Still: Secret Bush-Era Prisons

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By John C. Trang, New America Media (NAM)

NAM Editor’s Note: Muslims make up 70 percent of inmates in two prisons the George W. Bush regime clandestinely established in the Midwest between 2006 and 2008.

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Despite President Barack Obama’s declaration that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam, government practices suggest otherwise.

In June, the ACLU filed complaints against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for illegally establishing secret prisons called Communications Management Units, or CMUs. The ACLU also alleged unconstitutional restrictions on Muslim inmates’ right to religious freedom. As a law student investigating the CMUs, the existence of these secret prisons trouble me.

The first CMU was clandestinely established in late 2006 at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind. In 2008, another CMU was established in Marion, Ill. According to the government, CMUs were created to “house inmates who, due to their current offense of conviction, offense conduct or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communication between inmates and persons in the community in order to protect the safety, security, and orderly operations of Bureau facilities and protect the public.”

Sounds mundane, right? But the fact is CMUs are a palpable and disconcerting product of xenophobia and the war on terrorism. Concocted during the Bush administration, CMUs are alarmingly reminiscent of McCarthy-era practices and the Japanese American internment camps.

Although the number of inmates placed at the CMUs has not exceeded 40, around 70 percent are Muslim. The likelihood of finding another prison in the United States with similar proportions of Muslim inmates is zero. There is only one other facility under U.S. jurisdiction with similar demographics: Guantanamo Bay.

With such a high proportion of Muslim inmates, civil rights groups expressed concern about constitutional violations of equal protection. BOP officials deny CMU placement is based on religious identity. According to one government document, criteria for CMU placement includes continued misuse/abuse of approved communication privileges; history of judicial threats; and being convicted of, or associated with, involvement in terrorism. This odd mix of criteria that warrants CMU placement is applicable to hundreds of the incarcerated. Therefore, how and why specific inmates are chosen for CMU placement remains unclear.

Unlike other prisons in the United States, information about CMUs remains scarce. Few publicly available government documents mention “Communications Management Unit.” The secrecy is increased by restrictions on inmates’ communications. All communications to and from inmates are examined. If a message is not approved, it is never transmitted. In fact, in some respects CMU inmates – all of who are categorized as low to medium risk–have more restrictive conditions than inmates categorized with higher security risk levels.

While the government describes CMUs in innocuous terms, many groups have alternate theories as to the actual purpose and nature of CMUs. Some believe CMUs were created solely to house terrorists since some, though not all, inmates have terrorism related convictions. However, even the terrorism related convictions are suspect.

Take for example ACLU’s client and CMU inmate Sabri Benkahla. Benkahla, born in Virginia and a graduate of George Mason University, was studying Islamic law and jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia when he was abducted at Saudi secret police, flown back to America and charged with supplying services to the Taliban and using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. He was found not guilty. Not satisfied with the acquittal, the U.S. government forced Benkahla to testify before a federal grand jury where he was accused and eventually convicted of perjury. Nonetheless, the presiding judge asserted Benkahla was “not a terrorist” and noted the chances of Benkahla committing another crime were “infinitesimal.”

While some view CMUs as facilities for terrorists, a majority of news articles assert the common thread uniting inmates is their strong community support and their politically unpopular views. That is, CMUs are political prisons.

I am not convinced CMUs are traditional political prisons – the sort used to silent inmates. There is growing evidence CMUs were created to extract information from inmates for the war on terrorism. Since privacy rights are reduced for the incarcerated, increasing attention to prisoners as a source of information was a logical step for proponents of sustaining a war on terrorism. And by stretching what constitutes a terrorism related charge, the government could consolidate prisoners believed to possess desired knowledge and ignore even basic civil liberties afforded other incarcerated people by invoking “war on terrorism.” To be sure, similar to the tenuous links to terrorism, the extent of any inmate’s knowledge about terrorism is questionable at best.

Ultimately, due to the secretive nature of CMUs, the real explanation continues to be a mystery. What is not a mystery is that the war on terrorism continues to be wrongfully conflated with Islam. This likely explains the disproportionate level of Muslim inmates. Although there are non-Muslim inmates at CMUs, at least one Muslim inmate claims that security guards have called non-Muslim inmates “racial balancers.” Whether or not non-Muslim inmates are mere decoys is unclear. But such a claim should heighten our concern that the government is targeting inmates based on a racial perception of who is a terrorist.

Any selective targeting of Muslims inside and outside the prison system in the name of war and national security would be dangerously similar to the selective targeting of Japanese Americans during World War II. After decades of struggle, the government officially apologized to the Japanese American community and admitted that xenophobia and wartime hysteria contributed to discriminatory policies that should never be repeated.

Granted there are differences between Japanese American internees and CMU inmates. CMU inmates have been convicted of at least one federal crime, albeit often minor crimes such as incorrectly filing taxes. However, the prison system should not strip inmates of all their constitutional rights, or segregate them in highly restrictive prisons based on religious identity.

Almost eight years after the September 11 attacks, the Obama administration has set a new tenor on the war on terrorism. But the continuing operation of CMUs that began under Bush is reminiscent of anti-Japanese policies and McCarthy era witch hunts. National security is a real concern but it can never justify the practices reportedly involved at CMUs. To do so would be a betrayal of the nation’s commitment to core civil liberties and freedoms.

John C. Trang is currently a law student at UCLA School of Law in the Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy Program with a Critical Race Studies Specialization.

11- 33

Where’s the Beef?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Capture7-22-2009-4.40.17 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-31

Violent Jihadi Imagery

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-31

Camel Burgers!

July 16, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Saudi fast food restaurant serving camel burgers

By Nael Shyoukhi

Camel burger - Crown Plaza Hotel, Bahrain

RIYADH (Reuters Life!)-A fast food restaurant in Saudi Arabia is offering baby camel burgers as the latest way for the camel-crazed country to enjoy one of their favorite delicacies.

Specialities such as camel liver have long been on the menu of upmarket restaurants in the Gulf Arab state, but the experiment with baby camel burgers has met with enthusiasm in a country where the camel is a symbol of nomadic traditions.

“The idea…was to invent something new. It is about the love of Saudi people for camel meat,” said Saleh Quwaisi, one of the owners of the Local Hashi Meals restaurant in the capital Riyadh which plans to open a second branch soon and considers to expand further.

Walid Sanchez, managing director of sufraiti.com, a popular Saudi online dining directory, sees a huge market for camel burgers as Saudis like to try out new menus and appreciate the quality of locally made meat.

Some experts also say camel meat is healthy because it is low in fat.

“People like camel meat but no one experimented with camel burgers before…I think it will be a popular thing, it will definitely take off,” said Sanchez.
Customers visiting the packed restaurant in Riyadh on a weekend night agreed.

“I’m frankly trying it for the first time and I really like it,” said Mohammad Naghi. “It doesn’t have much fat, it’s light and has a delicate taste,” he said as he chewed away.

camelburger

Ahmad al-Okaili, ordering “Hashi” burgers — Arabic for baby camel — for him and his children, agreed: “I like their idea and enthusiasm, they’re the first to do this and they’ve become famous with it, which is well-deserved.”

While tremendous oil wealth has brought rapid modernisation to the desert state of Saudi Arabia, the camel remains celebrated due to its connection with the traditional nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin Arabs.

Throughout history, the camel has served multiple purposes as food, friend, transport and war machine.

The Arabic language famously has over 40 terms for different breeds, ages and genders of camel.

Riyadh, which is home to one of the biggest camel markets on the Arabian peninsula, regularly hosts camel races, and every year in various places across the kingdom there are pageants — where a winner could claim hundreds of thousands of dollars.

11-30

Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-30

After the Green Revolution Fails–Invasion Plans Anew

July 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Damian Lataan

With the failure of the Western powers to foment a popular uprising after the 12 June elections in Iran that they hoped would lead to regime change, the West has now had to return to the ‘Iran has nuclear weapons’ meme in order to pave the way for an attack against Iran in the hope that regime change can be affected that way.

In an interview on Sunday, Vice-President Joe Biden, when asked, “…if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?” responded saying: “Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”

Biden was then asked: “You sa y we can’t dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike”, to which he responded, “I’m not going to speculate… on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.”

Yesterday (5 July) ‘Timesonline’ reported that the Saudis had made it clear to Meir Dagan, Israel’s Mossad chief, that they would not object to Israeli overflights if they were on their way to targets in Iran. While a flight to Iran from Israel via Saudi Arabia would be much longer that a direct flight to Iran overflying Jordan and Iraq, a flight via Saudi Arabia would not require permission from any other country; not even the US to fly over Iraq. And if the Israelis can get permission from the Saudis to have support aircraft in the air in Saudi airspace to refuel the Israeli strike aircraft over, say, the Persian Gulf, then an Israeli strike against Iran is feasible.

It’s interesting that the report about the Saudi’s giving clearance for overflights to attack Iran were quickly denied by Netanyahu’s office. Clearly, the Israelis are anxious to bury this information though, one suspects, that it is now too late and the Iran ians will now have their spies in Saudi Arabia scanning the skies and radio bands for high flying aircraft heading west to east across Saudi Arabia toward the Persian Gulf.

It may well be that Israel could be keen to take advantage of the unrest that has recently unsettled Iran but now seems to have died down. A strike now, they may feel, might just reignite the embers of insurrection that still glow especially if there was also a strike against Iran’s security forces and it’s military.

Even if Israel did strike against Iran via Saudi skies, Israel would still need to rely on the US for support. The fuel required for the mission would need to be supplied by the US as would most of the munitions. US forces would also need to be on standby ready to prevent any Iranian retaliatory strikes against Israel and the US. Israel would also need to have its troops on standby at home in preparedness for retaliatory attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

For Israel, a Hamas and Hezbollah strike against them would be what they want. It would provide the casus belli for Israel to invade both the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon – perhaps all of Lebanon – knowing that the Iranians would not be in a position to help them. And with Iran out of the equation, Syria would not dare move against Israel.

With the failure of the post-election Iranian revolution, Israel will now resort to its old rhetoric of ‘Iran has a nuclear weapons program’ to try again to get public opinion onside for when they launch their attack against Iran to effect regime change. With the US now clearly not standing in the way and the Saudis prepared to let the US off the hook with regard to being seen by the world as facilitating an Israeli attack by allowing the Israelis to overfly Iraq despite all the talk of pursuing a “diplomatic solution”, everything seems in place for the Israelis to feel free to attack Iran when ever they feel they are ready.

The prospect of a final confrontation between Israel and Iran is now off the back burner and back on to the front burner. The problem is, If and when it happens, it won’t be a simple make or break fight for Israel or Iran; the repercussions will reverberate around the world for years to come.

11-29

Unrest in Iran Inspires Pro-Democracy Activists in the Arab World

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, NAM Correspondent

NAM Editor’s Note: Arab regimes haven’t publicly criticized or even mentioned what is happening in neighboring Iran, triggering much speculation among Arab bloggers as to why that is. The author of this piece wished to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.

2009-06-22T144637Z_01_WAS302_RTRMDNP_3_IRAN-PAHLAVI
Former Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi pauses while he speaks about Iran at the National Press Club in Washington June 22, 2009.    REUTERS/Larry Downing 

DAMASCUS — Images of bloody protesters and crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Tehran have been broadcast into living rooms across the Arab world for five consecutive days, enchanting and inspiring pro-democracy activists in a region where pushes for democratic reforms tend to be met with an iron fist.

Meanwhile, Arab regimes have largely remained silent over the contested election. Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan—the major Sunni powers in the region—haven’t mentioned the elections or allegations of fraud. In normal circumstances, this would be strange — these countries are the regional archenemies of President Ahmedinejad’s Iran.

Some say the reason behind their silence lies in their fear of bolstering pro-democracy movements in their own countries. “The unrest in Iran frightens dictators in the region because it makes it harder for them to justify their own absolute authority,” says Syrian blogger Yasir Sadiq. “If they see tyrannies come down around them, they’ll be afraid.”

Whether or not the Iranian elections were “stolen,” Iran is a long way ahead of most Arab countries when it comes to democracy — the country has a functioning electoral system. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf states don’t hold elections, and in Egypt and Syria, “elections” are so tightly controlled that the results are always known in advance.

The state controlled media in authoritarian Arab countries have mostly downplayed the events in Iran. Government controlled newspapers like Al-Thawra in Syria, Iran’s strongest regional ally, have kept Iran off the front pages and run headlines like, “The West needs to stop intervening in Iranian elections,” using age-old claims of conspiracies to deflect attention from actual popular desire for democratic reform.

“Governments all over the Arab world accuse pro-democracy movements of serving the west, or of being tools of the CIA or Mosad (Israeli intelligence),” says Syrian freelance journalist Khaled Al-Khetyari. “They are just trying to manipulate people by using this language because the people in power don’t want their populations to analyze what is actually happening in Iran.”

The Obama administration has been relatively silent on the unrest in Iran. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said it was up to Iranians to “resolve this internal protest.”

Al-Khatyari says the U.S. administration’s measured distance is a strategy the U.S. should stick to. “The last American administration latched onto any internal opposition to regimes it didn’t like. This always hurts local movements because it connects them to a country that most people here see as harmful to the region and it justifies repression by our governments.”

Syrian blogger Yasir Sadiq says he is encouraged by the Iranian opposition’s seven-point manifesto being circulated on the internet, which calls for the “Dissolution of all organizations — both secret and public — designed for the oppression of the Iranian people.”

“It’s inspiring to see people in the Middle East call for the end of secret services,” Sadiq says. “Organizations like this have oppressed people in the Arab world so much.”

Sadiq is reticent to believe that what he calls Iran’s pro-democracy “intifada” could be exported to Arab countries any time soon. “It’s difficult to hope for this kind of movement in the Arab world. We have a long way to go, but we hope that eventually, something like that will happen here.”

For now, he says, Arab activists will attempt to learn what they can from their counterparts in Iran. For days, Sadiq has been pegged to Twitter, the social networking tool that has allowed Iranians to organize demonstrations while the Iranian government institutes a near blackout of internet services.

“Arab bloggers’ main interest in what is happening in Iran is in figuring out how Twitter can be used to organize and bring our voices forward in our own countries,” he says.

The government in Syria may eventually try to ban it, like they have with other networking sites like Facebook, but Sadiq says he is not deterred. “The more they ban, the more ways we will find to get around their restrictions.”

11-27

Who is Behind the Iranian Protests?

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

There is no doubt that there are thousands of Iranian who yearn for real democracy. They are the ones’s who are concerned about the detereorating law and order situation in their country. But what is interesting to note that those who are fomenting violence in Iran are those who have at their back several western intellligence agencies.

It is now a known fact that for the last 12 months these intelligence agencies have been supplying high quality communication devices in the thousands to Iranian youth to provide information in situation like these. Much of these electronic gagdets were sent to Iran from Los Angeles, by Iranian businessmen who recived the hidden grant from sources closer to intelligence agencies.

In 1953, western intelligence agencies played a similar game in toppling the Iranian democratic regime. Now many fear that the same game is being repeated.

The West has laid economic siege to Iran for 30 years. Recently, US Congress voted $120 million for anti-regime media broadcasts into Iran and $60-75 million in funding for opposition, violent underground Marxists and restive ethnic groups such as Azeris, Kurds and Arabs under the “Iran Democracy Program.” Pakistani intelligence sources put the CIA’s recent spending on “black operations” to subvert Iran’s government at $400 million.It is true that majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, western intelligence agencies are playing a key role in sustaining them and providing communications, including the newest method, via Twitter.

The Tehran government turned things worse by limiting foreign news reports and trying to cover up protests.

Several western experts have accused Iran of improper electoral procedures while utterly ignoring their autocratic Mideast allies such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which hold only fake elections and savage any real opposition.They have also ignore the voting irregularities that were witnessed in Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 20008, by officials close to republican Party candidate President Bush.

U.S. senators, led by John McCain, blasted Iran for not respecting human rights without making any reference to President Bush torture policy in Guantanamo Bay.

In fact the current feud is between the establishment and former establishment member Ali Akbar Rafsanjani who is waiting to pounce. He heads the Assembly of Experts, which theoretically has the power to unseat Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.his power revolves round him and his family. He is considered the msot shrewed politician of Iran. It is possible that he may manipulate situation to the best of his interests.

But we must not live under any illusion that Rafsanjani would be a pro-western leader. He is as dangerous as the previsiou leader when it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambition.

All that we need to do is to wait and see before making a final pronouncement on the current situation.

11-27

Turkey FM Urges Iranians to Accept Election

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Hurriyet

hurriyet
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu

ANKARA – Breaking a week’s silence on the deadly rift in Iran following the recent controversial events, Turkey has contradicted the Western position and advised Iranian people not to overshadow “the dynamic and well-attended” political elections.

FM urges Iranians to accept election “We believe that the problems in Iran will be solved via its inner mechanisms, with the best possible result. In this context, we truly hope that the dynamic and well-attended political election will not be shadowed by the recent developments, and we send our best regards to the people of Iran with the strong conviction that they will reach the best conclusion in a short time,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters Monday during a meeting with visiting United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan.  

Turkey has become one of the first countries to congratulate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the general elections, where he defeated reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, without considering the opposition’s assertions of fraud in the vote counting. It has been tight-lipped since the beginning of the demonstrations in Iran, where at least 10 protesters have died. Davutoğlu, known as a Middle East expert, in his first statement late Sunday, said he discussed regional developments with his Azerbaijani counterpart at a surprise meeting in Istanbul.

“Iran is of utmost importance to us. It is one of our most important neighbors with which we share common history. We believe that Iran will solve its problems within itself in the framework of healthy consultation and one-on-one negotiations. Iran’s stability is vital for the entire region’s stability. Turkey will respect all decisions made in this respect,” he said.

Davutoğlu did not touch on the fact that the police were using disproportionate force against protesters and the rights of assembly and to demonstrate were disregarded by Ahmadinejad’s regime. The foreign minister’s statement reveals that Turkey’s sole interest is in maintaining regional stability through favoring the status quo in Iran, according to diplomatic sources. For many, Turkey’s current foreign policy does not prefer a change of regime in Iran for strategic purposes.

According to Semih İdiz, a columnist for daily Milliyet, President Abdullah Gül’s “reflexive” congratulation call to Ahmadinejad just after the elections has raised many questions.

“Those who are skeptics are not only the Westerners. The diplomats of countries who are closely observing the recent developments with concern, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Egypt, are also curious about the same things,” he wrote in his column on Monday.

Grasping developments

“By this approach Turkey has been doomed to a position where it hasn’t been able to grasp the recent developments in Iran. Our ignorance of this neighboring country is clearly seen when we observe the fact that most of our people choose to state the most common and simple argument, yet once again, that suggests that the United States and EU are involved in the recent developments in Iran.”

11-27

Indonesia Minister, Clerics Clash over Hajj Swine Vaccine’ Requirement

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

JAKARTA, June 15 — The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and the health minister are now at odds over a requirement for hajj pilgrims to take an anti-meningitis vaccine which allegedly contains a swine enzyme before travelling to the Holy Land, Antara news agency reported.

“Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari’s statement that MUI has no right to decide whether meningitis vaccine is ‘halal’ (allowed in Islam) or ‘haram’ (banned) can mislead and create unrest among Muslims,” MUI Chairman Amidhan, said yesterday.

According to the MUI chairman, the health minister as a state official should not have made the statement as it would create unrest among Muslims. The minister made the statement at a meeting of the Aisyiyah women wing of the Muhammadiyah Muslim organisation in Yoyakarta yesterday.

“I read her statement in the running text of a television broadcast Sunday morning,” Amidhan said.

MUI has the authority to decide whether or not a product is halal or haram based on Law No. 7 / 1996 on Food. One of its articles clearly stipulates that the halal certification of a product would be issued by MUI.

MUI is equipped with two institutions in this case. One is the Institute for Assessment of Food, Drug and Cosmetics (LPPOM) and the other one is the Commission on Edicts and Legal Affairs.

“Before MUI decides whether a product is halal or haram, its team will check it in the field and test it in a laboratory, the results of which would be taken to and discussed with the edict commission. We have the experience to handle such a problem for 20 years,” Amidhan said.

At the Aisyiyah meeting, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said that Indonesian would-be hajj pilgrims were obliged to receive a meningitis vaccine before they left for Saudi Arabia because the Saudi government had decided to oblige pilgrims to have one.

“The Saudi government obliges all hajj pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine in order to protect them from cerebral membrane inflammation,” the minister said. She was responding to a rejection by a hajj pilgrim organiser group to provide meningitis vaccine as the vaccine was suspected to contain swine enzyme.

The minister said that the requirement set by the Saudi government to have meningitis vaccine for would-be hajj pilgrims was final. Pilgrims should be injected with the vaccine if they wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia.

“I have told the Saudi health minister about the pros and cons on the use of the meningitis vaccine which was suspected to contain swine enzyme but the Saudi government maintained its policy and required meningitis vaccination for hajj pilgrims,” the minister said.

Therefore, Indonesia’s would-be hajj pilgrims should receive meningitis vaccine injection in the first place before they could depart to Saudi Arabia. Without taking the meningitis vaccine, a would-be hajj pilgrim would not be allowed to go to the Holy Land.

“So far, there is only one kind of meningitis vaccine used by hajj pilgrims. This vaccine is produced by a US pharmacy. So far, no other pharmacy has produced meningitis vaccine,” the minister said.

The minister said that the US company was going to produce another type of meningitis vaccine. They claimed the new product was an innovative version of the previous one.

“Therefore, the price of the new vaccine which was claimed to be free from pig enzyme is far higher than that of the previous vaccine,” the minister said.

With regard to the present vaccine, the minister said that the institution that had the right to assess the substance of the vaccine was the ministry of health, not the MUI. So, MUI had neither right nor authority or competence to assess the substance of the meningitis vaccine and decided that it was halal or haram.

“MUI may decide that swine is halal or haram, but as far as a vaccine is concerned, the institution which has the right and competence to assess its substance is the health ministry,” Minister Supari said.

However, it was reported that MUI had received the very information on the swine enzyme substance in the meningitis vaccine from the health ministry itself, namely its Advisory Council on Health and Religious Legal Affairs (MPKS).

Amidhan said that MUI had the information from the MPKS which held a meeting with the meningitis vaccine producer. It was learnt from the results of a meeting between MPKS and the vaccine producer Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), that the vaccine contained swine enzyme.

The producer even admitted that the meningitis vaccine contained swine enzyme.

“That is why we say that the vaccine is haram,” the MUI chairman said. MUI has sent a letter to the Saudi government with regard to the requirement for pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine.

The highest Islamic regulating council took the step because all parties involved in the organization of hajj pilgrimage in the country had agreed that the vaccine contained pig substance.

“We are waiting for a response from the Saudi government. However, if the Saudi government insists on its decision to require pilgrims to take meningitis vaccine, then we will use it based on the principle of emergency. Of course this would continue to create unrest,” Amidhan said. — Bernama

11-26

Diabetes Spirals Out of Control in Gulf

March 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

mcdonalds The unprecedented growth of diabetes around the world has raised red flags in the medical community, which is seeing a global spike in the disease in both the young and old alike. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gulf nations where the UAE is rated as 2nd in the world for the most diabetics per capita, 27% of the population is diabetic with the same percentage at risk for developing the disease. Other Gulf nations like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also fighting an uphill battle against the illness with more and more of their residents succumbing to a similar fate as their tiny Gulf neighbor.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the world. It happens when the body stops producing insulin or when the body still produces insulin but is unable to respond to it. The most common treatment is the external administration of insulin through injection. However, many cases of diabetes in the Gulf go undetected until severe signs of the disease become manifest. Unlike most western nations, who are increasing budgetary expenditures to meet the influx of chronic disease within their borders, Gulf nations spent less than 4% of the GDP on the health sector last year that is in sharp contrast with the US who spent more than 11% of its GDP.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of diabetes is the requirement, for some patients, to have a limb or extremity amputated. Diabetes restricts the amount of blood that flows throughout the body thus damaging nerves and often causing gangrene to set in. The only way to save the patient’s life is to amputate and even then it is estimated that the patient will only have 5 more years to live. In Saudi Arabia, where 25% of the population is diabetic, more than 90 foot amputations are carried out each month, which roughly translates into 3 amputations per day.

The increased revenue from years of oil surpluses and a life of ease has created a perfect storm that has swept through the Middle East with a ferocity that has taken many by surprise. With more money in the family budget, many families eat out a few times a week. And the choice of restaurant is not always the healthiest. Fast food restaurants, junk food and fizzy carbonated drinks have for years crept into the hearts of Gulf denizens who often prefer a McDonald’s Big Mac to traditional fare. Add to that the lifestyle in the Gulf, which turns lounging around into a sport and makes ‘exercise’ a dirty word.  Children are the most at risk for developing diabetes before they even reach puberty due to obesity, a decrease in physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities such as surfing the Internet or playing video games.

Diabetes is called the ‘silent killer’ for a reason as many people either don’t know they have it or ignore the treatment to care for it. Eating healthfully and engaging in exercise is often pushed to the wayside in favor of more pressing issues, like earning a living or caring for a family. According to the International Diabetes Fund, there are more than 250 million known cases of diabetes in the world. That figure is set to exponentially rise to 380 million in the next 15 years. And unless the governments of the Gulf take preventative measures now, the Middle East nations will make up a bulk of those cases. For this reason, the UAE based Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) has launched an initiative in cooperation with His Highness Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Academic Medical Center to make 2009 the year to combat diabetes in the kingdom, educate the public and help doctors to better treat the disease.

11-12

American TV Popular in the Middle East

March 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

friends There certainly is no love lost between most Middle East countries and the US, where peaceful coexistence is often stormier than two dogs fighting over a juicy bone.  Years of bias, perpetrated by American foreign policy, has left a bitter taste in the hearts and minds of the denizens of the Gulf that won’t easily be washed away by mere ‘sweet talk’ from the Obama administration. However, politics aside, there is a quiet love affair between the East and West that has only grown more intense over the past few years. Regardless of the innumerable ‘fatwas’ issued about the evils of the boob tube or outright condemnations by Muslim clerics, western television and cinema is the daily bread of many Gulf residents, and have  made an irrevocable mark on the social fabric of the region.

Talk-Diva Oprah Winfrey’s show is just as popular in Kuwait as it is in the suburbs of California. Dramas like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ have Gulf dwellers glued to their television screens, just like their American counterparts, on sofas in the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.  And even syndicated shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ still resonate with the Gulf audience. And while English is not the primary language spoken in the region, all the programming is made complete with Arabic subtitles at the bottom. A notable side effect of the translation crawler is that many Arab speakers are learning to speak English, courtesy of the western programming.

There are two primary satellite television stations situated in Saudi Arabia and Dubai that send out American programming 24/7 throughout the whole Gulf region.  The media giant of the Gulf is known as the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and is completely financed by Saudi Arabia. The MBC Group has evolved over the years to include 5 separate channels including MBC3 which airs American cartoons dubbed in Arabic, MBC4 which airs American sitcoms and dramas, as well as the newest channel named MBCMax which airs the latest Hollywood blockbusters to grace the silver screen. The second biggest media giant in the Middle East is known as OneTV, which is owned and operated by the UAE. It combines the best of both worlds, to include western sitcoms and movies in its monthly repertoire.

Both media empires compete for viewers’ attention by offering the most sought-after shows without charging a single penny. Unlike the popular Showtime channel, which is the predominant pay channel in the Gulf, and rakes in billions of oil soaked dollars every year from their subscribers. However, thanks to cutthroat advertisers hocking everything from shampoo to cooking oil, the television business is becoming more lucrative in the Gulf  than the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath the land. Advertisers scoop airtime up as fast as it becomes available, much to the chagrin of viewers who have to wait between 4-5 minutes for the commercials to end, with each show having no less than 3 commercial breaks.

Surprisingly, the key to the success of satellite television in the Middle East is censorship, which keeps everyone happy. Scenes depicting intimacy or even a kiss are cut off. Programming dealing with things such as homosexuality or teenage pregnancy is usually not aired. It is really up to the code of morals followed by each country where the stations are based. For example, the MBC group based in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia almost never shows intimate situations, whereas OneTV based in liberal Dubai has been known to allow some kissing scenes to appear on its viewer’s screens. For the most part, there is not a lot of governmental regulation as to what is aired by either the stations airing the programming or the countries receiving the feed.

However, one country has gone to great lengths to block American television and cinema. Iran only allows a handful of approved American serials to be played on the state-run news station. As a result, young Iranians are downloading their favorite American serials from the Internet or purchasing them from video dealers.
With the Middle East region constantly feeling the strain of threat, whether from internally or from abroad, western television offers viewers in the Gulf a chance to forget their problems and indulge in a bit of escapism, resplendent in jaw dropping comedy and breathtaking stuntmanship that could only be concocted in Hollywood and exported to the rest of the world.

11-11

US Willing to Talk to Taliban

October 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar Iqbal and Masood Haider

2008-10-28T144412Z_01_ISL12_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-AFGHAN

Head of the Afghan Jirga delegation Abdullah Abdullah (L) and Head of the Pakistan Jirga delegation Owais Ahmed Ghani talk during a news conference in Islamabad October 28, 2008. Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Tuesday to establish contacts jointly with Taliban militants through tribal leaders after two days of talks over how to end bloodshed in both countries.

REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood    (PAKISTAN)

Washington/New York, Oct 28: The US is willing to hold direct talks with elements of the Taliban in an effort to quell unrest in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified Bush administration officials.

The Washington Post reported that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had shown openness to the idea of repudiating Al Qaeda, which encouraged the Bush administration to explore the possibility of holding direct talks with the militia.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that the Taliban had conveyed this message to representatives of the Afghan government during a meeting in Saudi Arabia last month.

Amid these reports of a possible breakthrough in the search for a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict, Christian Science Monitor noted that on Monday the Taliban militia showed “a new potency” in the fight against coalition forces, bringing down a US military helicopter near Kabul, while a suicide bomber struck and killed two Americans in northern Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday highlighted the significance of the attack, noting that “choppers are a crucial mode of transport for troops and supplies” in Afghanistan.

Speculations about a possible breakthrough in the talks with the Taliban follow a series of meetings last month in Saudi Arabia between representatives of the Afghan government and the militia.

But even before the Saudis initiated the talks, the Karzai government had been putting out feelers to the Taliban for negotiating an end to its insurgency in exchange for some sort of power-sharing deal.

Though the US has so far been on the sidelines but at a recent news conference Gen David McKiernan, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan, grudgingly said he would support the Afghan government if it chose to go down the path of negotiations.

And now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US might get involved in those negotiations directly. “Senior White House and military officials believe that engaging some levels of the Taliban — while excluding top leaders — could help reverse a pronounced downward spiral in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan,” the report said.

Both countries have been destabilised by a recent wave of violence.

Senior Bush administration officials told the Journal that the outreach was a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of US strategy in Afghanistan. The officials said that the recommendation called for the talks to be led by the Afghan central government, but with the active participation of the US.

The US would be willing to pay moderate Taliban members to lay down their weapons and join the political process, the Journal cited an unidentified US official as saying. The Central Intelligence Agency has been mapping Afghanistan’s tribal areas in an attempt to understand the allegiances of clans and tribes, the report said.

WSJ noted that joining the talks would only be a first step as the Bush administration was still in the process of determining what substantial offer it could make to persuade the Taliban to abandon violence. “How much should (we) be willing to offer guys like this?” asked a senior Bush official while talking to the Journal.
Gen David Petraeus, who will assume responsibility this week for US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan as head of the Central Command, supports the proposed direct talks between the Taliban and the US, the WSJ said.

Gen Petraeus used a similar approach in Iraq where a US push to enlist Sunni tribes in the fight against Al Qaeda helped sharply reduce the country’s violence. Gen Petraeus earlier this month publicly endorsed talks with less extreme Taliban elements.

Gen Petraeus also indicated that he believed insurgencies rarely ended with complete victory by one or the other side.

“You have to talk to enemies,” said Gen Petraeus while pointing to Kabul’s efforts to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they were “willing to reconcile” it would be “a positive step”.

US Afghan experts outside the Bush administration have also been urging the White House to try to end violence “by co-optation, integration and appeasement”, as one of them said.

They urge the Bush administration to give the Taliban a positive reason to stop fighting. This, they argue, would allow Washington to separate hardcore militants from others within the Taliban and would also expose the extremists before the Afghan people.

10-45

What Now, Pakistan?

August 21, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Peter Symonds

2008-08-18T142847Z_01_ISL38_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-POLITICS-RESIGNATION

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf salutes as he leaves the presidential house after his resignation in Islamabad August 18, 2008. Musharraf announced his resignation on Monday in the face of an impending impeachment motion by the ruling coalition government. 

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Effectively abandoned by his domestic allies and international backers, Pakistan’s military strongman Pervez Musharraf formally resigned yesterday as the country’s president rather than face impeachment proceedings that were due to commence this week.

Musharraf’s resignation followed more than a week of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres involving US, British and Saudi officials as well as the Pakistani army to pressure the government to grant the former dictator immunity from prosecution. While Musharraf denied that he had been given any favours in return for his resignation, there is little doubt that a deal has been reached to allow him a “dignified exit."

The writing has been on the wall since Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) suffered a humiliating defeat in national elections in February at the hands of opposition parties—the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Musharraf is widely hated for his nine years of dictatorial rule and support for Washington’s “bogus war on terrorism” that has triggered what amounts to a civil war in Pakistan’s tribal border areas with Afghanistan.

For months, the Bush administration and its allies pressed the PPP-led coalition government to collaborate with Musharraf, which the PPP endeavoured to do. The PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, sought to exploit popular opposition by demanding impeachment and the reinstatement of 57 supreme court judges sacked by Musharraf last year. Sharif pulled the PML-N ministers out of the cabinet in May and threatened to leave the coalition completely if agreement could not be reached on these issues.

Confronting a steady loss in support for the government, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari finally announced plans on August 7 to impeach Musharraf. Opinion polls showed overwhelming popular support—some 75 percent of respondents—for ousting the president, which was reflected yesterday in spontaneous celebrations in the streets of Pakistani cities. While Zardari declared impeachment would commence, no formal charge sheet was presented to parliament, however, allowing time for a deal to be worked out behind the scenes.

Considerable international pressure was bought to bear to end the impasse without initiating impeachment proceedings. While reluctantly recognising that the president had to go, the last thing that Washington wanted was any public airing of Musharraf’s crimes and anti-democratic methods. Any such probe threatened to expose the extent of US involvement with the Pakistani security forces in the suppression of Islamist groups inside Pakistan and war being waged against armed militia in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas supportive of anti-occupation insurgents inside Afghanistan. The CIA and FBI may well be implicated in the hundreds of “disappearances” for which Musharraf and the army are allegedly responsible.

Having relied on Musharraf since the US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush administration was also concerned that the fragile Pakistani government would fail to continue to back military operations against Islamist militias in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). After winning the February election in part by branding Musharraf as a US stooge, the coalition government initially proposed to end the fighting by reaching peace deals with the various armed groups—a move that was sharply opposed in Washington.

Senior Bush administration and Pentagon officials have mounted an intense campaign to pressure the Pakistani government into taking military action in the border areas. There is every sign that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was issued with an ultimatum during his trip to Washington in July—either take action against anti-US guerrillas, or the US military would. In response, Gilani declared that the US “war on terrorism” was “our war”.
Just one day before impeachment proceedings were announced, the Pakistani military launched a major offensive into Bajaur agency. Intense fighting is now taking place in areas from the Swat district, through the Peshawar districts, to the Bajaur and Kyber agencies. After 12 straight days of air and ground bombardment, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people have fled the border areas. The timing points to a tacit understanding with Washington to initiate extensive military action in return for US backing to remove Musharraf.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was fulsome in her praise of the former Pakistani dictator yesterday. Musharraf, she declared, had been “a friend of the United States and one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism”. It was precisely Musharraf’s decision to withdraw Pakistani support from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and his backing for the ongoing US occupation that was one of the major factors in the collapse of his initial post-coup support.
British and Saudi officials have also been engaged in closed-door talks to secure a deal that would allow Musharraf to resign in return for immunity from prosecution and other assurances. Saudi Arabia’s powerful intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Islamabad over the weekend and was reported to have threatened to withdraw oil subsidies worth $5 billion a year unless Musharraf was allowed to leave gracefully.
Likewise the Pakistani military, while publicly insisting that it would stay above politics, nevertheless quietly made clear its opposition to impeachment proceedings—a point underscored yesterday by the decision to give Musharraf a final guard of honour.

If Musharraf were to be tried for breaches of the constitution and other crimes, then the army top brass on which he rested during his nine years in power also risked being implicated. As Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times, commented to the Guardian: “Nobody wants the Pandora’s box opened up. The issue of impeachment is really a non-starter.”

An unstable government

While Musharraf has now stepped down, the political crisis in Islamabad is certain to intensify. The two major coalition parties—the PPP and PML-N—are longstanding and bitter rivals. As a number of commentators have noted, opposition to Musharraf was the main glue holding their alliance together. Even on the immediate issue of Musharraf’s future, there is no agreement.

PPP officials have hinted that a deal was reached to give legal immunity to the former president as long as he agreed to go into exile. At this stage, spokesmen for Musharraf have indicated that he wants to remain in Pakistan and has plans to take up residence in a villa being constructed outside Islamabad. In his hour-long televised speech yesterday, Musharraf delivered a strident defence of his period in office, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and blaming the government for the deterioration of the country’s economy. The PPP certainly does not want Musharraf within striking distance as opposition grows to its rule.
The PML-N continues to insist, publicly at least, that Musharraf should be charged and prosecuted for his crimes. Last week Sharif told a meeting in Lahore: “How can safe passage be given to someone who has done this to Pakistan?” There are also differences between the two parties over the reinstatement of supreme court judges, in part because PPP leader Zardari fears that the judges may allow the revival of corruption convictions against him.

Another immediate bone of contention will be Musharraf’s replacement as president. He has been formally succeeded by the chairman of the Senate, Mohammed Mian Soomro, a close ally who was prime minister until the election in February. A new president will be elected via country’s electoral college—the national assembly and four provincial assemblies meeting together. Zardari is known to have ambitions to fill the post, but such a move will be forcefully opposed by Sharif. The constitution drawn up by Musharraf gives the president considerable power, such as to sack the government and to make key appointments, including the army commander.

More fundamentally, the government now faces the same dilemmas that confronted Musharraf. It is under intense pressure from Washington to intensify military operations in the border areas with Afghanistan where the army has largely lost control. Gilani faces the prospect of being branded a US puppet and rapidly losing support. Any retreat risks the prospect of unilateral US military action, which would also trigger a popular backlash against the government.

At the same time, the Pakistani economy is being hit by rising oil and food prices as well as weakening demand in the US and Europe for its exports. The annual inflation rate is running at a 30-year high of nearly 25 percent; the Pakistani rupee has fallen 22 percent against the declining US dollar this year; and in the past five weeks, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled by nearly $US1.1 billion to $10.15 billion, mainly as a result of the cost of imported oil. The trade deficit has ballooned by 53 percent to $20.7 billion for the 2007-08 fiscal year that ended in June. The share market has slumped by 30 percent since April.
Share values and the rupee rose yesterday on news of Musharraf’s resignation, but further political turmoil will rapidly reverse those gains. Rising prices will only fuel social unrest and opposition to the government. While Musharraf’s resignation is being presented in the Pakistani and international media as a step toward democracy in Pakistan, both the PPP and PML-N have a record of autocratic rule. Whatever its final makeup, the regime holding the reins of power in Islamabad will not hesitate to use anti-democratic methods to suppress any political opposition to its policies.

10-35

A Saudi Arabian University with a Western Feel

July 17, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

kaust classroom artist

Artist’s rendering of a classroom at KAUST.  King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will feature coed classes, a curriculum in English and other touches seen as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

THUWAL, SAUDI ARABIA — Up the corniche, along a coast where boats carrying pilgrims bound for Mecca sailed for centuries, a thicket of cranes rises over whitewashed mosques along the Red Sea.

Steel flashes and blowtorches glow as 20,000 workers build a $10-billion university ordered up by a king who hopes Western ingenuity will revive the economy of this ultraconservative Muslim nation. When finished next year, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will offer coed classes, Western professors, a curriculum in English and other touches loathed as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

The West may be dependent on Saudi crude, now as high as $145 a barrel, but this campus outside an ancient fishing village is recognition that the country that is home to Islam’s holiest shrines needs the likes of USC, Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survive globalization.

An architect’s rendering shows a campus of canals and reflecting pools running along sleek silver and glass libraries and laboratories. A marina with slips for 140 boats stands in a cove lighted by a tapered beacon. Students and professors will live in villas and apartments looking out on date palms and furnished with eggshell and white Swedish-style sofas and chairs.

Saudis have studied in the U.S. and Europe for decades, bringing back expertise without directly exposing the kingdom to Western classrooms and professors. But the new university is inviting the secular West a step closer in another ideological battle between Saudi reformers led by King Abdullah and the Wahhabi sect of puritanical Islam that has resisted outside influences since the days of desert caravans.

“Saudis are beginning to realize they are not the center of the universe,” said Tariq Maeena, a writer and aviation expert. “The king hopes that a young Saudi will be in a class with an American professor. The king is jabbing the conservatives from all sides. He’s not doing it with a massive decree, but incrementally, and all the radicals can do is roll their eyes and say, ‘Uh-oh, we’re losing more power.’

“Amira Kashgary, a literature professor at a women’s college, said, “We are part of the global world now. Whether we like it or not, and regardless of our political and religious systems, there are changes seeping through our lives.

“The radicals ran a wicked Internet campaign against the university. They said it is another sign liberals are invading us.”

The kingdom’s huge oil reserves cannot mask Saudi Arabia’s problems: 40% of its population is younger than 18, its schools are backward and its economy is not diverse enough to compete in a high-tech future balanced between the West and the rising powers of China and India.

King Abdullah is building the university, along with six multibillion- dollar Economic Cities, to provide jobs and open the country to global markets. Conservatives fear that these international voices, from South Asian construction workers to Western scientists, will change the religious fabric.

“Men and women learning together should remain forbidden,” said Mohammed Ben Yehia Nogeemy, a member of the Saudi Juristic Academy, a religious organization that issues fatwas. He said that such an atmosphere could be regarded as sedition and “if any Saudi official has the intention to allow the establishment of a coeducational university, that will be a big mistake that will need to be corrected.”

But the king, for now, is a step ahead of the conservatives. Nogeemy was not in attendance on a recent afternoon when oil money seduced brainpower at a hotel along the Red Sea in Jidda.

Silver trays of hors d’oeuvres and alcohol-free champagne glided through a crowd of Western academics gathered for a conference on the university’s goals. Soldiers with Humvees and .50-caliber machine guns stood guard outside to scare away would-be terrorists, while inside mathematicians and molecular biologists tried on blue university ball caps and pocketed Lamborghini pens left on seats as gifts.

The university, known as KAUST, is promising academic freedom, the mixing of cultures and religions, and subjects as varied as nanotechnology and crop development. The country’s ubiquitous and often abusive morality police will not patrol the campus, depicted on the university’s interactive website with unveiled women. Going unveiled is a crime in Saudi society that could lead to lashings and imprisonment.

kaust artist's rendering KAUST will be “a new house of wisdom,” Ali Ibrahim Naimi, the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources, told the guests. He said world research projects and the Saudi economy, with a 12% unemployment rate, would benefit from the “easy flow of ideas and people into and out of the region.”

To ensure that, KAUST is not under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry, which is controlled by fundamentalists and often forbids the teaching of music, art and philosophy.

The project is overseen by Aramco, the Saudi oil company founded by US firms in the 1930s. Aramco has experience in creating a parallel world: In its gated communities in the eastern part of the country, alcohol is available but hidden, there’s a pee-wee baseball winter carnival, and Western women drive cars, a practice forbidden to Saudi women.

With a chocolate-scented cigar in one hand and a honey-flavored coffee in the other, Maeena sat in his favorite Jidda cafe, nodding hellos to young men with laptops and waiters who know his preferences. This is the world he likes, a place to write, a den of intellectual freedom in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city.
He said KAUST, which is being built 50 miles north of the cafe, is another sign that the country’s religious and ideological barriers are weakening.

“It’s an act of opening us up to a better side of education,” said Maeena, who, like many of his generation, attended college in the U.S. “The West has planted those seeds of liberalism in me and thousands like me. We were young Saudis educated in the West in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but this slowed as the seeds of fundamentalism took hold here in the 1990s.”

10-30

Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Islam

May 8, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Sabrina Tavernise

Turkish educators are offering an alternative approach to religious schools that could reduce extremists’ influence.

KARACHI, Pakistan: Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.

He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

Kacmaz (pronounced KATCH-maz) is part of a group of Turkish educators who have come to this battleground with an entirely different vision of Islam. Theirs is moderate and flexible, comfortably coexisting with the West while remaining distinct from it. Like Muslim Peace Corps volunteers, they promote this approach in schools, which are now established in more than 80 countries, Muslim and Christian.

Their efforts are important in Pakistan, a nuclear power whose stability and whose vulnerability to fundamentalism have become main preoccupations of American foreign policy. Its tribal areas have become a refuge to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the battle against fundamentalism rests squarely on young people and the education they get.

At present, that education is extremely weak. The poorest Pakistanis cannot afford to send their children to public schools, which are free but require fees for books and uniforms. Some choose to send their children to madrasas, or religious schools, which, like aid organizations, offer free food and clothing. Many simply teach, but some have radical agendas. At the same time, a growing middle class is rejecting public schools, which are chaotic and poorly financed, and choosing from a new array of private schools.

The Turkish schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first one opened a decade ago, cannot transform the country on their own. But they offer an alternative approach that could help reduce the influence of Islamic extremists.

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.

“Whatever the West has of science, let our kids have it,” said Erkam Aytav, a Turk who works in the new schools. “But let our kids have their religion as well.”

That approach appeals to parents in Pakistan, who want their children to be capable of competing with the West without losing their identities to it. Allahdad Niazi, a retired Urdu professor in Quetta, a frontier town near the Afghan border, took his son out of an elite military school, because it was too authoritarian and did not sufficiently encourage Islam, and put him in the Turkish school, called PakTurk.

“Private schools can’t make our sons good Muslims,” Niazi said, sitting on the floor in a Quetta house. “Religious schools can’t give them modern education. PakTurk does both.”

The model is the brainchild of a Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen. A preacher with millions of followers in Turkey, Gulen, 69, comes from a tradition of Sufism, an introspective, mystical strain of Islam. He has lived in exile in the United States since 2000, after getting in trouble with secular Turkish officials.

Gulen’s idea, Aytav said, is that “without science, religion turns to radicalism, and without religion, science is blind and brings the world to danger.”

The schools are putting into practice a Turkish Sufi philosophy that took its most modern form during the last century, after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder, crushed the Islamic caliphate in the 1920s. Islamic thinkers responded by trying to bring Western science into the faith they were trying to defend. In the 1950s, while Arab Islamic intellectuals like Sayyid Qutub were firmly rejecting the West, Turkish ones like Said Nursi were seeking ways to coexist with it.

In Karachi, a sprawling city that has had its own struggles with radicalism — the American reporter Daniel Pearl was killed here, and the famed Binori madrasa here is said to have sheltered Osama bin Laden — the two approaches compete daily.

The Turkish school is in a poor neighborhood in the south of the city where residents are mostly Pashtun, a strongly tribal ethnic group whose poorer fringes have been among the most susceptible to radicalism. Kacmaz, who became principal 10 months ago, ran into trouble almost as soon as he began. The locals were suspicious of the Turks, who, with their ties and clean-shaven faces, looked like math teachers from Middle America.

“They asked me several times, ‘Are they Muslim? Do they pray? Are they drinking at night?’ “ said Ali Showkat, a vice principal of the school, who is Pakistani.

Goats nap by piles of rubbish near the school’s entrance, and Kacmaz asked a local religious leader to help get people to stop throwing their trash near the school, to no avail. Exasperated, he hung an Islamic saying on the outer wall of the school: “Cleanliness is half of faith.” When he prayed at a mosque, two young men followed him out and told him not to return wearing a tie because it was un-Islamic.

“I said, ‘Show me a verse in the Koran where it was forbidden,’ “ Kacmaz said, steering his car through tangled rush-hour traffic. The two men were wearing glasses, and he told them that scripturally, there was no difference between a tie and glasses.

“Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, referring to a set of Islamic texts, “only misunderstanding.”

That misunderstanding, along with the radicalism that follows, stalks the poorest parts of Quetta. Abdul Bari, a 31-year-old teacher of Islam from a religious family, lives in a neighborhood without electricity or running water. Two brothers from his tribe were killed on a suicide mission, leaving their mother a beggar and angering Bari, who says a Muslim’s first duty is to his mother and his family.

“Our nation has no patience,” said Bari, who raised his seven younger siblings, after his father died suddenly a dozen years ago. He decided that one of his brothers should be educated, and enrolled him in the Turkish school.

The Turks put the focus on academics, which pleased Bari, who said his dream was for Saadudeen, his brother, to lift the family out of poverty and expand its horizons beyond religion. Bari’s title, hafiz, means he has memorized the entire Koran, though he has no formal education. Two other brothers have earned the same distinction. Their father was an imam.

His is a lonely mission in a neighborhood where nearly all the residents are illiterate and most disapprove of his choices, Bari said. He is constantly on guard against extremism. He once punished Saadudeen for flying kites with the wrong kind of boys. At the Turkish school, the teenager is supervised around the clock in a dormitory.

“They are totally against extremism,” Bari said of the Turks. “They are true Muslims. They will make my brother into a true Muslim. He’ll deal with people with justice and wisdom. Not with impatience.”

Illiteracy is one of the roots of problems dogging the Muslim world, said Matiullah Aail, a religious scholar in Quetta who graduated from Medina University in Saudi Arabia.

In Baluchistan, Quetta’s sparsely populated province, the literacy rate is less than 10 percent, said Tariq Baluch, a government official in the Pasheen district. He estimated that about half of the district’s children attended madrasas.

Aail said: “Doctors and lawyers have to show their degrees. But when it comes to mullahs, no one asks them for their qualifications. They don’t have knowledge, but they are influential.”

That leads to a skewed interpretation of Islam, even by those schooled in it, according to Gulen and his followers.

“They’ve memorized the entire holy book, but they don’t understand its meaning,” said Kamil Ture, a Turkish administrator.

Kacmaz chimed in: “How we interpret the Koran is totally dependent on our education.”

In an interview in 2004, published in a book of his writings, Gulen put it like this: “In the countries where Muslims live, some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon in hand than their fundamental interpretation of Islam. They use this to engage people in struggles that serve their own purposes.”

Moderate as that sounds, some Turks say Gulen uses the schools to advance his own political agenda. Murat Belge, a prominent Turkish intellectual who has experience with the movement, said that Gulen “sincerely believes that he has been chosen by God,” and described Gulen’s followers as “Muslim Jesuits” who are preparing elites to run the country.

Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish professor at the University of Utah who has had extensive experience with the Gulen movement, offered a darker assessment.

“The purpose here is very much power,” Yavuz said. “The model of power is the Ottoman Empire and the idea that Turks should shape the Muslim world.”

But while radical Islamists seek to re-establish a seventh-century Islamic caliphate, without nations or borders, and more moderate Islamists, like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, use secular democracy to achieve the goal of an Islamic state, Gulen is a nationalist who says he wants no more than a secular democracy where citizens are free to worship, a claim secular Turks find highly suspect.

Still, his schools are richly supported by Turkish businessmen. M. Ihsan Kalkavan, a shipping magnate who has built hotels in Nigeria, helped finance Gulen schools there, which he said had attracted the children of the Nigerian elite.

“When we take our education experiment to other countries, we introduce ourselves. We say, ‘See, we’re not terrorists.’ When people get to know us, things change,” Kalkavan said in his office in Istanbul.

He estimated the number of Gulen’s followers in Turkey at three million to five million. The network itself does not provide estimates, and Gulen declined to be interviewed.

The schools, which also operate in Christian countries like Russia, are not for Muslims alone, and one of their stated aims is to promote interfaith understanding. Gulen met the previous pope, as well as Jewish and Orthodox Christian leaders, and teachers in the schools say they stress multiculturalism and universal values.

“We are all humans,” said Kacmaz, the principal. “In Islam, every human being is very important.”

Pakistani society is changing fast, and more Pakistanis are realizing the importance of education, in part because they have more to lose, parents said. Abrar Awan, whose son is attending the Turkish school in Quetta, said he had grown tired of the attitude of the Islamic political parties he belonged to as a student. Now a government employee with a steady job, he sees real life as more complicated than black-and-white ideology.

“America or the West was always behind every fault, every problem,” he said, at a gathering of fathers in April. “Now, in my practical life, I know the faults are within us.”

10-20

Florida Stories Vol 8 Iss 18

April 30, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Local Muslims Gather for Annual Celebrations of Prophet’s birth and life

At locations throughout South Florida this April, traditional Milad-un-Nabi programs were held to celebrate the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad. The events coincided with the Prophet’s birthday on the 12th day of Rabbi-ul-Awwal, third month on the lunar Muslim calendar, which this year fell on April 12.

In Muslim countries, the event is marked by numerous festivities, including devotional song, poetry reading, religious devotion, lectures and get-togethers and feature large scale TV and media coverage. In the states, though overseas TV coverage is now present thanks to satellite TV channels, broadcasting Milad-un-Nabi coverage from back home, events here tend to be more subdued, owing in part to the views of some communities and community members that such celebrations are unlawful innovations, religiously speaking.

Despite the misgivings by some, though, many—perhaps the majority—continue the colorful and joyous observances of what all in the community agree was one of the pinnacle moments in human history, the prophet’s birth.

One such program was held at the Miami Gardens Masjid in Miami-Dade County on Saturday evening, April 8, which annually marks the occasion with either lectures, traditional Urdu-poetry in praise of the prophet, or dinners.

Open to men and women, the program featured a lecture by visiting speaker Faisal Abdur Razzaq of Toronto, Canada. Hundreds of families and community members were in attendance for the annual event which included dinner after the sunset prayer of Salat-ul-Maghrib.

Abdur Razzaq received his Islamic studies at the Umm-Al-Qurra University in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah from 1977 to 1986. He is currently the President of the Islamic Forum of Canada, and the Vice-President of the Islamic Council of Imams of Canada. He served as Imam Khateeb of several mosques and Islamic Centers there including the Islamic society of Peel, the Islamic Centre of Brampton, and the Toronto and Region Islamic Center (TARIC).

Razzaq also conducted a workshop for Muslim Youth on Sunday April 9th at Miami Gardens entitled “Sacred Knowledge Training Program concentrating on Fiqh and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.”

The mosque has been hosting a number of guest lecturers since the departure of its regular imam Abdul-Hamid Samra in March.

Zaid Shakir Speaks in South Florida

Tall and soft-spoken with a slow, deep, and rhythmic speaking style, Zaid Shakir is an African American Muslim community leader perfectly at ease amongst the immigrant origin segments of the community. Over the years, on his journey from an urban northern California youth to Muslim convert and toward the highest rung of Muslim community speaker and leader, Shakir has continually earned respect though humility, hard work and community efforts around the country.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t get loud and passionate when he needs to. Now at the head of one of the most well-known Muslim educational groups in the country—the Zaytuna Institute in his native northern Cali—this past month, Shakir visited South Florida for a number of events.

On Thursday, April 6th at 7 pm Shakir spoke on the subject of “Muslims in America: Challenges and Opportunities,” at the University of Miami’s Learning Center building, co-sponsored by the school’s Department of Religious Studies and the Islamic Society at UM.

Then on Friday, April 7, the Madinah Foundation presented ‘A Night of Reflection; The Ethical Standard of the Prophet Muhammad; Controlling Anger, Promoting Understanding Through Wisdom,’ a lecture by Shakir. The free event was that time held at the Darul Uloom Institute in Pembroke Pines.

Both events were well-attended with positive reaction from attendees.

At UM, Religion 101 students received extra credit for attending the Shakir lecture thanks to longtime ISUM supporter and head of the school’s Religious studies department, Dr. Stephen Sapp.

ISUM president Sarah Uddin greeted the Shakir visit with excitement and praised the turnout.

“We had an awesome turnout! I’m really happy with the program last night. Imam Zaid’s speech was super engaging. He was able to reach so many non-Muslim students and ISUM alumni, in addition to the rest of the ISUM gang, who all came out,” she said.

A mainstay at such prominent national Musilm community events as the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America—where he often speaks at the main stage in front of tens of thousands—Shakir was born in Berkeley, California. He accepted Islam in 1977 while serving in the United States Air Force and obtained a BA with honors in International Relations at the American University in Washington D.C. and an MA in Political Science from Rutgers University.

Spending time overseas in Egypt, Syria, and Morocco, Shakir studied Arabic as well as the traditional Islamic sciences including Islamic law, Quran, and Islamic spirituality. Upon returning, he co-founded Masjid al-Islam in Connecticut and taught Political Science at the Southern Connecticut State University. He has translated several books from Arabic into English including “The Heirs of the Prophet.”

Since 2003, he has acted as a professor and scholar-in-residence at the Zaytuna Institute & Academy, alongside fellow well-known Muslim community speaker, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, also from Northern California.

The Madinah Foundation, which was largely responsible for Shakir’s visit, is the local Zaytuna Affiliate in South Florida, staffed by former community youth and college activists who grew up attending Islamic studies programs around the country and listening to speakers such as Shakir and Hanson as role-models, and also organizes annual Islamic study retreats in Zaytuna’s “Deen Intensive Style”—part nature retreat/camp, part traditional Islamic educational experience trying to recreate pre-Colonial modes of Islamic education—throughout the state.

CAIR-FLORIDA: ‘Urge Legislators to Oppose Bill’
‘BILL WOULD CUT FUNDING FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’

CAIR-FL, along with groups such as Florida Immigration Advocacy Center (FIAC) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa called for the withdrawal of proposed legislation that would prohibit state funds from being used to provide financial aid to university and college students on visas. The statement came on April 24.
Florida House Bill 205 and Senate Bill 458 target students that hold visas and receive financial support from Florida to attend state schools. A similar bill 2003 HB 31, introduced by Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville three years ago targeting some Muslim countries was defeated during the senate hearing.
FAU Students hold Annual ‘Scholar’s Night’
The Muslim Student Organization at Florida Atlantic University held it’s seventh Annual Scholar’s Night on Saturday, April 22nd, at the Life Long Center Auditorium on the FAU Campus in Boca Raton. Entitled: “Believe it or not, you were born Muslim!” and featuring a lecture by local speaker Fadi Kablawi, the event was of a preaching nature, its flier posing the question: “What do you call a religion whose beliefs, practices and followers are being bashed and bad-mouthed in practically every sphere of activity, in almost every corner of the globe, yet it attracts ever-increasing number of people? A Miracle? A Paradox? or simply THE TRUTH: ISLAM.” Such straightforward, declarative and reactionary themes have become more rare in Islamic events in the post-9/11 environment. The lecture featured free admission and dinner and was open to all interested. The FAU MSO has seen a resurgent past semester of activity.

Community News, North America (US & Canada)

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Curtain controversy in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL— The board of the Muslim Community Centre in Chicago has voted to let the organization’s president to work on a compromise on whether to replace a curtain hung to separate the men and women’s areas of the mosque.
The curtain was removed during renovations and since then has not been replaced. In an earlier meeting the board had voted 13-2 in favour of the “Not To Raise Curtain” resolution with two members abstaining.
Despite the vote Dr.Abdul Sattar, president of the MCC, said that a majority of the community wants the curtain divider and called for last Sunday’s meeting.
The new resolution calls on the president to take into consideration how women felt and to try to please everyone.

Minister praised for interfaith work

AUSTIN,TX—The Rev.Jim Mayfield, pastor of Tarrytown United Methodist Church, who retired recently was praised for his years of interfaith work. Imam Safdar Razi of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association said Rev. Mayfield played an important role in supporting the local Muslim community in the wake of Sept.11 attacks.
Under Mayfield’s leadership, the organization gathered clerics from different religions to pray on the steps of the Texas Capitol and “helped the Muslim communities a lot by letting people understand that Muslims also condemn the acts of terror and terrorism,” Razi told the Statesman.

Muslims join immigrant rights rally

DES PLAINES,IL— Muslims joined hundreds others in a rally calling for immigration rights and reform in the Des Plaines suburb of Chicago.
“We come here to work. We don’t come here to do anything bad or — we come here to have a better future,” said Lizeth Rios to ABC News.
What they’re doing right now is shameful and they’re trying to take away people’s hope. But there are good people who are doing things like that. We re trying do things in a peaceful matter. God did not create any borders,” said Rita Gonzales, Latin Americans United.
The rally ended with a prayer for those who had died trying to cross the border.

Nazir Baig passes away

BALTIMORE, MD—Nazir Baig, prominent Baltimore area Muslim community leader, passed away this week. He was a board member of the Muslim Community Center of Maryland. He also served as the organization’s trustee and chairman for 5 years and as president for 10 years. His tenure saw tremendous growth in the organization. He actively took part in various community building activities. He worked as a town planner for the Montgomery County.

New mosque in San Luis Obispo

SAN LUIS OBISPO,CA—- The Islamic Center of the Central Coast is seeking a building permit to build a new mosque and community center on Walnut Street in San Luis Obispo. The new mosque will be bigger than the centre’s present one.
Architect Heidi Gibson said the mosque’s new location makes it a good fit among San Luis Obsipo’s cultural and spiritual centers.
“We have the mission downtown. We have the other downtown churches,” Gibson told the Tribune. “Now weíll have a mosque.”
The mosque has already received approval from the city’s commissions and it can take three months to a year before permits are granted and construction begins.

Eid ul Fitr poem wins Ray Bradbury award

CHICAGO, IL—Faisal Mohyuddin’s poem Eid-ul-Fitr, 1946 won the coveted Ray Bradbury Poetry Writing Contest surpassing 118 entries received from across the world. Mohyuddin, 27, teaches English teacher at Highland Park High School.
The poem is described as a wrenching, fictional ode to a little boy lost amid the prayers and politics of Pakistan.”
“[The poem] is about impending loss, a lot of violence, pain and suffering,” Mohyuddin told the Chicago Tribune.
Mohyuddin’s other entry, The Sadness, also attained a honourable mention in the contest.

Saudi culture shared at Valparaiso

VALPARAISO, IN— Saudi students at the Valparaiso University held a special program to inform the community about the Saudi culture including music, food, religion and life. Around hundred people attended the event sponsored by the International Studies Office of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Student advisor of the Saudi Culture Mission Dr.Faleh Al Hogbani told the student newspaper: “In the Saudi culture we encourage this kind of event and encourage students to spread the culture to the real people of America, not just in D.C.”
The attendees were treated to a multimedia presentation, demonstration of Azan and prayers and lectures. Dr.Nelly Van Doorn-Harder, Patheja professor of world religions and ethics at the university, discussed the history and significance of Saudi Arabia to the Muslim world.
“Saudi Arabia is a country that despite everything, upholds the true concept of Islam,” said Van Doorn-Harder, who has traveled all over the world to study religion.
There are 80 students from Saudi Arabia currently studying at Valparaiso University.

Egyptian student shares perspectives

MADISON, WI— Ahmed Ayad is computer science student working on his Phd at UW-Madison. He is one of of about 60 students from countries around the world who volunteer to share their experiences and perspectives with audiences on and off campus as part of the university’s International Reach program.
Ayad,31, says he wants to present a more realistic picture of Egyptian culture while speaking to a group of eighth graders at Waunakee Middle School. “I want them to come away with a closer-to-reality idea of what a place like Egypt looks like,” he told the State Journal.
The International Reach program was started in the 1990s by Lise Skofronick, a member of Madison Friends of International Students, and was later adopted by the university, said Merilee Sushoreba, student services coordinator, who coordinates the program’s on-campus component.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, International Reach was put on hiatus because of staff constraints and the need to focus on implementing new federal policies for students from other countries, said Stephanie Cowan, international student advisor, who coordinates the program’s off-campus component.
The program began making a comeback in 2004, and is now going strong after receiving a $5,000 grant from the university’s Kemper K. Knapp Bequest, which has paid for a student assistant this year to help with scheduling and other costs, such as materials and transportation.
Ayad, who came to UW-Madison in 2000, said people have a lot of misconceptions about the Middle East. “The most troubling to me is the misconception about religion,” he said.
While the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the current war in Iraq “have not helped,” Ayad said they also have sparked interest in the Muslim faith.
Though he keeps his presentations “as neutral as possible,” sticking to subjects such as history and culture, Ayad told his audience of eighth- graders, “You guys can ask me any question you want.”

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States found little support in the Arab world when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
In a military confrontation with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, it should not expect any more.
Some Arabs, mainly outside the Gulf, are positively enthusiastic about Iran’s program, even if it acquires nuclear weapons, if only because it would be a poke in the eye or a counterweight to Israel and the United States.
Others, especially in countries closest to Iran, are wary of any threat to the status quo and the instability it might bring.
Most in the Arab world see the U.S. and European campaign against Iran as hypocritical, while Israel refuses to allow international nuclear inspections and is thought to have some 200 nuclear warheads.
“I want the whole region free of all nuclear weapons but if the West continues its double-standard approach on this issue then Iran has the right (to have them),” said Abdel-Rahman Za’za’, a 29-year-old Lebanese engineer.
“This could provide some balance against Israel and help the Palestinians in their negotiations. We have to take our rights because they are not going to be given to us,” he added.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, said this week it saw no harm in Iran developing nuclear arms.
“That would create a kind of equilibrium between the two sides — the Arab and Islamic side on one side and Israel on the other,” said deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Tuesday policies toward nuclear programs in the region needed thorough review.
“These policies which are based on double standards will blow up and escalate this issue and this escalation will not include only Iran and Israel,” he said. The Arab League represents 22 Arab governments, from Morocco to the Gulf.
Iran says it has no intention of making nuclear bombs and wants enriched uranium only to generate electricity. The United States says it does not believe it.
Analysts said they detected a surprising level of sympathy and support for Iran in the region.
WOUNDED DIGNITY
“It’s amazing how encouraging people are of the whole thing. Some think the Iranians are on the way to acquiring it (nuclear weapons capability) and are quite excited,” said Hesham Kassem, editor of the independent Cairo newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“There doesn’t seem to be any awareness that it might be a calamity,” added Kassem, who said he personally was afraid of an arms race bringing in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank, said: “People are very very warm about it (Iran’s nuclear program).”
“Anyone who challenges the United States will find a great deal of support. That’s a very profitable enterprise in public opinion terms,” he added.
“Even if it takes an arms race, people don’t mind. What we have here is wounded dignity and revulsion about the lack of fairness and double standards.”
Most Arab governments have called for a peaceful solution to the confrontation with Iran, in the hope that diplomacy will enable it to develop nuclear energy under U.N. supervision.
If they speak about nuclear weapons, they say the whole Middle East should be nuclear-free, implicitly including Israel. U.S. officials say they can only deal with Israel’s nuclear activities after a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Analysts in the Gulf raised special concerns. “Gulf states are legitimately concerned about Iran joining the nuclear club,” said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates.
“The possibility of a fourth Gulf war is just beyond our ability to manage. We don’t want it. It will just make life miserable and hell,” he added.
Saudi analyst Dawoud al-Sharayan said an Iranian nuclear bomb could give the United States a pretext to maintain its military forces in the Gulf and add to the tension.
Saudi Arabia would then have the right to think about having its own nuclear weapon, he added. –
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in Cairo, Alaa Shahine in Beirut, Miral Fahmy in Dubai and Andrew Hammond in Saudi Arabia)

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