility the IDF (Israel Defense Force) has been ignoring.

There has been no post-War reconstruction of Gaza City and its hinterlands due to the blockade.  Besides, little food or medicine is permitted by the Egyptian and Israeli Commands.

This blockade cannot be justified for Israeli security.  “Gazan human rights cannot be bargained away for Israeli security!” The conditions are desperate!  It is in Israel not Hamas’ hands while the United States has not moved forward along the lines of our new Executive‘s rhetoric.  The situation in Gaza has remained static since Hamas’ 2006 election.  Israel’s raison d’être for the Blockade was to force the Palestinian Arabs to suffer and to overthrow Hamas.  Well, “Collective punishment is illegal!”  Plitnick, further, stated that “The condition on the ground can’t be argued morally or legally.  The International community should add the suffering of the people” into the equation!

On the other side of the struggle, “Most [Israelis] thought Operation Cast Lead [the Gaza War] was not a success… [for its] objectives were not met.”  Most of the post-conflict coverage center on how the War was conducted.  Gaza’s economy has been decimated by the Operation.  The anger in Gaza, of course, is not against their government, but the Jews and Egyptians.  There is a good chance that Hamas could carry the upcoming elections, too, on the West Bank.

The Egyptians are, further, fearful of the Hamas government because of their close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the second largest party in Cairo’s Parliament.  Furthermore, Alexandria does not wish to see refugees overflowing from the Rafah boundaries where there was a revolt of a sub-sect two weeks ago who wished to spread an even more stringent form of Islam over the whole of Palestine than the Islamist Hamas.  Although, at the same time, Egyptian businessmen feel they may be able to wrench the wretched electrical blockage away from the Israelis and to supply the Gazans to Egypt’s economic advantage. 

WHO (the World Health Organization) et al. has declared that medical supplies are grossly inadequate.  The Israeli Branch of Physicians for Human Rights has been able to provide the bulk of medical relief in Gaza itself and, also, to much of the Occupied Territories.  

To a question, Mr. Plitnick replied that Hamas would have a hard time to deny elections now although their relations are still confrontational with Fatah.  Hamas is in firm control of their miniscule republic although the human rights situation is less than optimal (human rights can only arise and thrive in situations where there is political stability with no outside threat bearing down on the “commonwealth”).  Yet their citizens overwhelmingly support their administration.  Still, on the other hand, Gaza City is desperately attempting to discover an open door to the Obama Presidency.

The issue of the Israeli Cabinent’s demand for the one missing Israeli soldier is a question of one to thousands of Palestinian prisoners.  The Palestinians on the West Bank are desirous for change, too, while back in Gaza, none of President Obama’s promises have come to fruition.  In both areas, there has only been the ebb and flow of violence:  In Occupation this is a constant! 

Plitinck acknowledged that Iran was a major International supplier to Hamas for the Farsis own propagandistic purposes –  to demonstrate their unwavering support of Palestine to the Islamic world, but Hamas itself is not an extension of Tehran’s foreign policy agenda.  If Persia and Gaza’s ties were severed, the modern Philistines could and would find alternative aid and support.  The regime in Gaza City is a Palestinian National Movement!

Speaking on the politics of his own country, Mitchell Plitnick stated that the sectarian (Foreign Minister) Lieberman, who is now under investigation for corruption, is one of the worst disasters to overtake his nation’s body politic.  Although our human rights NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Director stated that he (Lieberman) was not listened to within the Cabinet, he represented a severe tilt towards the right in Tel Aviv, and that is why U.S. pressure must be applied to the government there.  American Jews are much more liberal than Israeli officialdom as a whole, he argued; and, thus must let their voices be heard in American-Israeli debates while taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  (One of the problems in Israel’s Commonweal is that they over accentuate their security requirements over what is reasonable.) 

For instance, building materials should be permitted into Gaza; so, the Strip can be reconstructed!  

11-35

The Frozen Faloodeh

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

FALOODEH The month of August is one of the hottest in the Middle East, with temperatures sweltering, in many parts of the region, to well above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping cool is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and the best way to do that is with a delicious bowl of ice cream. Forget about Baskin Robbins and all their 31 flavors. For centuries, frozen Faloodeh has graced the palate of many an Arab ice cream connoisseur. Faloodeh is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, with historians dating its creation prior to 400 BC in Persia. Back then the people would collect ice from the mountains and build special freezers known as yakhchals specifically to freeze Faloodeh.

The Faloodeh is primarily a concoction comprised of water, cornstarch, limejuice and rose water. It is often garnished with chopped pistachios, cherries and a splash of cherry juice. The method is simple. A cup of cornstarch is dissolved into three cups of boiling water. That mixture is left to thicken and then placed into a strainer. With a spoon, the mixture is forced through the strainer and into a large bowl of iced water so that thin noodles are formed. The noodles are left in the water until firm. Once they are drained, they are mixed with the rose water and limejuice and frozen for 5 hours, with intermittent stirring. Prior to serving, the Faloodeh is sometimes colored with food coloring. It is divided into three portions. And each portion is colored red, green, or yellow.  It is assembled on the plate in a horizontal bar shape.

The result is amazing. Perfect little frozen noodles that are flavored with just the right amounts of both sweet and sour notes. Faloodeh is popular everywhere in the Middle East however, it is a staple item in Afghanistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. And based on which country you are in, the Faloodeh is culturally morphed to fit in with local cuisine. In Pakistan and India, for example, the Faloodeh is served as a garnish for the traditional Kulfi ice cream.

The Faloodeh was no doubt born out of necessity. Even today, rich cream and sugar are expensive commodities in many parts of the developing world. Whipping up a bowl of rich and creamy ice cream would break the budget of a family in Afghanistan or Iran. Faloodeh is so economical, requiring so few ingredients, that even poor families can indulge the frozen dessert on a regular basis.

Faloodeh is not the only unique ice cream in the Middle East. Some of the most popular ice creams in the region would make most Americans turn up their noses. Unlike in America, where cake, cookies and candies are what make premium ice creams popular, Middle Eastern ice creams are typically flavored with teas, spices, fruit and even vegetables. Some of the most popular ice creams include saffron ice cream, which is a deep yellow and tastes as pungent as the spice itself and beetroot ice cream which is crimson red and flavored with just a hint of rose water. Another favorite is avocado ice cream, which is a best seller in the scorching summer heat.

No matter which way you scoop it, ice cream is popular all over the world with each country putting their own twist on the frosty treat.

11-34

Humanism and Islam

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–Your author has gone back several times to the marvelous Conference of over a year ago at this city’s famous University.  Your scribe will converse on some of the comments there as well as his own personal analysis.

Our culture has taken the designation “Semitic” away from the Arab, and transferred it solely to the ethnic Jew.   This is incorrect:  Both Arabs and Jews come from the Semitic group of peoples, but this denial of the Arab’s Semitic roots and the assertion of the Jew’s sole determination of such creates the propaganda that the Palestinians are Anti-Semitic.  They both share an historical ethnic root that may even be the basis to solve the crisis, but first both groups must acknowledge their common ancestral origins.

Islam dominated Spain for eight hundred years, but loss of its foothold on Southwestern Europe was a great blow to the Ulema, and it is felt to this day.  Your writer remembers reading a Nineteenth Century Indian novel that was no more than a lamentation for its loss. 

The founder of Christianity, Joshua-Ben Joseph (i.e., Jesus Christus in the Latin) during the two centuries following the (his) death of this second most important Prophet (i.e., Issa in Arabic) of Islam was transformed from a Mediterranean peasant into the Christos (in Greek), “the anointed one” which is close to the Hebrew Messiah.   The attempt by early Christians to remake the Subaltern Prophet Issa into a “god” created great problems for the followers of Joshua in the Middle East, and made it easier for the Muslim preachers to convert the predominant Christian population due to the fact that the formulas of the Church Fathers were too confusing to the actual worshippers.  On the other hand, the tenants of Islam were simple enough for the common man, but deep enough for the more profound thinkers.  Further, horrible schisms had developed in the Primitive Church that had no relevance to the common worshiper.

In the Fifteenth Century, Islam had a presence from the Atlantic to the Pacific that lasted for five hundred years.  Unfortunately, for the Ulema, the European “discovery” of the Atlantic (through superior sailing technology) they had developed, had shifted the Center of the World.  With it came a Capitalistic society which created a Euro-centric vision.

In the contemporary period, we are leaving the Euro-centric vision.  (Even Globalism is now being questioned because of the recent economic crash.)  Yet one speaker claimed, as far as the European Union, the traditional nation-State system is breaking down. 

The question was poised on how do we deconstruct Islamaphobia that has developed in Western Post-Colonial Europe especially?  Although the historical fact is that the Islamic Arab Empire was more modern than Europe’s society from the Ninth Century (CE) onward in the terms of their time.  Truth during the “Islamic Renaissance,” came from the Koran and science (a sort of an itijihad).  This openness to enquiry gave the impetus for the great Arab philosophy of the period that had such an impact upon the West.  This was a period of enlightenment for especially the Arabic-speaking world!

Curiously, Latin America received its intellectual vigor through the lingering Islamic traditions of Spain!  One speaker voiced his opinion that European Islamaphopbia will fade with the shifting demography.  There will have to be a dialogue among the various peoples upon this globe. 

11-34

The Terminal

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

terminal Academy-Award winning actor Tom Hanks wowed audiences back in 2004 with his movie ‘The Terminal’. In the film he portrays Viktor Navorski, an eastern European immigrant coming to America so that he can fulfill a wish of his late father. But things take a turn for the worse as his homeland breaks out into a civil war and is no longer recognized by any government while he is en route. Not only is he stateless by the time he lands at New York’s JFK Airport, but he is also stuck in a political limbo which forces him to make the airport his new found home as he waits for the US government to either grant him entry or send him to another country to seek refuge as a political refugee. The film has innumerable funny moments as Hanks struggles to communicate his needs for money, food and clothing in his native language and broken English. It also has many heart rending ones as the audience is gripped by the plight of a stranger in a strange land.

For many Southeast Asian immigrants that descend upon the Middle East each year to work as laborers in some of the richest countries in the entire world, living in an airport terminal is often a reality that they have no choice but to accept as they embark upon a new phase in their lives to serve others as chauffeurs, office boys, janitors and housemaids.  In almost every Gulf State, there exists a sponsorship system, which states that no foreign immigrant can live independently within the country. All immigrants must have a citizen sponsor to vouch for them and co-sign on their residency documents. Herein is the problem . Out of the sponsorship laws has grown a new breed of criminals known as ‘visa traders’. They lure unsuspecting immigrants from agencies in their own homelands to the Gulf with the promise of a better life. The visa traders sell thousands of visas per years and it is a booming business.

Immigrants pay the traders thousands of dollars for their sponsorship that translates into a work visa. The moment the transaction begins and the cash changes hands, the immigrant is at the mercy of the sponsor. Many sponsors have developed the habit of leaving the new immigrants at the airport for days on end. They are either too busy or heartless to care. For this reason, many airports in the Gulf have developed special waiting areas specifically to cope with the influx of immigrants waiting to be picked up by their sponsors. The areas are well away from paying passengers view but are filled with human cargo simply left to wait. Men and women are mixed together often sprawled within close proximity as they try to sleep on the cold hard floors. Most immigrants only arrive with the clothes on their backs and not even a blanket to shield them from the central air conditioning that is pumped throughout the terminal around the clock. They have nowhere to shower and can only utilize the airport bathroom. As for nourishment, they are at the mercy of whatever the airport can provide.

maids It is common to see women crying and begging airport officials to simply go back home. Many of the immigrants do not know Arabic and yet the airport requires that they fill out processing paperwork in Arabic. While others make futile attempts to call the recruiting agencies that hired them or their individual sponsors. In most cases, the sponsors eventually do show up either several hours or several days after they were supposed to pick up their charges. The sponsors are not reprimanded by airport officials and suffer no ill consequences. Once again, the immigrants pay the price as they are not compensated for the wasted time and are usually forced straight to work without even a chance to rest after the long ordeal.

Many residents in the Gulf have long petitioned for an end to the sponsorship system. Nowhere have the voices been raised as loud as in the State of Kuwait, with even citizens publicly declaring shame that their own country would be a willing collaborator in the exploitation of others. This past month the Kuwaiti government has given hope to thousands by pushing for the annihilation of the sponsor system to curb visa trading and improve Kuwait’s standing on human rights in the global arena. The Kuwaiti government also promises to develop a new set of laws to deal with visa traders fiercely and decisively.  Other Gulf nations are expected to rethink their sponsorship systems as well so as to be seen as champions of human rights by the rest of the world and not exploiters bowing to the almighty dollar.

11-33

‘Coalition of the Willing’ Comes to an End in Iraq

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

War now truly an American-only effort after Britain and Australia pull out

By Chelsea J. Carter, AP

2009-07-30T165015Z_01_LON708_RTRMDNP_3_BRITAIN-IRAQ

John Chilcot, the chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, listens during a news conference in London July 30, 2009. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be asked to testify to a panel investigating the Iraq war, the head of the inquiry said on Thursday. Former civil servant Chilcot said the inquiry, set up by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, would look at British involvement in the war, covering the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July this year.

REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool

The war in Iraq was truly an American-only effort Saturday after Britain and Australia, the last of its international partners, pulled out.

Little attention was paid in Iraq to what effectively ended the so-called coalition of the willing, with the U.S. — as the leader of Multi-National Force, Iraq — letting the withdrawals pass without any public demonstration.

The quiet end of the coalition was a departure from its creation, which saw then-U.S. President George W. Bush court countries for support before and after the March 2003 invasion.

“We’re grateful to those partners who contributed in the past and we look forward to working with them in the future,” military spokesman Army Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Ballesteros told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

At its height, the coalition numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries— 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain, and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians. But most of the United States’ traditional European allies, those who supported actions in Afghanistan and the previous Iraq war, sat it out.

It effectively ended this week with Friday’s departure of Australian troops and the expiration of the mandate for the tiny remaining British contingent after Iraq’s parliament adjourned without agreeing to allow the troops to stay to protect southern oil ports and train Iraqi troops.

The U.S. military, though, said the withdrawals did not mean it was going it alone in Iraq.

“We haven’t lost our international partners. Rather, there are representatives from around the world here in various capacities such as NATO, military advisers, law enforcement and construction workers,” said Army Colonel John R. Robinson, a military spokesman at the U.S. headquarters outside Baghdad.

Australia’s military commander in the Middle East, Major-General Mark Kelly, said Friday the last 12 Australian soldiers who had been embedded with U.S. units were flown out of Baghdad on Tuesday, three days ahead of the deadline. A security detachment of about 100 soldiers will remain to protect embassy personnel.

Britain withdrew its remaining 100 to 150 mostly Navy personnel to Kuwait, though was hopeful they might return.

“We are exploring with the Iraqi Government the possibility of resuming some or all of our planned naval activity in advance of ratification,” the British Defence Ministry said in a statement released Saturday.

The coalition had a troubled history and began to crumble within months of the U.S.-led invasion as many countries faced political and social unrest over an unpopular war.

Critics said the tiny contingents that partnered with the coalition, such as Estonia, Albania and Romania, gave the U.S. token international support for the invasion.

Mass protests were held in many countries, including Spain, which was one of the most notable withdrawals from the coalition. In 2004, a bombing attack in Madrid linked to Islamic extremists helped overturn the political establishment in Spain and the new leadership pulled out the Spanish troops.

By January 2007, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. By October 2007, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

The US military, meanwhile, has increased its focus on redefining its relationship with Iraq under a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.

American combat forces withdrew from Iraq’s urban areas at the end of June and all troops are to withdraw by the end of 2011, according to the agreement. President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving roughly 50,000 troops to train and advise Iraqi security forces.
“Today is a normal day for our forces currently in Iraq,” Col. Robinson said, “because our business is already tied closely to our bilateral partnership with the Iraqis.”

11-33

Houstonian Corner (V11-I33)

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Unique Fundraising Done For The Oldest Masjid Of Houston

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         “We have lived among masses and understand the psyche of the society. We understand the real issues of people at grassroots level and have always been at the fore-front of serving the humanity by example and not mere words: This is what AL Islam has taught to remain be active. This event is exceptional and we are absolutely delighted to see Muslims from various Immigrant Communities, especially from Pakistan, India and Middle East, coming here in an organized manner and large numbers for the first time to assist Muslims of the African-American Community with no strings attached:” These were some of the sentiments of Imam Wazir Ali of Masjid AL Islam of Houston, which was started in 1950s in a barber shop and later on became a full-fledged Masjid in 1978, is the oldest Masjid in the Houston area. Most of the initial funds for the Masjid came from the famous Boxing Champ Mohammad Ali.

“Muslims from the communities like Masjid AL Islam, are the ones’, who know the local language and culture. They can explain and present Islam to the Americans in much better manner than us, who have come from overseas and America is our adopted home. We can all learn from each other, but when it comes to conveying the message, the local Muslim Americans are the ones, who can do an effective job. As such we need to be at the forefront is making communities like Masjid AL Islam stronger,” said Syed Shahid Ali Sunni, who is In-Charge of the recently formed Moon Sighting Committee of Houston.

Due to the efforts of Syed Shahid Ali Sunni & Associates, more than $140,000 were brought to the fundraising evening for Masjid AL Islam from their anonymous friends of the Pakistani Community.

Masjid AL Islam was rendered unusable as a result of Hurricane Ike. Ever since that time, several members of the congregation and administration of the Masjid have been working themselves to re-build some of the things at the Masjid. Now the real groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 12-Noon on Saturday, August 15, 2009 at the Masjid premises located at 6641 Bellfort Avenue; Houston; Texas 77087.

In order to have a smooth rebuilding of Majid AL Islam, a fundraiser was held at Shahnai Restaurant. Keynote speaker on the occasion was Imam Faheem Shuaibe of California, who in an inspiring and intellectual manner using various metaphors from AL-Quran, the science of inception, etc. explained the Finality of Messenger Mohammad (s). Allama Mukhtar Naeemi, Qari Abdul Ghani Ovaisi and several other distinctive personalities of the community were in attendance.

Imam Wazir Ali of Masjid AL Islam informed that around $500,000 are needed for the re-construction project of which some have already been collected and about $200,000 were needed to be raised that evening. He said he is absolutely delighted that Muslims from various Immigrant Communities, especially from Pakistan, India and Middle East, have come out in an organized manner and large numbers for the first time to assist Muslims of the African-American Community, who have much to offer to the larger Muslim and Other Communities living around Houston, by social and spiritual support. He specially thanked Syed Shahid Ali Sunni, who worked very hard to gather more than $140,000 for Masjid AL Islam from his anonymous friends of the Pakistani Community.

First Islamic Radio Program in Houston: Fifteen Years Have Passed

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Radio Light Of Islam airs every Sunday 10pm.-12am. on Frequency 1460AM and live worldwide at www.KBRZRadio.Com started some 15 years ago: To commemorate the occasion, Anchors of Radio Light Of Islam Maqsood Siddiqui and Abdur Rahman Siddiqui arranged a Community Dinner, where special awards were given to those youth, who have done memorization of Quran (the Huffas of Houston). Heart wrenching recitation of Quran by Qari Ahmad Siddiqui of Madrasae Islamiah was followed by Hamd and Naat presented by young children.

Several prominent speakers spoke on the occasion about the importance of Community Owned Media and ask people to financially support Radio Light of Islam, so that its hours are increased and more languages programming can be done on it like the Spanish. Those included Mufti Saleem, Imam Wazir Ali, Imam Yahya Gant, Imam Abu Mujahid (Spanish), Hafiz Nisar-ul-Haq, Hafiz Tauqir Shah and others.

For more information, one can call 832-298-7860.

Amany Jamal On Demoracy in the Arab East

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-33

Huda El Masri Sosebee

August 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Readers of The Muslim Observer are familiar with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), a humanitarian, charitable organization which addresses itself to the needs of Palestinian children in the Middle East.

On July 15, Huda El Masri Sosebee, the wife of Steve Sosebee, President and CEO of the PCRF, passed away after a brave battle with cancer. She was 46. Huda has left behind a grieving husband and two daughters, 12 year old Deema and 2 year old Jenna.

While Huda held the title of Director of Social work, she dedicated herself to the PCRF in its entirety and to the suffering children in the Middle East. Those who met her even briefly were inspired by her love, her energy, and her enthusiasm.

Huda was a proud and brave Palestinian Arab woman who herself to her work, even sending emails in her final weeks to insure that the work of the organization would not suffer.

Those who knew her feel blessed by their association.

11-32

Threatening Iran

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts, Countercurrents.org

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Japan did not spend years preparing her public case and demonstrating her deployment of forces for the attack. Japan did not make a world issue out of her view that the US was denying Japan her role in the Pacific by hindering Japan’s access to raw materials and energy.

Similarly, when Hitler attacked Russia, he did not preface his invasion with endless threats and a public case that blamed the war on England.

These events happened before the PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) era. Today, America and Israel’s wars of aggression are preceded by years of propaganda and international meetings, so that by the time the attack comes it is an expected event, not a monstrous surprise attack with its connotation of naked aggression.

The US, which has been threatening Iran with attack for years, has passed the job to Israel. During the third week of July, the American vice president and secretary of state gave Israel the go-ahead. Israel has made great public disclosure of its warships passing through the Suez Canal on their way to Iran. “Muslim” Egypt is complicit, offering no objection to Israel’s naval forces on their way to a war crime under the Nuremberg standard that the US imposed on the world.

By the time the attack occurs, it will be old hat, an expected event, and, moreover, an event justified by years of propaganda asserting Iran’s perfidy.

Israel intends to dominate the Middle East. Israel’s goal is to incorporate all of Palestine and southern Lebanon into “Greater Israel.” The US intends to dominate the entire world, deciding who rules which countries and controlling resource flows.

The US and Israel are likely to succeed, because they have effective PSYOPS. For the most part, the world media follows the US media, which follows the US and Israeli governments’ lines. Indeed, the American media is part of the PSYOPS of both countries.

According to Thierry Meyssan in the Swiss newspaper Zeit-Fragen, the CIA used SMS or text messaging and Twitter to spread disinformation about the Iranian election, including the false report that the Guardian Council had informed Mousavi that he had won the election. When the real results were announced, Ahmadinejad’s reelection appeared to be fraudulent.

Iran’s fate awaits it. A reasonable hypothesis to be entertained and examined is whether Iran’s Rafsanjani and Mousavi are in league with Washington to gain power in Iran. Both have lost out in the competition for government power in Iran. Yet, both are egotistical and ambitious. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 probably means nothing to them except an opportunity for personal power. The way the West has always controlled the Middle East is by purchasing the politicians who are out of power and backing them in overthrowing the independent government. We see this today in Sudan as well.

In the case of Iran, there is an additional factor that might align Rafsanjani with Washington. President Ahmadienijad attacked former President Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most wealthy persons, as corrupt. If Rafsanjani feels threatened by this attack, he has little choice but to try to overthrow the existing government. This makes him the perfect person for Washington.

Perhaps there is a better explanation why Rafsanjani and Mousavi, two highly placed members of the Iranian elite, chose to persist in allegations of election fraud that have played into Washington’s hands by calling into question the legitimacy of the Iranian government. It cannot be that the office of president is worth such costs as the Iranian presidency is not endowed with decisive powers.

Without Rafsanjani and Mousavi, the US media could not have orchestrated the Iranian elections as “stolen,” a n orchestration that the US government used to further isolate and discredit the Iranian government, making it easier for Iran to be attacked. Normally, well placed members of an elite do not help foreign enemies set their country up for attack.

An Israeli attack on Iran is likely to produce retaliation, which Washington will use to enter the conflict. Have the personal ambitions of Rafsanjani and Mousavi, and the naive youthful upper class Iranian protesters, set Iran up for destruction?

Consult a map and you will see that Iran is surrounded by a dozen countries that host US military bases. Why does anyone in Iran doubt that Iran is on her way to becoming another Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, in the end to be ruled by oil companies and an American puppet?

The Russians and Chinese are off balance because of successful American interventions in their spheres of influence, uncertain of the threat and the response. Russia could have prevented the coming attack on Iran, but, pressured by Washington, Russia has not delivered the missile systems that Iran purchased. China suffers from her own hubris as a rising economic power, and is about to lose her energy investments in Iran to US/Israeli aggression. China is funding America’s wars of aggression with loans, and Russia is even helping the US to set up a puppet state in Afghanistan, thus opening up former Soviet central Asia t o US hegemony.

The world is so impotent that even the bankrupt US can launch a new war of aggression and have it accepted as a glorious act of liberation in behalf of women’s rights, peace, and democracy.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

11-31

Where’s the Beef?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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They’re smothered in cheese, pickles, lettuce tomato, and mayonnaise, and are served on a sesame seed bun. But they’re not anything like the traditional all-American hamburger you might be used to. ‘Hashi’, or baby camel burgers, are the latest food trend to take Saudi Arabia by storm.

The camel is one of the most beneficial animals to residents in the Middle East. The camel has long been ‘man’s best friend’ for time eternal, and was instrumental in helping Islam flourish in the region during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s), prior and since. Camels are prevalent in the history of Arabia as they have served as a mode of transportation, battle buddies in countless wars, companions, and a source of food whether through the fresh and foaming milk camels provide or as a source of highly nutritious meat. Even the camel hair is cultivated and used in the textile industry as it is woven into fine cashmere, which is made into disdashas, blazers or even blankets.

Camel meat has long been a staple in the Saudi Arabian diet. Camel liver is considered to be a fine specialty food and served in the finest hotels and restaurants from Riyadh to Jeddah. The meat is very light and has a delicate flavor. And it is not as fattening as beef, nor as cholesterol-ridden. However, the older the camel the tougher the meat. That’s why baby camels are used for the camel burgers, as the meat is tender.

The camel burgers are the brainchild of three brothers who together own the ‘Local Hashi Meals’ restaurant in the capital city of Riyadh. In a recent interview, one of the owners said that the new menu item was meant to “invent something new” which would tantalize the taste buds of camel meat connoisseurs. So far, the camel burgers have literally been flying off of the grill as customers are eating up the new sandwiches in record numbers.

The camel burgers have helped to revive the family’s business, which had slowed down in recent months due to the global financial crisis. Thanks to the camel burgers, business is now booming. The creators of the camel burger already have plans to expand their business by opening up another branch which could mark the creation of a whole new franchise, in the fledgling ‘camburger’ industry, that could most definitely be a market leader in the Gulf States.

Camel burgers may seem like a unique food that may or may not be a welcome guest on your dining table. However, there are even more unique and weird foods that are considered to be delicacies in the Middle East. How about a slice of sheep’s brain grilled to perfection and tucked into half of a freshly baked pita bread, along with a slice of onion and a squeeze of lemon juice?

Or sheep testicle kebabs grilled on skewers over an open flame until they ‘pop’? No matter which foods grace your palate, trying new foods that may seem strange at first is an excellent way to increase your culinary repertoire and experience a new gastronomic adventure.

11-31

ACCESS Expands Medical Network in Middle East

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By ACCESS

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

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

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

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

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

11-31

Violent Jihadi Imagery

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Your author has been commissioned to write a chapter on Violent Jihadi websites for a book on security in South Asia. He gave his initial findings at a conference in Central Florida early last April out of which came an offer to put it on the web, and, also, to expand it into a chapter.  Your scribe shall be presenting his further findings at a meeting in the upper Midwest this coming October.  After that time, he shall be glad to send on the full exercise to anyone who will e-mail me a request via the Muslim Observer where I shall be publishing a series of journalistic articles based on the research over the next several months.

I was sent a remarkable semi-confidential website study entitled The Islamic Imagery Project published (“pasted”) by an academic Committee of the Combating Terrorism Center within the Social Science Department at West Point in March 2006.  The document is an e-book, and as a student of such things, there are assumptions that are questionable within while, at the same time, the report is quite enlightening. 

The Obama Administration is questioning the purpose and tactics of the struggle in the Middle East and South Asia with what we vulgarly term “terrorism.”  The study of this document can be of value in creating new, more effective approaches in confronting the irregular clashes that often target civilians.  On March 12 2009 Aljazeera and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that the new government in Washington had decided to drop the designations of the “War on Terror” and “enemy combatant.”  Vocabulary can tell us much on how this struggle is changing, and on how counter-terrorism (i.e., counter-insurgency) should and /or could be waged more effectively. 

Information on the modern imagery of politically violent radical Islamic groups – especially as it appears on “Jihadi” websites — is imperfect.   Those conversant in Arabic know that Jihad mostly translates as a spiritual struggle within.  Thus, in correct parlance a Jihadist is one who is in spiritual struggle to find an inner “Truth,” but in Wahhabi Islam, which was born and nurtured in Saudi Arabia, and spread to become a foundation to fight against the Colonial powers in the Nineteenth, Twentieth and now in the Twenty-first Centuries, Jihad has become a physical struggle.  Today it fiercely fights against (Western) Post-Modernism (as it opposes the majority of other diverse forms of Islam).  Therefore, Jihad, also, denotes in this context to resist against the “kafir,” or non- Muslims, in contemporary radical Islam.  The “non-Muslim” is too often considered by them as “hetero-orthodox” Islam — such as the Shiites — as well. 

On the other hand, in Shiite and increasingly in modern Sunni Islam, the closely related concept of Itijihad is gaining parlance.   Since September 11, 2001, Islam has been grossly misunderstood, and it is the duty to change this through Itijihad as the junior Pakistani academic Rana Eijaz Ahmad argues.  Itijihad is a non-violent struggle of enlightenment.

These violent Jihadi organizations have had a brief – so far — but prolific history in the production and distribution of visual “propaganda” as the Committee, who created The Islamic Imagery Project, oversimplifies these images  The web masters have created their own distinct genre of Internet-based Islamist imagery.  The understanding of this sort of embedded iconography is at an early stage; and, thus, there is much to be done by the practioneers of various disciplines.  Within this particular study, the visual “propaganda” (i.e., visual “speech”) is more than textual messages; rather, the visual communicates explicitly, as the written word does. The radical Jihadi imagery has become a prime vehicle for communications and the essential tool for the diffusion of Jihadist ideals to diverse scattered cells – not only in South Asia – but throughout the world, but the modern violent Jihadi Movement had arisen in Afghanistan and now,  also, resolutely resides in the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan, but, also, has spread worldwide operating in secretive detached cells much as the classic Communist did during the Second World War where one cell may not be aware of the make-up or placement of an adjacent grouping making it hard for the counter-terrorist (anti-insurgents) to break the structures up, thereby, to destroy the resistance.

In future essays we shall observe how select pictures keep and break Islamic injunction using both Islamic and Western sources.

11-31

How the Serenity of Swat Was Vandalized

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Javed Akbar, The Canadian Charger

Nightmarish scenes in the valley of Swat in northern Pakistan – a major tourist attraction known for its ‘indescribable beauty and serenity’ mark the latest stage of that nation’s crisis, brought to a boil by the U.S. escalation of its war in Afghanistan, which is spilling across the border.

But the turmoil is also a sign of the deepening contradictions of Pakistani politics following the downfall of the U.S.-backed strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last year amid growing unrest.

The rise of extremism, militancy and the Taliban are a reaction to the American-led “war on terror” and the occupation of Afghanistan. So big has been the displacement of people (1.7 million according to the UN) due to the latest military operations in Swat that UN officials are already comparing the unfortunate situation prevailing in Pakistan with that of Rwanda, the Central African country where genocide in 1994 forced large-scale dislocation of communities.

The resulting disequilibrium of Pakistani society has as its latest consequence an increasing influx of the internally displaced people of Swat.

The refugees from Swat are victims of a Pakistani Army offensive, backed by the U.S., against forces of the Taliban, which operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military broke a ceasefire arrangement with the Taliban and carried out a scorched-earth assault — with the excuse that this is the only way to flush out Taliban fighters.

But the civilian population is paying a terrible price. The Pakistani military will never be able to win over those people who actually experienced what is happening on the ground. And certainly those people are not Taliban supporters either, since they have experienced their terror.

The U.S. has created the bizarre new moniker “Af/Pak” as a way to cover over its expansion of the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Building consent for this expansion has been what all the State Department, Pentagon and media propaganda has been about before the onslaught of this military expedition.
Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that “there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an ‘Arc of Instability’ that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia.”

That goes a long way towards explaining U.S. strategic planning.

The U.S. wants to wind down its occupation in Iraq, which it sees as a distraction, and push ahead with a much larger scenario — ‘in the arc of instability’ from North Africa to the Middle East to South and Central Asia. The U.S. is gearing up for, in the shocking words of Nagl, 50 years of warfare in this area.

Such imperial-style strategic concepts echo the “Great Game” of rivalries in the region over who’s going to control the oil and natural gas resources. Beyond that geopolitical battle, the military industrial complex has a material interest in perpetual warfare.

This is the new Great Game involving the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran. It’s all about the resources that we have been observing since the beginning of the war in 2001. The U.S. had planned a pipeline to go from Central Asia through the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Planners saw Afghanistan as strategically important in these designs. The strategic importance was considered high enough to open a new front on its open-ended “war on terror.”

Despite eight years of war, occupation and counter-insurgency, and seeing that war and occupation aren’t working and are, in fact, backfiring, U.S. thinking doesn’t seem to be shifting at all. The Obama administration is certainly trying to repackage its essential continuity with the Bush administration’s policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But there isn’t a whole lot of finessing that needs to be done to sell this to the American public, since there is a widespread impression that the Afghan war is a moral war, a necessary response to the 9/ll attackers, and that Pakistan is an untrustworthy and reluctant ally that is crawling with militants.
The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to address legitimate Muslim concerns, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.

By not recognizing that the unresolved Kashmir issue is a cause for promoting militancy in the region, Washington has opted for selective engagement with the underlying causes of militancy and terrorism in the region.

The anti-war movement should not let Obama continue this imperial policy of aggression into Afghanistan and Pakistan (and potentially many other states).

The heart of the crisis is that this has become a multiple-front war, and the main theater has spawned a second, more diffused arena for potentially disastrous outcomes.

Meanwhile the sufferings of the people of the Northern Pakistan continue, with the rest of country adversely affected due to a war imposed upon its people.
Barack Obama has been bombing Pakistan since the third day of his presidency, and on the ground the Pakistani army has been acting as his country’s mercenaries.

* Javed Akbar is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

sexslaves2603_468x477 This past month the US State Department released it’s 9th annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which lambasted 4 Middle Eastern countries for their blatant human rights abuses. Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria have found themselves strange bedfellows on America’s ‘blacklist’, which means that unless these governments change their domestic policies to meet the minimum criteria for human rights they face a slew of sanctions.

According to the report, the global economic turndown has fueled the flames of an already exasperating situation. As a result, many traffickers in the Gulf region have moved underground to avoid detection and continue the slave trade. It’s no secret that the construction boom that has heralded many countries of the Middle East into a new modern age has been built with the blood, sweat and backbreaking work of poor migrant workers primarily from Southeast Asia. The sex industry is also flourishing in the Middle East, especially in Iran where ‘temporary’ marriages are legal and women are exploited by being denied the rights that a married woman possesses. Underground prostitution rings are present in all four of the blacklisted countries. Visa trading is also a major problem as migrant workers are lured to the Gulf with the promise of high salaries and a better life. However, once they arrive they soon learn that they are only paid a fraction of the salary that they were promised and are forced to live in deplorable conditions not fit for an animal let alone a human being.

This week the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set itself apart from the other countries on the blacklist. The Saudi government has toughened its stance against human traffickers within its borders. New laws recently put into effect will punish traffickers with up to 15 years in prison and fine of more than one-quarter of a million dollars.

Saudi Arabia has long been fodder for critics accusing the kingdom of ignoring human rights abuses that are often well publicized in the media, but routinely ignored by the ruling government. The kingdom has also clearly defined, in writing, what constitutes human trafficking in the country. Sexual servitude and slavery, forced organ donations or forced medical experimenting and involuntary begging are all instances of trafficking under the new law, which metes out harsher punishments based on the victim of the crime. If the victim is disabled, a woman, child or elderly then the penalty is substantially increased. However, many critics still lament the fact that the definition does not better define the trafficking of children into the kingdom who are forced to work as sex slaves, beggars or street vendors. The new law also makes zero reference to women and children who are exploited or abused within their own family unit.

Following the cabinet meeting that signed the new law into action, the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying about the new law, “It embodies the principles of Islamic Sharia law which prohibit attacks on the rights of another human being to protect the rights of citizens and residents under Islamic law.”

The remaining three countries have done little to improve their human rights records since inclusion at the top of the list of human rights abuses. Kuwait, for example, does have a set of laws to defeat human trafficking within the tiny Gulf state. Unfortunately, the laws are difficult to enforce when so many citizens have influence to bend the laws in their favor. The phenomenon of ‘wasta’, or friends in high places, is too often the grease that moves the cogs of society no matter who gets hurt in the process.

11-30

Repackaging Islamism

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rafia Zakaria

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Couched in a corporate structure that relies on savvy marketing, attractive rhetoric and smart, modern packaging, projects like IslamOnline represent the effort to change in appearance and language what remains the same in substance.

The headquarters of IslamOnline.net is palatial building located on the outskirts of Cairo. Away from the dirt and unrelenting traffic of the bustling Egyptian capital, its shiny and brand new campus is located across the street from an equally palatial mosque. If you’ve spent any time in Cairo, the glass ensconced air-conditioned office of this Qatari-funded online empire can be a welcome respite from the desert heat, undoubtedly for both the casual visitor as well as the nearly one hundred Egyptian men and women who work here.

According to its publicity materials, IslamOnline strives for “an Islamic renaissance” and envisions itself as becoming the largest and most “credible reference on Islam and its peoples”. The website hosts a number of features from “news” to “politics in depth” to “family” and “art and culture”. A whole section is devoted to “Euro-Muslims”, even though the website is based in the Middle East; assumedly perhaps because much of traffic for the website comes not from Egypt itself but from Muslims living in Europe.

The technology is slick, the graphics trendy and the young, energetic staff quite committed to the avowed project of rebranding Islam. Words like “moderate” “diverse” and “plural” are recurrent in the vocabulary of the editors, used repeatedly to describe both their mission and their purpose.

These two facets of IslamOnline, its Egyptian staff and Western consumers and the conscious rebranding of Islam are worthy of attention.

Take first the savvy rhetorical repackaging that is insistent on the fact that the “Islam” it is peddling is both “moderate” and “diverse”. When questioned regarding what constitutes “moderate” Islam, however, the editors are resolute in providing synonyms instead of concrete responses. Ignored thus is the idea that diversity, in essence, stands for the representation of a variety of views that include the extremes, while moderation stands for a particular selection which avoids the extremes.

Also ignored is the reality that selecting what is moderate therefore inherently invokes a judgement and an interpretation regarding what is considered to be so. For instance, on the issue of hijab, the editors of IslamOnline state that the moderate position is that all Muslim women are required to wear the hijab; this is also, they insist, the “majority” position but the process of enumerating what a “majority” means, or why conflicting interpretations are ignored is again left unexplained. The same women who denounce the intolerance of Europeans toward women who wear the headscarf are thus unwilling to tolerate that a Muslim woman can refuse to wear one and still practice her faith.

This lack of self-awareness among the editors of IslamOnline and the self-described promoters of the “correct” and “moderate” Islam is disturbing given the stated aims of the organisation. It is difficult indeed to discern whether the editors and staff of this web-based dawa organisation are being deliberately evasive regarding their project of proffering a particular definition of “moderate” Islam or truly ignorant of their own role in advancing a project whose strings are being pulled by their financiers.

The geographical dynamics of both the headquarters of IslamOnline as well as the constituents of its staff add further complications to the question. 180 Egyptians, men and women, some commuting up to two hours each way, brave the heat and dust of Cairo to work in this air-conditioned glass building reeking of Gulf money. Sitting in neat cubicles, they collect news articles and fatwas for Muslims around the world, most notably in the West.

Their writings say little or nothing at all about the rising unemployment in Cairo, the blatant poverty visible on every city street, or the lack of political process in their country. In fact, these proximate realities, experienced undoubtedly by editors and staff, are all not represented in the conversation and largely the content of IslamOnline. In the deliberate divorce of these two realities then, IslamOnline, in the real and not virtual sense, represents outsourcing at its best: the relegation of dawa to Egyptian Muslims propagating an Islam envisioned by their Gulf financiers.

The disjunction is obvious not simply in the economic disparity between the largely Egyptian producers of IslamOnline, its Qatari backers and its largely Western consumers, but also in the avowed rhetoric of diversity versus its project of propagating the “correct” Islam. The Sharia section, which according to their own statistics is the most popular section of the website, is run by a doctoral student from Al-Azhar University. In his words, the process of compiling the “diverse” and “moderate” views espoused by IslamOnline stands for the effort to combine “authentic” opinions on various subjects from all four Sunni mazhabs. Shiite schools of thought fail to make this authenticity cut and hence are not represented.

A similar conclusion could be reached about the propagators of “authentic” Islam of IslamOnline; a document retrieved from IslamOnline reveals that nearly ninety percent of the sheikhs recruited to provide fatwas are Arab sheikhs with little or no representation for Southeast Asians, South Asians and Muslims from other non-Arab ethnicities.

In conclusion then, the Islam of IslamOnline stands for Islam as understood largely by Sunni Arabs. There is indeed nothing wrong with such a project; Sunni Arabs just like Iranian Shiites or South Asian Sufis have the right to propagate and disseminate information about their particular take on the Islamic faith. Indeed, there is something laudable and commendable also about providing Egyptian Muslim youth with a well funded and inviting workplace where they can interact and earn good livelihoods while living their faith.

The pernicious aspects of projects like IslamOnline lie in the unsaid agendas that undergird their stated goals. Calling a website “IslamOnline” instead of “MuslimsOnline” makes a very particular claim about representing a single and correct doctrinal position whose truth is substantiated by a particular interpretation of religious text. Disguising such a claim in the glib rhetoric of “diversity” and “plurality” while simultaneously excluding entire swathes of Muslim practice such as Shiite theology suggests a deceptive condescension toward both Muslims and non-Muslims consumers of the website.

In larger terms, projects like IslamOnline represent a novel new turn taken by the Islamist project that consciously seeks to redefine itself as “moderate”. Couched in a corporate structure that relies on savvy marketing, attractive rhetoric and smart, modern packaging, it represents the effort to change in appearance and language what remains the same in substance. This new and repackaged Islamism thus continues to privilege Sunni and Arab interpretations of Islam as ultimately authentic and correct but under the glib pretence of being committed to both moderation and diversity.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria@gmail.com.

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A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

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