Israeli Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past

November 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Focusing On What’s Important

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, TMO

“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness – to believe in ALLAH and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give Zakat, to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic.  Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing. 

Al Qur’an  2:177

One of the beautiful things of this great religion of ours is the diversity of people, cultures and Madhhabs, or schools of thought, which make up the religion.  We learn so much by traveling through the earth, meeting people, studying their ways, and applying the good of what they have to enhance our own situation.  In fact, Almighty ALLAH, (swt) says in Qur’an “He has made us different so that we may know one another” (so that we may grow).

I don’t think there will come a time (at least not in our lifetime) when all the Muslims will think alike, act alike, or worship alike.  So ALLAH has said it’s not important which way you turn your head.  It is not important how far you stick your finger out in jalsa (or whether you stick it out at all).  Focusing on such trivialities only cause feelings of animosity and seek to cause dis-unity rather than unity.
What ALLAH says He does like is for us to treat our fellow human being in a way that respects him or her and helps him or her to the best of our ability.

One of the things I am so elated about is I see more and more of the Muslims going out of their way to be courteous to one another.  I see more and more people trying to understand each other; I see more and more people trying to work with each other; even if they only come to the realization that they would rather not work together.  This is also positive because it keeps down confrontation.  A quote from Imam W.D. Mohammed puts it this way.  “The whole world is changing.  None of us are staying the same.  It’s wonderful to see people changing now to accept each other, understand each other, get to know each other and try to do something together to make life better for all of us on this earth.  This is really a wonderful time we’re living in!  A time that brings Jews, Christians, and Muslims together for a common cause in the spirit of fraternal or brotherly friendship.”

In the above sura ALLAH tells us what is not righteousness and then He tells us what is righteousness.  He says to fulfill the contracts that you have made.  Don’t get in the habit of being untruthful to each other.  There is nothing that can destroy a community quicker than lies – intentional untruths.

So let’s not worry about turning our faces East or West.  Let us gain righteousness by believing in ALLAH and following His guidance to all mankind. 

We invite the community to the Muslim Center on Sunday November 13, 2011 at 1:00 PM for an Interfaith Service.  Christians, Jews, and other faith traditions will join us and watch a re-enactment of the Hajj, done by our young people.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Focusing On What’s Important

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, TMO

“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness – to believe in ALLAH and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give Zakat, to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic.  Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing. 

Al Qur’an  2:177

One of the beautiful things of this great religion of ours is the diversity of people, cultures and Madhhabs, or schools of thought, which make up the religion.  We learn so much by traveling through the earth, meeting people, studying their ways, and applying the good of what they have to enhance our own situation.  In fact, Almighty ALLAH, (swt) says in Qur’an “He has made us different so that we may know one another” (so that we may grow).

I don’t think there will come a time (at least not in our lifetime) when all the Muslims will think alike, act alike, or worship alike.  So ALLAH has said it’s not important which way you turn your head.  It is not important how far you stick your finger out in jalsa (or whether you stick it out at all).  Focusing on such trivialities only cause feelings of animosity and seek to cause dis-unity rather than unity.
What ALLAH says He does like is for us to treat our fellow human being in a way that respects him or her and helps him or her to the best of our ability.

One of the things I am so elated about is I see more and more of the Muslims going out of their way to be courteous to one another.  I see more and more people trying to understand each other; I see more and more people trying to work with each other; even if they only come to the realization that they would rather not work together.  This is also positive because it keeps down confrontation.  A quote from Imam W.D. Mohammed puts it this way.  “The whole world is changing.  None of us are staying the same.  It’s wonderful to see people changing now to accept each other, understand each other, get to know each other and try to do something together to make life better for all of us on this earth.  This is really a wonderful time we’re living in!  A time that brings Jews, Christians, and Muslims together for a common cause in the spirit of fraternal or brotherly friendship.”

In the above sura ALLAH tells us what is not righteousness and then He tells us what is righteousness.  He says to fulfill the contracts that you have made.  Don’t get in the habit of being untruthful to each other.  There is nothing that can destroy a community quicker than lies – intentional untruths.

So let’s not worry about turning our faces East or West.  Let us gain righteousness by believing in ALLAH and following His guidance to all mankind. 

We invite the community to the Muslim Center on Sunday November 13, 2011 at 1:00 PM for an Interfaith Service.  Christians, Jews, and other faith traditions will join us and watch a re-enactment of the Hajj, done by our young people.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Reggie Reg Davis’ Statement About Proposed Detroit Charter on November 8th Election

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

TMO Editor’s note:  Some of you may remember TMO’s series on Muslim candidates in the local 2009 elections.  Reggie Reg Davis, a famous radio personality and convert to Islam, was one of those we interviewed during that time, as he ran for a seat on the Detroit Charter Commission.  He was elected and the following is an open letter from him concerning the newly proposed Detroit Charter, to be voted on and potentially ratified in the November 8th election.

The newly proposed Charter language is better than the current language however, it is NOT good enough and i feel Detroit deserves nothing less than the best! As a voice for the grassroots community, standing for the have nots and the children of our community; the seniors and working class, I’d like to say vote NO on Proposal C on Tuesday November 8.
This new language is better because with the new addition of the office of Inspector General, it will not allow for an elected official to practice cronyism, in which they put their childhood friend into a position he or she is not qualified for. They wont be able to get away with nepotism in which they hire their family members as a favor to the family or any type of corruption whether it be waste, fraud, malfeasance, misfeasance etc. So for this reason its better, however it is not necessarily the things that are in the proposed language that i am in opposition to but those things that have been left out.

For example, the biggest conflict at the Charter table during the conception of the new language was if a Charter should be ONLY framework for city government to work by or if it should go even farther by adding some legislation measures. The problem with allowing it to be only framework is that by doing so the city of Detroit becomes a non progressive city unlike many other major US cities. Washington D.C. has embodied into their home rule Charter an office of Disability Rights, which deals head on with the concerns of their disability community. And other prominent US cities like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and more have a commission set up to deal with issues related to disability in their community. The majority of our board voted to not include any dealings with the disability community in our Charter.

In 2009, Oakland Ca. added to their Charter a program called “KIDS FIRST” by which 3% of their general fund goes towards helping children with issues like health, education, and violence. And since 2009, the city of Oakland Ca. has witnessed a dramatic decline in youth violence and a major increase in graduation rates; the city credits their Charter for the change. This type of progression or thinking outside the box, is what we have failed to do in the new proposed Charter language.

Until we have a Charter that is inclusive of all the people of this great city we call Detroit and until we decide to progress, like many other major US cities, to the next level and not be afraid to sprinkle a small bit of legislation into this very important document we should say NO! This document should be prepared to stand until the end of time.

If the Charter is voted down this November, the commission will go back to the table and have no other choice but to SERIOUSLY be a voice for the people as we make the proper corrections to the document to BEST serve the people who we represent. And at that point, we will have newly proposed language prepared for a TRUE election year; 2012.

Thank you Detroit!
Reggie Reg Davis
Charter Commissioner
reggieregdavis@gmail.com

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Tunisia’s Ennahda May Back Open Economy

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Hammond

2011-10-25T195752Z_357696695_GM1E7AQ0B4401_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA

Soumaya Ghannouch (C), daughter of Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, celebrates outside Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis October 25, 2011. The party said on Tuesday it had won more than 40 percent of seats in Sunday’s election, pledging to continue democracy after the first vote that resulted from the "Arab Spring" revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

TUNIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Tunisian Islamists who won a historic election victory this week are expected to promote business-friendly economic policies but Europe’s economic woes could favour Gulf investors in the short term, analysts say.

Ennahda has tried hard to assuage the concerns of Western powers and secular elites which have long had the upper hand in the North African country that it will not alter laws that guarantee women equal rights to men in divorce, marriage and inheritance.

But it has also been keen to argue it will not cause any ruptures in Tunisia’s economic life. The two are linked since Western tourism, with its expectations of sun, sand and drinking, has been an economic driver for Tunisia.

Ennahda secretary general Hamadi Jbeli singled out on Tuesday wine and bikinis as elements in attracting tourism that the party had no intention to touch. He also said Ennahda had no plans to make changes to the banking sector, where Sharia-compliant services are so far minimal.

“We will pay close attention to what they implement but on the economic side we have no cause for concern. Our biggest concern is long delays in government formation,” said one Western diplomat in Tunis.

“A lot of their backers are from the merchant class who are keen on the idea of a liberal economic policy and they don’t have serious plans to change the economic policy of previous governments.”
Tunisia is under pressure to reinvigorate an economy that was hailed in recent years as a “miracle” by Western governments and financial institutions for its privatisations and deregulation but which has ground to a halt since the uprising that brought down Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Unemployment was at 14 percent before Ben Ali fell, and one third of the jobless had higher education. The figure is thought to have worsened in recent months.

The biggest problem facing the country is resource distribution. It is no accident that the revolt started in Sidi Bouzid, a depressed provincial town in the semi-arid zone of the Tunisian interior where resentment against the affluent coastal cities is strong.

“Economically, they are not radicals. Ennahda is quite conservative economically,” said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin of Control Risks. “They favour free enterprise.”

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi assured a delegation of bourse officials on Tuesday that he favoured more flotations on a stock market. Share prices fell in October on apparent fear of an Ennahda win, though Tunisia’s Eurobonds did not react negatively to its victory.

An initial public offering in state operator Tunisie Telecom had been held up partly by the leftists who gained in influence after the revolution. Jbeli, who is tipped to be Ennahda’s prime minister, met employers’ federation leaders on Tuesday.

About 80 percent of Tunisia’s trade is with the European Union, but with Europe in a financial crisis Ennahda could draw money from the conservative Gulf Arab region.

“Qatar in particular may feel encouraged to resume exploring investment opportunities in the country as the political situation stabilises,” said Dubai-based analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates.

“Although it did not proactively support the Tunisian revolution like it did in Libya, many Tunisians, including Ennahda feel indebted to Qatar for the moral support it gave to their cause,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is not thought to have close ties to Ennahda, but Qatar’s leading Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera has heavily promoted the group. Qatar was a major Arab backer of the NATO operation to back Libyan rebels who succeeded in ending the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

Sama Dubai, a government-owned company in the emirate, had plans in the Ben Ali era to develop a residential and commercial district in Tunis but the future of the project is now not clear and the land sits empty.

Hardliners among Ennahda’s rank-and-file could still rock the boat, despite Ghannouchi’s attempts to offer reassurances on social and economic policy.

“The danger is that Ennahda members or influential independents foment fears among investors with unguarded comments that do not really reflect the party’s intentions,” said Crispin Hawes of the Eurasia Group.

“The net result is that we believe that investor sentiment over Tunisia will remain nervous and trending towards the negative in the aftermath of the election.” (Additional reporting by Christian Lowe and Tarek Amara; Editing by David Stamp)

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Tariq Mehanna’s Prosecution a Larger Community Issue

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

Yet another “library terrorist” is being prosecuted in Boston, and as usual the typical Zionist lobbyists including the David Project aka “Citizens for Peace and Tolerance,” are suspect in a conspiracy against the Constitutional rights of this individual.

The Feds zeroed in on Tariq Mehanna, pointing to English translations of ancient Arabic Islamic texts on his website, aimed at new Muslims. The authorities said the pharmacist had conspired to attack civilians at a shopping mall, American soldiers abroad and two members of the executive branch of the federal government. The conspiracy occurred from 2001 to 2008, the acting United States attorney, Michael K. Loucks, said.

Mehanna comes from Sudbury, Massachussetts, an affluent suburb. He became acquainted with Daniel Maldonado, a Muslim convert who was arrested in Somalia, through his local mosque. According to the details from the Boston Globe, Tariq Mehanna was arrested for allegedly lying to the FBI in December 2006 regarding the whereabouts and activities of Daniel Maldonado. Mehanna is said to have spoken on the phone to Maldonado back in 2006 and then lied about doing so to the FBI which was investigating Maldonado for the “crime” of going to Somalia and receiving “terrorist training”.

Maldonado is said to have traveled to Africa where he joined up with the popular Islamic Courts Union and received military training and planned to fight with them against US backed warlords. He never even got a chance to fight as he contracted malaria. During this time his wife also contracted malaria, and by the grace of God some strangers brought his children back to Massachusetts in a tragic drama of epic proportions. Maldonado’s terrified children watched their mother die in a vehicle attempting to flee the war-torn country. Meanwhile, they await the release of their father from a CMU prison.

Mehanna was accused of many alarming things, but his only confirmed action was to travel to Yemen for religious study, and some other travel on the African continent. The FBI asked Mehanna to become an informant. When he refused, his troubles began. He accepted a job in Saudi Arabia as a pharmacist, and was arrested while trying to board the airplane. Agents from the NYPD traveled to Boston in an attempt to entrap him but Mehanna refused to partake in the “terrorist act” he was presented with. He has not been charged with any act of terrorism.

Tariq is described by those who know him well as humble, reserved, warm, compassionate, intelligent, charismatic, well-read, and dedicated. He has spent time delivering Friday sermons and directing youth study circles, speaking out against injustice and advocating for Muslim prisoners, teaching grade school students and helping those in need. Tarek is described as a man who is always giving.

“I have known him to be one of the most gracious, kind, caring, thoughtful, and respectable people I have ever known. For the two years that I knew him in Boston, I have seen him go above and beyond what most others would do to help others in need,” writes Ahmad AlFarsi in Tariq’s defense.

“Tariq was very involved in the Muslim community, masha’Allah; I remember many times that he would be giving halaqaat (Islamic lectures) in the local masjid on an Islamic text he was studying. And he helped many many other Muslims in the community come to the straight path.”

Mehanna has since been detained in pre-trial solitary confinement at Plymouth County Correction Facility in 23-hour isolation and denied bail twice. He now awaits trial, facing charges of “false statements,” “conspiracy” and “material support for terrorism” and a life sentence if wrongfully convicted. The trial has been set to begin next week. Supporters plan a protest march to the courthouse on Thursday.

Mehanna wrote in a letter to his supporters: “I cannot speak in detail about the charges and accusations against me, but suffice to say that nobody who truly knows me would for a second believe the utter lies and sensationalist garbage that has been peddled around in the media since my arrest. I am not the first person the government has played this game with, and I certainly won’t be the last. Regardless, that’s OK because, ‘Indeed, Allah defends those who believe…’ [Surat al-Hajj; v. 38]. And the Prophets themselves were targets of slander and lies by their opponents. So, who am I to be spared?”

While in prison, Mehanna has done his best to keep a positive attitude and to support fellow prisoners, while keeping his prayers. “No matter how bad things may be going for a given person, there is always someone worse off. There is always that one person you meet who gives you a reality check that reminds you that even though you are in prison going through hardship, etc., there are still things that you can take for granted.” He was referring to the unconditional support of his mother and family.

Pro-Israel lobbyists are connecting Mehanna to the Roxbury Mosque, which was not his regular prayer venue, in an attempt to connect their efforts to smear the Roxbury Mosque with this man’s plight. It would be wise for those defending Mehanna to uncover the conspiracy between extremist Jewish groups and the FBI in targeting this individual. If the David Project is not stopped, unlawful prosecutions will continue.

In a letter to supporters, Mehanna wrote about something a fellow prisoner said:

“‘When I was free, I saw your story on TV. However, it meant nothing to me, because I never thought it could happen to me. So, I did nothing for you. Now that I am in prison and it has happened to me, there are people who heard about my story and will think nothing of it, thinking it will never happen to them. Once it happens to them, others will think nothing of it and do nothing, etc…’ So, if you feel that you can just sit back and read about all these cases and do nothing to repel this injustice and that it can never happen to you, think again.”

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

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Senate Blocks Obama’s $447 Billion Job Creation Legislation

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) — Opponents of President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan blocked the measure in the Senate, with two Democrats joining Republicans to derail his prime proposal to help turn around the struggling economy.

The tally on the test vote wasn’t completed by early evening as the roll call remained open for Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, who was on her way back to Washington to vote in support of the plan. More than 40 senators voted against permitting debate on the measure, effectively shelving it.

The broad plan includes cuts in payroll taxes for workers and employers and provides new funding for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the measure a “lousy idea” that relies on proposals similar to 2009’s $825 billion stimulus, an effort he said that failed to work.

“If voting against another stimulus is the only way we can get Democrats in Washington to finally abandon this failed approach to job creation, then so be it,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
Senate Democratic leaders last week revised the president’s initial proposal, partly to try to pick up more support within their party.

That scrapped Obama’s method of paying for the jobs plan, including higher taxes on families making more than $250,000 a year. Senate leaders substituted a 5.6 percent surtax on people making at least $1 million annually.

‘Tax Gimmicks’

Even so, Democratic Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska opposed the plan. “I can’t support tax gimmicks that do little to create jobs” and don’t address the need for a bipartisan deficit-cutting plan, Tester said in a statement.

Before the Senate voted, Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans

– who are trying to take control of the Senate and White House in 2012

– of attempting to hamper the economy for political benefit. He said Republicans are opposing job-creation ideas they supported in previous years.

“Republicans oppose those ideas now because they have a proven track record of creating jobs, and Republicans think if the economy improves it might help President Obama,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “So they root for the economy to fail, and oppose every effort to improve it.”

Pressing Ahead

Obama vowed to press ahead and seek to get individual provisions of his plan passed by Congress.

“Tonight’s vote is by no means the end of this fight,” Obama said in a statement. As they vote on each component “members of Congress can either explain to their constituents why they’re against common-sense, bipartisan proposals to create jobs, or they can listen to the overwhelming majority of American people who are crying out for action.”

The vote leaves Obama’s economic agenda in limbo because the political parties disagree about what should be done to lower the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate, said Clint Stretch, managing principal of tax policy at Deloitte Tax LLP in Washington. Republicans seek permanent tax cuts and deregulation, while Obama and congressional Democrats want more federal spending and short-term tax reductions.

“The president’s jobs initiative is at the end of its legislative life

– not that it really had one,” Stretch said. He said the focus will likely shift away from jobs and toward the work of a congressional supercommittee that is tasked with cutting $1.5 billion from the federal deficit over 10 years.

Obama’s Plan

Obama proposes to create jobs by cutting payroll taxes for workers and employers by half, extending jobless benefits, providing aid to states for schools and emergency workers and boosting spending on public works projects such as roads and bridges. He also would provide tax breaks for employers to hire the unemployed.

The plan considered today would be financed by Senate Democratic leaders’ proposed surtax, which the U.S. Congressional Budget Office said would raise $453 billion.

Obama endorsed the leaders’ plan. He had proposed capping itemized deductions for individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $250,000. He also proposed raising taxes on private equity firm managers, real estate investors and venture capitalists, and ending oil and gas subsidies.

‘Issues of Inequality’

The new method of offsetting the bill’s costs still ran into Democratic opposition. Senator James Webb, a Virginia Democrat, said he would vote to let debate start, but wouldn’t support the Senate jobs legislation as it was drafted. He said a tax on millionaires that is income-based fails to address real issues of inequality in the tax code. He said the best method to spread the tax burden would be to boost taxes on capital gains.

“The present proposal looks good at first glance; it sounds good on a TV bite, but in all respect to the people who put it forward, I do not believe it’s smart policy and it does not go where the real economic division lies in our country,” Webb said.

In the House, Obama’s plan also faces hurdles. Republicans who hold the majority oppose the tax increases, and party leaders there also have said it adds spending in many areas already bolstered in 2009’s economic stimulus measure.

House Republican leaders say some of Obama’s ideas, such as payroll tax cuts, are worth considering.

The Senate bill is S. 1660.

–With assistance from Margaret Talev in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Ben Richardson

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

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Live with the Confidence of ALLAH’S Grace

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, TMO

ALLAH, ta, created all of us from a single soul and endowed all of us with special gifts and qualities that are unique to us individually.  Each human being has the opportunity to make whatever we do the best.

But sometimes we forget about the special place ALLAH has placed us on.  We sometimes look at the gifts of others and put them on a pedestal higher than the one ALLAH has placed us on.  We will think someone is handsomer or prettier than we are.  Or we might think they are smarter or have a more perfectly built body.

But ALLAH, Almighty   has endowed each and every one of us with special gifts that are cause to celebrate.   

This is why it is ludicrous to put other people on a pedestal higher than yours. Carry yourself in a confident manner.  Hold your head high and look people in the eye as you talk to them.  You are royalty.  Don’t hold yourself back.   Go forward and celebrate yourself with no fear.  After all, no one you come in contact with is is better than you in the sight of Almighty ALLAH.    You are the special creation of Almighty ALLAH.  You come from the Ultimate Family…The family of ALLAH.

We should go through life with the feeling that every person and everything we come in contact with is there to serve us…because it is.  I was recently in a clothing store returning some merchandise to be exchanged.  The saleslady said there was no way that was going to happen because of some glitch.  I told her that it certainly could happen because in this age of technology anything is possible.  At this time, the manager came forward and entered a special code and the problem was solved. 

Now if I had let the first lady’s pronouncement go, I would not have accomplished my goal.  But with the attitude that everything and everyone was there to serve me, I was going to succeed.  I was reminded of the truth of the saying, “the difference between success and failure is one more try.  If you quit, you have surely failed.  But if you continue, some way, somehow, you will succeed.

I am also reminded of the tenacity of the early band of Muslims who were fleeing persecution from the Meccan’s.  With the enemy in pursuit of them, The Muslims sought refuge with an African Christian King on the advance instructions of the Prophet Muhammad, (as).   The King Negus was about to give the Muslims up to their enemies, but being steadfast and full of faith, they quoted some Qur’an and softened the king’s heart and the Meccans’ were sent back empty handed. 

Knowing your special place it should behoove you to take care of yourself.  Take care of your body and mind.  It is ALLAH’S gift to you. Eat sensibly and exercise regularly.   ALLAH made a gift to you and it would be like a slap in the face to Him and a detriment to you if you just let it rot.

Live with confidence like the royalty you are.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Washington–The first post-“Revolution” election over this modern Punic realm on the twenty-third of this month is essential to the direction of the future of the Arab “Spring,” and whether a truly Islamic democratic form can be fulfilled over the region.

Your narrator takes his report from a panel, “The Jasmine Revolution and Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy” which was the first segment of the Center for Democracy and Islam (CISD), headquartered here in the District of Columbia (D.C.), Twelfth Annual Conference, “Tunisia and Egypt’s Revolution and Transitions to Democracy.”    

Radwan Masmoudi, president and founder of The CSID, began the proceedings by stating that the recent rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt “…have been [something we were] dreaming of for a long time.” The revolutions have changed the perceptions of Arabs in the West.  What outsiders conceived to be stability was rotten to its core of corruption and repression.  NATO’s allied Arab elite grew out of touch domestically, failing to address chronic social and economic problems.  Now, it is important that these nations of the Middle East succeed!  Whereas, “The whole region is going through…changes…a lot of work has to be done…,” too.  Regarding the United States in particular, Dr. Masmoudi warned that now “…the United States must realize that change is coming, and they should not be afraid of change!” He  suggests that this meeting recommend how the United States (and other international actors) can best support the spread of democracy in  the Islamic world.

The panel of the middle of this April last consisted of Radwan Ziadeh, founder and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (Syria) as moderator; with opening comments by Mohamed Salah Tekaya, the current Ambassador of Tunisia to the United States; Jaloul Ayed, Minister of Finance in Tunis; and, finally, Mondher Ben Ayed, a Tunisian businessman and a board member of the CSID chapter in the Tunisian capital.

Jaloul Ayed, Minister of Finance for Tunisia, asserted that, “We have a real opportunity…We can create a democratic political system free of corruption that truly respects human rights.” Minister Ayed said Tunisia’s Revolution was the first of the so-called Arab “Spring” because due to our previous history (and traditions).

Minister Ayed paid tribute to the “spontaneous, leaderless and party-less” Revolution.  At the present, among the primary challenges facing the current transitional government preparing for elections are maintaining security and managing the expectations of the people.  Although the security situation is improving, “the reality is, the government cannot meet the people’s demands immediately.”
The transitional government is focusing on four main priorities: reducing unemployment, restoring economic growth, reducing regional disparities, and assisting Tunisians in need.  With a population of 10 million, 600,000 are unemployed, with large numbers of recent graduates unable to find work, also.

Curiously, the country’s tourism and export sectors employ about one million workers and support 50 percent of the population, but both have been severely impacted by the Revolution. 

The new government intends to create twenty thousand additional jobs in the public sector and to recruit an additional twenty thousand more into the military.  We, further, anticipate a growing economy to absorb another twenty thousand workers in the private sector, yet it is “a drop in the bucket,” but, moreover, “a good start.”  Their Program Hope, an expanding new project, will provide small cash stipends to recent graduates to help them enter the labor market.

To restore economic growth the Ministry of Finance is commencing major initiatives on infrastructure and finance reformation.  “We need a serious reform of our entire financial system…. These problems developed over a long time and will require a long-term solution.”    

Efforts have begun to reduce regional disparities in microfinance projects and advice to small and medium-sized enterprises.  Simultaneously, on the social front, the government is providing subsidies to families that have suffered financially since the Revolution.

The government is attempting to obtain the wealth with which the former President Ben Ali absconded.  The Finance Minister attested that the process has been “complicated and technical,” so as not to disrupt viable companies or to destroy the banks.  Real estate rightfully belonging to the State will go back to the government while stolen financial assets will go back to the banks.

The transitional government acknowledges it does not have a mandate to engage in major structural changes; therefore, it simultaneously wishes to prepare for the next (elected) government while meeting the current pressing demands of the people. “We believe that the spark that began in Tunisia will give us a tremendous responsibility to make sure that this transition becomes a successful one!  Failure is totally unacceptable!”

Your reporting author summarizes that Minister Jaloul Ayed acknowledges the necessity of stemming the institutional corruption of the past; there is a requirement for a wide-ranging political debate; also, to commit the Republic to development; and, thereby, the establishment of stability for foreign investment capital to thrive.

Mondher Ben Ayed, a Tunisian businessman and a board member of CSID-Tunis, opened his remarks with a review of the security situation.  The army and the police are smaller than both internal and external threats demand.  In actuality, “The army is…only 35,000 troops that are not even trained well or equipped.”  Succinctly, external and internal securities are issues.

Mr. Ben Ayed gave the exact figures to which Jaloul Ayed only intimated in his assessment of the economic challenges ahead.   The latter predicted that unemployed might rise to 700,000 before it starts to fall.  To be exact, 350,000 persons are employed in the tourism industry.  This will be a bad year for that sector!  “Right now, foreign debt is up, foreign investment is down, and the budget deficit is exploding because of food and energy subsidies to the people…We have lost our trade with Libya…and the banking system is weak with lots of bad debts.”

“We are facing major economic challenges,” but despite this gloom, Mr. Ben Ayed still remains optimistic. “Before the revolution, Tunisia had strong economic fundamentals,” a high literacy rate, equal status for women, and a strong middle class.  Even with the massive corruption, the country experienced four years of 5-percent annual growth. “If we can take out corruption, we should be able to achieve 7 or 8 percent of growth per annum,” but “We need financial aid for a two-year transitional period, after which we will be fine.” The United States and Europe are essential to our “Revolution’s success.

“We have had more political change in the past…months than in the previous fifty years… all these changes have been made under existing civil law in an ad-hoc environment.”  A new Election Commission and Code has been produced. The upcoming elections scheduled (for this month) will engender a new 200-member parliament that will, likewise, draft a new constitution.

We have experienced momentous political changes.  After a new Constitution we shall proceed towards a Presidential election, and, thus, hopefully, will be “…solving our problems…”

Finally, the convener of the Conference, Radwan Masoudi, noted that, while religion will continue to be a major force in the country (Tunisia is 98 percent Muslim with a long tradition of moderation), “…no one wants a theocratic state—everybody wants a democratic civil state that fully respects human rights and Islamic values and culture.”

The challenge will be “to find a good balance between Islamic religious values and democratic values….I think Tunisia is well placed to develop…a moderate Islamic state.”

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Analysis: Indonesia’s Cup of Cocoa Woes Could Cheer World Market

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lewa Pardomuan and Michael Taylor

2011-09-30T093534Z_809907537_GM1E79U1CRP01_RTRMADP_3_CHOCOLATE-CHANGESSINGAPORE/JAKARTA (Reuters) – A plunge in Indonesia’s cocoa exports spotlights a flagging battle against disease and adverse weather, but the country’s supply disruptions could allay fears of another global surplus and stem a seven-month slide in prices.

Although the outlook for world grindings may be clouded by the threat of recession, shrinking output in third-largest cocoa producer Indonesia will help balance the market in the next crop year after supply exceeded demand by 450,000 tons this year.

“Indonesia is clearly the one bullish point that we expect in the cocoa market,” said Kona Haque, a commodity strategist at Macquarie Bank in London.

“Everything else right now is slightly on the bearish side, including grindings demand, which is probably going to be weaker than expected, and equally West African production could be higher than expected.”

Indonesia launched a $350 million program in 2009 to boost production to more than 600,000 tons within 4 to 5 years, but it has yet to show results, with bad weather, growers’ failure to follow advice on planting techniques and mismanagement working against the campaign.

Instead of rising, output is likely to plunge more than 30 percent to around 400,000 tons this year, but that will be enough to meet demand from the Indonesia’s thriving grinding sector.

“DIABOLICAL” WET WEATHER

Wet weather wreaked havoc on the crop this year and brought back the Vascular-streak Dieback (VSD) disease to plantations across the main growing island of Sulawesi, killing trees and curbing exports since at least March.

“The fact that Indonesia is struggling is a very supportive factor. VSD is a killer. There is no cure for it, you can’t spray — the only thing they can do is cut down the trees and re-plant,” said Gary Mead, editor at WorldCrops.

“We might be in a structural period where Indonesia just gets a lot of rainfall for the next few years, and that would be pretty diabolical for the cocoa sector.”

The International Cocoa Organization expects the cocoa market to be in balance or possibly see a small surplus in the next crop year to September 2012 — bucking the market consensus view of a small deficit.

The ICCO estimated a surplus of 325,000 tons in the crop year ending this month — a bearish factor which caused cocoa futures to fall from a 32-year high at $3,775 a ton in March to current levels around $2,700.

Commodity trader Olam International estimated surplus in the current year to be as high as 450,000 tons. [ID:nL3E7KQ0L6]

But supply constraints in Indonesia, which may last through next year if erratic weather persists, could force traditional buyers such as Malaysia, the United States and Brazil to turn to West Africa, where beans are plentiful after a bumper crop, and ease supply there.

Indonesia’s falling output had contributed to a global supply shortage in the crop year to September 2009.

Cocoa exports from Sulawesi tumbled 76.7 percent in August to 8,421.50 tons on the year, and the country’s total shipments could fall 40 percent to 200,000 tons in 2011, their lowest in at least seven years.

VSD is the latest in a series of pest and disease risks Indonesia has battled for years to eradicate, among them the cocoa pod borer, which has persisted since the 1980s.

The revitalization program launched two years ago aimed to fix the problem by handing out free fertilizer to boost the productivity of cocoa trees over an area of 145,000 hectares, the replanting of old trees and the production of better seeds.

“The general perception is this program has made the parties in the middle richer — I mean those who are contracted to provide seeds and so on. The money hasn’t gone down to the farmers,” said an exporter in Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi.

“There’s no news of an increase in production.”

Government officials said the program was on track despite minor glitches such as farmers mishandling the seeds or young cocoa trees which are to be planted to replace old ones.

“The program is still going on and I heard it will be extended to 2014,” said Soetanto Abdoellah, research head at the state-sponsored Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute.

“We also focus on quality improvement. We have started working on bean quality improvement, involving many farmers.”

About 90 percent of Indonesian cocoa growers are smallholders, which has crimped expansion for decades.

INDONESIAN GRINDERS CHASE LOCAL BEANS

The main crop in Sulawesi, which was badly hit by disease, is over. The market has turned its attention to the smaller crop due to start next month and so far progressing smoothly.

Farmers and grinders hope the heavy rain of the dreaded La Nina weather phenomenon does not return.

Indonesian grinders are forecast to process 400,000 tons of beans into chocolate ingredients in 2012, up 43 percent from this year’s 280,000 tons, to meet growing demand from consumers in Asia at a time when demand in Europe and the United States may falter.

Indonesia is also attracting companies such as U.S. giant Cargill , which plans to invest $113 million to set up a cocoa grinding plant in Sulawesi.

“Cocoa bean exports from Indonesia will tend to fall because of rising domestic demand estimated at more than 400,000 tons in 2012,” said Piter Jasman, chairman of the Indonesian Cocoa Industry Association.

He expected strong consumption to help prices stabilize at $3,000 a ton, and production to eventually reach 600,000 tons a year.

Global cocoa consumption has been growing at about 1.5 percent each year, analysts say, with total global net production estimated at 3.736 million tons and global grindings at 3.829 million for the 2011-2012 season.

So the supply worries won’t go away any time soon.

“The industry has been plagued with concerns about disease and the quality of the crop,” said Abah Ofon, commodities analyst at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. “That is going to put pressure on supply in the next harvest now.”

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Libya’s NTC thinks Gaddafi Near Algeria

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Joseph Logan and Sherine El Madany

SIRTE (Reuters) – Libya’s new rulers said on Wednesday they believed fugitive former leader Muammar Gaddafi was being shielded by nomadic tribesmen in the desert near the Algerian border, while his followers fend off assaults on his hometown.

Intense sniper and artillery fire from pro-Gaddafi fighters has so far prevented National Transitional Council (NTC) forces from taking Sirte despite more than two weeks of fighting and two full-on assaults.

One of Gaddafi’s last two bastions, it has withstood a siege, NTC tank and rocket fire as well as NATO air strikes, and the United Nations and international aid agencies are worried about conditions for civilians trapped inside.

More than a month since NTC fighters captured the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi remains defiantly on the run pledging to lead a campaign of armed resistance against the new leaders.

Gaddafi himself may be holed up near the western town of Ghadames, near the Algerian border, under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, a senior NTC military official said.

“There has been a fight between Tuareg tribesmen who are loyal to Gaddafi and Arabs living there (in the south). We are negotiating. The Gaddafi search is taking a different course,” Hisham Buhagiar told Reuters, without elaborating.

Many Tuaregs, nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of Libya and its neighbors, have backed Gaddafi since he supported their rebellions against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s and allowed them to settle in Libya.

Buhagiar said Gaddafi’s most politically prominent son, Saif al-Islam, was in the other final loyalist holdout, Bani Walid, and that another son, Mutassem, was in Sirte.
Lack of coordination and division at the front-line have been hampering NTC attempts to capture Sirte and Bani Walid.

Fighting continued on separate eastern and western fronts in Sirte on Wednesday and commanders said they would try to join the two fronts together and take the city’s airport.

“There is progress toward the coastal road and the airport…. The plan is for various brigades to invade from other directions,” NTC fighter Amran al-Oweiwi said.

Street-fighting was under way at a roundabout 2 km (1.5 miles) east of the town center, where anti-Gaddafi fighters were pinned down for a third day by sniper and artillery fire.

As NATO planes circled overhead, NTC forces moved five tanks to the front but were immediately met with Grad rockets fired from inside the town, missing the tanks by only yards.

A Reuters crew at the scene saw several NTC fighters flee the front-line under heavy fire while others stood their ground.

“If I die, I’ll die proud,” one fighter shouted as he left a group of hiding comrades and ran back to the front.

“At the buildings! At the buildings!” an NTC commander ordered fighters manning the tanks, in an apparent attempt to target snipers, as thick black smoke rose over the town.

On the western front, fighters leapt into pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and anti-aircraft guns and raced in the direction of the airport.

Medical workers said 15 fighters were killed in Sirte on Tuesday, the highest single-day death toll. Two more, including a senior NTC field commander, were killed on Wednesday. More than 100 fighters were wounded, many from sniper fire.

NTC fighters captured 60 African mercenaries in Sirte on Wednesday. They said most had come from Chad and Mali to fight with Gaddafi loyalists.

A commander leading the attack on Sirte said on Tuesday he was in talks with elders inside the city about a truce, but the head of an anti-Gaddafi unit on the east rejected negotiations.

In Tripoli, a senior NTC officer said his fighters, on entering Sirte two days ago, had found and seized a helicopter under camouflage that appeared to have been made ready for a swift departure. He told Reuters he suspected the helicopter was assigned for the use of a senior official of the ousted Gaddafi government, possibly one of Gaddafi’s sons.

GADDAFI CLAN STILL VOCAL

As the fighting continues, humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm about the possibility of civilian casualties in the town. Gaddafi’s spokesman has said NATO air strikes and NTC shelling are killing civilians.

NATO and the NTC deny that. They say Gaddafi loyalists are using civilians inside Sirte as human shields and have kidnapped and executed those they believe to be NTC supporters.

“Our main worry is the people being displaced because of the fighting,” said Jafar Vishtawi, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), near Sirte.

Civilians fleeing the town have said there is no power, little water and that the local population is terrified.

Taking the last two Gaddafi strongholds and finding the toppled leader would bring the NTC closer to establishing their credibility as the country’s new rulers.

A Syria-based television station that has been broadcasting audio speeches by Gaddafi, reported on Tuesday that Gaddafi had addressed his supporters and urged them to fight in a speech broadcast on a local radio station in Bani Walid. The report by Arrai television could not be independently verified.

In a separate development, NTC justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi said he was ready to work with Scottish authorities to probe the possible involvement of others in the Lockerbie bombing apart from the sole Libyan convicted for the attack.

His remark reversed a position he took only on Monday, when he said that as far as Libya was concerned the case of the bombing of the U.S.-bound airliner over the Scottish village of Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives was closed.

Scottish prosecutors had asked Libya’s NTC to give them access to papers or witnesses that could implicate more suspects in the attack, possibly including Gaddafi himself.

(Additional reporting by William MacLean and Alexander Dziadosz in Tripoli, Emad Omar in Benghazi, Samia Nakhoul in London, Christian Lowe and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Louise Ireland)

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Congressman’s Apology to Muslims

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By James Warren

Mike Quigley knows about cheap shots on ice. Now he’s an expert on being blindsided on the Internet and cable TV.

Quigley_Headshot

Congressman Mike Quigley, (D-5th-IL)

Mr. Quigley, a Democratic Chicago congressman, had a relatively light Saturday recently. He played ice hockey in the morning, did a beach cleanup with the Sierra Club and hit four block parties in the 32nd, 43rd and 44th Wards. Along the way he surfaced at a conference held by the American Islamic College. It was a quick in-and-out, with remarks to perhaps 100 attendees about the strengths of American pluralism, the sort he makes to many groups. They included:

“Forms of discrimination come in many forms, many shapes and many guises. You have my pledge to work with you to fight them, and I think that it is appropriate for me to apologize on behalf of this country for the discrimination you face.”

He then bicycled to the first block party. The Islamic College audience was apparently grateful but didn’t find his appearance especially notable as they returned to the business of their meeting.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, found the address nice and patriotic. “What we’d expect of a congressman,” he said.

Neither he, Mr. Quigley nor anybody else there was prepared for the response initiated in the conservative blogosphere, then intensified on radio and TV.

The congressman was attacked harshly, with at least one death threat on a Fox News site that by week’s end was still not taken down despite requests.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative activist, blogged that Mr. Quigley made a “surprise appearance”  before “the primarily Muslim audience. He rambled on about the typical racism and discrimination that the liberal left is so convinced America is rampantly infected with.”

The appearance was not a surprise, even if not on the formal program.

But the nefarious implication was repeated on blogs and the Fox News Channel. Video links included the lines above but not related comments about the legacies of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

Social media posts and hundreds of nasty calls, e-mails and faxes poured in to his offices, which deleted profane and violent posts and passed direct threats to law enforcement.

But the conservative echo chamber was in high dudgeon. Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host, decided that Mr. Quigley’s remarks were a story and thus conferred high-profile legitimacy to the bloggers’ vituperation on Tuesday. Mr. Quigley could not appear, but Mr. Rehab did, initially nonplused that the remarks were deemed newsworthy.

With “Questionable Apology” emblazoned on the screen, Mr. O’Reilly repeated the same two sentences Mr. Quigley had uttered and declared:

“Wow! What discrimination?”  Statistics don’t support claims of bias against Muslim Americans, he said.

Much data and polling contradicts him. As an unabashed Mr. Rehab told him, “You’d have to be living under a rock” to miss the overarching reality.

Mr. Rehab cited federal figures on rising workplace complaints of anti-Muslim discrimination and polls showing both that 39 percent of Americans would require Muslims to carry special identification and that one-third don’t think Muslims should be allowed to run for president.

“O.K., those stats bolster your argument,” Mr. O’Reilly conceded. “But in economic realms, Muslim Americans are doing well, pretty well,” he said. “We don’t want anybody to be anti-Muslim. Thank you for coming on here,” Mr. O’Reilly concluded brusquely, with Mr. Rehab having clearly failed to fulfill a role of self-righteous liberal piñata.

But Fox wasn’t done.

On Wednesday, its morning “Fox and Friends” show saw Mr. Quigley, 52, called a “silly old fool” by Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and advocate of aggressive military actions. He belittled Muslims with a series of mock apologies like “We should apologize for preventing them from beating their daughters to death for flirting.”

Eboo Patel, an Indian-born Muslim and former Rhodes Scholar who runs the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Corps, found the response offensive.

But he noted a Gallup poll finding that American Muslims remain very optimistic despite facing discrimination.

He mentioned that his nephew in Houston was hassled when, for religious reasons, he wouldn’t eat school pizza with pork.

Well, at least we occasionally try to curb school bullies. We clearly don’t when it comes to the bullies who can drive our public dialogue.

jwarren@chicagonewscoop.org

James Warren writes a column for the Chicago News Cooperative.

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Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Event

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) has announced the attendance of two very special guests at this years  banquet/fundraiser. The two sisters, Fatema and Hala, ages 10 and 11,  were seriously burned in a house fire in Gaza, Palestine. They are but two of the many children that the PCRF has helped in the long  journey from illness and disability along the long road to health with the  concurrent ability to lead a normal life. Ahmad Saloul who is 9 years old and is  also from Gaza will join them. He is awaiting surgery at Shriners Hospital in  Los Angeles.

The event will be held September 24th at the Anaheim  Hilton in Anaheim, Ca. Tickets are $100 each with table sponsorships available.  To purchase a ticket(s), please call: 562-432-0005 or fax at:  562-684-0828.

The girls will travel to Texas to be treated for  their injuries, but only after a trip to Disneyland. They will incur no expenses  nor will their families as these expenses will be covered by the PCRF. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is also proud  to announce the featured speaker for the evening, Diana Buttu, a  Canadian-Palestinian attorney who has gained international acclaim and respect  for her legal work.

Ms Buttu’s accomplishments are many: herewith a few. She is a  fellow of the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government. She  currently resides in Palestine and served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian  negotiating team. She was the only woman at the Palestine-Israeli negotiations.  In 2004 she was part of a team that successfully challenged Israel’s Wall before  the International Court of Justice. Ms Bhutto later served as the communications  Director to President Abbas and frequently comments on Israeli-Palestinian  political matters for media outlets including MSNBC,CNN, Al Jazeera, and the  BBC. Ms Buttu holds degrees from the University of Toronto, Queens University,  Stanford University and Northwestern.

She will address the PCRF on the subject of Palestinian  statehood. The issue is currently at the top of the news, and her  address will coincide with the issue of statehood to be brought up before the  United Nations this month.

The PCRF is an  internationally acclaimed and honored children’s charity, specializing in the  Middle East. To find out more, access their web site at: _www.pcrf.net_ (http://www.pcrf.net/)

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Going Gaga for ‘Ghabqas’

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

buffet2It sounds like some trendy new product to hit the market or the latest fad that will improve all aspects of life. However, a ‘ghabqa’ is nothing of the sort although it does unite people. By definition, a ‘ghabqa’ is a social and gastronomical event that brings people together to celebrate during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is a cultural tradition of the minuscule Gulf nation of Kuwait. Kuwaitis have been putting on their own ghabqas for centuries.

The timeframe for most ghabqas is during the second half of Ramadan. However, the last ten days of Ramadan is when most people hold their ghabqas as the race to the end of the holy month has already begun. By all appearances, the ghabqa is an elaborate feast that features a buffet-style menu with all of the traditional trappings of local cuisine. A ghabqa is only as good as the entertainment, food and beverages served.

It use to be that families would host ghabqas either at home or in a large rented hall much to the delight of their friends and relatives. These days’ large Kuwaiti companies and corporations are also getting in on the act. Managers throw elaborate ghabqas at five-star hotels for their employees and their families.  Special invitations are also given out to preferred clients and their families as well. Reporters, and even local bloggers, are often invited to ensure that the event is covered in the press as well as social-media.

Unfortunately, corporate ghabqas are nothing more than marketing ventures used to entice brand loyalty within the country. Large placards, marketing materials and anything else emblazoned with the company logo is splattered all over the tables and amongst the buffet platters. The bright side of a corporate ghabqa is that guests are often treated to lavish gift bags that might contain an expensive watch, perfume or even pricey jewelry. The entertainment at a corporate ghabqa is second to none. Many corporations hire regional celebrities to perform on stage for the benefit of ghabqa guests.

The best place, however, to enjoy a ghabqa is with a private family. The event is much more relaxed and guests don’t have to compete with one another or spend the night networking. The best part of a private ghabqa held by a family is, of course, the children. Kids have the chance to spend time with their cousins or make new friends with the children of other guests. Special treats and tiny toys offered expressly for the smallest guests is what make a family-held ghabqa truly an event to remember. 

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Thomas Jefferson’s Iftar: 1805

August 11, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

0729011_Jefferson-Quran_600
Thomas Jefferson’s Qur`an

“Ramadan,” said President Obama at a White House iftar dinner in 2010, “is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan — making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”

The dinner to which the president referred took place on December 9, 1805, and Jefferson’s guest was Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, an envoy from the bey (chieftain) of Tunis who spent six months in Washington. The context of Mellimelli’s visit to the United States was a tense dispute over piracy on American merchant vessels by the Barbary states and the capture of Tunisian vessels trying to run an American blockade of Tripoli.

Mellimelli arrived during Ramadan, and Jefferson, when he invited the envoy to the president’s house, changed the meal time from the usual hour of 3:30 p.m. to “precisely at sunset” in deference to the man’s religious obligation.

Jefferson’s knowledge of Islam likely came from his legal studies of natural law. In 1765, Jefferson purchased a two-volume English translation of the Quran for his personal library, a collection that became, in 1815, the basis of the modern Library of Congress.

This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html

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Find your Peace Using ALLAH’S Peace

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, TMO

Islam, the religion of peace of over one billion people, is uniquely situated to comfort each of those people individually.  No two people are alike or have the same situations or experiences – not best friends, family members, not even identical twins think and act alike.  And for all these one billion plus Muslims, there is only one book of guidance for all…the illustrious Qur’an Karim.

ALLAH has structured His creation so that every human being can have a personal relationship with Him.  This is why when praying, it shouldn’t matter what masjid you are at or what imam is leading.  You’re not praying to him or through him: you’re praying directly to ALLAH.  The imam is just leading you through the motions.

To enhance peace in our own lives, we must focus on the peace of the Divine Mind revealed by ALLAH to mankind.  Keeping the mind steady on the path of love and prosperity is a full-time job and absolutely imperative if we are to attain the true purpose of our existence, which is to follow ALLAH’S directives for peace of mind and prosperity.

ALLAH has given us this beautiful mind as the greatest tool in creation.  Everything except ALLAH submits to that mind (Adam).  The mind was designed by ALLAH to reflect the spiritual world, so we can better maneuver in the material world and thus, achieve a balance between these two worlds.

No where in the Qur’an does ALLAH tell mankind to be evil, mean, jealous, or envious as these are the characteristics of Satan.  Quite the contrary, He admonishes us for those things and directs us to be the exact opposite.  But as we have said many times, it is not automatic.  Because we are equipped with a mind and consciousness, we must consciously read and learn ALLAH’S word and act on it in order to be successful.

The common, lazy practice of mankind is to make other people the cause and the source of their happiness.  Women will look to a man for happiness and peace, and a man will look to a woman.  Ironically, these false sources of happiness can also be thought of as the guilty ones and the ones to blame for our unhappiness.  Neither one is the truth.  True happiness and peace can only come from submission to The Source of peace…Almighty ALLAH.

It takes faith and work (action) to walk the path of spirituality while negativity and self-doubt are the results of lack of faith in ALLAH, and lack of knowledge of the sacred principles that govern this world.  This lack of knowledge comes most often from not getting involved with the scripture of ALLAH through reflective reading.

Presently we are in the 1st days of the month of Ramadan which affords us the best opportunity to reflect on and increase our faith…which is the key to peace.  ALLAH tells us in Qur’an that the early morning is the best time for reading Qur’an and reflection and prayer.  In His mercy of ordering us to fast, the majority of us is up and has had suhoor anyway: so, if your schedule allows it, use this time to raise yourself spiritually.  Sit down quietly and read the days reading with reflection on the words; not just as a duty.

ALLAH has made peace attainable to us all, individually, so don’t miss your opportunity.  Find your peace by being human as ALLAH describes a human.

As Salaam alaikum
(Al Hajj) Imam Abdullah El-Amin

Anders Breivik & Europe’s Blind Right Eye

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Praveen Swami

2011-07-26T181547Z_1238585719_GM1E77R06AP01_RTRMADP_3_NORWAY

A woman takes part in a march near Utoeya island to pay their respects for the victims of the killing spree and bomb attack in Norway, in the village of Sundvollen, northwest of Oslo, July 26, 2011. Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik is in all likelyhood "insane", his lawyer said after the anti-Islam radical admitted to bomb and shooting spree in Norway on Friday that killed 76 people. 

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

There are important lessons for India in the murderous violence in Norway: lessons it can ignore only at risk to its own survival.

In 2008, Hindutva leader B.L. Sharma ‘Prem’ held a secret meeting with key members of a terrorist group responsible for a nationwide bombing campaign targeting Muslims. “It has been a year since I sent some three lakh letters, distributed 20,000 maps of Akhand Bharat but these Brahmins and Banias have not done anything and neither will they [do anything],” he is recorded to have said in documents obtained by prosecutors. “It is not that physical power is the only way to make a difference,” he concluded, “but to awaken people mentally, I believe that you have to set fire to society.”
Last week, Anders Behring Breivik, armed with assault weapons and an improvised explosive device fabricated from the chemicals he used to fertilize the farm that had made him a millionaire in his mid-20s, set out to put Norway on fire.

Even though a spatial universe separated the blonde, blue-eyed Mr. Breivik from the saffron-clad neo-Sikh Mr. Sharma, their ideas rested on much the same intellectual firmament.

In much media reportage, Mr. Breivik has been characterised as a deranged loner: a Muslim-hating Christian fanatic whose ideas and actions placed him outside of society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Breivik’s mode of praxis was, in fact, entirely consistent with the periodic acts of mass violence European fascists have carried out since World War II. More important, Mr. Breivik’s ideas, like those of Mr. Sharma, were firmly rooted in mainstream right-wing discourse.

Fascist terror

In the autumn of 1980, a wave of right-wing terrorist attacks tore through Europe. In August that year, 84 people were killed and 180 injured when a bomb ripped through the Bologna railway station. Eleven people were killed when the famous Munich Oktoberfest was targeted on September 26; four persons died when a bomb went off in front of a synagogue on the Rue Copernic in Paris on October 2.

Little attention, the scholar Bruce Hoffman noted in a 1984 paper, had been paid to right-wing terrorists by Europe’s police forces. Their eyes, firmly focussed on left-wing organisations, had characterised the right “as ‘kooks’, ‘clowns’, ‘little Fuhrers’, and, with regard to their young, ‘political punk rockers’.” Less than four months before the Oktoberfest bombing, Dr. Hoffman wrote, an official German Interior Ministry publication dismissed the threat from neo-Nazi groups, saying they were “most armed with self-made bats and chains.”

Earlier this year, the analysts who had authored the European Police organisation Europol’s Terrorism Situation Report made much the same mistake as they had before the 1984 bombings. Lack of cohesion and public threat, they claimed, “went a long way towards accounting for the diminished impact of right-wing terrorism and extremism in the European Union.”

Zero terrorist attacks might have been a persuasive empirical argument — if it was not for the fact that no EU member-state, bar Hungary, actually records acts of right-wing terrorism using those terms.

Europol’s 2010 report, in fact, presented a considerably less sanguine assessment of the situation. Noting the 2008 and 2009 arrests of British fascists for possession of explosives and toxins, the report flagged the danger from “individuals motivated by extreme right-wing views who act alone.”

The report also pointed to the heating-up of a climate of hatred: large attendances at white-supremacist rock concerts, the growing muscle of fascist groups like Blood and Honour and the English Defence League, fire-bomb attacks on members of the Roma minority in several countries, and military training to the cadre.

Yet, the authors of the 2011 Europol report saw little reason for alarm. In a thoughtful 2008 report, a consortium of Dutch organisations noted that “right-wing terrorism is not always labelled as such.”

Because “right-wing movements use the local traditions, values, and characteristics to define their own identity,” the report argued, “many non-rightist citizens recognize and even sympathize with some of the organization’s political opinions”— a formulation which will be familiar to Indians, where communal violence is almost never referred to as a form of mass terrorism.

Thomas Sheehan, who surveyed the Italian neo-fascist resurgence before the 1980 bombings, arrived at much the same conclusion decades ago. “In 1976 and again in 1978,” he wrote in the New York Review of Books, “judges in Rome, Turin and Milan fell over each other in their haste to absolve neo-fascists of crimes ranging from murdering a policeman to ‘reconstituting Fascism’ [a crime under post-war Italian law]”.

“When it comes to fascist terrorism,” Mr. Sheehan wryly concluded, “Italian authorities seem to be a bit blind in the right eye.”

Political crisis

Europe’s fascist parties have little electoral muscle today but reports suggest that a substantial renaissance is under way. The resurgence is linked to a larger political crisis. In 1995, commentator Ignacio Ramonet argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union had provoked a crisis for Europe’s great parties of the right, as for its left. The right’s failure to provide coherent answers to the crisis of identity provoked by a globalising world, and its support for a new economic order which engendered mass unemployment and growing income disparities, empowered neo-fascism.

“People feel,” Mr. Ramonet wrote in a commentary in the French newspaper, Le Monde, “that they have been abandoned by governments which they see as corrupt and in the hands of big business.”

In the mid-1990s, fascist groups reached an electoral peak: Jorg Haider’s Liberals won 22 per cent of the vote in Austria; Carl Igar Hagen’s Progress Party became the second-largest party in Norway; Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance claimed 15 per cent of the vote in Italy; while the Belgian Vlaams Blok gained 12.3 per cent in Flanders, Belgium. In France, the centrist Union for French Democracy was compelled to accept support from the National Front in five provinces.

Europe’s mainstream right-wing leadership rapidly appropriated key elements of the fascist platform, and successfully whittled away at their electoral success: but ultimately failed to address the issues Mr. Ramonet had flagged.

Now, many are turning to new splinter groups, and online mobilisation.

Mr. Brevik’s comments on the website Document.no provide real insight into the frustration of the right’s rank and file. His central target was what he characterised as “cultural-Marxism”: “an anti-European hate-ideology,” he wrote in September 2009, “whose purpose is to destroy European culture, identity and Christianity in general.”

For Mr. Breivik, cultural Marxism’s central crime was to have de-masculinised European identity. In his view, “Muslim boys learn pride in their own religion, culture and cultural-conservative values at home, while Norwegian men have been feminized and taught excessive tolerance.”

He railed against the media’s supposed blackout of the supposed “100 racial / jihadi murder of Norwegians in the last 15 years.” “Many young people are apathetic as a result,” Mr. Brevik observed, “others are very racist. They repay what they perceive as racism with racism.”

Mr. Breivik, his writings suggest, would have been reluctant to describe himself as a fascist — a common feature of European far-right discourse. He wrote: “I equate multiculturalism with the other hate-ideologies: Nazism (anti-Jewish), communism (anti-individualism) and Islam (anti-Kaffir).”

These ideas, it is important to note, were echoes of ideas in mainstream European neo-conservatism. In 1978, the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, famously referred to popular fears that Britain “might be swamped by people of a different culture.” In 1989, Ms Thatcher asserted that “human rights did not begin with the French Revolution.” Instead, they “really stem from a mixture of Judaism and Christianity”— in other words, faith, not reason.

In recent years, key European politicians have also used language not dissimilar to Mr Brevik. Last year, Angela Merkel asserted that multikulti, or multiculturalism, had failed. David Cameron, too, assailed “the doctrine of state multiculturalism,” which he said had “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives.” France’s Nicolas Sarkozy was more blunt: “multiculturalism is a failure. The truth is that in our democracies, we cared too much about the identity of the migrant and not sufficiently about the identity of the country that welcomed him.”

Mr. Brevik’s grievance, like Mr. Sharma’s, was that these politicians were unwilling to act on their words — and that the people he claimed to love for cared too little to rebel.

The Norwegian terrorist’s 1,518-page pseudonymous testament, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, promises his new “Knights Templar” order will “seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda.” He threatens an apocalyptic war against “traitors” enabling a Muslim takeover of Europe: a war, he says, will claim up to “45,000 dead and 1 million wounded cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.”

For India, there are several important lessons. Like’s Europe’s mainstream right-wing parties, the BJP has condemned the terrorism of the right — but not the thought system which drives it. Its refusal to engage in serious introspection, or even to unequivocally condemn Hindutva violence, has been nothing short of disgraceful. Liberal parties, including the Congress, have been equally evasive in their critique of both Hindutva and Islamist terrorism.

Besieged as India is by multiple fundamentalisms, in the throes of a social crisis that runs far deeper than in Europe, with institutions far weaker, it must reflect carefully on Mr. Brevik’s story — or run real risks to its survival.

Posted by c-info at Sunday, July 24, 2011, The Hindu

13-31

‘Little Gitmo’

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

When an upstate imam named Yassin Aref was convicted on a suspect terrorism charge, he was sent to a secretive prison denounced by civil libertarians as a Muslim quarantine.

By Christopher S. Stewart

WW STING103
File:  Yassin Aref.  (Photo: Will Waldron/Albany Times Union)

July 11, 2011 “New York Magazine” — -  On August 4, 2004, Yassin Aref was walking along West Street in a run-down part of downtown Albany. It was about 11 p.m., and he had just finished delivering evening prayer at the storefront mosque around the corner, where he had been the imam for nearly four years. Caught up in his thoughts, he might not have noticed the car parked across from his two-story building if a man hadn’t called out his name.

Aref instantly recognized the FBI agents inside the darkened vehicle. They had been monitoring him for years now, maybe longer. Sometimes they stopped and asked questions about his views on Saddam Hussein or the mosque. As part of Bush’s war on terror, the FBI had been talking to other Muslims in Albany, too. When Aref climbed into the back seat, he figured that the agents simply wanted to talk some more. Instead, they told him he was under arrest.

It took a long time for this to settle in. Aref was silent as they drove to FBI headquarters, a fortlike concrete-and-glass building on the south side of town. The agency has spoken only vaguely about what happened when they questioned him, and there are no recordings, though Aref would later describe the time as the “hardest, darkest, and longest night of my life”—scarier, he said recently, than the hardships he and his wife suffered as Kurds in ­Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

His hands and feet were chained. One of the agents spoke some Kurdish. Aref heard questions about terrorism, money laundering, a missile launcher. He refused a lawyer, believing that he had nothing to hide. “It is against my religion to lie,” he told them. The interrogation lasted much of the night. He says he never heard specific charges. At some point they told him his house and mosque were being raided, and all he could think about was his wife and three children, who had arrived in Albany with him as U.N. refugees in 1999.

When morning broke, he was loaded into another car, bleary-eyed and weakened, and taken to the federal courthouse. As the vehicle moved through the streets, Aref was astonished by the sudden commotion. Helicopters swarmed overhead. There were scores of local and national news reporters, cameras angling to get his picture. He saw snipers.

During his three-week trial in 2006, he learned that he was the target of a controversial FBI sting, which involved a Pakistani informant with a history of crime. In the end, he was convicted of, among other things, conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He spent weeks in solitary confinement, days shackled in different vehicles, which shuffled him from prison to prison. Time coalesced, became unrecognizable, until, in the spring of 2007, Aref landed at a newly created prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana, that would change his life again. It already had a nickname: Little Gitmo.

Aref didn’t know anything about Little Gitmo, or a Communication Management Unit (CMU), as it’s formally called. Once a death-row facility where Timothy McVeigh was executed, the Terre Haute CMU was quietly opened by the Bush administration in December 2006 to contain inmates with links, in particular, to ­“terrorist-related activity.” A year later, another unit opened in Marion, Illinois.

Although inmates and guards refer to CMUs as Little Gitmos, the comparison to Guantánamo is imprecise: The units are not detention centers, and the inmates inside have already been convicted of crimes in the U.S. legal system. But what differentiates CMUs from all other facilities in the U.S. are the prisoners. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) estimates that 66 to 72 percent of them are Muslims, a staggering number considering that Muslims represent only 6 percent of the entire federal-prison population.

As of June, there are 82 men in the two CMUs, according to federal-prison officials, including a man convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the American Taliban John Walker Lindh, and the lone survivor of an EgyptAir hijacking in 1985. All inmates are kept under 24-hour surveillance in near-complete isolation. “If the government has intelligence that links you to terrorist activity, then that’s something that the prison authority should be able to take into account,” says Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, in defense of the measures. “We give them an array of privileges that most other places in the world are shocked by.”

Legal activists agree that restrictive rules can be applied to high-security prisoners, but many in the CMUs, they say, are low-security inmates. One Muslim man was placed in a CMU for perjury, while another was locked up, in part, for violating U.S. sanctions by donating to a charity abroad without a license. According to CCR, many don’t fully know why they ended up in the segregated units or how they might appeal their placement. In the words of Kathy Manley, one of Aref’s defense attorneys, the CMUs are a “quarantine,” and Alexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at CCR, calls them “an experiment in social isolation.” “There is this story being told in this country now about the threat of homegrown terror and of radicalization related to Muslim prisoners, and the CMU is a story about law enforcement controlling that dangerous threat,” says Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer at CCR. “An allegation that someone is somehow connected to terrorism, without evidence and without an actual conviction [for terrorism], allows them to be treated in this whole different system of justice.”

To gather intelligence from CMU inmates, correspondence is combed through by a counterterrorism unit in West ­Virginia. Regular group prayer is prohibited, and communications must be in English unless there’s a live translator. Phone calls are limited to two fifteen-minute conversations a week (most maximum-­security prisoners get 300 minutes a month). Immediate families of CMU inmates can visit only twice a month for a total of eight hours (general-population prisoners at Terre Haute get up to 49 hours of visits a month), and those conversations are monitored, recorded, and conducted through Plexiglas. Physical contact is forbidden, a permanent ban not imposed on most violent felons in maximum-security prisons.

As a result, critics say, those familiar markers—family, language, and religious identity—are being stripped away. “This is more than just being cut off from the world,” says Nina Thomas, a psychologist-psychoanalyst at NYU who has studied the CMUs. “Inmates are being shut into a very narrow universe.”

While the stated purpose of the CMUs, according to prisons spokesperson Traci Billingsley, is to “protect the public,” Meeropol thinks that they “spread fear.” Shamshad Ahmad, a physics lecturer at the University of Albany and president of Aref’s mosque, says that CMUs “send a message that the whole justice system [is] geared to take revenge of the events of 9/11 on anyone belonging to the Muslim community”—a message that, essentially, any Muslim could become Aref.

And especially because Aref’s conviction is itself a matter of controversy, CCR has chosen the imam to become its lead plaintiff in a case against the CMUs, one of the major lawsuits, including the ACLU’s in Indiana, meant to challenge the units and change the way they operate. Along with five other plaintiffs, Aref now sits at the center of a civil-­liberties battle against the prison system. To a growing number of supporters in Albany—who have rallied to get him out; have published his pre-CMU memoir, Son of ­Mountains; have raised money for his family—he is a symbol of the inequities Muslims still endure as collateral damage in the war on terror.

Aref was born in a mountain village in northern Iraq, where he lived through Saddam’s genocide on the Kurds and met his wife, Zuhur. They fled to Syria, where he finished his religious studies, worked at the office of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), and had three kids. Under a U.N. asylum program, the family learned in 1999 that they were going to Albany, a place the 29-year-old Aref had never heard of.

Although he couldn’t speak or understand much English, he managed to support his family as a hospital janitor for more than a year before he became the imam of ­Masjid As-Salam, the city’s only mosque. During his four years as imam, Aref regularly discussed his anti–Iraq War sentiments and grew to represent the spiritual voice of many Albany Muslims. “People hesitated to criticize the government publicly,” says ­Ahmad. “But he didn’t.”

It is believed that the FBI decided to target Aref in the summer of 2003, after the American military stormed an armed camp in Iraq and discovered a notebook with his name and number in it, along with the word kak, which the FBI translated as “commander” (the prosecution would later admit that the term actually translates to “mister”). The camp was alleged to be affiliated with Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization founded by Mullah Krekar, who was once a member of the IMK, where he had met Aref. Aref’s backers argue that the camp was filled with refugees and that the notebook could have belonged to anyone. Aref claims that he met Krekar only in passing and that he left for Albany long before the mullah founded Ansar al-Islam.

That Aref had a past connection to Krekar was perhaps enough to attract the FBI’s attention, though likely not enough to mount a legal case against him. So, working with expanded surveillance powers, the FBI went about setting up an operation.

Since 9/11, the FBI had begun relying more heavily on informants, under a controversial policy of preemptive prosecution—taking down those thought to possibly become terrorists in the future. It has resulted in the conviction of more than 200 individuals, including four Muslims in Newburgh convicted of plotting to bomb two Bronx synagogues; a 19-year-old Somali charged with attempting to blow up a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon; and a man caught plotting an attack on Herald Square. “These types of operations have proven to be an essential law-enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a dinner this winter in defense of the tactics.

Critics, however, point out that in many operations, it’s difficult to determine whether anyone is truly culpable—or inherently dangerous. And intentionally or not, it’s very easy to round up Muslims. “There is a massive ideological, military, and intelligence infrastructure committed to the domestic and international wars on terror. These wars depend on maintaining Muslims as the primary threat to national security,” says Amna Akbar, a senior ­research scholar at NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “The U.S. government seems to rely on widespread use of informants … sending them into mosques and other community spaces without any concrete suspicion of criminal activity.”

In order to pursue Aref, the FBI employed a Pakistani informant named ­Shahed Hussain, known as Malik, the same informant later used in the Newburgh trial and a man once described by the defense in that case as “an agent provocateur who earned his keep by scouring mosques for easy targets.” Malik had made a deal to avoid years in jail and deportation for helping people cheat on driver’s-license exams. He was also arrested in Pakistan on a murder charge. The operation, scripted by the FBI, started with Mohammed Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who owned a local pizzeria and helped found Aref’s mosque.

Over several months, Malik moved into Hossain’s life, bringing his kids toys and expressing interest in religion. Malik, who claimed to be working for the Islamic terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, or JeM, eventually said he was buying a shoulder-firing missile launcher to kill then–Pakistani president Pervez Mushar­raf during a visit in New York City. To complete the purchase, he needed Hossain to launder $50,000 for him. In return, Hossain, whose business was on the skids, would earn $5,000.

Hossain then asked Aref to be the witness to the loan, a tradition in Islamic culture (as the only imam in Albany, Aref had notarized many loans). There were additional months of transactions where Aref documented Hossain’s loan payments to ­Malik. During those months, Malik would occasionally mention the missile, using the code word chaudry. The government argued that this was evidence that Aref knew about Malik’s terrorist connection, and the jury agreed. Aref was charged with ten of the 30 total counts, and the jury found him guilty of money laundering and supporting a known terrorist organization. “Did [Aref] actually engage in terrorist acts?” William Pericek, assistant U.S. Attorney, asked during a post-sentencing press conference. “Well, we didn’t have the evidence of that. But he had the ideology.”

“Family, language, and religious identity are being stripped away.”

o outside observers of the case, the details that emerged during the trial were troubling. The FBI testified that Aref knew the code word, linking him to the conspiracy, but according to recorded conversations, there was no evidence that either Malik or Hossain informed him of the term. And though Malik had shown a fake missile to Hossain, the FBI decided against showing it to Aref because they worried that he would be “spooked.”

The case, observers noted, ultimately lacked definitive evidence that Aref knew the true nature of the transaction, and the jury was directed to ignore the motives of the FBI’s investigation. As Judge ­Thomas J. McAvoy instructed them, “The FBI had certain suspicions, good and valid suspicions for looking into Mr. Aref, but why they did that is not to be any concern of yours.”

“I’m not only surprised that the jury convicted him, but I’m sure the judge was surprised too,” says Stephen Gottlieb, a professor at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. “They basically turned two decent men into criminals.”

Manley believes he lost on emotional grounds. “I think the fear got to [the jury]. They ended up convicting him out of fear that he might be some kind of shadowy bad guy.” Steve Downs, another member of Aref’s legal team, attributes it to what he calls “the Muslim exception.” The emotion and politics of 9/11 had, they argue, altered the threshold for what constituted reasonable doubt.

In the years since Aref’s trial, critics have identified a pattern. “A whole range of policing, prosecution, and incarceration policies seem to take as a starting point that Muslims pose a particularly uncontainable threat meriting extreme and exceptional treatment by the government,” says Akbar. “Because national security has become an area in which the government is granted an extraordinary amount of deference, these policies are often allowed to stand without much scrutiny.”

After the jury reached a verdict, two local papers published editorials asking for leniency. The editors at the Albany Times Union called the case “unsettling,” with no clear answer to why the men were targeted, and wondered what lives Hossain and Aref would have “continued to lead if they had never been lured into a sting operation.”

The judge sentenced Aref to fifteen years and recommended a local federal prison. Instead, he was sent to the CMU, with little explanation, no hearing, and no obvious way to appeal.

The first time Aref wrote to me, in a heavily monitored e-mail exchange, he said, “I am not spending my time, time is spending me. My family’s situation is driving me insane and eating my patience.” His world was falling apart at the CMU. “It’s really hard for me to talk about what happened,” he wrote.

When Aref was sent to the Terre Haute CMU in May 2007, he was 37 years old. “I arrived to find a small Middle Eastern community,” he said. There were about twenty others inside. The idea of being called a terrorist sickened Aref. Every day he wondered why he was there, and he hoped someone would eventually realize that a mistake had been made. “I don’t understand how the jury found me guilty,” he wrote at one point.

His cell unlocked at 6 a.m., and he could circulate through the small unit comprising a few dozen cells and a common room. At 9 p.m., he’d be locked in for the night. On occasion, he heard screaming, and one day he saw a grown man drop to the floor and begin uncontrollably shaking and sobbing. When Aref asked a nurse later what had happened, she told him, “It’s all fear and stress.”

A peculiar loneliness consumed him. As an imam, Aref was naturally social. He helped solve people’s problems and guide them through their tangled lives. But at Terre Haute, he became reticent, curled inside himself. It was hard to know whom to trust. The FBI was sending agents to the unit to ask questions, and new inmates came every few weeks or so.

All along, he felt his family drifting away. That one fifteen-minute phone call a week (a second call per week was added in January 2010) was never enough. What could you really say in fifteen minutes divided up among at least four people? He tried to be upbeat, avoiding talk of the CMU. With the kids, he spoke about school, a kind of dinner talk. When his wife got on, the reality of their separation was oppressive.

Zuhur “almost lost her mind,” as Aref put it. The case had turned her upside down. Worried about wiretaps, she had disconnected the Internet, TV, and phone. She didn’t have a job and relied on friends and the mosque to pay her rent and buy food. She rarely interacted with strangers, afraid that they might be informants setting her up.

Talking to Aref was a project that required a friend to lend a cell phone to the family on the days he called. And when he spoke to Zuhur, she mostly cried. In the four years that he has been at the CMU, she has cried during every single call.

One of the hardest things was thinking about his young daughter, Dilnia. She was born while Aref was in jail. All he was to her was an abstract concept. “Whenever anyone asks her, ‘Where is your daddy?’ she will point or run to the phone and say, ‘That is my daddy,’ ” Aref said.

His two boys visited that first summer. With surveillance cameras zeroing in on them, it was difficult to be intimate. Salah was 10, Azzam 7. As Aref spoke through the Plexiglas, every word, every gesture was being mined for information.

His demeanor changed dramatically when his boys stepped away and Downs stepped in. Downs had made the two-day car trip with the kids from Albany. “They abuse me,” Aref said. When Downs asked him to explain, Aref wouldn’t. Then suddenly the meeting was terminated. According to Downs, a guard falsely claimed that he was using a pen “as a secret recording device.”

“I’m convinced that they understood I was trying to get info about the CMU,” Downs says. “And they did what [the CMU] was set up to do—prevent information [about the CMU] from getting out.”

The entire family arrived in a minivan the next summer, in 2008. It had been roughly four years since they’d all been together. But seeing his 2-year-old girl on the other side of the glass gave Aref tremendous pain. She didn’t recognize him.

The family spent a total of four hours together, and all seemed well until Zuhur suddenly snapped. In front of the kids, she made an announcement: She wanted to go back to Kurdistan. She felt her safety was at risk in America, even more than in the region from which she had fled.

Aref didn’t want to argue. A part of him understood. “I am not dead in order for them to forget me,” he said to me, “and not really alive to benefit them.” That was the last time he saw his family. They didn’t visit again. Zuhur wouldn’t let them.

On March 27, 2009, at about 4 a.m., a guard entered Aref’s cell and told him to pack. He was being transferred to the second CMU, at the state penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, which had opened a year before. Until recently, Marion had been one of the nation’s only supermax facilities, replacing Alcatraz in 1963.

The move came at a particularly fraught moment for the CMUs. When President Obama came into office in 2009, many hoped the units would be shut down. The Bureau of Prisons wouldn’t say if the new administration had reviewed the units, but they remained open, and their expansion soon inspired a fierce legal battle. In the summer of 2009, the ACLU’s National Prison project filed a lawsuit on behalf of an inmate that disputed the legality of the creation of the units, among other things. Soon after, the ACLU of Indiana filed another lawsuit, about the restrictions on Muslim prayer.

In the meantime, “balancers,” as CMU guards call them, were reportedly blended into the population—environmental activists, sexual predators, bank robbers, people who, prison officials claimed, “recruit and radicalize”—in order to address the criticism that CMUs were housing only Muslims. The Bureau of Prisons says it doesn’t use race or religion to decide placement, and it rejects claims of adding balancers, though Muslim inmates continue to be in the majority.

In April 2010, CCR, with Aref, filed its suit, challenging the constitutionality of the place: the harsh restrictions on phone calls and visits, the ban on physical contact, the alleged absence of due process, and cited growing evidence suggesting that prisoners were being targeted for their religious and political beliefs.

To CCR, Aref’s case was especially ­poignant. “Aref came to the United States as a refugee and was then subject to a dubious conviction,” says Agathocleous. “Despite the fact that he engaged in no violence, that the prosecution acknowledged at trial that it was not seeking to prove he was a terrorist, and that his conduct in prison was spotless, he has been subject to these incredibly restrictive conditions at the CMU … It just doesn’t make any sense.”

In Marion, Aref’s single cell was just as small as the former one, and his family was just as far away. But something had changed. He began to dread the phone calls with his family. “For many prisoners, the phone call is a big relief, and they get strength from it,” he said. “But each time I call and hear my wife crying and I learn what my children are going through, it stresses my mind.”

“I am not spending my time, time is spending me.”

After a motion for a new trial was dismissed and the appeal to his original case was rejected, a part of him became resigned to the situation, friends say.

Then on April 13, I received a surprise e-mail from Aref. “How are you doing?” he asked. And then he told me the news. “For real, I am no longer in CMU!”

“My father is a very religious man,” Aref’s 15-year old daughter, Alaa, says one recent summer night. “He has a beard and wears Arab clothes and has an accent. But when you talk to him”—she pauses as if conjuring her father—“you know he’s not a terrorist.” She has trouble saying this word. Terrorist. It doesn’t sound right in her mouth. And she tries it another way. “Baba didn’t hate anyone.”

On this June night, Aref’s four kids sit barefooted on the carpet of a classroom on the second floor of the Central Avenue mosque in Albany, where their father was once the imam. Some of the doors are still broken from the FBI raid almost eight years ago.

The two boys, Salah, 14, and Azzam, 11, sit on either side of Alaa. Dilnia, who is now 5, sits off to the side, reading a book with a family friend. Zuhur stayed home. “She sometimes is depressed and doesn’t go out,” Alaa says.

Friends of the family say that Zuhur still talks about returning to Iraq, though she doesn’t have the money for a plane ticket or travel documents. Her crying hasn’t abated. When she does leave the house, she occasionally visits Aref’s lawyers and asks, “What did Yassin do wrong?” or “When is he coming home?”

Since being placed in a general-­population prison, Aref remains cautious. Without much explanation, he was moved out of the CMU, where he had been separated from the world for four years, and he could just as easily be moved back, like officials had done recently to an environmental activist named Daniel ­McGowan. Aref’s lawyer speculates that my requests to visit Aref in a CMU and the CCR lawsuit had placed pressure on prison officials, which might have had something to do with his sudden transfer out. (It’s a tactic that’s worked for CMUs in the past. With one of the ACLU lawsuits, a plaintiff was moved from a unit to a general-population prison and the case was dismissed.)

Last April, four years after the first CMU opened and days following CCR’s suit, the Bureau of Prisons began a public discussion of the units, a move, advocacy groups say, the prison system was legally obligated to make before the CMUs ever opened.

Many of the comments that flooded in focused on the lack of meaningful appeal—that inmates are stuck in the units—and in particular, how the units were ruining the men and their families.

Once Aref entered the general-population prison, he assumed that things would get better—that he would be able to embrace his wife and hug his kids, and that he might even be transferred again to a prison closer to home.

But so far, none of that has changed.

The FBI investigation and the CMUs have so alienated his family, especially Zuhur, who has still not visited her husband since his transfer. She hasn’t allowed the kids to go, either—though supporters are working to set up a trip for this summer.

None of Aref’s kids know exactly why their father is in jail.

Azzam, playing with the yellow gum in his mouth, says, “Money laundering or something, right?”

“It was an FBI sting,” Alaa says. “They kind of set him up for missiles or something.”

Salah, who looks most like his father in his long white shirt, nods.

“I miss him,” Alaa says. Turning to Steve Downs, who has been sitting quietly against the wall, she asks, “When my father gets out, they can deport him right away?”

Downs nods. Aref will be deported the day he is released from prison. Among them, Dilnia is the only American citizen, which means that all the others could be deported on that day too, or shortly after. Zuhur was recently denied citizenship.

Alaa will turn 18 before her father is released, and she could apply for citizenship. If it’s granted, she could become the guardian of the others.

I ask whether what’s been done to their father makes them angry. The boys are silent. “I’m upset,” Alaa says. “But my dad taught us never to hate.”

13-30

‘Student Terror Plot’ Suspects Released

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

All suspects in ‘student terror plot’ released Nico Hines and Russell Jenkins All 12 suspects arrested in a security operation to thwart what the Prime Minister called “a very big terrorist plot” have been released without charge.

Eleven of the men – all Pakistani nationals – face being deported after they were transferred into the custody of the UK Borders Agency.

The failure to bring charges against any of the men came after police released the final two suspects they had in custody this morning.

Last night they freed nine men, aged between 22 and 38, after 13 days detention. An 18-year-old student was transferred to the custody of the UK Border Agency after three days in detention.
Mohammed Ayub, a lawyer for three of the men, called for an independent inquiry into Operation Pathway and said their deportation orders would be challenged.
“Our clients have no criminal history, they were here lawfully on student visas and all were pursuing their studies and working part-time,” he said.

“They are neither extremists nor terrorists. Their arrest and detention has been a serious breach of their human rights. As a minimum they are entitled to an unreserved apology.”
Responding to criticism of the police operation, Gordon Brown’s spokesman said: “Both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister believe they are doing an excellent job in continuing to protect the public from terrorist threats.

“The Government’s highest priority is to protect public safety. Where a foreign national poses a threat to the country, we will seek to exclude or deport them where appropriate.”
The investigation into alleged al-Qaeda activity in the North West involved 14 properties in Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe, Lancashire, being searched by specialist teams.
Four uniformed police officers stood guard outside 36, Galsworthy Avenue, in Cheetham Hill where two of the terror suspects were arrested in an armed swoop two weeks ago.
The sunlit street was deserted apart from a few pressmen and one passer-by who shouted aggressively: “Go home – it all over now.”

There is, however, deep disquiet about the arrests in the neighbourhood among residents who say that the police has a record of making dramatic terror swoops, disrupting and upsetting the local community but subsequently releasing the suspects for lack of evidence.

Locals cited the the behaviour of Lancashire Police in February when nine men from Burnley and Blackburn on a humanitarian convoy were arrested on the M65 near Preston and later released without charge.

GMP distributed a letter to local residents in an attempt to explain their position.

Afzal Khan, the Labour councillor for Cheetham Hill, said: “I am deeply concerned. On the same day of the arrests people on the streets were saying straight away that they will find nothing and that is is all political. This has only reinforced that view”.

The arrests were brought forward by 12 hours after Bob Quick, Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism, accidentally disclosed details of the raids to Downing Street photographers while on his way to brief Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary.

Mr Quick, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, resigned, admitting that he had compromised a high-level security operation. Ms Smith told the House of Commons this week that the error had not damaged the operation and that the only impact had been that the raids had been brought forward “by a matter of hours”.

However, The Times understands that even before Mr Quick quit there were furious disagreements between Scotland Yard, which is supposed to have national responsibility for counter-terrorism, the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit, led by Greater Manchester Police, and MI5.

Security sources said that the arrests were premature and complained that police had panicked after picking up intelligence “chatter” that appeared to discuss timings and targets. Some of the suspects were allegedly under surveillance while photographing and filming at Manchester shopping centres and a nightclub.

It was hoped that the arrests and searches would produce evidence of bomb-making activity or components.

At one point a block of flats in Liverpool was evacuated but no explosive material was found. Attention later turned to the forensic examination of the suspects’ computers, but sources say that nothing has been found which can incriminate the men.

The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Peter Fahy, said this morning:

“I do not feel embarrassed or humiliated by what we have done because we have carried out our duty. There’s been no disagreement between us and the security services.

“This has been an extremely complex investigation that has involved officers working closely with other agencies to gather and examine large amounts of evidence.

“We had a duty to act on 9 April to protect the public and a subsequent duty to investigate what lay before us.”

Times Online

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Saudi Arabia’s Three Worries

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jason Burke

In a speech, Prince Turki al-Faisal outlines Saudi Arabia’s concerns relating to the Arab spring, its foreign policies and Iran.

It was a very discreet meeting deep in the English countryside. The main speaker was Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known and best-connected royals. The audience was composed of senior American and British military officials. The location was RAF Molesworth, one of three bases used by American forces in the U.K. since the Second World War. Now a Nato intelligence centre focused on the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the sprawling compound amid green fields was an ideal venue for the sensitive topics that Turki, former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, wanted to raise.

After an anecdote about how Franklin D. Roosevelt was told by Winston Churchill that nothing between them or their countries should be hidden, Turki warmed to his theme: “A Saudi national security doctrine for the next decade.”

For the next half an hour, the diplomat, a former ambassador to Washington and tipped to be the next foreign minister in Riyadh, entertained his audience to a sweeping survey of his country’s concerns in a region seized by momentous changes. Like Churchill, Turki said, the kingdom “had nothing to hide.”

Even if they wanted to, the leaders of the desert kingdom would have difficulty concealing their concern at the stunning developments across the Arab world. Few — excepting the vast revenues pouring in from oil selling at around $100 a barrel for much of the year — have brought much relief to Riyadh.

Stability

Chief among the challenges, from the perspective of the Saudi royal rulers, are the difficulties of preserving stability in the region when autocracies that have lasted for decades are falling one after another; of preserving security when the resultant chaos provides opportunities to all kinds of groups deemed enemies; of maintaining good relations with the west; and, perhaps most importantly of all, of ensuring that Iran, the bigger but poorer historic regional and religious rival just across the Gulf from Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, does not emerge as the winner as the upheavals of the Arab spring continue into the summer.

“The [Saudi king], crown prince and government cannot ignore the Arab situations, we live the Arab situation and hope stability returns,” the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted Prince Nayef, the second in line to the throne and Minister of the Interior, as saying in Riyadh last week.

Iran, a majority Shia state committed to a rigorous and highly politicised Islamist ideology, remains at the heart of such fears in Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni state ruled by the al-Saud family since its foundation in 1932. Recent moves such as the Saudi-inspired invitation to Morocco and Jordan, both Sunni monarchies, to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of Sunni autocratic states, are seen by analysts as part of Riyadh’s effort to bolster defences against Tehran. So too is the deployment of Saudi troops under the umbrella of the GCC to Bahrain, where largely Shia demonstrators took to the streets to demand greater democratic rights from the Sunni rulers.

One fear in Riyadh is that the 15 per cent or so of Saudi citizens who are Shia — and who largely live in the oil-rich eastern province — might mobilise in response to an Iranian call to arms.

“It is a kind of ideological struggle,” said a Ministry of Interior official. Describing Iran as a “paper tiger” because of its “dysfunctional government … whose hold on power is only possible if it is able, as it barely is now, to maintain a level of economic prosperity that is just enough to pacify its people,” Turki, according to a copy of his speech at RAF Molesworth, said the rival state still had “steel claws”, which were “effective tools … to interfere in other countries.”

This Tehran did with “destructive” consequences in countries with very large Shia communities such as Iraq, which Turki said was taking a “sectarian, Iranian-influenced direction”, as well as states with smaller ones such as Kuwait and Lebanon. Until Iraq changed course, the former intelligence chief warned, Riyadh would not write off Baghdad’s $20bn debts or send an ambassador.

More worryingly for western diplomats was Turki’s implicit threat that if Iran looked close to obtaining nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would follow suit. “Iran [developing] a nuclear weapon would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences,” Turki said.

A senior adviser said it was “inconceivable that there would be a day when Iran had a nuclear weapon and Saudi Arabia did not.”

“If they successfully pursue a military programme, we will have to follow suit,” he said. For the moment, however, the prince told his audience, “sanctions [against Iran] are working” and military strikes would be “counterproductive.”

One alternative, Turki told his audience, would be to “squeeze” Iran by undermining its profits from oil, explaining that this was something the Saudis, with new spare pumping capacity and deep pockets, were ideally positioned to do.

Money

Money has long been a key foreign policy tool for Saudi Arabia. Turki’s speech reveals the extent to which the kingdom is relying on its wealth to buy goodwill and support allies. In Lebanon, to counter Syrian influence and the Shia Hezbollah movement, the kingdom has spent $2.5bn since 2006.

The aim of such expenditure — only a fraction of the state’s $550bn reserves — is to minimise any potential ill-will towards Saudi Arabia among populations who have deposed rulers backed previously by Riyadh.

King Abdullah, who has ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, initially backed long-term ally Hosni Mubarak, reportedly personally interceding on his behalf with President Barack Obama.

“The calculation in Riyadh is very simple: you cannot stop the Arab spring so the question is how to accommodate the new reality on the ground. So far there is no hostility to the Saudis in Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere, popular or political,” said Dr. Mustafa Alani, from the Gulf Research Centre, Dubai.

One difficult issue is that of the “unwanted house guests.” Saudi Arabia has a long tradition of offering a comfortable retirement home to ex-dictators, and two of the deposed leaders — Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen — are now in the kingdom. Ben Ali is reported to have been housed in a villa on the Red Sea coast. Saleh is in a luxury hospital receiving treatment for wounds caused by the bomb that forced his flight from the country he ruled for 21 years as president, and is now under pressure from his hosts to retire permanently.

Other regional rulers are being gently pressured to ease crackdowns, in part in response to western outcry over human-rights abuses, one official said.

Yemen, however, remains a major security concern to the Saudis, who worry about the presence of Islamic militants and Shia rebels who, again, they view as proxies of Iran.

“It is very important to make sure Yemen is stable and secure and without any internal struggle,” said one Interior Ministry official.

In his speech in the U.K., Turki worried that Yemen’s more remote areas had become a safe haven for terrorism comparable to Pakistan’s tribal areas.—

Source: The Guardian

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