Jihad Jane is Media Catnip

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Gardner, CanWest News Services

The name Colleen LaRose may not be world famous but the pseudonym LaRose allegedly used in an Internet-based terrorist plot certainly is. A Google search of Jihad Jane delivers 1,760,000 hits.

What makes that number especially impressive is that it was only last week that American prosecutors announced LaRose invariably described as a green-eyed blonde had been charged with conspiring to kill a Swedish cartoonist. To go from the obscurity to worldwide notoriety is no small feat. And Jihad Jane did it without actually committing a major act of terrorism. Or a minor act of terrorism. She did it, allegedly, by discussing a single murder.

Now contrast that with Andrew Joseph Stack. If you follow the news closely, the name probably rings a bell. He is the Texas man who became so enraged with the IRS and the American government that he climbed into the cockpit of his plane, flew to the IRS building in Austin, and nosedived. The building was mauled but, miraculously, only one person died along with Stack.

That was on Feb. 18. A Google search of Stacks name almost a month later came up with around 430,000 hits.

One person crashes a plane into a building in an attempt to commit mass slaughter and his crime gets some modest attention. Another expresses an intention to kill someone, is arrested, and gets vastly more reporting and discussion. That’s quite a discrepancy.

Is it because LaRose’s case is so much more important? Prosecutors suggested so. The arrest underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face, a U.S. Justice department official said. It shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance, the chief prosecutor added.

But is that remotely true? Richard Reid, the bumbling shoe bomber, is half English and half Jamaican. John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, is a Caucasian Californian. So is Adam Gadahn, a longtime al-Qaeda spokesman who changed his name from Adam Pearlman.

So what exactly is new about Jihad Jane? That she’s a woman prepared to murder in the name of Islam? There are plenty of those, unfortunately. Thats shes blonde? Well, yes. That’s different. But somehow I don’t think her arrest means terrorists of the future will look like Jan Brady.

So if its not the intrinsic importance of the case that explains why Jihad Jane is walloping Joseph Stack on Google, what does? One might think its the fact that LaRoses views are shared by many others and so she represents something bigger than the crime she is alleged to have committed. Andrew Joseph Stack was just some nut with a grudge and a plane.

But that doesn’t work either. Stack left a suicide note which was essentially a long anti-government tirade that bore a striking similarity to warnings in a Department of Homeland Security report issued in 2009. Domestic anti-government extremism was on the rise, the report noted, and there were growing suggestions it could turn violent. The situation was similar to that of the early 1990s, the report concluded, when right-wing extremism culminated in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more.

In the months and years after the Oklahoma City bombing, an immense amount of attention was paid to anti-government militias and other extremists. The Sept. 11 attacks erased that threat and replaced it with that of Islamist terrorism, but the reality on the ground didn’t change a great deal. It just wasn’t talked about. It still isn’t.

And that, I think, is what explains why Jihad Jane is winning the battle of Google.

The human brain is compulsive about making sense of things. It orders, categorizes, and systematizes. And once it thinks it decides something is settled, it works hard to keep it settled: It eagerly grabs onto anything that supports the existing understanding while avoiding, or waving off, anything that contradicts that understanding. Psychologists call this confirmation bias.

Now, what is terrorism? Mention that word and certain images come to mind, certain ideas and beliefs. That is the settled understanding of what terrorism is and who terrorists are.

In 1995, the horror in Oklahoma City shattered that understanding and created something new. After Oklahoma City, terrorism was about right-wing crazies. And in the years that followed, media reporting bolstered that understanding by seeking any tidbit of information, no matter how small, that supported it.

But then came Sept. 11, 2001, and the frame changed again. Terrorism was about Islamic religious fanatics.

If Joseph Stack had done exactly what he did for the same reason in 1996, the news coverage would have been massive and everyone in the world would know his name. But he did it in 2010, when he and his motives didn’t fit the popular narrative of what terrorism is.

But Jihad Jane fit the frame. Better still, she was superficially different. Thus, her story confirmed our fundamental beliefs about what terrorism is while it simultaneously delivered a delightful sprinkle of novelty catnip for the media. And that combination just happens to be a perfect formula for grabbing popular attention.

This is of more than theoretical interest, of course. Media coverage, and popular attention, is constantly distorted by the interaction of underlying assumptions and psychology. What we hear, read, and talk about is not a complete and objective reflection of reality.

Put it like that and anyone would say, well, no kidding. But ask people why they believe something to be true and, often as not, youll hear something like, its happening all the time. Just look at the news. See the problem?

As always, a little more skepticism is in order.

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Could Pakistan’s NorthWest Frontier Province Become Afghania?

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Mohammad Taqi, Pakistan Link

At this time in the constitutional history of Pakistan, there apparently is a lot in a name; a name for the NWFP, that is.

Two major political parties of Pakistan, viz. Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), have nominated a five-member committee each, to meet, and hopefully agree, upon rechristening the NWFP.

In and of itself this may not be a major development for the rest of Pakistan, but on its resolution apparently hinges the forward movement in repealing the 17th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is likely to bless the consensus developed by the ANP and PML-N.

The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) was so named, when in November 1901 the Viceroy of British India, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, the First Marquess of Kedleston, carved out the Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat and Hazara districts from the Punjab province and consolidated them into one administrative entity and appointed Sir Harold Deane as its first Chief Commissioner.

The chief commissionerate was abolished in 1932 and the NWFP became a Governor’s Province with the then Chief Commissioner Sir Ralph Griffith continuing as the first Governor. Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum became the province’s first minister. The first general elections under the Government of Indian Act 1935 were held in 1937 and Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum was elected the first chief minister of the province.

Four of the districts originally incorporated into the NWFP had sizable non-Pashtun and/or non-Pashto speaking populations, Hazara being the most important such district. However, large proportions of the Hindko speakers of Hazara and Peshawar City trace their lineage to Pashto or Persian-speaking Afghans.

While the demographic makeup of the Peshawar city, Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan has changed favorably towards the Pashtun ethnicity and language over the last thirty years, the Hazara – now a division – remains very much a Hindko-speaking region.

Hazara has also been the bastion of various incarnations of the Pakistan Muslim League and remained so in the 2008 elections, returning six Muslim Leaguers to the National Assembly of Pakistan from its seven allocated seats; hence the PML-N’s intense focus on Hazara in the renaming process.

The ANP, on the other hand, has been consistently demanding a change in the province’s name since the party’s inception in 1986. The term Pukhtunkhwa was introduced in its current political context right around that time.

Pukhtunkhwa certainly is a term that has not only been used politically to describe the land of the Pashtuns but was also deployed frequently by the twentieth century Sufi poet Amir Hamza Shinwari and later by the more politically attuned poets like Ajmal Khattak, Qalandar Momand and Rehmat Shah Sael who gave it currency. It thus has significant cultural and popular history in contrast with the exonym NWFP.

The ANP had proposed this name as an alternative to the more political – and to some a secessionist – term Pashtunistan. Pashtunistan had its origin in the duel between the All-India Muslim League and the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, where the latter proposed that the NWFP and FATA remain independent – under the Pashtunistan banner – than join Pakistan or India.

The Pashtun nationalist movement and its leaders remained ‘outsiders’, from 1947 through the mid-1980s, as far as the power politics of Pakistan go. The call for renaming the NWFP had then remained one of the rallying points for the ANP’s “National Democratic Revolution”, a neo-irredentist modification of the Leninist theory of the same name. Irredentism by definition being “a policy directed towards the incorporation, of irredentas – territories historically or ethnically related to one political unit but under the political control of another-back into their historically or ethnically related political unit”.

In due course the Pashtun nationalist movement, which in the NWFP essentially meant the ANP, was absorbed into the mainstream Pakistani politics, after forming a coalition with the PML of Nawaz Sharif in 1990, the party was formally initiated into the Islamabadian realpolitik and its leaders rehabilitated as “patriotic” Pakistanis from a hithertofore “traitor” status.

The issue of renaming the NWFP has, however, continued to be a point of contention between the ANP and the PML-N not least because of the different ethno-linguistic demographic that each draws its support from. Each side had its reservations entrenched in the irredentism – real or perceived – of the other.

Over the last several years, efforts have been made by many to arrive at a consensus name for the province. The proposed alternatives have ranged from Gandhara – the ancient name of the region, Khyber, Abaseen, Neelab, Peshawar and Afghania. Each of these names has had its supporters and critics.

Going back to Gandhara is considered by some to ignore centuries of sociological evolution that the people of this region have gone through. Khyber, Abaseen, Neelab and Peshawar represent a geographical nomenclature that is devoid of the ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural connotations.

While geographical renaming has been a common practice in the post-colonial nation-states, it is rather a reverse sociological evolution to use geographic landmarks to name regions where a peoples’ identity is also an issue. The Pakistani provinces like Punjab or Sindh did not gain their names in this fashion. The geographical landmarks developed their significance over the ages and people inhabiting those regions subsequently drew their name and identity from these landmarks and regions.

Within the last two weeks, the PML-N has proposed a slate of three names, i.e., Abaseen, Neelab and Pukhtunkhwa-Hazara whereas t he Chief of the ANP, Asfandyar Wali Khan has given a mandate to his committee to agree upon Pukhtunkhwa, Pashtunistan or Afghania.

Among all the names proposed by the two parties Afghania is one entity that has no political baggage attached to it. Indeed Afghania is the word represented by the letter ‘A’ in the acronym PAKISTAN as originally coined by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in his 1933 pamphlet “Now or Never”.

In his later book “ Pakistan : the fatherland of the Pak nation”, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali calls the word NWFP an “official but nondescript” term used for the province of Afghania.

In addition to the ANP President’s standing offer to accept Afghania as the province’s new name, its central leader and key ideologue Senator Afrasiab Khattak had also written a well-argued article supporting this name.

There could potentially be a question about having a province named Afghania right at the border of Afghanistan and a few may balk at this. However, from Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to the religious parties of Pakistan, everyone has acknowledged the strong ties of languages, culture, religion and trade between the two adjoining regions. If anything, Afghania would only strengthen and bolster these relations.

Afghania as the new name for the NWFP will not only be acceptable to all people of this region but will also bring to close a chapter of imperial history. It is in sync with the wishes of the founding fathers and the will of the people today. ANP and PML-N have the initiative in their hands; now or never, as Chaudhry Rehmat Ali would have said.

The author teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at mazdaki@me.com.

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US-Iranian Bioweapon Researcher Dies Suspiciously

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

Dr. Nasser Talebzadeh Ordoubadi, who changed his name to Noah Mckay after a jail term, has reportedly died a suspicious death in the US.

A US-based Iranian doctor working to discover an antitoxin therapy of biological weapons has purportedly died a “suspicious death.”

One of the leading bioweapon researchers and a regular keynote speaker at international conferences, Dr. Nasser Talebzadeh Ordoubadi died on Saturday in what his doctors described as a “suspicious death”.

Media reports have linked Dr. Talebzadeh Ordoubadi’s mysterious death to his notable accomplishments in discovering an antitoxin treatment for bioweapons.

The use of biological and chemical weapons — which is considered illegal under The Hague convention on rules of warfare — is feared by many experts more than the use of nuclear weapons.

Biological weapons can kill, incapacitate, or seriously impede an individual as well as entire cities or places where they are used.

While there are antibiotic and penicillin treatments for different types of bioweapons, some of them such as Botulism and Ricin still remain without any antitoxin or vaccine to cure those subjected to the poisonous weapon.

According to Tabnak, Dr. Talebzadeh’s achievements in finding a cure to bioweapons had made him the target of various accusations from the government of the United States — one of the possessors of biological weapons — since 1992.

In 2000, the Iranian doctor was sentenced to 35 months in prison on charges of health care and mail fraud under the new HIPAA regulations (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996).

His jail sentence, which prompted him to change his name to Noah McKay, came after years of government attempts to level various accusations against him.

The charges, which were never substantiated, proven or confirmed, included “money laundering, funding Middle Eastern terrorists, and connections to the Russian mafia in Seattle”.

While serving in the federal prison camp in Sheridan, Oregon, he told one of his lawyers “my life is in danger and I should change my name and request transfer to another prison.”

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Biased Frisking Of Shahrukh

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

shah-rukh khan actor NEW DELHI: Just as Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan was probably not prepared for being detained by American immigration officials at Newark Liberty in International Airport in New Jersey for questioning, United States apparently did not expect the reaction that it would trigger from India. Different views have been expressed on what actually led to Shahrukh being detained (August 15). Linking his case with his religious identity- a Muslim- Shahrukh said that he was held up because his last name (Khan) came up on a computer alert list. Incidentally, the actor was in United States to participate in India’s Independent Day celebrations and also to promote his new film: “My Name is Khan,” which highlights racial discrimination of Muslims after September 11, 2001 attacks in United States.

Shahrukh may have been detained for a still longer time had perhaps the Indian embassy in United States not intervened. Not every Khan or any person bearing a Muslim name is lucky enough to have his country’s embassy intervene in such cases. Nevertheless, the US immigration officials denied that Shahrukh was formally detained because of his last name having cropped up on their computer alert system. His security check “took a little longer because his bag was lost by the airline,” according to US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Elmer Camacho. Irrespective of whether Shahrukh’s bag was actually lost or not, Camacho’s statement certainly indicates United States’ acknowledgement that the actor was detained for longer than routine security checks require. It defeats the view expressed by certain people that Shahrukh was only subject to routine security frisking and the actor unnecessarily made a lot of noise about the issue. This is further confirmed by US embassy in India stating that it would look into the case. “We are clarifying. We are trying to ascertain facts about the incident,” US embassy official said.

Soon after the incident, Shahrukh expressed that he would avoid going to United States, as he did not want to be a part of America’s paranoia of religion. “This has happened with me before and that’s why it concerns me all the more. As it is I shy away from coming to the US because I don’t want to participate in their paranoia about religion and everything that the US has developed into over the years. I don’t want to say that it happened because I am a Muslim as it may lead to something else, but I think it had something to do with that only. We can only avoid this by not coming to the US,” he said. Describing the incident as “uncalled for,” Shahrukh said: “I did feel bad. I felt angry. I am glad my family wasn’t there. God knows what they would have done to them.”

Reacting to Shahrukh’s words, US envoy Timothy J. Roemer said: “We are trying to ascertain facts of the case – to understand what took place. Shahrukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films.” The incident would probably not have invited reaction at the diplomatic level from both India and United States, were it a routine process to which all visiting US are subject to. 

Undeniably, if an ordinary Indian possessing the same name had been detained for even longer hours than the actor, the incident would not have probably hit headlines nor would it have raised concern diplomatically, politically and among the Indian people. This also is perhaps a minor indicator of the apparent religious and racial bias, which people bearing common Muslim names are subject to in United States. While United States may still take some time to come to terms with the negative image that prevalence of this bias has earned for the superpower, it cannot be missed that Washington is gradually but definitely becoming aware of this hard reality. This probably compelled United States to issue statements at various levels on what led to the incident and that it would be looked into.

In addition to the incident having invited strong comments from several Indian politicians, Shahrukh’s fans reacted strongly by staging a demonstration in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh). Shouting slogans against the US administration, they also burnt effigy of US President Barack Obama. They termed Shahrukh’s detention as an “insult to one billion Indians,” (August 16). A similar demonstration was staged in the capital city also.

”We will take the issue with the United States government strongly. Such incidents involving Indians due to their religion or nationality should not happen. We will not accept it,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said. Earlier, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said that India should also adopt the same attitude towards Americans. “Like they frisk, we should also be frisking them,” she said.

While United States has yet to accept that biased frisking of Shahrukh- decided by his religious and racial identity- has added to the negative image about the superpower’s democratic claims, Indians have reacted strongly against it, indicating that the incident is democratically unacceptable to them. Biased frisking of Shahrukh was totally undemocratic from the Indian perspective.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I31)

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan Federal Minister Mir Gul Mahmood Jakhrani in Houston

Picture A “Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) represents the whole country, as we have strong presence in all the provinces of Pakistan and we have always worked for the reign of democracy and never accepted dictatorship. The sacrifices of their own lives by the founder of the party Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and recently Benazir Bhutto, have been for stronger and democratic Pakistan and under the present able leadership of PPP, we will achieve the dream of good governance in Pakistan as we will finish our tenure of five years:” These were the sentiments of Mir Gul Mahmood Jakhrani, Federal Minister Pakistan. He was on a short visit to Houston, after attending 25th Annual Convention of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA), which was held at Saint Louis, Missouri between July 2nd and 6th, 2009.

Earlier Vice President PPP USA Khalid Khan (who is also President of Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston – PAGH) and PPP Houston’ President Syed Riaz Hussain welcomed all the esteemed guests, among whom were Consul General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem, City of Houston Councilperson M. J. Khan, Office Bearers of SANA, and many more. They thanked everyone to have come on a very short notice.

City of Houston Councilperson M. J. Khan conferred Honorary Citizenship and Ambassador of Goodwill Proclamation on behalf of Mayor of Houston to Mir Gul Mahmood Jakhrani.

For more infromation on PPP USA activities, one can visit http://www.pppusa.org/

Hillcroft to be “Gandhi Avenue”?

Picture B Efforts are underway, by the India Culture Center, to change the name of Hillcroft between Highway 59 and Westpark to “Gandhi Avenue” before October 02, 2009, which is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and the International Non-Violence Day. Some are in favor, while others are not.

Those who favor it, say that Houston is an international city and this diversity should be reflected in the names of the various streets of Houston. Also as Gandhi’s name is associated with Non-Violence, that will help to restrain crime and ferocity in the area.

Since Hillcroft, between Highway 59 and Westpark, has many international shops and restaurants from South Asia, those in favor of the change in name are saying that this section of roadway qualifies for the new name, which can be either Mahatma Gandhi Street or Gandhi Avenue.

There are others, who say that since majority of businesses are South Asian, it will be proper, if both Indian and Pakistani personality names are part of the new name for Hillcroft, like Gandhi-Jinnah Avenue.

Houston City Council Person M. J. Khan is favoring the change saying if majority of the people of the area want the name to be altered, then it should be changed.

However there are others, who feel that this same area has famous businesses belonging to Spanish, Guatemalan, Arab and Persian Communities: As such they feel that if there is need to change the name, it should be all inclusive.

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