Firing of Pakistan’s Defense Sec Raises Army Tension

January 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Salman Masood

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani fired his defense secretary, a retired general and confidant of Pakistan’s army chief, on Wednesday as the civilian government drew closer to a head-on collision with the country’s powerful military leadership.

Mr. Gilani accused the secretary of defense, Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a former corps commander, of “gross misconduct and illegal action” and of “creating misunderstanding between the state institutions.” He replaced the former general with a civilian aide, Nargis Sethi.

Military officials warned on Wednesday evening that the army would be likely to refuse to work with the newly appointed defense secretary, signaling the possibility of a serious rupture between the army and the civilian government. “The army will not react violently, but it will not cooperate with the new secretary defense,” said a military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation.

Tensions had intensified between the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and the army leadership after the publication of a controversial memo, purportedly drafted by the government shortly after an American raid last year killed Osama bin Laden, that solicited help in stopping a possible coup by the humiliated Pakistani military.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, called an emergency meeting of his top commanders on Thursday.

The defense secretary is ordinarily appointed with the consent of the army chief and acts as a bridge between the civilian government and military. The role is more powerful than that of defense minister, a position that is filled by a politician from the governing party.

The firing came as the military warned the prime minister that his recent statements against General Kayani would have “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
Mr. Gilani had accused General Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, of acting as “state within a state” and reminded them they were accountable to the Parliament.

Those statements were seen as suggesting that they could be removed from power.

The defense secretary’s signature is needed for the appointment — or termination — of the members of the military leadership. By installing a secretary defense of its own choice, the civilian government appeared to be seeking greater leverage in dealing with the military.

Speculation about the government’s intentions to dismiss the two commanders were fueled by news reports in the stridently anti-American press in Pakistan, where many people view the United States as an arrogant adversary instead of an ally. That view has increased in the months since the Bin Laden raid last May and the deaths of 26 Pakistani soldiers in an American airstrike near the border with Afghanistan late last year.

Pakistani analysts said the firing of Mr. Lodhi could be a potentially ominous sign that the festering conflict between the army and the civilian government had reached a critical stage.

“It is a desperate measure,” said Ikram Sehgal, a defense analyst and former army officer. “They want the army to react and to make a coup.”

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military and political analyst, said the firing would only exacerbate the situation for the civilian government. “If the prime minister now tries to fire the army chief, it will have very dangerous consequences,” Mr. Rizvi said.

General Lodhi, who was only recently appointed defense secretary, became embroiled in a controversy last month after he submitted a statement in the Supreme Court on behalf of the Defense Ministry stating that the civilian government had no operational control over the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful spy agency. Mr. Gilani accused Mr. Lodhi of overstepping and objected to his blunt statement, a public acknowledgment that, while the intelligence services are technically under the control of the prime minister, they are widely perceived to act independently of the civilian government.

A military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the relationship between the two men broke down after the prime minister’s staff sought to pressure General Lodhi into contradicting statements by the army and spy chiefs about the controversial memo. The military commanders had told Supreme Court last month that the memo, written by a former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, was authentic and pointed to a conspiracy against the military. The government and Mr. Haqqani have said they had nothing to do with the memo, which came to light in October.

“The government had prepared a draft that stated that the Ministry of Defense does not agree with General Kayani and Genera Pasha’s opinions about the veracity of the memo,” said the military official, who was present during the discussions. “General Lodhi refused to sign the document, saying those were not his words.”

J. David Goodman contributed reporting.

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Got the Christmas Blues?

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

For many of us, the holidays are the saddest time. There are some biological reasons for this – the Solstice on December 21st is the darkest day of the year and there is a lot of depression associated with lack of sunlight.

For this reason, the Romans came up with the Festival of Lights to help dispel the gloom of darkness and the fear of death that comes with freezing weather, which in today’s world means electronic lights displayed on Christmas trees, candlelit Hanukkah menorahs, and an enduring tradition of attempting to be especially kind to one another. Science reports that American suicide rates are 30% lower during the holiday season, so apparently the effect of “good cheer and good will towards all men” is not just a theory.

Muslim families face a challenge during these special times, because we do not celebrate Christmas. We don’t even have a counter-holiday. A hilarious youtube video entitled, “Christmas Sucks for Desis” clearly explains our children’s tender emotions:

“We will get a mix of a bunch of feelings on this day – No Rudolphs, no horse-drawn sleigh – All we get is a closed Safeway!”

Americans who have converted to Islam may feel especially sensitive at this time, because we have beautiful childhood memories associated with Christmas that are deeply connected to our cultural traditions. It is hard to explain how depressing it can be to find yourself sitting alone on Christmas Eve, simply due to a conscious choice not to celebrate that holiday. No more late night prayers singing carols praising the birth of our Savior. No more angels, no more shepherds, no more Blessed Virgin Mary and her adorable baby. No more hanging warm socks and mittens on a tree to donate to charity.
Hey wait! Is all of this so bad? The whole point of adoring a newborn baby is that we are in a state of total awe at what God alone can accomplish – the birth of hope in the future of humanity.

The Prophethood of Jesus marked a very important milestone in the history of spiritual philosophy. Before that, in the Old Testament, it was “my God is better than your god.” Jesus brought a message that changed life on earth forever. The ancient Germans used to burn widows on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands, but after they learned about Christ’s teachings, they completely changed their way of life to one that involved fighting for the security of widows! The Aztek American Indians used to engage in ritual sacrifice of virgin girls. Now they revere the Virgin Mary. We have come a long way.

If you were to pick up a Quran, knowing nothing, you would think this is a book primarily about Jesus (pbuh). We have holidays to remember Abraham, Moses and Mohammad, while the Shias retell the tale of Hussain’s martyrdom every year at Ashura. Yet we don’t always take the time to retell the story of the miracle of the birth of Jesus.

When my five year old daughter started whining about why we don’t have a Christmas tree, I decided to teach her the true meaning of Christmas. I then realized how important it is for someone who wants to truly understand the Quran to read the Bible too. The stories about Jesus are told in the Bible in such detail that we do not find in the Quran, yet the Quran references these old stories in such a way that if we did not know the old stories, we cannot fully grasp the meaning of the Quran. The Quran serves in many ways as a commentary on the older books, which Jesus came to Earth to interpret for us. The Quran states that Jesus said:

“ And (I come as) a verifier of that which is before me of the Torah… I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; therefore be careful of (your duty to) Allah and obey me.” (Al-Imran:50)

We are ordered to obey Christ, yet we know precious little about how to obey Christ UNLESS we familiarize ourselves with the older books. Since Muslims have nothing else to do on Christmas, why not spend some time with our children studying about our Messiah? I read to my daughter from the Quran:

“… Allah said: O Jesus, I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the Day of Resurrection…” (Al-Imran: 55)

I explained to her that the message of Jesus (pbuh) apart from the mythology is clear: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do unto others as you would have done to yourself.” If someone did not do that, he did not follow God’s prophet.

What matters is that we are going to die, and if we did not be kind to other people, God will punish us. But if we followed Christ’s teachings, God will be merciful to us.

Humanity is in a state of darkness. There is absolutely no hope for us. We are a bunch of hopeless sinners and losers. We keep fighting for ourselves, and all we do is just keep dragging each other down. We are hardly human anymore, as a species. We are in a complete state of loss: except those who have faith, and who do good deeds, and remind one another to be righteous, and not to give up hope. I think that is the true meaning that we need to find in this darkest hour.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. Karinfriedemann.blogspot.com.

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Hydroelectric Dam Causes Ripples of Protests for Bangladesh

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

IMG_1367Protests, human-chains and rallies have emerged in Bangladeshi communities across the world this month against the building of the Tipaimukh Dam between India and Bangladesh. Bangladeshi environmentalists said the dam will affect agriculture, fishing industries, and 30 million people with possible river drying due its construction.

A joint venture was signed October 22 with India’s hydropower company National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, the Manipur state government, Manipur state enterprise Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. to continue the ongoing Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Project that Indian officials said could provide electricity and help reduce flooding in Bangladesh.

A meeting was held earlier this month at the Kabob House in Hamtramck, Michigan, to discuss how Bangladeshi Americans can get involved in stopping the ongoing construction of 1,500 MW Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Project by informing the US government of adverse effects in Bangladesh, and putting pressure on the Bangladeshi government to stop the project.

Professor of Finance at Eastern Michigan University Mahmud Rahman, said, India is as far as the eye can see, referring to Bangladesh’s geography. India surrounds Bangladesh on three sides. We have to approach the situation intelligently, by engaging, researching and enlisting help, he said. We need to “Unite in one voice…instead of taking separate initiatives,” in a way that “benefits both of us.”

The dam sits on India’s Barak River which becomes Bangladesh’s Surma and Kushiara Rivers. India is an upper riparian country, which has more say in how the shared bodies of water are used.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India would not support the Tipaimukh project if there was harm to Bangladesh, during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wadud’s visit to India last January. The same message was portrayed during Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September. And again to Bangladesh National Party leader Khaleda Zia, who sent a letter in November opposing the project.

Experts said politics play a role in the agreement to build the dam, while Bangladeshi people in and out of the country are against the measure. Rahman said Bangladeshi Americans need to persuade the Bangladeshi government: “There are people outside of politics, educated people…we live outside [of the country] but we look for opportunities to help Bangladesh.”

Imam Abdul Latif Azom of Masjid Al-Falah in Detroit said there are many ways to spread the word, using facts. “Do not talk without evidence…it’s like smoke which disappears.”

President of Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee, Ehsan Taqbeem said, focusing on the technical side can influence politics. “Let’s not be like Wall Street Occupy…there are steps after protests.” Let’s negotiate with India, he said.

Engineer and writer Saiful Islam of Michigan said people should talk openly. “We say we will work together but shy away from things dealing with India.” Immediate dangers should be discussed, he said.

Rahman said Bangladesh should engage in a multilateral resolution with India, by joining forces with other neighbors. “Economic power speaks.”

According to the SJVN company’s website the last roadblock in the project is approval for forest clearance near the site.

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Ameer Abdullah Scores in Nebraska Win

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

University of Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah had a two yard touchdown run as part of the Cornhuskers’ 17-14 win at Penn State this past weekend. This was a controversial and heavily scrutinized game as it marked Penn State’s first game without long-time head coach Joe Paterno who was let go earlier in the week amidst a school scandal.

The 5 foot 9 inch Abdullah is a versatile athlete from Alabama who uses his breakaway speed to be a running and receiving threat for the Nittany Lions. He also returns kicks, including a 100 yard return for a touchdown earlier this season.

At Alabama’s Homewood High Abdullah rushed for 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 515 yards during his senior season. He also scored four touchdowns as a punt return specialist. His play helped Homewood to a 6-4 record in the Alabama Class 6A ranks. Abdullah was named the south region player of the year by the Birmingham News and also scored the winning touchdown in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in December. He also was selected to participate in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, where he impressed with his ability as a defensive back.

During his junior season, Abdullah rushed for better than 1,000 yards and had 24 receptions for more than 200 yards. Rivals.com ranked Abdullah as one of the top 20 “athlete” prospects in the country and one of the top 10 players in the state of Alabama. Scout.com also ranked him as one of the nation’s top 60 running backs. Abdullah chose Nebraska after also visiting Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and he had a host of offers including the University Southern California, Texas A&M and South Carolina. Ameer is the son of Kareem and Aisha Abdullah, and he was born on June 13, 1993.

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Gujarat-Carnage Haunts Modi, As Police Defy Him!

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD:  Irrespective of the legal turns and time that the case of suspended police officer Sanjeev Bhatt takes, related developments have once again brought several crucial issues to the forefront. The most important of these is the role of politicians and police during the 2002 Gujarat-carnage. Bhatt was arrested last month (September 30) for apparently daring to accuse Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the carnage that is viewed as a dark page in Indian history of secularism. Bhatt has been accused of allegedly forcing his junior, a police constable, K.D. Pant to file a false affidavit in support of his claim that he attended the February 2002 meeting, during which Modi allegedly asked the police to go slow against the rioters. This meeting was held on February 27, 2002 just hours after burning of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra.

Bhatt is not the first police officer to have taken a stand against Modi government’s role during the 2002-phase, when Muslims were brutally targeted by right-winged, extremist elements. Several officers, who took a similar stand earlier, were transferred and/or suspended and adverse entries were made in their annual confidential reports. The state government suspended Bhatt on August 8 on charges of misconduct and for going on leave without official sanction. The hard truth, however, is that Bhatt claimed this year in April that he was present at the meeting (February 27, 2002) when police had been asked to be “soft” towards rioters by Modi. Bhatt apparently is being taken to task by state government for raising his voice against the role of Modi and his associates in 2002.

Without deliberating on role of Modi government during Gujarat-carnage, which has never been a closely guarded secret, Bhatt’s arrest demands focus on the role of policemen. Bhatt’s arrest and shunting of few other police officers who have tried to dutifully live up to their responsibilities and respect for the Indian Constitution raises the question:–  Do politicians such as Modi expect the state police to be guided by what they dictate? In such cases, what happens to their commitment towards the Constitution, the security of the people and spirit of Indian secularism?

Legally, the state government and police are expected to provide security to the people. Had they really showed some respect towards their official commitment, the Gujarat-carnage may have never taken place. This also implies that the role of Modi, his government, saffron brigade and the police, who followed the former’s command during the Gujarat-carnage was equivalent to violating the country’s constitutional spirit and the legal system. By taking law into their own hands, they virtually violated and abused the law, by letting rioters target the Muslims.

Against this backdrop, if Bhatt is trying his hand at seeking legal help against those responsible for inciting Gujarat-carnage, he certainly cannot be accused of committing any crime. Even if Bhatt was not a police officer, as an Indian citizen, he has the right to seek legal help, to ensure action against those allegedly responsible for inciting and encouraging communal violence against Muslims. But his arrest suggests that state government is still bent on abusing the legal system.

Sadly, the Modi government and all police officers are not as conscientious about their legal duties and responsibilities as Bhatt, several activists and others give the impression of being. It still cannot be forgotten that in 2002, quite a number of policemen posted in Gujarat chose to act at the apparent command of Modi government. They remained mute, turned their backs and symbolically kept their eyes closed as extremists brutally targeted Muslims. This definitely demands paying greater attention to negligence shown by the state government and the police in 2002. By going “slow” and being “soft” towards rioters, as allegedly commanded by Modi, the police remained passive supporters of communal elements indulging in riotous behavior.

Against this backdrop, some attention must be paid to tension having gripped India last year in September. There prevailed the apprehension that a judicial decision over Ayodhya-case may provoke communal fire in the nation. However, the governments at the center and states, particularly Uttar Pradesh played a responsible role in not allowing any communal tension to simmer. Equal credit must be given to police for keeping a strict watch and prevent any tension from taking form of communal violence. They played the role they are constitutionally bound to.

Certainly, had similar responsibility been displayed in Gujarat, the communal carnage could have been avoided. However, as is well known, the political intention behind the gruesome tragedy was to provoke the same. Officers like Bhatt are playing their part in revealing the facts they apparently are aware of.  Bhatt’s decision followed by his arrest has also made his colleagues question the action taken against him by the Modi government. The Gujarat Police Officers’ Association has expressed its support for Bhatt. In an emergency meeting, held earlier this month, 35 members of this association passed a resolution to support Bhatt. Three members visited Bhatt’s residence and conveyed their support to his wife. This move is viewed as first one to be taken in defiance of actions taken by Modi against police officers who have raised their voice, legally, against his government’s role in Gujarat-carnage. Clearly, the police officers are against being used as pawns by the likes of Modi.  It is hoped that the move taken by Bhatt and his supporters will prove to be an effective warning and prevent further abuse of the country’s law and order system.

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Saudi Says Iran Will “Pay the Price” for Alleged plot

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parisa Hafezi and Jeremy Pelofsky

TEHRAN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia vowed on Wednesday that Iran would “pay the price” for an alleged plot to kill its ambassador in Washington and U.S. officials said there could be a push for a new round of U.N. sanctions.

Tehran angrily rejected the charges laid out by a number of top U.S. officials on Tuesday as “amateurish,” but a threat nevertheless to peace and stability in the Gulf, a region critical to global oil supplies with a number of U.S. military bases.

“The burden of proof is overwhelming… and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for this. Somebody in Iran will have to pay the price,” senior Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to Washington, said in London.

Vice President Joe Biden echoed those hawkish sentiments, telling U.S. network ABC Iran would be held accountable. He said Washington was working for a new round of international sanctions against Iran, warning that “nothing has been taken off the table.”

U.S. authorities said on Tuesday they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.

The motive for the alleged plot was not clear. Iran has in the past assassinated its own dissidents abroad, but an attempt to kill an ambassador would be a highly unusual departure.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter regional and to some extent sectarian rivals, but they maintain diplomatic ties and even signed a security agreement in 2001. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Riyadh in 2007.

The United States has led a global effort to isolate Iran and pile on United Nations sanctions in recent years over Tehran’s nuclear energy program which Washington and its regional allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia fear is a front for developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies nuclear arms ambitions.

Those allies fear Washington could take its eye off the ball on Iran. US diplomatic cables from Riyadh leaked by Wikileaks over the past year — in which Jubeir features prominently — show Riyadh repeatedly pushing the United States to take a tougher stand, including the possible use of military force.

Tensions rose between Riyadh and Tehran when Saudi Arabia sent troops to help Bahrain put down pro-democracy protests let by the island state’s Shi’ite majority that both governments accused Iran, a non-Arab Shi’ite state, of fomenting.

This month Riyadh accused some among its Shi’ite Muslim minority of conspiring with a foreign power — a reference to Iran — to cause instability, following street clashes in the Eastern Province.
But Iranian analyst Saaed Leylaz said it was hard to see why Iran would risk involving itself in such a plot.

“Killing the Saudi envoy in America has no benefit for Iran,” he said. “The consequences of this plot are dangerous … It could cause military confrontation in 2012 between Iran and America.”

ACTION AT U.N.

A Western diplomat in Riyadh said the charges would likely be discussed at the UN Security Council.

“The U.S. and Saudi Arabia and other allies are discussing the possibility of taking this to the Security Council because this is an assault on a foreign diplomat in the U.S,” he said.

President Barack Obama, who seeks reelection next year, called the alleged conspiracy a “flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.”

The United States said Tehran must be held to account and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped countries hesitant to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now “go the extra mile.”

But also seeking recourse in the world body, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations voiced outrage and complained of U.S. “warmongering” in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. “The U.S. allegation is, obviously, a politically motivated move and a showcase of its long-standing animosity toward the Iranian nation,” Mohammad Khazaee wrote.

Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, said the “fabricated allegations” aimed to divert attention from Arab uprisings Iran says were inspired by its own Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah — though Islam has not been the overt driving force for unrest across the Arab world.

“America wants to divert attention from problems it faces in the Middle East, but the Americans cannot stop the wave of Islamic awakening by using such excuses,” Larijani said, calling the a “childish, amateur game.”

“These claims are vulgar,” he said in an open session of parliament. “We believe that our neighbors in the region are very well aware that America is using this story to ruin our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

The State Department issued a three-month worldwide travel alert for American citizens, warning of the potential for anti-U.S. action, including within the United States.

“The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States,” it said in a statement.

At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said a convoluted plot involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant smacked of a Hollywood movie.

Attorney-General Eric Holder tied it to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), guardian of Iran’s 1979 revolution, and the Quds Force, its covert, operational arm.
“I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,” he said.

QUDS FORCE CONNECTION

The primary evidence linking Iran to the alleged conspiracy is that the arrested suspect is said to have told U.S. law enforcement agents that he had been recruited and directed by men he understood were senior Quds Force officials.

The Quds Force has not previously been known to focus on targets in the United States.

A plot against targets inside the U.S. “would be a first for the Quds Force,” said Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA and National Security Council analyst who now heads the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“I do want to hear more about what evidence (U.S. authorities) have and why they believe” that the Quds Force was involved, Pollack said.

U.S. officials said there had also been initial discussions about other plots, including attacking the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, but no charges for those were brought.

There are no formal diplomatic ties between the Islamic republic and Washington, which accuses Tehran of backing terrorism and pursuing nuclear arms, charges Iran denies.

Iran already faces tough U.S. economic and political sanctions and Washington slapped further sanctions on five Iranians, including four senior members of Quds.

U.S. SAYS AMBASSADOR NEVER IN DANGER

U.S. officials identified the two alleged plotters as Gholam Shakuri, said to be a member of the Quds Force, and Manssor Arbabsiar, who was arrested on September 29 when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport from Mexico.

Arbabsiar, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen with an Iranian passport, initially cooperated with authorities after being arrested. He made calls to Shakuri after being arrested and acted as if the plot was still a go, court documents said.

Arbabsiar appeared briefly in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday where he was ordered detained and assigned a public defender. He appeared in blue jeans and a dress shirt, with thinning gray hair and a scar on the left side of his face.

Officials said the Saudi ambassador, who is close to King Abdullah and has been in his post since 2007, was never in danger. Obama was briefed in June about the alleged plot.

Court documents say a plot began to unfold in May 2011 when Arbabsiar sought help from an individual in Mexico who was posing as an associate of an unidentified drug cartel and who was in fact a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant.

The unidentified paid informant tipped off law enforcement agents, according to the criminal complaint. Arbabsiar paid $100,000 to the informant in July and August for the plot, a down-payment on the $1.5 million requested.

LIKE A “HOLLYWOOD MOVIE”

Shakuri approved the plan to kill the ambassador during telephone conversations with Arbabsiar, the complaint said.

As part of the plot, the informant talked to Arbabsiar about trying to kill the ambassador at a Washington, D.C. restaurant he frequented, but warned him that could lead to dozens of others being killed, including U.S. lawmakers.

The criminal complaint said that Arbabsiar responded “no problem” and “no big deal.”

In a monitored call, Shakuri told Arbabsiar to execute the plot, saying “just do it quickly, it’s late,” court papers say.

After Arbabsiar’s arrest in New York, he gave U.S. authorities more details of Tehran’s alleged involvement, Holder said.

Mueller, the FBI director, said that “individuals from one country sought to conspire with a drug trafficking cartel in another country to assassinate a foreign official on United States soil.”

He added: “Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost.”

The men face one count of conspiracy to murder a foreign official, two counts of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and one count each of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.

Authorities said no explosives were acquired for the plot and the weapon of mass destruction charge can range from a simple improvised device to a more significant weapon. The two men face up to life in prison if convicted.

(Additional reporting by Basil Katz in New York, James Vicini, Mark Hosenball, Tabassum Zakaria, Matt Spetalnick and Andrew Quinn in Washington and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Occupy W Street Growing

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Boston Correspondent Karin Friedemann reports on growing “Occupy Boston” phenomenon

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

abramSince the end of September, hundreds of protesters under the banner “Occupy Boston” have set up camp in downtown Boston, Massachusetts to support the ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” protests in New York. Their demands are varied, but seem to be focused on unemployment, rising food prices, and the unfairness of billions of dollars of tax money being spent on useless wars and bank bailouts while the American dream of home ownership and “a chicken in every pot” steadily dies, as ordinary citizens lose their financial security.

Tents have filled up a public park while crowds chant slogans such as “Tax the Rich,” hold up hand made signs and fill the air with music and drumming. Celebrities have come to perform, and the homeless have been receiving free food and clothing. Compared to the scene in New York, Occupy Boston is enjoying a festive atmosphere despite the chilly weather, free of tension without any hint of police brutality. Various people drop by with donations of money, food, blankets and kind words, while the number of campers continues to grow.

The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino and the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick have decided that there will be no arrests of protesters and have in fact stated publicly that they support the right of citizens to express their opinions. The protesters have been told they are free to camp out as long as they choose.

Media criticism has focused on the cost upon taxpayers to pick up the garbage and provide the tent city with electricity. It is highly probable that the City of Boston has decided to avoid the bad press that comes along with police violence against angry mobs. It is also much cheaper to provide these very basic services to the protesters than to arrest and detain them and then pay for all of them to go to trial and provide them all with court-appointed lawyers. Furthermore, there might be some quiet agreement with the slogan “Tax the Rich” among many in the leadership, for this is one of the principles upon which the State of Massachusetts operates, as the only state in the US that provides free health insurance to the lower middle class.

Massachusetts is already well-known as the US state which takes the best care of its poorer citizens out of its wealthy tax base, providing government-subsidized child care starting from the age of one month, after school and summer programs for teens, nearly free sports programs, food and cash aid and reduced housing prices for the poor. Yet it is still not enough for everyone to feel secure. The working middle class is hardest hit by the economy since they do not qualify for most of these programs and often go into debt trying to provide for their families due to medical bills, childcare or the high price of gasoline.

Occupy Boston is not your usual group of punks and hippies with nothing else to do but complain. The movement has been joined by college students, nurses, pilots, and other workers. As I drove on the highway today past the electrical workers’ union I saw a fancy electrical sign reading “We the People Occupy Boston.”

America’s largest labor union, the AFL-CIO with 11 million members has backed the growing movement, stating: “The Wall Street banks and the largest corporations refuse to pay their fair share of taxes while our infrastructure crumbles. They sit on record profits while the rest of the country suffers, and they still refuse to put people back to work.”

The Boston Herald reports that many of the elderly are showing their support. A retired 71-year-old gentleman, who ran his own corporate headhunting firm, visited the tent village yesterday afternoon to advise the young people to focus on making clearer demands. “I’d like to see the group more focused on applying pressure to specific areas,” he stated.

Some feel it makes no sense using so much personal energy to speak out against such a vague term as “Corporate Greed” without actually naming names of bankers or lobbyists who should go to jail, for example, or demanding some specific reforms of the process of electing public officials. Specifically, Occupy Boston could use its voice to demand universal health care for all of Massachusetts, a measure that would even save the rich thousands of dollars a year. MassHealth is the best health insurance in America, with zero co-payments and even free replacements for broken eyeglasses. Preventing disease is so much less costly than treating it.

Occupy Boston is a unique and bizarre political situation, where banks and financial corporations have opened their doors to the hundreds of anti-bank anti-corporation protesters to let them use the toilet. The unrest seems to be good for local capitalism, since all these people have to eat. One of America’s leading pro-Israel advocates Rabbi Michael Lerner has been actively recruiting Jews to participate in the protests – perhaps to steer the conversation away from cutting US aid to Israel, which would be an obvious way to quickly make more money available to the masses of disgruntled Americans.

Even more contradictory are the conflicting views of the people involved. Right-wing Libertarian protesters demand an end to the credit-based economy and want to return to the Gold Standard, while the Leftists and Liberals simply want to steer more borrowed government money into improving and expanding welfare programs. But most are in agreement that jobs are more important than foreign wars and that the government needs to focus more on its citizens not the demands of corporate lobbyists.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer

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Amin Hashmi Runs for Troy City Council

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

amin_dscn0089One of the many community members running for local, state and federal positions in this cycle of elections is Mr. Amin Hashmi, who is running for Troy City Council.

Hashmi has lived around the world, east and west, and further has travelled the world in his capacity as a merchant marine engineer. 

“I have drunk all seven oceans,” Hashmi says with some satisfaction, further explaining that while living ship-board he had drunk desalinated water from literally around the world.

Hashmi is unaffiliated as a candidate, offering to bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats that has paralyzed all levels of American government in the polarized climate of the past few years–from the federal level all the way down to the Troy City Council, which has been immobilized by a vicious debate over raising taxes.

Hashmi explains that he does not want to raise taxes until the last minute, but if it is necessary to avoid cutting necessary fire and security services then raising taxes would be a valid if unappetizing alternative.

Hashmi is one of two unaffiliated candidates, running against three Democrats and three Republicans.  The eight candidates are running for three spots on the city council; no incumbents are in the election.

The candidate is realistic about his chances but explains the difficulty of making estimates in an election where there are no polls.  Certainly Mr. Hashmi is familiar with the demographics of Troy.  He explains that Troy has about 85,000 residents, from whom about 12,000 votes will likely be cast in the November 8th election.  Realistically he hopes that with 4,000 to 6,000 votes a candidate would be able to secure one of the available seats.

This is not Hashmi’s first brush with public service.  He explained in an interview with TMO that over the past ten years he has worked to cross ethnic hurdles in Troy by facilitating events designed to celebrate the ethnic heritages represented there, from Greek to Indian, to Pakistani and others.

Troy, he explains, is a relatively very powerful city.  The city is among Michigan’s top three cities, and nationally is one of the top 20 or 30 cities, according to him.

Having been educated literally around the world, Hashmi ascribes deep importance to education and has fought very hard on behalf recently of a millage to fund the Troy city library.

Visit aminhasmi.com for more information about his campaign.

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Erdoğan Offers ‘Arab Spring’ Neo-Laicism

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Daily News

TUNIS

2011-09-16T144830Z_1057611084_GM1E79G1N2G01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil wave to people during a rally at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli September 16, 2011. 

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Following criticism in Egypt, the Turkish PM repeats his support for secular governments where he says all religious groups are treated equally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan (L) draws intense interest during his visit to a covered bazaar in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. AA photo Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday repeated his controversial call for uprising-hit Arab countries to adopt “secular states,” following Turkey’s model.

“Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state of law. As for secularism, a secular state has an equal distance to all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people,”
Erdoğan said during a visit to Tunis, the place where the wave of pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa began late last year.

“Tunisia will prove to the whole world that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Turkey with its predominantly Muslim population has achieved it,” Erdoğan said. His administration is seen by many as a model for post-revolution Arab countries, though Islamic groups in Egypt were split over his pro-secularism remarks there.

“On the subject of secularism, this is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular,” Erdoğan said, describing Turkey as democratic and secular. “A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way. In Turkey, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and it did not pose any problem.

You can do the same here.”

Erdoğan traveled to Tunisia following a rapturous welcome in Cairo and issued the kind of trademark warning to Israel that has earned him hero status on his “Arab Spring tour.”

“Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you’ll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea,” the Turkish prime minister said after meeting with his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, on the third day of his visit to North Africa.

Erdoğan reiterated his insistence on an Israeli apology for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.

“Relations with Israel cannot normalize if Israel does not apologize for the flotilla raid, compensate the martyrs’ families and lift the blockade on Gaza,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would assure protection for Turkish vessels bound for Gaza or elsewhere in international waters. “Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean. It will see our determination. Our frigates, our assault boats will be there.”

Erdoğan’s visit marks “the willingness to strengthen brotherly relations and cooperation between Tunisia and Turkey,” the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was one of the first top foreign officials to visit Tunisia in February and is also among the Turkish ministers accompanying Erdoğan on his visit. Davutoğlu signed a friendship and cooperation agreement with his Tunisian counterpart, Mouldi Kefi, in Tunisia on Thursday.

Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen, Erdoğan arrived late Wednesday at the Tunis international airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Essebsi.

Around 4,000 people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags had also gathered at the airport under heavy security to show their support for the man who has become one of the region’s most popular leaders.

Erdoğan is due in Libya on Friday for the final leg of his tour. The transitional administration there has also said that Islam would be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.

* Compiled from AFP, AP, Reuters and AA stories by the Daily News staff.a

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From Gaza to Oakland

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

2011-09-21T163234Z_783637630_GM1E79M01OR01_RTRMADP_3_BELGIUM

Zena, a 6-year-old Belgian-Palestinian girl, waves a Palestinian flag during a protest in central Brussels September 21, 2011. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans on Friday to submit an application for full U.N. membership for the state of Palestine based in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the coastal Gaza Strip — lands occupied by Israel since 1967.  

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Camp Meeker, CA–September 20th–The vote in the U.N. (United Nations) is happening over Palestinian statehood as my readers are consuming this article, but one of most egregious examples of Islamophobia has just happened in the city of Oakland in the East Bay within the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California.

Of your author’s thirty years on this side of the Bay, all but three of them that city was my domicile.  I can only mourn at my own.

On September tenth I received an electronic mailing from the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) that the show that MECA (Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance) of Berkeley (a smaller twin city to Oakland) had put together with the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) on child’s art created in the mini-nation of Gaza during the IDF (Israel Defense Force’s) incursion into the Strip at the end of 2008 through the beginning of 2009 had been canceled shortly before its scheduled opening on the 24th of this month.

Your commentator must point out at that the JVP is a Jewish Organization and MECA’s Director and founder, Barbara Lubin, is a Jewish-American who in her youth went to Israel fully adhering to the Zionist myth only to discover the truth of repression there.  When she came back to the States, she founded MECA whose “mission statement” would include the support of children in Gaza, the West Bank, and Iraq.  Probably, her best known project is the funding for the Children’s Hospital in Gaza.  The latest major project of MECA, a multi-sectarian group which actively recruits Muslims, is to improve the drinking water quality within Gaza.  Although the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance has a strong political vision, its major focus is humanitarian.

The forgoing paragraph is only to emphasize that both the heroes and villains of this story are Jewish-Americans and possibly the “State” of Israel itself.  American Muslims should keep in mind that not all Jews are their enemies, and many are “righteous” and moral towards you and the American body-politick.  It is people like these Jewish-American heroes that have driven the “sin” of anti-Semitism from your columnist’s soul, and I thank them, and commend them for their courage!

MOCHA informed MECA that the show of art work by Gazan children on their reaction to the overly violent Israeli incursion, Operation Cast Lead, wherein approximately 300 0f the over 1400 Palestinian casualties were children, was inappropriate for its depiction of “violence.”   Yet the rescinded exhibition, “A Child’s View from Gaza,” gives agency and a voice to those very young victims.

The reason the board of the Children’s Museum gave to cancel the show so close to its opening, was that the (Zionist) community voiced concern over the violence of the imagery, but the museum has sponsored exhibits in the past of art created in war zones – showing imagery of Iraqi children drawings of the violence of the American aggression and, also, another exposition of Second World War images by child observers.

The Executive Director of MECA, Barbara Lubin, accuses the Board of MOCHA that “…its decision was political…”   Curiously, in the immediate days after the cancelation the Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Federation of the East Bay bragged to the regional media of forcing their agenda of an anti-Arab (and, thus, Islamophobic) agenda upon the Museum; and, thus, the museum’s horrendously inhumane decision against the child victims of Gaza.  It was an attack on the children’s right to express their psychological angst upon their loss of their childhood.  A child, Asil, who painted a picture of himself in jail (Sic!) stated “I have a right to live in peace…I have a right to live this life,” and, further, “I have a right to play!”

It was a denial, since the exhibition was in America, of U.S. citizens (including Muslim-American’s) First Amendment Rights being denied by a foreign power.  As an American citizen your writer has the right to view the material to make his own decision about its content, and he resents agents of a foreign government denying  him his natal right as a citizen of this country!

Ziad Abbas, the Associate Director of MECHA, stated that “…By silencing these Palestinian children, the pro-Israeli groups succeeded to stretch the siege from Gaza to Oakland!”

This incident was foreshadowed by a past incident in 2005.  MECA had allied themselves then with the Berkeley Art Center (a city of Berkeley and County of Alameda as well as the private sector supported instituted) and the Graphics Alliance to produce a show in Live Oak Park entitled “Justice Matters:  [14 Palestinian and American] Artists Consider Palestine.”

Viciously, that show was attacked by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League (who were successfully sued during the same period under California law for spying on Muslims and non-Muslims who supported Palestine) and individuals who claimed to represent the “mainstream” (in reality they were speaking for the Zionist faction, a perversion of) Judaism. 

There was even a call by this belligerent fringe element to close the presentation down.   Fortunately, the Mayor of Berkeley, Tom Bates, stood up to this radical pro-Israel faction.  As Ramallah goes to the United Nations, it is easy to perceive the pressure Obama is under with these financially well-endowed vengeful sectarian bigots at his back.

Your researcher is going to suggest something he would not normally do.  That is that you, my target audience, write to Masako Kalbach, the Interim Executive Director of the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland at masako@mocha.org with a cc to Barbara Lubin at the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance at mecamail@mecaforpeace.org to demonstrate your support for MECA and the victimized children of Gaza and to the Oakland Tribune’s Letters to the Editor where you can cut and paste your comment at http://www.insidebayarea. com /feedback /tribune.  Further, although the Children’s Museum of Oakland is private, it is intimately involved with its host cities, and I would hope residents contact their representative either in the County of Alameda or the city itself or even the Sacramento to ask them to investigate if any there was any infringement of any law or policy.

The current plan is to have the opening display of “A Child’s View of Gaza” in the courtyard of the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland.  (This is termed “plop” art.)   This may be controversial and confrontational, though.

In the long run, this display will need a more stable venue in the (S.F.) Bay Area, and, hopefully the noise of this event will garner enough interest to tour further in North America and Europe.  An Islamic Center in this region taking on this project would be a strong statement!

This incident is only one incident of Zionist and Christian Zionist attempts to silence Palestinian aspirations both politically and culturally.  Caught between these fringe groups, the best course of action at the U.N. is for the U.S. to abstain–which would allow the decision for Palestinian Statehood up to the General Assembly.  As a nation, Ramallah could stand up for their interests in Oakland!

13-39

What a Difference a Decade Makes: Ten Years of “Homeland Security”

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nancy Murray and Kade Crockford, “Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the ‘Homeland’”

090111tenOn August 5, 2002, President George Bush declared, “We’re fighting … to secure freedom in the homeland.” Strikingly, he did not use the word “nation,” or “republic,” but instead adopted a term, with its Germanic overtones of blood, roots and loyalty going back generations, for a country that is not the ancestral home of most of its citizens.

Soon after, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the massive Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an amalgam of 22 agencies and nearly 200,000 employees. The FBI and CIA remained outside the DHS, while the military, in October 2002, established its own Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to defend the “homeland.”

In the years since then, the full weight of government has been bent on ensuring “homeland security” – a term rarely heard before the 2001 attacks. Over the decade, the government’s powers of surveillance have expanded dramatically. They are directed not just at people suspected of wrongdoing, but at all of us. Our phone calls, our emails and web site visits, our financial records, our travel itineraries, and our digital images captured on powerful surveillance cameras are swelling the mountain of data that is being mined for suspicious patterns and associations. 

It doesn’t take much to come to the attention of the watchers, as 13-year-old Vito LaPinta discovered earlier this year. Members of the Secret Service came to his Tacoma, Washington, middle school to question him about his Facebook posting urging President Obama to be aware of the danger from suicide bombers in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee was no less surprised to find itself listed by the Tennessee Fusion Center on an Internet map of “Terrorism Events and other Suspicious Activity.” Why? The organization had carried out a “suspicious activity” by sending a letter to the state’s school superintendents encouraging them to be supportive of all religions during the holiday season. 

While the government has gained more and more power to watch us, we are being kept in the dark about what it is doing. Over the past decade, a new architecture of mass surveillance has been erected, and we know very little about it.

Surveillance in what we term the “age of Total Information Awareness” will be the subject of our Truthout postings throughout September. After providing an overview of 20th century surveillance, we will examine both the intelligence failures that opened the door to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the government’s response. Rather than fix the obvious problems and hold specific individuals and institutions accountable, the government embarked on a radical shift in how intelligence and law enforcement agencies interact and do their work and rapidly expanded their powers. 

Over the decade, we have seen the emergence of a national security surveillance state, in which some 800,000 local and state operatives file reports on the most common everyday behaviors and members of the public contribute hotline tips about “suspicious” people and activities. We will trace the contours of the new domestic intelligence architecture in terms of its nationwide and regional structures and its evolving technologies, drawing upon public sources and information obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and leaks. We will also describe the impact of the surveillance system on specific targets – Muslims, political activists, immigrants – as well as on the general public, and on what have long been assumed to be core American values.

It is our hope that this series will help stimulate a broader debate about whether we are on the right track in the “war against terrorism.” In the decade since 9/11, there has been no sustained national attempt to probe root causes behind the September 11 attacks and subsequent plots. The federal government has yet to come up with a single definition of “terrorism,” and there is not even a public agreement about what constitutes a ‘”terrorist” attack. So cowed was the DHS by the shrill denunciation of its April 2009 report on the danger of “right-wing extremism” that it has reportedly decided to focus its attention solely on “homegrown extremism” involving Muslims – despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled a long list of homegrown plots in its report, “Terror from the Right,” and that the DHS itself recognizes that Muslims have had nothing to do with the majority of terrorist plots and attacks within the United States in the 21st century.

Amid all these ambiguities, a new surveillance network has been steadily constructed in the shadows with the help of DHS grants. Among the questions that should be asked is this:  What happens to actual public safety when “homeland security” commands the lion’s share of federal funds to fight the “terrorist” threat?

The statistics suggest skewed priorities. According to the FBI, terrorist incidents in the United States accounted for 3,178 deaths in the period between 1980 and 2005. Apart from those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11, 2001 attacks, 48 people lost their lives to terrorism in that 25-year period. Within the same time frame, 500,000 people were murdered in the United States. Being listed on a terrorist watch list might keep someone from getting on an airplane – and could conceivably land an American citizen on a government assassination list -  but it will not prevent that person from legally buying a weapon  – or several! – at a local gun store.

What kind of “homeland” will we become if we do not demand that secretive domestic surveillance operations are brought in line with longstanding principles of liberty and the Constitution?

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The Face of Hate: Visible Now

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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

We are not born to hate or kill others. We are taught to hate and kill others. Sometimes this hatred is in the name of religion, sometimes in the name of country, sometimes it is for money and sometimes it is a combination of all these four. What is now emerging clearly is that there is a small group of Jewish intellectuals and activists who under the secret advise of hawkish Israelis have been engaged in a high level Islam bashing and Muslim demonizing for almost a decade in the United States. They have promoted hatred against Muslims and they can create conditions to justify the killings of Muslims in America and elsewhere. There purpose is to marginalize the Muslim community so that it may not play any effective role in any aspect of American life. Their goal is to create conditions leading to the almost lynching of Muslims. Their grudge against Muslim American comes from their love to the state of Israel. The irony is that they are using the American resources to promote their agenda. They have found an ally in the form of white conservative Christian evangelical supremacists who consider Muslims infidels and pagans.
The information here is from a highly credible research project. The report raises several questions about the credibility of Jewish organizations and leadership. It is an irony that despite overwhelming evidence of the involvement of some Jewish activists in trying to demonize Muslims intentionally and make their religion a target of hatred, the mainstream Jewish organizations and Christians groups have refused to condemn the hate mongers.

Here are the synopsis of the report that clearly demonstrates that the anti-Sharia bill in Michigan and other states is the result of a conspiracy against Islam hatched by some Jewish activists with the help of Christian evangelical resources.

The conspiracy is open. We must expose the hate mongers and question Christian and Jewish organizations to take a stand on these issues. In the interfaith forums these issues deserve to be discussed and brought out. We must be able to demonstrate clearly that the spreading of hate and misinformation against Islam and Muslims primarily started with five key people and their organizations, and it is sustained and funded by a few key foundations with Christian conservative roots, says an in-depth investigation conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The tightly networked group of misinformation experts were able to guide efforts that now have reached millions of Americans through advocates, media panelists and grassroots organizations.

The five misinformation experts are:

• Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy
• David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence
• Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum
• Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America
• Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism

These individuals have generated the materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups, and the media on a regular basis.

The funding organizations have given over 40 million dollars during the last 10 years. They are:

Donors Capital Fund; Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation;
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; Newton and Rochelle Becker
Foundation and Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust;
Russell Berrie Foundation, Anchorage Charitable Fund

The misinformation experts have traveled the country and worked with or testified before state legislatures calling for a ban on the nonexisting threat of Sharia law in America and have proclaimed that the vast majority of mosques in America harbor Islamist terrorists or sympathizers.

David Yerushalmi’s “model legislation” banning Sharia law has been cut and pasted into bills in South Carolina, Texas, and Alaska. His video on how to draft an anti-Sharia bill and his online tools have been picked up nationwide. The misinformation movement is active in more than 23 states.

Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! For America, Pam Geller’s Stop Islamization of America, David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, and existing groups such as the American Family Association and the Eagle Forum are usually the groups that promote the ideas of misinformation experts whose work has often been cited many times by (among others) confessed Norway terrorist Anders Breivik.

Those whose rhetoric against Islam and Muslims has become known include among the the religious right:

Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Ralph Reed, and Franklin Graham; among the grassroots organizations

Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! For America, Pamela Geller’s, Stop Islamization of America Eagle Forum, Tennessee Freedom Coalition, State Tea Party movements, American Family Association; among the media, Fox News Channel, David Horowitz, Freedom Center Pamela Geller and Atlas Shrugs, Washington Times, The National Review, Christian Broadcast Network, Clarion Fund, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mike Savage, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Bryan Fischer and among politicians, Rep. Peter King, Rep. Sue Myrick, Rep. Allen West, Rep. Renee Elmers, Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Those who validate their arguments include: Nonie Darwish, Former Muslims United and Arabs for Israel, Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Walid Phares, Future Terrorism Project
Walid Shoebat, Former purported terrorist turned apocalyptic Christian.

Now we know who the hate mongers are and who the misinformants are, we should not keep quiet. We must raise the issue in every forum that we have to ensure that conspirators are further exposed for ever.

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Lurking Dangers to the Arab Spring

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzy Baroud, Gulf News

Arab revolutions are currently facing real dangers, which vacillate between lack of prioritisation, stagnation and foreign intervention.

In Egypt, there have been deliberate attempts to divide the objectives of the revolution into blurred ideological classifications. A chasm is already growing between ‘liberal’ and Islamic forces regarding the identity of the state. Endless debates have ensued regarding the best course of action pertaining to elections, the constitution and more.

The trial of former president Hosni Mubarak has been marketed as a major victory for the revolution. Undoubtedly this is a historic event with great psychological impact. Many in Egypt were suspicious that the military was trying to co-opt the revolution, and some believed that Mubarak was continuing to run the country from his Sharm Al Shaikh mansion. With the world having now seen Mubarak in prison garb, some of these rumours are being quelled.

Still, it must not be forgotten that Egypt’s problems are multi-faceted, running deep into the very fabric of its political and social structures. Its already threadbare economy was also further devastated by recent events.

Presenting Mubarak on a stretcher for ‘conspiring to kill protesters’, and then falling into the trap of disputes around political semantics will not resolve the country’s many problems.
The Yemeni people persist between clear objectives and unclear strategy. Yemen was already teetering on the brink of ‘failed state’ status before the February revolt. The opposition is clearly failing to unify the revolutionary efforts of the people. The aim has been to create a meaningful political platform capable of translating the just demands of millions into a clear roadmap.
This has no room for Ali Abdullah Saleh and his discredited government. A delay of nearly six months has allowed regional and international forces to impede the popular process aimed at democratic reforms. Frustrated by the ineptness of the opposition, and worried about the devious role played by outsiders, the ‘youth of the revolution’ moved to establish their own transitional political body.
This move seemed to create more confusion rather than actually address the challenge of political centrality. Saleh and his ruling party are feeling emboldened once again and are bargaining politically with a nearly-starved population. As for Libya, it has turned into a battlefield. Although the people’s original demands for democracy are as genuine as ever, linking the heart of the revolution to Nato’s central command has more than tainted the uprising.

It has also raised the spectre of western intervention in Libya. The billions of dollars spent to ‘liberate’ Libya will be recovered through political and economic leverages later on. This will prove very costly for any new Libyan government.

Three Principles

The Syrian revolution has been most inspiring. Despite the extremely violent behaviour of the army in its attempts to subdue the uprising, the people remain committed to three major principles: the rightful demands of their revolution, the non-violent nature of their efforts, and non-interventionism. That said, foreign intervention does not seek people’s permission; it seeks opportunities.
It is guided by a straightforward cost-benefit analysis. As for violence, even noble revolutions with noble demands have limits. How long will the Syrian people endure before resorting to arms, at least to defend themselves against the government’s thugs?

There are other Arab countries that are also experiencing their own upheavals. These are divided between betrayed revolutions (for example, Bahrain), revolutions in the making, and bashful reform movements (Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and others).

True, each revolutionary experience remains unique. The socio-economic specificities of a wealthy Gulf country are different from those of a poverty-stricken country like Morocco. Still, Arab countries have much in common. Aside from shared histories, religions, language and a collective sense of belonging, they also share experiences of oppression, alienation, injustice and inequality.
The third UN Arab Development Report, published in 2005, surmised that in a modern Arab state, “the executive apparatus resembles a black hole which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes.”

Things didn’t fare much better for Arab states in 2009, when the fifth volume in the series claimed: “While the state is expected to guarantee human security, it has been, in several Arab countries, a source of threat undermining both international charters and national constitutional provisions.”

It is this shared fate that makes an Egyptian woman protest the violence carried out by the Syrian regime, and which drives a Tunisian man to celebrate the trial of Mubarak.

Coupled with a joint understanding of their history — which includes the struggle against colonialism and continued oppression in the neo-colonialist era — the Arab sense of solidarity is almost innate.

There is no question that in a post-revolutionary Arab world, a new collective sense of identity will emerge, this time without the manipulation of a single charismatic leader.

Revolution is a process, a progression of realisations borne out of experience. It seeks real and lasting change. It spans in its outreach from the realm of politics into the specificity of identity and self-perception. Because Arab revolutions are real, they also represent a real danger to foreign powers and their local alliances.

The self-seeking concoctions will use all their power to impede the process of change and reforms in the Arab world. This helps to explain the shedding of doubts on the authenticity of the youth movement in Egypt; the collective punishment of Yemenis; the brutalising of revolting masses in Syria.

Arab revolutionaries must be wary of all of these challenges. They must prepare for all grim possibilities. With unity being their greatest weapon, the revolutionaries need to remember that a victory in Egypt or Tunisia is an important step in the quest for freedom in Yemen, Syria — and everywhere else.

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America In Decline

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noam Chomsky

The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science Quarterly.

The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War ’90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade.

Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

Corporate power’s ascendancy over politics and society—by now mostly financial—has reached the point that both political organizations, which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending—though even that limited initiative probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit.

Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House (of
Representatives) are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget.”

The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”

The final “compromise”—more accurately, capitulation to the far right—is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, which are enjoying record profits.

Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies’, which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian.

Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions tax.

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street. The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial fraud. The Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

Congress wields other weapons in its battle against future generations.

Faced with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American Electric Power, a major utility, shelved “the nation’s most prominent effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming,” The New York Times reported.

The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called “the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to so-called FIRE: finance, insurance, real estate) and the offshoring of production. The ideological triumph of “free market doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy decisions.

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers and the like, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

In parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy has been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

“The major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy or Target,” Ferguson writes. “Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process.” The legislators who contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result, according to Ferguson, is that debates “rely heavily on the endless repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested for their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the leadership relies on for resources.” The country be damned.

Before the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their general impact may be negative: “The successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”

By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward—as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.

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Assad: Syria Won’t Stop Fight

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday his forces would continue to pursue “terrorist groups” after Turkey pressed him to end a military assault aimed at crushing protests against his rule.

Syria “will not relent in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of the country and the security of the citizens,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“But (Syria) is also determined to continue reforms … and is open to any help offered by friendly and brotherly states.”

While the two men held talks in Damascus, Syrian forces killed at least 30 people and moved into a town near the Turkish border, an activist group said.

The National Organization for Human Rights said most of the fatalities occurred when troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles overran villages north of Hama, while four were killed in Binnish, 30 km (20 miles) from the border with Turkey.

Washington expressed disappointment at Assad’s latest comments and said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expected to talk to Davutoglu after his meetings in Syria.

“It is deeply regrettable that President Assad does not seem to be hearing the increasingly loud voice of the international community,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters when asked about the comment.

She refused to comment directly on a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable quoted by McClatchy newspapers last week describing Assad in unflattering terms, calling him “neither as shrewd nor as long-winded as his father” (former president Hafez al-Assad).

Despite the growing international condemnation, including a sudden wave of Arab criticism, Assad’s forces pursued an offensive in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, residents said.

Activists say at least 1,600 civilians have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March, making it one of the bloodiest of the upheavals sweeping the Arab world.

Davutoglu held six hours of meetings with Syrian officials, including a two-hour session alone with Assad.

He told reporters on his return to Ankara that Turkey had demanded Damascus stop killing civilians and said his government would maintain contacts with all parts of Syrian society.

Davutoglu said Turkey hoped for a peaceful transition in Syria resulting in the Syrian people deciding their own future.

Neighboring Turkey has grown increasingly critical of the violence but earned a sharp rebuke on Sunday when an Assad adviser said Syria would not accept interference in its affairs.

Syria has faced nearly five months of protests against Assad’s 11-year rule, inspired by Arab revolts which overthrew leaders in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year.

Last week Assad sent troops and tanks to quell the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Hama in central Syria and the army launched a similar assault on Sunday against Deir al-Zor.

An armored column also pushed toward the center of the city on Tuesday, with troops storming houses and making arrests in the provincial capital of an oil region bordering Iraq’s Sunni heartland, a resident said.

“They are now about one kilometer from downtown. When they finish with one district, they move to another,” said the resident, who gave his name as Iyad.

Increasing the pressure on Assad, Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia issued a blunt warning that he risked turmoil unless he stopped the bloodshed and adopted reforms.

Kuwait and Bahrain followed the kingdom in recalling their ambassadors.

The withdrawal of envoys left Assad with few diplomatic friends bar Iran. Western states have imposed sanctions on his top officials, while states with close ties to Damascus such as Russia and Turkey have warned Assad he is running out of time.

Nevertheless, no country has proposed military action such as that launched against Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi.

ASSAULT

In Deir al-Zor, a resident said on Monday 65 people had been killed since tanks and armored vehicles barreled into the city, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus on Sunday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said among the dead were a mother and her two children, an elderly woman and a girl. Syria has expelled most independent media since the revolt began, making it hard to confirm accounts.

Syrian authorities have denied that any Deir al-Zor assault took place. They say they have faced attacks since the protests erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel.

State television broadcast footage on Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the central Syrian city.

The official SANA news agency said on Monday the military was starting to pull out of Hama after it said they had helped restore order. Residents said there were still tanks in parts of the city and security forces were making arrests.

About 1,500 people were detained in Hama’s Jarajima district and troops killed three civilians, the Observatory said.

Activists say at least 130 people were killed in Hama, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Islamist uprising in 1982, and one group has put the death toll at over 300.

Like most of Syria, ruled by Assad’s minority Alawite family, Hama and Deir al-Zor are mainly Sunni cities, and the crackdowns there resonate with Sunnis, who form the majority in the region and govern most Arab countries.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut and Ankara bureau; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Back to 1967 Borders?

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

67 Borders Central in Mideast Talks Restart Effort

By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner -

3207995924_5cdd1ac332_zPresident Barack Obama’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by starting with the 1967 borders will likely be adopted by the international group trying to find a peace agreement.

The meeting today in Washington by the “Quartet” — the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — has taken on added urgency as Palestinians plan to ask the UN to recognize their state in a September vote. Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, which would raise political and legal questions.

Before going into the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Palestinians about their UN ambitions and repeated her assertion that talks were the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

“What we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations,” Clinton said. “A resolution, a statement, an assertion is not an agreement. The path to two states lying side by side in peace lies in negotiation.”
The French foreign ministry said the Quartet meeting represents “one of the last chances to lay the necessary groundwork to resume negotiations and avoid a diplomatic confrontation in September,” according to a statement released Friday.

“They want to restart negotiations on the basis of Obama’s speech and the 1967 borders and use that as a way to convince the Palestinians not to go to the UN in September,” said Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan and vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The chances of that are very slim,” he said in a telephone interview.

Clinton was to host the Quartet at the State Department, meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair over a working dinner.

The Obama administration restarted talks between the parties in September with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later — a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.

In a May speech, Obama called for an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War with Arab nations.

The president said Israel’s security should be ensured before other core issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, are settled. And he proposed that Israel retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after the speech that the 1967 borders would be “indefensible” and leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.

In the months since, U.S. envoys have repeatedly urged both sides to consider the president’s proposal, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The U.S. feels that “going to the United Nations is not helpful, it will not achieve the goal of a lasting peace of two states living side by side” and it “could be detrimental to our goal to get the parties back together,” Nuland said at a July 8 briefing.

Palestinians decided to seek recognition at the UN because they have given up on negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, senior negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said June 16.

As the vote has come closer, Palestinians have begun to reconsider the effectiveness of their UN plan, said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that advocates for a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict.

“It’s become in so many ways a less attractive proposition than it was a few months ago,” Ibish said in a telephone interview. Palestinian leaders “feel that politically they have to act,” he said, as negotiations have gotten them nowhere and the Palestinian public watches protest movements lead to political change across the Arab world.

Muasher was among several analysts who said that the September vote might trigger Palestinians to take to their streets “if it becomes clear this is just a vote on paper and doesn’t result in a Palestinian state on the ground.”

“Time is running out for the parties involved, the Quartet, Israel, the PLO, to find a way out of any kind of damaging confrontation at the UN in September. That is not in anyone’s interest,” Ibish said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that he hoped something “meaningful comes out the Quartet meeting, in the form of parameters that would include the ideas in the speech of President Barack Obama.”

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said both Israelis and Palestinians have an interest in returning to talks. Danin, a former head of office for Quartet representative Blair, has also worked on Israeli- Palestinian issues for both the State Department and the White House. “Netanyahu sees an Israel that is increasingly isolated and a pariah,” Danin said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has an administration in the U.S. that seems more well-disposed to Palestinian positions and concerns than they’ve seen in the past, and he recognizes that without a negotiating process, he’s not going to gain anything.”

Another former U.S. diplomat with long experience in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said restarting the talks wasn’t likely. “The gaps are too big. The suspicions are too great. The motivations of everyone are too questioned by the other,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

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Community News (V13-I32)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

San Francisco Court throws out Circumcision ballot

SAN FRANCISCO,VA–A California judge last week struck from the ballot a San Francisco initiative that, if passed, would have banned circumcision.

A coalition of circumcision opponents had gathered around 7,700 signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, attempting to prohibit something that is at the heart of Judaism and Islam. It would have had no religious exception.

Judge Loretta M. Giorgi ruled that under California law, the state has regulatory power over medical procedures, the Los Angeles Times reported. She also found that it would violate the free exercise of religion.

“[T]he evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure,” she wrote.

Muslim-American comedians to perform at show in Murfreesboro in August

MURFREESBORO, TN — Muslim-American comedians will step on stage with their best jokes at Middle Tennessee State University.

The comedians will take part in a free stand-up comedy show called “The Muslims Are Coming!”

The comedy tour will present a series of free shows in August that will take the comedians to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee from Aug. 5-15, The Daily News Journal reported. One of the final stops on the first tour is in Murfreesboro on Saturday, Aug. 13 at MTSU’s Wright Music Hall.

The show comes amid controversy surrounding a proposed new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Saleh Sbenaty, a spokesman for the Islamic Center, says the entire community is welcome to attend the show. Sbenaty says he hopes everyone can find something to laugh about.

Muslim women exercise

KANSAS CITY,MO–American Muslim women are increasingly taking up healthy lifestyles including physical exercise without compromising on their religious principles, reports the Kansas City Star. The paper profiled several hijab wearing women who undertake a grueling exercise regime.

Several of the women are new to athleticism. They completed “Couch to 5K” training last fall and had their first race on Thanksgiving.

Nadine Abu-Jubara remembers being out of shape in college, going to the gym in bulky workout clothes and being sensitive to the more physically fit “cute sorority girls” using equipment nearby.

“I already felt self-conscious, and it was hard to work out alone,” she said.

After graduation, she dedicated herself to changing her eating habits and exercise. She lost 65 pounds. And she found herself surrounded by Muslim women at social gatherings, all eager to learn how she dropped the pounds and brightened her self-outlook.

San Ramon Valley Islamic Centre Reopens

SAN RAMON–The San Ramon Valley Islamic Centre has opened for the first time since April when it was closed for renovations. The old single building was increasingly inadequate for the growing Muslim community in the area, reports the Patch.

“In the past we have had to lock the doors or send people away because of room capacity,” said Hana Khan, a Dougherty Valley High graduate who has been a member of the congregation for a dozen years.

In November 2009, the Islamic Center purchased two buildings adjacent to its original site. Now, those rooms serve as additional prayer halls.

The expansion improved the capacity of the Islamic Center, which aims to cater to a community of 500 to 800 people. According to Sattar, the largely donor-funded renovations were necessary to accommodate a rapidly growing and vibrantly social Muslim community.

“From 1992 to now, the city’s population has doubled. Our community has grown 13 fold. We started with 30 families and now we have 400,” he said.

Virginia prisons asked to accommodate Ramadan diet

FAIRFAX,VA–Citing past complaints, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is reminding jail officials to honor the dietary rules followed by Muslim inmates during the holy month of Ramadan.
The ACLU said Friday it has sent emails to jail officials across Virginia reminding them that inmates who are Muslim take their meals between sundown and sunrise during Ramadan.

The ACLU’s executive director, Kent Willis, said the courts and Congress have made it clear that inmates have the right to practice their religious beliefs behind bars, provided they do not impose a security threat.The civil liberties group said the Virginia Department of Corrections honors the dietary strictures of Muslim inmates. The ACLU said that has not always been true in local lockups.

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Dr. Wasim Khan Runs for NJ Senate

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

Wasm_KhanDr. Wasim Khan is an accomplished doctor who has decided to seek political office in New Jersey.

He is running for the senate seat of New Jersey’s 26th district, a seat which he previously sought and lost to Joseph Pennacchio, in 2007.  Penacchio, a Republican, won with 26,000 votes, as compared to Dr. Khan’s 13,000. 

This year, Khan ran unopposed in the Democratic primary but faces a serious challenge in the main election.  Since 1981, the district has always been carried by Republicans in the general election–however the lines of the district were recently drawn and its current boundaries are untested, although it seems likely its general character will remain.

Another factor that may influence the election in the district is that, of New Jersey’s 40 senate districts, this one has one of the heaviest concentrations of Asians. Perhaps this will not be enough to sway the election in Mr. Khan’s favor, however.

But Dr. Khan remains optimistic about the current election, citing as evidence the fact that Penacchio faces a challenger from his own party who is running as an independent. Also, Khan explains that New Jersey currently has an extremely unpopular Republican governor whose actions to limit public workers’ union rights have led to electoral anger which could harm other Republicans.

Dr. Khan explains that his background is very distinguished.  A physician, born and raised in India, Khan was educated at India’s “most prestigious universities,” and also did post-graduate work at Harvard.  He explains that he has been published in major peer-reviewed articles here, in Europe, and in India. 

“One of my studies, on cancer prevention, is still ongoing at Harvard,” he explains.

Khan worked on the failed Howard Dean presidential campaign of 2004, and his loyalty to Dean still shows through in his anger at the character assassination against Dean by the media–which he characterizes as completely unfair.

Khan explains his value to New Jersey residents with convincing arguments, explaining that there are many large communities of ethnic groups in New Jersey without any legislative representation, citing Muslims, Chinese, Sikhs, and others.  He expresses his willingness to stand up for anyone who is oppressed, whatever his or her background.

Mr. Khan asks for your support as he approaches the November election. 

“I have a fairly good chance to win if Muslims rally around me.  Of course only residents can vote in the election, but anyone  in the US can help out, contribute, volunteer, send a few dollars.”  He says not to be shy–”send a few dollars, it’s okay.  Don’t say to yourself, oh, $10 won’t make a difference–no, it will make a big difference, I can put that money to good use.”

Khan explains that in this current election cycle he believes there are no Muslim candidates running for state senates or assemblies anywhere in the US.  He campaigned for support at the ISNA convention in Chicago earlier this month, and he says he was the only Muslim candidate campaigning there–it is on this fact that he bases his statement that there are no other Muslim candidates running in the current election cycle at the state legislative level.

Khan ran unsuccessfully for Parsippany-Troy Hills Township Council in 2005.

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Pakistan ‘Punished’ in Pipelineistan

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Pepe Escobar

2011-06-24T171720Z_969297450_GM1E76P03P101_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-PAKISTAN

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari during an official meeting in Tehran June 24, 2011.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Before the end of 2011, Pakistan will start working on its stretch of the IP (Iran-Pakistan) gas pipeline – according to Asim Hussain, Pakistan’s federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. The
1,092 kilometers of pipeline on the Iranian side are already in place.

IP, also known as “the peace pipeline”, was originally IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India). Although it badly needs gas for its economic expansion, faced with immense pressure by the George W Bush – and then Barack Obama – administrations, India still has not committed to the project, even after a nearly miraculous agreement for its construction was initialed in 2008.
More than 740 million cubic feet of gas per year will start flowing to Pakistan from Iran’s giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf by 2014. This is an immense development in the Pipelineistan “wars” in Eurasia. IP is a major node in the much-vaunted Asian Energy Security Grid – the progressive energy integration of Southwest, South, Central and East Asia that is the ultimate mantra for Eurasian players as diverse as Iran, China, India and the Central Asian “stans”.

Pakistan is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the grid. Becoming an energy transit country is Pakistan’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to transition from a near-failed state into an “energy corridor” to Asia and, why not, global markets.

And as pipelines function as an umbilical cord, the heart of the matter is that IP, and maybe IPI in the future, will do more than any form of US “aid” (or outright interference) to stabilize the Pakistan half of Obama’s AfPak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession.

Another ‘axis of evil’?

This Pipelineistan development may go a long way to explain why the White House announced this past Sunday it was postponing US$800 million in military aid to Islamabad – more than a third of the annual such largess Pakistan receives from the US.

The burgeoning Pakistan-bashing industry in Washington may spin this as punishment related to the never-ending saga of Osama bin Laden being sheltered so close to Rawalpindi/Islamabad. But the measure may smack of desperation – and on top it do absolutely nothing to convince the Pakistani army to follow Washington’s agenda uncritically.

On Monday, the US State Department stressed once again that Washington expected Islamabad to do more in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency – otherwise it would not get its “aid” back. The usual diplomatic doublespeak of “constructive, collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship” remains on show – but that cannot mask the growing mistrust on both sides. The Pakistani military confirmed on the record it had not been warned of the “suspension”.

No less than $300 million of this blocked $800 million is for “American trainers” – that is, the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency brigade.

Moreover, Islamabad had already asked Washington not to send these people anymore; the fact is their methods are useless to fight the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked jihadis based in the tribal areas. Not to mention the preferred US method is the killer drone anyway.

The wall of mistrust is bound to reach Himalaya/Karakoram/Pamir proportions. Washington only sees Pakistan in “war on terror”, counter-terrorism terms. Since the coupling of the AfPak combo by the Obama administration, clearly Washington’s top war is in Pakistan – not in Afghanistan, which harbors just a handful of al-Qaeda jihadis.

Most “high-value al-Qaeda targets” are in the tribal areas in Pakistan – and they are, in a curious parallel to the Americans, essentially trainers. As for Afghanistan, it is most of all a neo-colonial North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war against a Pashtun-majority “national liberation” movement – as Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself defined it.

Asia Times Online’s Saleem Shahzad – murdered in May – argued in his book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban (full review coming later this week) that al-Qaeda’s master coup over the past few years was to fully relocate to the tribal areas, strengthen the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), and in a nutshell coordinate a massive Pashtun guerrilla war against the Pakistani army and the Americans – as a diversionist tactic. Al-Qaeda’s agenda – to export its caliphate-bound ideology to other parts of South and Central Asia – has nothing to do with the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban, who fight to go back to power in Afghanistan.

Washington for its part wants a “stable” Afghanistan led by a convenient puppet, Hamid Karzai-style – so the holy grail (since the mid-1990s) can be achieved; the construction of IP’s rival, the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, bypassing “evil” Iran.

And as far as Pakistan is concerned, Washington wants it to smash the Pashtun guerrillas inside their territory; otherwise the tribal areas will keep being droned to death – literally, with no regard whatsoever to territorial integrity.

No wonder the wall of mistrust will keep rising, because Islamabad’s agenda is not bound to change anytime soon. Pakistan’s Afghan policy implies Afghanistan as a vassal state – with a very weak military (what the US calls the Afghan National Force) and especially always unstable, and thus incapable of attacking the real heart of the matter: the Pashtunistan issue.

For Islamabad, Pashtun nationalism is an existential threat. So the Pakistani army may fight the Tehrik-e-Taliban-style Pashtun guerrillas, but with extreme care; otherwise Pashtuns on both side of the border may unite en masse and make a push to destabilize Islamabad for good.

On the other had, what Islamabad wants for Afghanistan is the Taliban back in power – just like the good old days of 1996-2001. That’s the opposite of what Washington wants; a long-range occupation, preferably via NATO, so the alliance may protect the TAPI pipeline, if it ever gets built. Moreover, for Washington “losing” Afghanistan and its key network of military bases so close to both China and Russia is simply unthinkable – according to the Pentagon’s full-spectrum dominance doctrine.

What’s going on at the moment is a complex war of positioning.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy – which also implies containing Indian influence in Afghanistan – won’t change. The Afghan Taliban will keep being encouraged as potential long-term allies – in the name of the unalterable “strategic depth” doctrine – and India will keep being regarded as the top strategic priority.

What IP will do is to embolden Islamabad even more – with Pakistan finally becoming a key transit corridor for Iranian gas, apart from using gas for its own needs. If India finally decides against IPI, China is ready to step on board – and build an extension from IP, parallel to the Karakoram highway, towards Xinjiang.

Either way, Pakistan wins – especially with increasing Chinese investment. Or with further Chinese military “aid”. That’s why the Pakistani army’s “suspension” by Washington is not bound to rattle too many nerves in Islamabad.

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Egypt Detains Former Minister over Pesticides

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Egypt’s former agriculture minister, Youssef Wali, arrested over charges that he allowed the import of cancer-causing pesticides. (File Photo)

CAIRO, July 10 (Reuters) – An Egyptian investigating judge ordered a former agriculture minister detained for questioning over accusations that he allowed the import of cancer-causing pesticides, the state news agency MENA reported on Sunday.

The agency said Youssef Wali, who served as agriculture minister under former President Hosni Mubarak from 1982 to 2004, was also suspected of squandering 200 million Egyptian pounds ($33.6 million) of state funds by selling a plot of land to businessman Hussein Salem for less than the market price.

MENA said Wali is accused of “bringing in 37 brands of pesticides that were proven to cause cancer”. It said the chemicals had been banned  from entering the country in 1996, but were allowed entry in 1998 under Wali until 2004.

Wali has denied the charges.

Prosecutors have been investigating business transactions of officials under Mubarak since mass protests forced him to resign on Feb. 11.

A prosecutor froze Wali’s assets in April in connection with the sale of 100,000 feddans (420 million square metres) of land to Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in a deal which Egyptian authorities suspected had also violated the law.

Salem, a close aide to Mubarak, was arrested in Spain last month on an international warrant, suspected of squandering public funds by selling gas to Israel below market prices.

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