Activists: 111 Killed in Syria’s “Bloodiest Day”

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad’s implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said on Wednesday, and France branded the killings an “unprecedented massacre.”

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed on Tuesday when Assad’s forces surrounded them in the foothills of the northern Jabal al-Zawiyah region in Idlib province and unleashed two hours of bombardment and heavy gunfire.

Another 100 army deserters were either wounded or killed, making it the “bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution,” he said.

“There was a massacre of unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.”

The United States said it was deeply disturbed by reports of indiscriminate killing and warned Assad the violence must stop. Britain said it was shocked by the reports and urged Syria to “end immediately its brutal violence against civilians.”

Events in Syria are hard to verify because authorities, who say they are battling terrorists who have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police, have banned most independent reporting.

Tuesday’s bloodshed brought the death toll reported by activists in the last 48 hours to over 200.

The main opposition Syrian National Council said “gruesome murders” were carried out, including the beheading of a local imam, and demanded international action to protect civilians.

The escalating death toll in nine months of popular unrest has raised the specter of civil war in Syria with Assad, 46, still trying to stamp out protests with troops and tanks despite international sanctions imposed to push him onto a reform path.

Idlib, a northwestern province bordering Turkey, has been a hotbed of protest during the revolt, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year, and has also seen increasing attacks by armed insurgents against his forces.

The Observatory said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles in Idlib since Sunday while in the southern province of Deraa violence continued on Wednesday.

Tanks entered the town of Dael, the British-based group said, leading to clashes in which 15 security force members were killed. Six army defectors and a civilian also died and dozens of civilians were wounded, it said.

ARAB PEACE MONITORS

The Syrian National Council said 250 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday in “bloody massacres,” and that the Arab League and United Nations must protect civilians.

It demanded “an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the (Assad) regime’s massacres in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs, in particular” and called for “safe zones” to be set up under international protection.

It also said those regions should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said unless Damascus complied fully with the Arab League plan to end the violence, “additional steps” would be taken against it. Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Syria.

“Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community no the Syria people accept his legitimacy,” he said.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday that an advance observer team would go to Syria on Thursday to prepare the way for 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to admit the monitors, who will check its compliance with the plan mandating an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

Syrian officials say over 1,000 prisoners have been freed since the plan was agreed six weeks ago and that the army has pulled out of cities. The government promised a parliamentary election early next year as well as constitutional reform which might loosen the ruling Baath Party’s grip on power.

Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply skeptical about Assad’s commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule, which followed three decades of domination by his father.

Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and Alawites hold many senior posts in the army which he has deployed to crush the mainly Sunni Muslim protests.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations, often led by army deserters.

In a show of military power, state television broadcast footage of live-fire exercises held by the navy and air force, which it said aimed at deterring any attack on Syria.

U.N. TOLL

The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-Assad protests broke out in March.

Arab, U.S. and European sanctions combined with the unrest have sent the economy into sharp decline. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday to more than 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the unrest.

Arab rulers are keen to prevent a descent into civil war in Syria that could affect a region already riven by rivalry between non-Arab Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim Arab heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Millership)

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Sibal’s Censorship-Agenda

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to “control their anti-corruption movement.” Irrespective of whether Sibal’s “censorship” –move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his party’s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.

Undeniably, Sibal’s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor “dangerous material” from some networking sites. In Sibal’s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibal’s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibal’s censorship-agenda from his perspective.

If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibal’s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibal’s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring “dangerous” material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibal’s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning “dangerous material” that can provoke communal violence across the country?

The last point demands evidence of “dangerous material” that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.

Ironically, Sibal’s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.

It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced India’s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country. 

Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places.  There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elements’ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.

The last point may also be made about Sibal’s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of “dangerous material,” the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibal’s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones “propagated” through the Internet. 

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Sibal’s Censorship-Agenda

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to “control their anti-corruption movement.” Irrespective of whether Sibal’s “censorship” –move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his party’s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.

Undeniably, Sibal’s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor “dangerous material” from some networking sites. In Sibal’s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibal’s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibal’s censorship-agenda from his perspective.

If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibal’s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibal’s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring “dangerous” material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibal’s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning “dangerous material” that can provoke communal violence across the country?

The last point demands evidence of “dangerous material” that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.

Ironically, Sibal’s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.

It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced India’s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country. 

Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places.  There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elements’ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.

The last point may also be made about Sibal’s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of “dangerous material,” the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibal’s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones “propagated” through the Internet. 

13-51

Americans would benefit from a Muslim version of the Huxtables

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Clarence Page

A conservative Christian group has launched a boycott against “All-American Muslim.” The TLC cable TV reality show about Muslim families in America fails to live down to the group’s narrow-minded stereotypes. Their gripe, in my view, makes about as much sense as boycotting “The Cosby Show” back in the day because it didn’t mention black street gangs.

The Christian group’s boycott made national headlines this week when the home-improvement giant Lowe’s pulled its ads from the program. If the North Carolina-based company was hoping to dodge controversy, it failed. The move touched off protests joined by music mogul Russell Simmons and actor Kal Penn, among other celebrities, and a second boycott campaign — against Lowe’s.

The company apologized to everyone who is offended, citing its “strong commitment to diversity and inclusion.” But it stuck by its decision, explaining the show became a “lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives — political, social and otherwise.”

Blame the Tampa-based Florida Family Association, which launched the boycott.

When I clicked on the association’s website, a notice from David Caton, the group’s executive director, said it was shut down because of “extremely mean-spirited” hacker attacks. “In a country that supposedly embraces free speech,” a posted statement said without a hint of irony, “those that oppose our position have no qualms about destroying our free speech.” Right. No more qualms than the association feels about silencing “All-American Muslim.”

Nevertheless, if the association’s protest actually helps to boost the show’s ratings as people tune in to judge for themselves, I think it will have performed a valuable public service.

The show premiered in November on TLC, which previously made news with “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” a reality show that I imagine the Tampa group found more to its liking. “All-American Muslim” follows the daily lives of five Lebanese families in Dearborn, Mich., a suburban Detroit city with one of the nation’s highest concentrations of Arabs. In a format mercifully free of self-congratulatory piety or eat-your-broccoli earnestness, its middle-class subjects offer entertaining yet also enlightening evidence that America’s multiethnic, multicultural melting pot still works, despite occasional bumps in the road.

Yet, the Tampa group and its allied fearmongers complain about what the show leaves out: The violence that Muslim fanatics have committed in the name of Islam.

“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks,” the Florida group asserts in a letter to TLC advertisers, “while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” Is it not enough for the critics that images of such violence appear on TV news almost every day? Most of the violence occurs overseas and, by the way, kills mostly fellow Muslims. Yet, the Florida Family Association insists that we judge Muslim Americans by their worst actors overseas, not as families who live in much the same way other middle-class Americans do.

I am reminded of the black intellectual critics who complained in the 1980s that “The Cosby Show” was too sentimental and far-removed, with its upper-class professional African-American family, from the lives that most black people lived. Yet, Bill Cosby’s show broke TV audience records during a time when race relations were less relaxed than they are today. Viewers across racial lines quickly connected with its subtle subtext: The American dream is not for whites only.

That’s why I suggested a few months ago that, as Muslims seem to have replaced African-Americans at the bottom of America’s totem pole of ignorance-based stereotypes, all Americans would benefit from a Muslim version of Cosby’s Huxtable family.

Some of my readers scoffed, but Canadian TV has aired five seasons of the popular “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a comedy about a Muslim family and their interactions with non-Muslims, since January 2007. U.S. networks have produced pilots for similar sitcoms here but the occasionally funny moments in “All-American Muslims” are the closest that a Muslim family comedy has come to broadcast. We Americans are justly proud of our land of opportunity and fair play, but we’re behind Canada this time.

Maybe our networks still think Islamaphobia is still too raw in our minds for Americans to laugh about. Perhaps “All-American Muslims” can help to ease those tensions, even if some of its critics hope that it doesn’t.

Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune’s editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage

13-51

Syria Calls for Arab League Emergency Meeting

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Chulov in Beirut

Syria has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League after the regional body announced it will suspend Damascus from its membership ranks on Wednesday and impose sanctions – a move that has sharply escalated tensions across the region.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad wants the urgent meeting held before the suspension is due to take effect. Syrian officials made the demand after a night of apparently sponsored violence against the diplomatic missions of states that had voted to punish it because of a crackdown against demonstrators in defiance of an earlier understanding.

On Saturday night, protesters stormed the Saudi Arabian and Turkish embassies in Damascus and the Qatari mission in nearby Beirut, prompting Turkey and Saudi Arabia to withdraw non-essential diplomats and their families.

Turkey has also demanded compensation for damage to its embassy and warned its citizens against travelling across its southern border.

Last month, the US also withdrew its ambassador after the US embassy was twice stormed by a crowd.

The British Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, condemned the latest embassy attacks on Sunday. “By allowing these attacks to take place, the Syrian regime is demonstrating yet again that its first response is repression and intimidation,” he said. “This cycle of violence must stop now for the sake of the Syrian people and for those who support them.”

Turkey called on the international community to stop the bloodshed in Syria, a demand that appeared to leave open the possibility of some kind of intervention.

An unnamed Syrian official told the state news agency Sana on Sunday that Arab League monitors could travel to the country to assess the situation before the suspension is due to take effect on 16 November.

Such a concession had been a key demand of the body, which two weeks ago thought it had struck a broad deal with Damascus to end the violence.

However, clashes have intensified since then, with daily death tolls often of more than 20 people, meaning November – the eighth month of the Syrian uprising – is likely to be its bloodiest yet.

A large pro-regime rally saw thousands turn out in central Damascus on Sunday in what was cast as a spontaneous mass display of backing for Assad, whose support base remains stronger in the capital and in the commercial hub of Aleppo than in the third and fourth cities, Hama and Homs. Daily clashes there between troops and protesters underline a deepening divide with ever-sharpening sectarian dimensions.

Syria is ruled by the Assad clan, hailing from the Allawite sect, which has close ties to Shia Islam. The Allawites account for around 12% of all Syrians, but are deeply entwined into the establishment.
Other minorities include Christians, Druze and Kurds. However, the bulk of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, whom the regime fears have drawn strength from successful revolts in the Sunni states of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The effect of Syria’s suspension is not yet clear, and neither are the type of sanctions that the Arab League may impose. The organisation’s secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, said on Sunday that he is “studying mechanisms” to protect Syrian people.

He left open the possibility of again referring Syria to the UN security council, where Syrian allies Russia and China last month blocked a move that had threatened to bring security council sanctions.
Arabi said the league did not have the means to act alone.

Despite its relative lack of clout, the Arab League move is significant on the global stage, where European and US policymakers had been struggling to craft a means of stopping the violence in Syria without causing a collapse in regional stability.

Without the cover from the Arab League that the US received in March, Barack Obama would have been much less likely to authorise the use of the US military in the early stages of the Libyan operation – an essential element of the ultimately succesful Nato operation.

The move against Syria – only the second of its kind in the history of the 22-state organisation – is likely to embolden states opposed to the regime but fearful of the knock-on effects of the fall of Assad.

Isolation is not sitting well with Assad or Syria’s key patron, Iran.

Both states have warned of “dire consequences” if more pressure is piled on the regime, and insisted that the relentless protests are foreign-backed and being led by militant Sunni Islamists.

Guardian.co.uk

France Recalls Syria Envoy

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – France recalled its ambassador to Damascus and Syria’s suspension from the Arab League took effect on Wednesday, intensifying diplomatic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent eight-month-old crackdown on protests.

Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus in a high-profile assault that showed how close the popular uprising is to sliding into armed conflict.

Hours after the Arab League suspension took effect, Assad supporters threw stones and debris at the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and smeared its walls with graffiti, witnesses said. The embassy is in one of the most secure districts of the capital, near Assad’s home and offices.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution at the United Nations.

Last month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Damascus, but since then the normally cautious Arab League has suspended Syria for failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

“New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris,” Juppe said, referring to weekend attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on French diplomatic premises, as well as Turkish and Saudi missions, in Syria.

Arab foreign ministers met in Rabat for an Arab-Turkish forum, where a Syrian flag was placed by an empty chair.

Turkey, now a fierce critic of its former ally, said Syria had failed to honor an Arab peace plan to halt the unrest.

Speaking through a translator, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu compared Syria with Libya, where rebels captured, humiliated and killed Muammar Gaddafi last month.

“The regime should meet the demands of its people,” he said. “The collective massacres in Syria and … the bloodshed cannot continue like this.”

IRAN DEFENDS SYRIA

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized the Arab League for “acting in a way that will hurt the security of the region.” He told the official news agency IRNA that Syria, an ally of Iran since 1980, had repeatedly pledged to meet legitimate popular demands and enact reforms.

“Unfortunately, some countries believe that they are outside the crisis … but they are mistaken because if a crisis happens they will be entangled by its consequences.”

Saudi Arabia, which is eager to loosen the ties between its regional rival Iran and Syria, said the Arab League was acting in Syria’s interest, not interfering in its affairs.

“What’s important is not about suspending or not suspending (Syria from the League), it’s stopping the bloodshed, starting the dialogue, and withdrawing troops from Syrian cities,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Al Arabiya channel.

Western countries have tightened sanctions on Syria and on Monday Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab head of state to urge Assad to quit after ensuring a smooth handover.

In the early months of the uprising, attempts by security forces to crush mainly peaceful protests accounted for most of the violence. But since August there has been a growing number of reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting back.

Activists said Free Syrian Army fighters fired machineguns and rockets at a large Air Force Intelligence complex on the northern edge of the capital at about 7:30 p.m. EST.

A gunfight ensued and helicopters circled over the complex, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Syrian state media did not mention the attack.

The U.S. State Department said it had few details and no direct confirmation of the incident, but blamed Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

“It’s not surprising that we are now seeing this kind of violence,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form. But let’s be very clear that it is the brutal tactics of Assad and his regime in dealing with what began as a non-violent movement is now taking Syria down a very dangerous path.”

“HUGELY SYMBOLIC”

A Western diplomat in Damascus described the assault as “hugely symbolic and tactically new,” saying that if the reported details were true it would be “much much more coordinated than anything we have seen before.”

“To actually attack a base like this is something else, and so close to Damascus as well,” said the diplomat, adding that fighting in recent weeks involving army deserters in the town of Rastan and the city of Homs resembled a localized civil war.

“It’s not a nationwide civil war, but in very specific locations, it is looking like that,” said the diplomat.

The Free Syrian Army was set up by deserters and is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, who is based in southern Turkey.

It announced this week that it had formed a “temporary military council” of nine defecting officers, led by Asaad.

The statement said the Syrian Free Army aimed to “bring down the regime and protect citizens from the repression … and prevent chaos as soon as the regime falls,” adding that it would form a military court to try “members of the regime who are proven to have been involved in killing operations.”

Syrian television showed thousands of Assad’s supporters rallying in Damascus and Latakia to mark the day his father Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970. It said the crowds were also voicing their rejection of the Arab League’s decision.

“God, Syria, Bashar, that’s all!” demonstrators shouted in central Damascus after turning out in heavy rain to wave flags and posters of the president. Two large posters of Assad and his father hung from a building. “Neither rain nor sanctions will stop us expressing our nationalism,” they said, according to the television report.

The Arab League has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure or proposing any Libya-style military intervention, but its ostracism of Syria is a blow to a country whose ruling Baath party puts Arab nationalism at the center of its credo.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media. They blame the unrest on “armed terrorist gangs” and foreign-backed militants who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Hundreds of people have been killed this month, one of the bloodiest periods of the revolt.

Syria says it remains committed to the Arab peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of troops from urban areas, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition.

State media said more than 1,000 prisoners, including prominent dissident Kamal Labwani, were freed on Tuesday. But human rights campaigners say tens of thousands have been detained since anti-Assad protests began.

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

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assad Meets Arab ministers; 20 Killed in Clashes

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – At least 20 people died in clashes and strikes paralyzed parts of Syria, as President Bashar al-Assad met Arab ministers seeking to end months of violence and authorities held a mass rally to show support for him.

The official state news agency quoted the head of the Arab League delegation, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, as saying the talks on Wednesday were “cordial and frank” and that the ministers would meet Syrian officials again on October 30.

In the central city of Homs, a hotbed of opposition to Assad, people held a general strike to protest against his crackdown on seven months of unrest, in which the United Nations says 3,000 people have been killed.

Residents and activists said most employees stayed at home and shops were closed in the city of one million. One resident said armed opponents of Assad enforced the strike. Army gunfire, which killed 11 people across Syria on Wednesday, also kept people off the streets.

Residents and activists said most employees stayed at home and shops were closed in the city of one million. One resident said insurgents enforced the strike. Army gunfire, which killed 11 people across Syria on Wednesday, also kept people off the streets.

In the town of Hamrat, north of Homs, suspected army deserters killed nine soldiers in an attack on a bus with a rocket-propelled grenade, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It was the latest incident in an armed insurgency emerging alongside the campaign of street protests.

Assad faces international pressure over his crackdown, with the United States and the European Union slapping sanctions on Syrian oil exports and businesses, helping drive the economy into recession.

“This will end with the fall of the regime. It is nearly unavoidable,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday.

“But unfortunately it could take time because the situation is complex, because there is a risk of civil war between Syrian factions, because surrounding Arab countries do not want us to intervene,” he told French radio.

ARAB MISSION

In Umayyad Square in central Damascus, tens of thousands of people gathered for what has become a weekly show of support for Assad organized by authorities.

State television showed them waving Syrian flags and portraits of the president, saying they were rallying under the slogan “Long live the homeland and its leader.”

The rally took place before the envoys from six Arab nations arrived in Damascus for talks with Assad following their call on October 16 for the opposition and government to hold a dialogue within 15 days at the League headquarters in Cairo.

“What is hoped is that the violence will end, a dialogue will start and reforms will be achieved,” Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said of the delegation, which is led by Qatar and also includes Egypt, Algeria, Oman, Sudan and Yemen.

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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!

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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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Syrian Oppression: Taxonomy of a Revolution

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Omar Dahi

2011-08-03T134144Z_1051720454_GM1E7831OEQ01_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY

Demonstrators shout slogans as they protest against the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, August 3, 2011. 

REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The Syrian regime is in big trouble. Absent an economic collapse, its downfall may not be imminent, but Most indicators lead to the conclusion that the regime is effectively done, and the only remaining questions are how bloody the transition will be and what type of Syria will emerge. On the domestic front, the social base of the regime is stagnant or shrinking. The regime immediately mobilized its entire social support structure to ‘million-man’ marches. Though many attending are government workers made to go (pro-regime marches are always on workdays), many of those attending do so willingly. However that mobilization has reached its limit: the regime has no new social base to draw on and mobilize. Most of those who willingly attend the “mnhibak” (literally: we love you) pro-regime rallies know very well that there will not be any violence otherwise they would stay home. On the other hand, the anti-regime demonstrations are steadily increasing, both in numbers and in geographic size. Three weeks ago roughly 1.2 million or 5.5% of the population demonstrated all over the country.

Economically, the country is in dire straits. The tourist industry has been decimated. The increased deficit spending, from raised salaries, support for fuels, lower import tariffs are large enough, without taking into account the spending on Army mobilization, and military and security personnel. Externally, the regime is getting more, not less isolated. Just yesterday, the Russian President warned his Syrian counterpart of a ‘sad fate’, unless reforms are implemented. It was given a long leash by the West to deal with the protests, but its main asset as a guarantor of ‘stability’ is now turning into a liability.

I traveled to Syria in July to observe first-hand what is taking place inside the country. Most of my time was spent in Damascus and its suburbs, with brief trips elsewhere, in particular a two day stint in Hama just days before the government’s massacre. What follows is a series of vignettes, hastily put together, of life inside Syria this past month. These stories represent my own understanding and readers should take all stories emerging from the country as a partial truth, but will hopefully help give a clearer picture of Syria in the midst of the revolution. I have left out the names and identifying details of many wonderful people who have helped me shape my views for obvious reasons. I am solely responsible for this article’s content.

Everyday life in Damascus

The first thing that strikes a traveler when entering Syria straight into Damascus in the past month is that life appears to be normal. This false sense of normalcy has allowed certain sectors of Damascenes to live in a fairy tale of ‘everything’s fine, it’ll be over soon’, something I heard repeatedly during my stay. There are signs of course that things are not quiet as they seem: there is increased security presence everywhere, especially the now infamous security buses which are used to herd arrested protestors to unknown destinations. From time to time cars or trucks full of pro-regime supporters tour the city carrying flags and shouting pro-Bashar slogans. The tourist industry has declined as mentioned earlier which means that many hotels, restaurants, and cafes which had become an important source of income and employment are almost empty. If Damascus had been relatively subdued in terms of protests, politics is on everyone’s minds and all taboo subjects, including what five months ago seemed unspeakable topics such as the regime’s downfall and direct criticism of the President are now commonplace. When entering an ongoing conversation one is immediately asked if s/he is pro- (muwalat) or anti-regime (mu’arada) (or in the derogatory terms booq (trumpet) or mundass (infiltrator).

When discussing the ongoing events with someone against the demonstrations (incidentally, very few people I spoke with identified as ‘pro-regime’, they preferred to say they are ‘with reform’ I will identify them in this article as against the revolts, the most neutral term I could find to describe their position). Conversations with those against the revolts can quickly descend into farce. Many I spoke with maintained that everyone who supports the revolution from outside the country is either a coward, a traitor, or does not genuinely care about Syria’s fate (this third category is where some people placed me, thankfully). As for those opposing the regime on the inside: Dar’a are a bunch of no-good smugglers, Hama is vindictive and full of hate, Homs are all extremist Salafis, the Northwest are separatist Kurds, and the Northeast are drug dealers, etc. The discussion then turns into a description of the atrocities committed by the protestors.

One typical story: “a women went to her neighbor’s house and asked them to stop protesting. When she turned around to leave, they shot her in the back. Somehow she didn’t die and was taken to the hospital. The neighbors then followed her to the hospital, kidnapped her, and cut her to pieces.” Depending on the source this story took place in ‘Arbin, Qatana, Dar’a, or Hama. The punch line was “and this is her own neighbors who did this. You see, these people are monsters, they don’t know what freedom means.” Regime violence is either denied or taken as a given (‘what do you expect, to insult them and be rewarded with flowers?’ or ‘this regime hasn’t done anything yet, if they really wanted to kill, they can do a lot more’). One reason that’s given for not opposing the regime is that this regime is lunatic and capable of mass murder and therefore it should not be pressured.

The more I talked with people who hold these views the more I realized that they genuinely believe them, with one slight caveat: many of these did not decide on their stand against the revolt based on the stories of criminal gangs, and Muslim extremists, and so forth. Just the opposite: most of those I spoke with who held this view clearly had made up their minds from day one of the revolts and then decided to believe the government’s stories. On the other hand, there were many who changed their beliefs when they clearly saw the government had chosen the violent approach, and many who were literally traumatized by the President’s first speech.

Contrary to what many have claimed, demonstrations have been taking place well within the center of a month before Ramadan. Demonstrations have taken place in Qaboon, Rukn al-Deen, Barzeh, Duma, Harasta, Daraya, ‘Arbeen, Zamalka, Hajar al Aswad, (Zabadani), Qatana, Kiswe, , Qadam, Jdeida, as well as the Midan district: all well inside Damascus.

If these were lights on a map they would form a circle around the city.

Since the government’s main concern now is Damascus and Aleppo, it is concentrating a huge security presence in those two cities. Hot spots such as Rukn al-Din, al-Qaboon, Harasta, and Duma are cordoned off entirely starting Thursday night. I walked through those areas on several occasions on a Friday and traffic was completely blocked with checkpoints on each major street entrance.

In the last few days before Ramadan there was a particularly heavy security presence in Damascus. In Khalid bin Walid street two days before Ramadan three flatbed military vehicles passed by pedestrian traffic, each with about 30 soldiers carrying machine guns and chanting pro-Maher (President’s brother) slogans. This seemed to be a warning to Damascenes not to dare protest during Ramadan. Like most regime actions you could see in the faces of passers by that this only increased people’s hostility. As I left the scene an old lady whispered to me ‘dear, do you think they are going to the Golan?’. A few days later in the exact same spot, a silent funeral march for a protestor who had been shot the day before was attacked by police, only for the police themselves to be beaten up by the people in the neighborhood.

Who Are the Protestors? What are their tactics?

Syria’s internal opposition movement is not unified and one should not speak about it in the singular. One can identify five distinct opposition groups. Burhan Ghaliun has stated they are unified by the three “No’s”: no to violence, no to sectarianism, and no to outside intervention (although I would exclude from this what I identify as the fifth group).

The first group consists of traditional oppositional parties: the socialist, Nasserist, and communist parties.

Second are the dissident intellectuals (such as Michel Kilo, Tayeb Tizini, Fayez Sara, Aref Dalila, and Burhan Ghalioun (on the outside).

In my view the writings and words of these dissident intellectuals carry much greater weight among the revolutionary youth than the traditional oppositional parties, although, neither of the first two categories has a large ‘social base.

Third is the youth movement itself (youth here is used liberally, including teenagers to people in their 40s) which is the moving force of the revolution. The leaders of the Local Coordination Committees are in this group. While the uprising started off with demonstrations of marginalized and lower class youth, it has expanded to include youth from all sectors of society.

The fourth category is the social base of the youth movement that is an unorganized civil society composed of socially conservative Muslims but which is mistakenly referred to as Islamist. These are the people who bore the brunt of regime repression for decades. These are the primary carriers of the social revolt — that is the Syrian society itself and the reason in my view why the regime cannot survive.

The fifth category, which the regime claims is the main obstacle, but which is in fact a very small fraction, is the armed Salafi groups.

Some may have traveled to Iraq to fight the US invasion. (They do not fit into Ghalioun’s three “no’s”, because they espouse violent revolution, are overtly sectarian, and welcome intervention by fellow Salafists, whether Syrian or not.) These groups do not neatly fit into either class or regional categories. Most of those who have taken to the streets are from lower economic classes and rural or middle sized-cities. However, there is still a much larger group which has not taken to the streets and does not fall into the categories I have outlined above, but which is just as resentful of the regime: this is the upper-class and middle-class youth of Syria’s two major cities.

It has been conventional wisdom to assume that well-to-do Syrians are pro-regime. This is not accurate. Many who have brushed up against the regime and have experienced its humiliations and observed its brutality first hand. They may not take to the streets, but may contribute in other ways that are not obvious to the casual observer. Given the forbidding security environment, the protestors are organizing at the neighborhood level. Paranoia and fear of secret police make establishing ties between local organizations difficult, although organization is improving at all levels slowly but surely.

Since the start of the revolt, the government’s actions have been arbitrary and improvised. The government was caught flat footed by the protests and has had to change tactics over time. Its response has been to employ two main tracks: the first a campaign of psychological and physical terror against the demonstrators, the second, a series of political liberalization measures meant to both absorb or appease a section of the protestors as well as present to the outside world a semblance of change. Both of these tracks have one main common denominator: they are meant to preserve as much of the political status quo as possible. They are also designed to insist on complete governmental control over events and government reforms. Five months into the uprising, the government still acts as if it holds all the cards; all ‘reform’ measures are issued as decrees by the government.

In other words, it has recognized –in its own words- legitimate grievances, but has yet to recognize a legitimate opposition to be negotiated with.

Thus, the “democratic transition,” such as the crafting of new political reform legislation, such as new ‘parties’ and ‘media’ laws, has been handed down by government fiat. Even the call for ‘dialogue’ which manifested itself in a two day summit in early July ended with a pre-fabricated statement which ignored the discussion that had taken place. Since then, the government’s response to opposition demands has been largely one of violence.

The protests themselves have not been uniform. Given the terror and live ammunition used by the regime, the protest movement’s tactics have been varied and creative. Resistance by the opposition ranges from political satire, rumors and gossip, guerrilla demonstrations, mass demonstrations, in-house demonstrations later broadcast on the internet, sit-ins, as well as acts of sabotage and violence.      

Since some quarters of Damascus and other areas are under Army siege or lock-down, demonstrators come out in rapid demonstrations and withdraw before the security forces can gather. When I visited Hama, days before the massacre (more on this below) each day over 100,000 people gathered in the main square (Sahet al-‘Asi) to discuss the day’s events and exchange information about events taking place elsewhere in Syria. One of the more creative tactics has been the ‘white demonstrations’ on Hamra street. A group ranging from 500 to 2000 all wearing white shirts or hats in groups of no more than three, but usually one or two walk back and forth on Hamra street without saying a word or even acknowledging each other. The security forces see them and know something is up but simply don’t know on what pretext to arrest them.

As to the question of violence, it undoubtedly exists among the protest movement, though to a very small degree, as opposed to the regime’s actions which have been overwhelmingly violent, and increasingly so. It is quite amazing that the protest movement has not been as violent as one would expect given the brutality and sectarianism of the regime.

I attended several pro-regime rallies (masira) because I was curious to see who attends and what exactly takes place there. During my stay there were two large demonstrations, one in Omayyad (capped by the wildly popular singer George Wassouf) and the other in Hijaz Square. I attended the latter, but went twice to a rally in Bab Touma, the traditionally Christian part of town. As I approached the main square, which had several hundred people in white shirts all carrying or wearing Syrian flags, with loud pro-Bashar music blaring from loudspeakers, I finally realized what fascism really looks like.

The belief or claim by some opposition members outside the country that pro-regime demonstrations are entirely forced is not accurate. Many state (and private sector) employees are made to go, but many show up on their own and do not fit neatly into categories such as ‘regime beneficiary’ which some members of the opposition like to throw around.

These were people, on their own will, coming to support a regime’s brutal crackdown by security forces that they themselves have long dreaded and despised. I saw and spoke with several people in attendance, all of whom insisted the events were necessary to ‘confront the conspiracy,’ to ‘preserve national unity’, and to ‘oppose extremists.’ The event was emceed skillfully by a man who alternated between leading chants and reading gut-wrenching accounts of the last moments and words of brave soldiers and military officers. In one such case, the commanding officer of a security post that had been ambushed called his superior and said: “the ammunition is done, I ask you to continue the fight. The homeland is a trust under your hands. Defend it and defend the leader.” The last words of all dying soldiers always involved: a) happiness in their sacrifice, b) devotion to the homeland and the president, c) request that those left behind take up the cause/fight.

Of course, no one has been hurt in a pro-regime rally and the ‘roving criminal gangs’ and ‘terrorist groups’ are absent. The rallies are guarded and streets are blocked. My own impression is that a large number of those attending would not take to the streets if there were any chance of violence.

Homage to Hama

I will describe my trip to Hama in a bit more detail because what I experienced there and what took place in the days after I left sums up what is beautiful about the revolution, just as it underscores the dark side of the regime. We left Damascus around 7.30am heading on a Pullman towards Hama. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get into the city. I had heard horrendous stories about violence in and around the city. There were only 12 passengers on the bus and some were to continue to Aleppo. From the capital until Homs there were very few signs of any disturbances or security presence, however after passing Homs in the environs of Talbeesa and Rastan there were about 20 tanks or so. Upon reaching Hama we were stopped by a new security unit I had not seen or heard of before. They wore black and dark green uniforms and had “counter terrorism unit” (C.T.U.) written on their back. They boarded the bus and to my surprise asked if there were any soldiers on board. They did not ask for our IDs. We had heard of soldier defections taking place and I can only speculate that they were looking for them.

I should note that there have not been any high ranking defections in the Syrian Army that I know of, though there are numerous conscripts that have been fleeing military service. (The Army has not released any soldier from service, including those whose normal service term has expired). That checkpoint was the last symbol of government control and  from then on we were in a liberated city, with no army or security presence whatsoever and no traffic police either.

After the mass demonstrations the security had withdrawn and left the town to its own affairs although everyone was anticipating an attack at any moment (which would later come the day before Ramadan). To try and slow down an attack the Hamwis had set up makeshift barriers throughout the city made of trash cans, cinder blocks, metal bars, even overturned buses and a huge caterpillar truck meant to deter or slow down an attack by security services. These were manned by boys and men ranging  from teenagers to men in their forties, two or three at a time directing traffic. They were not armed, very friendly and allowed me to freely take pictures (on a slightly depressing note, some thought I was a foreigner and greeted me with “hello mr. welcome to hama.”). The teenagers and young men in particular were taking their traffic policing job quite seriously (‘better than the actual traffic cops’ I heard time and again), despite spending the day under a blistering sun.

At night during the daily demonstrations, and when there was a strike, all the checkpoints would be closed. The barriers could not really deter any attack, and the Hamwis knew this of course. At best they were hoping to slow it down so that the city would not be caught unprepared.

I was told that some villagers bringing down milk and yogurt were turned back due to the strike and did not return since their products had spoiled and were afraid this would occur again.

I was also informed that some Alawi civil servants and employees had not come to work from the villages out of fear, although I was assured their fear was unfounded and that no sectarian attack had taken place (Incidentally, I did not hear any sectarian chants during my stay and there was only one anti-Shiite sectarian slogan painted way outside on the periphery of the city. All other slogans around it had been painted over except this one perhaps left to show evidence of sectarianism).

The city itself was full of life and the markets were busy, after several days of a general strike; the markets and shops stayed open until well past 1am. We walked through the city passing by the world famous Norias, the Old souq and the many markets. Life did not stop in Hama, there were no armed gangs or armed presence within the city. We passed by several liquor stores that were open for business. I made sure to take a picture and show my Christian friends back in Damascus who thought that Hama was under some sort of Salafi rule.! Passing through a park near the center of the city, we heard a few men murmur ‘the people want to topple the regime’ as we passed people in a park.

Anti-regime graffiti could be seen on some walls, although some of it was painted over. There was no sign of vandalism and damage of public property, and many pro-regime banners set up at the start of the uprisings in Syria had been left intact. I heard many stories throughout the day of the corruption and theft of the regime, particularly illegal land acquisition by people in the upper circles of power, including partners of the presidents infamous cousin. There is a ‘takbeer’ (chant of God is Great) when a checkpoint is attacked or neighborhood is attacked and the entire block or passersby rush to help. Things of course were a bit more complex than they appeared on the surface.

A source told us of an ambush of demonstrators which took place in front of his house. A masked informant led the demonstrators into the security officers waiting around a street corner who opened fire and immediately killed at least 10 people. Our host told us that the informant was later killed and his body dumped into the Orontes. This has been done a few times with people identified as informants, their names have been posted on the Mosque’s door, although inevitably were some mistakes and one person had to plead with his friends to come out in his defense and clear his name.
The nightly demonstrations were the fullest expression of the city’s freedom. They also acted as a social space for different sectors of Hamwis to gather. It became the location in which the day’s events were planned, grievances are aired, and news of events taking place in Syria discussed. I headed to the demonstration from the neighborhood of the Hama Castle, passing by the café of Apamea hotel. The café is located on a beautiful view, right on the Orontes river overlooking the Sohoniya, Qadriyya, and Sultaniyya Norias (water-wheels). However it has a tragic history. It was built on the ruins of the former Kaylaniyya district, which was beautiful. This entire historic district was razed to the ground during the 1982 massacres after being one of the most architecturally beautiful sites in Syria. The insurgents had taken refuge there believing — mistakenly as it turned out — that the government would not shell the district because of its historic value.

I approached the main square right around the end of the evening prayers. Along the way I passed on the left the only two buildings left in town which prominently displayed the pictures of the President, the first was the police HQ and the second was the Ba’ath party HQ. The Ba’ath Party HQ had been burned down after the massacre which took place on 6/6. A group of people took flowers and headed in that direction. When they approached, gunmen on top of the building had opened fire. The protestors tried to escape through another street only to find that it had been blocked the night before by the security. My informant said that several dozen people were killed that day. The next day Hama started demonstrating en masse and had not stopped since.

As we approached Sahet al-‘Asi (Orontes square) we saw several dozen people finishing the evening prayers in the square itself. The young men at the checkpoints had increased and were rerouting traffic. I first decided to hang out at the edge of the square, in front of the park through which Orontes river ran. The number of people arriving began to pick up. Whether by foot, taxi, or micro-bus, loads of men and women, young and old started arriving. It seemed like the whole town was arriving to take part. Even as the square was getting full I saw a huge crowd marching down from the South of the city. Groups of kids were clapping and chanting anti-regime slogans. Cafes and markets which opened the day before were still open and there was a hustle and bustle in the streets all night long. By the time about 100,000 gathered in the square all checkpoints leading to the square were closed to all but pedestrians, and the demonstration started in full force.

With chants blaring from loudspeakers, the event was more than just an anti-regime demonstration, it was an event were people gathered to talk about the day’s news, exchange information and make requests. One such request was that the checkpoints were becoming a burden on the population, especially the kids wanting to take the dreaded baccalaureate exam. Others asked that the villagers be allowed to bring down their food. A lawyer was recently released from custody and said he was one of the last remaining detainees. Solidarity with other cities as well as individuals who had spoken out against the regime’s violence (such as actress May Skaff) was a particular theme that night.

Most chants mentioned unity among Christians, Alawis, Sunnis, Kurds, (more on the tricky sectarian issue below)and many Christians were in attendance and were saluted by the crowd. Outside the square, markets were still open and people were going about their business as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

Hama has always been a conservative city. All but a few women on the streets were wearing headscarves (there were almost no niqabs -which is mostly a phenomenon in other cities such as Damascus). But I saw absolutely no signs of fundamentalism inside the city. It is a mistake to think Hama’s intifada can simply be reduced to the 1982 massacre.

They have shared grievances with every other city in Syria. In my opinion it’s more accurate to say that this is a city with a history of collective mobilization against injustice and defiance since before the Ba’ath regime came to power, and because of their defiance they have repeatedly paid a heavy price. And they were willing to do so again.

This was not a vindictive or hateful city as I kept hearing from people in Damascus. The genuine happiness of achieving freedom far outweighed the supposed desire for revenge against the regime. The chant I heard most frequently throughout the day and night was ya mahlaha al hurriya (freedom is beautiful).

A few days after I left, the government attacked the city. It killed over 100 people in the first two days of its assault. Syrian television reports on the days of the attack repeated stories of armed criminals terrorizing the population and destroying daily life in the city. They claimed that the Hamwis had called for government intervention. I saw first-hand that all those stories were a blatant lie. Hamwis knew what the regime was capable of and what it was planning. They nevertheless showed unbending courage and defiance in the face of terrible odds. The regime will not emerge triumphant from this bloodbath as it did in the past. Rather than turning their backs on Hama, as they did in the past, Syria’s other cities are championing it. Hama’s cause with neither sectarian nor violent. This time around, Hama expressed the sentiments of the Syrian people in a peaceful way.

The Issue of Minorities

Most of my time in Syria was spent in the Christian quarters of Damascus. Despite personal familiarity with the inhabitants of these quarters, nothing in my upbringing prepared me for the level of vitriol and hatred I heard there toward the protestors. The most depressing aspect of my trip to Syria was to see many (and I fear most) of its Christians rallying in support of the regime.

I heard the same language used to describe my fellow Syrians and the brave protestors as I have so often heard used by Israelis to describe the struggles of Palestinian people:  They are monsters, if they get their rights they will kill us’, ‘why are they sending their children to die?’, ‘they don’t want democracy, they are Islamic extremists who will kill us or oppress all us’, ‘no country can tolerate armed groups seeking to overthrow it’ etc. I was infuriated to consistently hear my heroes slandered and despised in their own country. And this by people who know only too well how brutal the regime is.

However if one is patient and overlooks the provocative slurs, one can detect a common theme among those who criticize the uprising: a genuine fear of the unknown. I believe that many who claim that the regime ‘protects minorities’ in fact fear retribution. Minorities which believe that they have benefited from the regime’s brutality and corruption over the past forty years believe that they are implicated in the eyes of the Sunni majority in its crimes. This is true not only of the Christians but even more so of the Isma’ilis and Alawis. I fear that the longer the regime clings to power and the more brutal it gets, the more sectarian feelings will intensify. Many feel the cross-sectarian chants (such as “Christians and Muslims are brothers” etc.) are disingenuous. This may be true, but I believe the criticism is a too harsh. At the start of the protests the demonstrators were viciously attacked by some as hiding a radical Islamist agenda. they responded in the best way they could: we have no such intentions, in fact we are all one, we love our Christian, Kurdish, and Alawi brothers etc. They were then attacked for saying this as well. In other words, it’s a no-win situation for these demonstrators who, apparently, like their Palestinian brethren, must prove the purity of their intentions. 

All they are doing, after all, is insist that they they be granted their elemental civil rights.

The regime has in fact been the biggest enemy of minorities, including most Alawis. Alawis must navigate a treacherous and difficult political path. The opposition needs to pay special attention to the sectarian issue and the social wounds after the fall of the regime. National reconciliation will be so important if Syria is to find unity and social peace. It is not enough to make the claim that most Alawis (or other minorities) are not with the regime, and that being a Alawi or Christian or Isma’ili has nothing to do with this regime. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, what seems to be on the table in Syria is a genuine revolutionary change and radical societal transformation that inevitably leaves many people fearful of the unknown. The gradualism, peacefulness, and decentralization of the Syrian revolution have been a major asset, although many I spoke with see the lack of an organized opposition they trust (and the Muslim Brotherhood definitely does not fall into this category for the people I am referring to) as potentially disastrous for the country.

Leaving Damascus

I left Damascus three days into Ramadan with the general feeling that it was on the verge of a major escalation. The pro- and anti- regime demonstrations are headed in opposite directions numbers wise. After starting off as a militant movement to demand basic civil rights, the protests seem to have reached a zero-sum game, but this has still emboldened even more people to take to the streets.
The high death toll of the attack on Hama carried out on the day before Ramadan demonstrates that the regime has more or less given up the call for dialogue. Syria’s rulers believe that they can still crush the protest movement. At the same time, they have issued several political reform measures meant to placate foreign countries, who hope that Syria might emerge as a ‘liberal autocracy’ on the model of Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s. The opposition will not accept such thin gruel now that it has sacrificed so much and mobilized so many. Neither side is likely to back down.

Syria might very well descend into fighting and repression that becomes quite bloody. But even if it does, the revolution must be driven completely from the inside for moral as well as practical reasons. So far, despite government claims, it has been overwhelmingly non-violent, internally driven, and de-centralized, which explains its success.

However this can only continue for so long. I fear that increased regime terror will lead to an increasingly armed response. After priding itself on maintaining stability, the regime will have to accept the responsibility for the destruction of Syria for the sake of maintaining power.

* Omar S. Dahi is Assistant Professor of Economics at Hampshire College. His email address is odahi at hampshire dot edu. His cell phone number is 413-313-2492.

13-34

Before You Judge, Stand in Her Shoes

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mike Mcgovern

New Haven–REVELATIONS about the hotel housekeeper who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault suggest that she embellished claims of abuse to receive asylum, fudged her tax returns, had ties to people with criminal backgrounds, had unexplained deposits in her bank account and changed the account of the encounter she gave investigators. Yet those who would rush to judge her should consider the context.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser is from Guinea, also the home country of Amadou Diallo, the street peddler who was shot to death in the doorway of his Bronx apartment building by four New York City police officers in 1999. Guineans leave their country in large numbers, partly because of grinding poverty; 70 percent live on less than $1.25 a day , despite the fact that Guinea has almost half of the world’s bauxite (from which aluminum is made), as well as iron, gold, uranium, diamonds and offshore oil.

The same leaders whose theft and mismanagement have kept so many Guineans poor in the decades since independence from France, in 1958, have also been ferociously violent, massacring as many as 186 unarmed demonstrators calling for democratic reforms in 2007, and at least 157 demanding the same in 2009. After the latter massacre, members of the state security forces gang-raped dozens of women to punish them for protesting and to terrorize men and women into silence.

While the American government condemned the massacres, the bauxite kept shipping, supplying Americans with aluminum cookware and automobile parts. That’s no surprise; the biggest mining companies doing business in Guinea are based in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia.

People fleeing state-sponsored violence and extreme poverty will do anything to leave. I receive requests every few weeks to write expert-witness affidavits for West African asylum claimants. As a personal matter of conscience, I will not write in support of an applicant whose testimony I believe contains inconsistencies.

Yet asylum claimants are often asked to perform an impossible task.

They must prove they have been subject to the most crushing forms of oppression and violence — for this, bodies bearing the scars of past torture are a boon — while demonstrating their potential to become hard-working and well-adjusted citizens.

This is where the lies and embellishments creep into some asylum seekers’ narratives. Immigrants share tips and hunches about ways to outwit the system, even as immigration judges try to discover the claimants’ latest ruses. But I can say from experience that for every undeserving claimant who receives asylum, several deserving ones are turned down. So few Africans gain access to green cards through legal channels that the United States government grants about 25,000 spots annually to Africans selected at random through the diversity visa lottery.

Just as Mr. Diallo’s death resonated because it made the tribulations of many West African immigrants public, the case of Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his accuser has the aura of a parable. Many Africans feel the International Monetary Fund, which Mr. Strauss-Kahn led, and the World Bank have been more committed to the free flow of money and commodities like bauxite than to the free flow of people and the fulfillment of their aspirations.

Guinean press accounts, and recent conversations I’ve had with Guineans, suggest that they disapprove of the deceptions by Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. But given the poverty and systemic violence in their country, they understand the circumstances in which such deception could occur — and we should, too.

As the case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn seemingly disintegrates, he is enjoying a political renaissance at home, yet I keep asking myself: does a sexual encounter between a powerful and wealthy French politician and a West African hotel cleaning woman from a dollar-a-day background not in itself suggest a gross abuse of power?

Mike McGovern, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale and the author of “Making War in Côte d’Ivoire,” is writing a book on Guinea.

13-29

Egypt Police & Youths Clash; Over 1,000 Hurt

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Werr and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) – Police in Cairo fired tear gas on Wednesday at hundreds of stone-throwing Egyptian youths after a night of clashes that injured more than 1,000 people, the worst violence in the capital in several weeks.

Nearly five months since a popular uprising toppled long-serving authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s military rulers are struggling to keep order while a restless public is still impatient for reform.

The latest clashes began after families of people killed in the uprising that ousted Mubarak held an event in a Cairo suburb late on Tuesday in their honor.

Other bereaved relatives arrived to complain that names of their own dead were not mentioned at the ceremony. Fighting broke and moved toward the capital’s central Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry, according to officials.

The Health Ministry said 1,036 people were injured, among them at least 40 policemen.

The ruling military council said in a statement on its Facebook page that the latest events “had no justification other than to shake Egypt’s safety and security in an organised plan that exploits the blood of the revolution’s martyrs and to sow division between the people and the security apparatus.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told state TV he was monitoring developments and awaiting a full report on the clashes.

A security source quoted by the state news agency MENA said 40 people were arrested, including one U.S. and one British citizen, and were being questioned by military prosecutors.

Some said those involved were bent on battling police rather than protesting. To others, the violence seemed motivated by politics.

“The people are angry that the court cases against top officials keep getting delayed,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, 26, a bakery employee who was at the scene overnight, referring to senior political figures from the discredited Mubarak era.

By early afternoon, eight ambulances were in Tahrir, epicenter of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11, and the police had left the square. Dozens of adolescent boys, shirts tied around their heads, blocked traffic from entering Tahrir, using stones and scrap metal.

Some drove mopeds in circles around the square making skids and angering bystanders. “Thugs, thugs… The square is controlled by thugs,” an old man chanted.

“I am here today because I heard about the violent treatment by the police of the protesters last night,” said Magdy Ibrahim, 28, an accountant at Egypt’s Banque du Caire.

Treating Wounded

The clashes unnerved Egypt’s financial market, with equity traders blaming the violence for a 2 percent fall in the benchmark EGX30 index, its biggest drop since June 2.

First-aid workers treated people mostly for inhaling tear gas in overnight violence. A Reuters correspondent saw several people with minor wounds, including some with head cuts.

Mohsen Mourad, the deputy interior minister for Cairo, said the security forces did not enter Tahrir overnight and dealt only with 150-200 people who tried to break into the Interior Ministry and threw stones, damaging cars and police vehicles.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party warned Egyptians that remnants of Mubarak’s rule could exploit violence to their ends. Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei called on the ruling military council to quickly clarify the facts surrounding the violence and to take measures to halt it.

U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, visiting Cairo, said he hoped an investigation into the clashes would be “fair and thorough.”

Young men lit car tyres in the street near the ministry on Wednesday, sending black plumes of smoke into the air.

“There is lack of information about what happened and the details are not clear. But the certain thing is that Egyptians are in a state of tension and the reason behind this is that officials are taking time to put Mubarak and officials on trial,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.

Sporadic clashes, some of them between Muslims and the Christian minority, have posed a challenge to a government trying to restore order after many police deserted the streets during the uprising against Mubarak. In early May, 12 people were killed and 52 wounded in sectarian clashes and the burning of a church in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood.

A hospital in central Cairo’s Munira neighborhood received two civilians and 41 policemen with wounds, bruises and tear gas inhalation, MENA said. All were discharged except one civilian with a bullet wound and a policeman with concussion, it said.

Former interior minister Habib al-Adli has been sentenced to jail for corruption but he and other officials are still being tried on charges related to killing protesters. Police vehicles were stoned by protesters at Sunday’s hearing.

The former president, now hospitalized, has also been charged with the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty. Mubarak’s trial starts on August 3.

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Sherine El Madany; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Peter Graff)

13-27

III. A Progressive Israeli Argument for the Two-State Solution

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

San Francisco–Home at last!  Home at last with a thick new notebook.

During the past week (6th-12th), the initial reports were that the casualties of the Palestinian demonstrators at the Syrian border by the Jewish Strata on  the Golan Heights has increased to twenty-seven — mowed down with live bullets from the other side of the barbed wire with several seriously wounded, furthermore,  by the by the IDF (the Israeli Defense Force) at the express orders to employ the ultimate violence against the non-violent demonstrators from the Prime Minister (P.M.) Netanyahu. In North Africa the rebels are hedging more closely to Tripoli, the Libyan nation’s traditional capital…  Although Gaddafi has been accused of rape as a weapon war by his soldiers, the “Colonel” has stated,” I’ll stay in Tripoli whether I live or die!’  While two Imperial powers, Britain and France, are preparing a resolution in United Nations (U.N.) condemning Damascus for their brutality in their civil war.  Incidentally, Libya and Syria have been two of the most obnoxious to the West, and “taking out” President Assad would be a great relief to the Israeli Prime Minister, for they one of the few nations’ in the expanse (since they are neighbors) who could provide a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) to Tel Aviv overbearing nuclear arsenal in the Negev .

As your composer has stated earlier, he believes the success or failure of the Arab “Spring” will depend upon the reaction of the Israeli government.   If they act diplomatically, there can be a tremendous blossoming of Arab-style democracies; if they respond in a belligerent manner there will be an appalling conflict, and, with nuclear weapons involved, it can be as great a disaster as Hiroshima, and with the closeness of Israel to its neighbors it can only destroy the nuclear State to unimaginable consequences.

This is the third installment with the Israeli General, their Ministry of Justice bureaucrat and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J-Street in the United States who was in Washington at the time of the call:

The two Israeli citizens pointed out that Palestine is unstable at the moment.  (Unfortunately, that is true, but it is true that it is overwhelmingly caused by the Zionist expansion upon Arab land!)    The General believes that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is not a threat, for under his analysis, he deems Hamas to be weak, (but under your author’s assay Hamas  is a substantial opponent  to the Israeli hegemony over the region, for, although Tel Aviv and Cairo had been doing their best to execute the sway of the Palestinian mini-strip on the sea, your researcher is of the opinion that Gaza quintessentially defeated the Hebrew-speaking Army in their Cast Iron operation against the Palestinian mini-State by exposed to the world Jerusalem’s vicious violence to an ultimately defenseless populace; thus, turning the prevailing global popular “good” opinion away from the Zionist’s position towards their opponents for the land, the indigenous Palestinians.)  

One of Israeli incentives for joining in on the dialogue with Ramallah in the company of the Quartet (the United States, the U.N., the European Union (E.U.) and the Russian Federation) as interlopers is, although there are many differences of opinion regarding Hamas, Tel Aviv wishes to isolate and prevent them from capturing the total “Occupied” Territories’ in the next elections which they have a very good chance of accomplishing with the depopulation of the Christians and the Islamization of Palestine herself.  Even so, there are talks amongst the original inhabitants of the Holy Land (for most of the Palestinians there are the direct descendants of the ancient residents of their geographic district, whereas the majority of the Jews had been Europeanized with a mixture of the Jewish diaspora who had fled Spain to the region mainly within the border districts of modern Poland and Russia wherein they had intermixed with the Yalta converted (Jews) of the Ninth Century (I most not this historically scenario is highly disapproved by Jewish scholars in Jerusalem as is the Night Ride of the Prophet (s); and, thus, Israel can be perceived as a Settler Colonial State and must be amalgamated into the Middle East) to be accepted.  Further The Quartet must integrate Hamas into the elections (if it is not done, it would be hard to describe these forthcoming `polls to be free and fair.  What is so interesting about the advancement of the Palestinians’ cause is that, finally, they are on the world’s “radar, and that it coincides” with  the Arab “Spring,” and it has many elements.  (It must be kept in mind, that, Palestine is central to the Arab’s ideology, and, although it is on the fringes of West Asia, it is well near the “center” of the Arab-speaking humanity which extends from the full of North Africa into the Arabian West and Saudi Arabia itself, the homeland of Islam, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) in the Persian (or Arab, as it is, also called,) Gulf on the East.         

Tara Hassan, of the Israeli Ministry of Justice is, also, a leader for “true” Justice within her homeland.     She urged that the Palestinian Prime Minister (P.M.) Mahmoud Abbas, be granted concessions, reiterating the Israeli bugaboo, to avoid Hamas administrating the West Bank.  (It is interesting to note the great fear of almost all Israelis – either on the Right or Left – is their irrational fear of Islamism, and seems to be a driving force to lean their Commonweal to the Left which is a hopeful sign for an agreement to the conundrum and the especially for the long-term future of the Palestinians themselves.  Although she describes herself as a Zionist, for her, a Zionist does not have to be on the political Jewish-wing.  “Only a two-State Solution will save Israel,” too.  Hassan, further, states that “…We should take every opportunity [to convince] the people of Israel!”  Sharoni interjects that we should present to the Israeli public” the necessity of the two—State Solution!  As often as possibility, for the people (here) have an unfounded fear of the Arab “Spring,” (and that is driving internal policy there, too).  

Why are we spending so much time looking at non-Muslim Israel — because it is the dominant dominion within the Middle East – due to the policy of America arming its pariah client to the hilt?  (The citizens of the U.S.A. have a grave duty to extricate their own nation from this enigma to which they themselves have created, and to become a force for peace among these environs.)

Whatever is happening within the halls of Tel Aviv will have a dramatic effect within the Arabic al-Islam!

13-25

Eyewitness to the Fight for Freedom in Libya

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

Dr. Mahmoud Traina, an American born cardiologist of Libyan descent, visited the besieged city of Benghazi from the 23rd of February through the 5th of March. The city of Benghazi was the birthplace of the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi and the scene of the greatest violence and injury for the freedom fighters.

It was in Benghazi that the freedom fighters are trying to coordinate the efforts of the war. A number of former Qaddafi supporters, including members of the military,  joined the side of the freedom fighters. This includes membership in the Transitional National Council (TNC), the council of the freedom fighters.  Dr. Traina met one of the Libyan freedom fighters, Omar Al-Harari, a member of the TNC though not the head.

Dr. Traina reports that the spirit in Benghazi was euphoric for the people. Despite attacks and deprivation the people were joyous and optimistic in their efforts to secure the freedom that so much of the world takes for granted.

One person told him, “You can’t imagine the feeling of now being free after 42 years. Now that we have tasted freedom, we will never go back, no matter the price”.

Dr. Traina had received word earlier in the day from his sister that she and her family escaped from Misrata and were currently in  England.  Other family members and friends were still in harm’s way putting a cloud over this good news.

The living conditions in Benghazi are horrendous. There is no electricity, no water, and no sanitation. There are no infant supplies. Only the most basic medicines are available. A Cholera epidemic is a very real possibility. The hospitals are so crowded that they have had to dislodge half of their patient load to be cared from outdoors under tents. Injuries to limbs, normally treatable by orthopedic surgery, have often resulted, due to these primitive conditions, in amputations. There are no functional Intensive Care Units to treat for the critically ill and/or post surgical patients.

The lines for bread involve a three hour wait.

Dr. Traina spoke of the conditions he witnessed. “In Benghazi, people were beginning the process of self-rule and organization.  Volunteers manned the traffic signals, and organized traffic.  Others helped to feed the people with donated food in improvised “soup kitchens”. Other groups were going around cleaning up the debris in the city left from the violence. Medical staff was working overtime to care for the ill, especially the nursing staff who remained. (A large number of the nursing staff were foreign workers, and many of them left the country, but many stayed, and said they couldn’t abandon the patients who needed them)”.

Dr. Traina said that Qaddafi, after 42 years of despotic rule, believes that Libya belongs to him as one would own a personal possession. Qaddafi has said that if necessary to keep his power he will kill every Libyan and restock the country. He has used mercenaries from Chad, Mali and Niger. This became obvious when some of the mercenaries became hospitalized, and the personnel in attendance realized these patients spoke no Arabic.

In addition, Dr. Traina believes that there are pro-Qaddafi cells in Benghazi ready to spring into action when called upon.

When asked about opinion in the street about the United States and NATO as having a role to play, Dr. Trains replied that the Libyans want to win their freedom through their own acts. It is they who must play the leading role.

The Libyan people, he continued, want freedom as Americans know freedom. They want an open and accountable government and the freedom to form political parties. Nearly 100% of Libyans are Muslim, and Islam will play a role in their government. This is comparable to the role Christianity played in the early days of the American republic. Islam and freedom are totally compatible, he said, citing the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his early followers.

Dr. Traina dismissed the idea that the revolution, when successful, could be hijacked by radical forces. The people have fought too hard for their freedom and would guard in jealously.

Some organizations, he continued, have been able to get aid in by working with United Nations agencies. Others based in Ireland and the UK have been successful in this arena because they are not subject to the same sanctions.

Dr. Traina has suggested two web sites that he both recommends and is involved with. They are: www.libyanemergencyaid.com and www.islamicreliefusa.org/libya .

Dr. Traina is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and on the cardiology staff at Olive View – UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

The Muslim Observer thanks him for his time.

13-21

Terry Jones Denounced by Muslim and Christian Leaders

April 28, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Reverends and imams speak at the ICA press conference at 10:30AM Friday April 22, 2011.  At center is Imam Qazwini of the ICA, to his right Imam Elahi and Imam Mardini, respectively.

Dearborn–April 22–The overcast morning of Friday April 22 was one that began with the ominous likelihood of violence.  Despite the religious significance of the day (Easter to Christians) “Pastor” Terry Jones had planned to burn the Qur`an directly in front of the biggest mosque in the United States as an act of provocation.  As the day turned out, however, Jones was prevented through last-minute legal wrangling from going through with what would have been an incendiary act on several levels.  The city of Dearborn feared an outbreak of violence, as evidenced by the police presence at the mosque.

But as the day began, religious leaders from the community did not know the burning would be prevented–they thought that Jones might go through with his plan, and they spoke en masse in the auditorium of the Islamic Center of America, speaking one by one against Jones’ message of hate, bigotry, and intolerant ignorance.

Present were many news channels and outlets–the ICA room chosen for the press meeting teemed with reporters, looking a little bit like the White House briefing room.

The speakers one by one spoke a message of tolerance–and the theme of all their speeches was that Terry Jones is in fact an extremist and his act of burning the Qur`an is rooted in his deep ignorance, and his behavior stands in stark contrast to the behavior and message of Jesus (as).

The symbolism of Jones’ attempt to burn the Qur`an on Good Friday was not lost on the Christian reverends who spoke–all of them expressed their dismay at such an act of hatred being committed on a day which should represent the directly opposite message.

Imam Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America functioned as the moderator of the event, one by one introducing the many speakers who (literally) joined hands to protest Jones’ planned act of hatred.

The mayor of Dearborn, Jack O’Reilly, spoke very fluently about the event, pointing out the need to balance the rights of people against one another–while a man in America has a right to protest, the churches local to ICA  (which have stood where they are for 50 years) also had a right to perform their Good Friday services in peace.  He pointed out Jones’ attempts through internet advertising to bring hundreds if not thousands of people to his planned protest, which contradicted his application for a permit to protest which listed only five or six protesters.

The mayor gave perhaps the strongest Christian argument against Jones’ planned behavior, citing the Pope’s decree that Islam is a valid religion, and that  Catholics should treat their Muslim brothers and sisters with respect.  O’Reilly also cited Bible passages which he said described Jones’ behavior, of inciting fear in people and then asking for money, which Jones had done.

Most of the Christian ministers and reverends who spoke questioned Jones’ title of “pastor,” pointing out the nature of his message as being contrary to the essential teachings of his religion.

One reverend said “Today is Good Friday… the message of today is about love, not exclusive love, but unconditional love.  Love God with all your heart and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
He pointed out that the deeper issue in Jones’ protest is the issue of racism.

Mustapha Turk of IONA said that if Jones had read the Qur`an he would not burn it because the Qur`an has praises of Jesus (as) on almost every page.
One reverend begged the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan not to react with violence to whatever scene might unfold later in the day.

Several of the Christian ministers pointed out the burning of churches during the civil rights struggle as being similar to Jones’ attack on Islam.

Imam Qazwini perhaps put it best when asked whether he had tried to communicate with Jones.

“I met [him] last night at Channel 2 where we were both guests, and I invited him not to protest, but to come inside and have a dialog with Muslim leaders.”

“I don’t think he is sincere, or logical,” said Imam Qazwini.

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Muslims and THE PEACE – As Salaam

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Finding a new way to fight

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, TMO

Since the start of the so-called “Muslim Reformation” in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Libya, and others, there have been many” Coach Potato Diplomats” explaining the why’s and the who’s of what is happening… 

These “Islamic” countries have been operating under tyranny and dictators since they gained their freedom from the colonialists who put these dictators in power.  The same countries that colonized these countries;  the United States, France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom and others, are the same ones controlling their economy today.  In some African countries, the colonizing country controls the airports that they built and command upwards of 95% of all revenues generated yearly – while the natives are just happy to be able to use it.

One of the most common descriptions of Islam is it’s the”religion of peace.”  And this is true.  The very root of the word Islam means peace.  But it’s more than a definition and explanation of a word; it is actually a way of life.

The war we are fighting today is not really one of bullets and physical violence. For us Muslims it is not even one of planes, ships, rockets, and nuclear weapons because we are grossly inferior in all those areas.  So it makes sense to approach the solution to our problems in a different way.   The war we must fight today is not one of raw emotion; it must be one fought with morality and spiritually-guided intelligence.

I’m sure most of you readers have heard of the “Qur’an-burning Pastor Jones from Florida.  This fellow traveled to Detroit, Michigan to stage a protest against the “threat of violence stemming from what he thinks is sharia law.  Ironically his protest was to be in front of a masjid widely known for its efforts to spread peace through our society.  It seems his, and his sponsors( reported to be some White-supremist right-wing group in Northern Michigan) sole purpose was to incite the very violence he says he was trying to prevent.  And he wanted to do all this on the Christian “Good” Friday and in the very name of Christ Jesus, who, according to biblical scripture, would never have done such a thing.

As a result and I’m sure much to his surprise, Pastor Jones’ plans backfired on him and actually benefited the Muslims.  Nearly a thousand people of varying faith traditions (mostly Christians) came to the masjid targeted by Jones, the Islamic Center of America, to speak against him and extol the virtues of our glorious religion.  The Archbishop of Southeast Michigan, the leader of over one and a half million Catholics was in attendance and lead the speeches of the interfaith group of leaders.

After the short program one of the most glorious and spectacular sights I have personally witnessed took place.  A multitude of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Bahia, and others, joined hands with the Muslims and circled the masjid in a show of solidarity and interfaith love and respect. It was a sight to behold.  Now who would have thought such a show of love and respect was possible?  Many people, including many Muslims, believe this religion would never garner that kind of respect.  But Almighty ALLAH has promised the believers the victory IF they submit to Him with a gentle heart.

But it was no accident that that great multitude of people showed up to support the Muslims.  The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) has been working diligently fostering interfaith love and respect for over thirty years.  Additionally, the Interfaith Leadership Council co-sponsored the program at the masjid.  They worked tirelessly to show their support of the masjid and their disdain of “Pastor” Jones.  The relationship with the different faith traditions in the area has been on solid footing because we reached out to them and they reached out to us.  We accepted their overtures and they accepted ours.  So we grew to know one another.   

As I said earlier, we do not have the wherewithal to fight a physical war but our God and our scripture make us well equipped to fight a spiritual one.  

Let us focus on fighting a war we can win.  Let us argue with them in the best manner – with wisdom and beautiful preaching.  That’s when we are  setting  our aim on the real enemy; the Shaitan. 

It is a war fought on our terms; and it is a war we can win.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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If Cairo Came to Kabul

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Swanson

Before Tahrir Square happened almost nobody predicted that President Hosni Mubarak would be forced out of office by a movement that didn’t pick up a gun. Had President Barack Obama expected that outcome, he might have publicly backed Mubarak’s departure before, rather than after, Mubarak stepped down.

Obama can be seen as overcompensating for that performance in Libya, but there he is placing faith in weapons. Anybody can do that. Egypt still has a long way to go on its path to a just society. But the question of whether Tunisian-Egyptian movements will find success elsewhere is the question of whether people can take the far more challenging step of placing trust in nonviolence.

Those who believed a nonviolent movement, one that would involve youth and women, could gain power in Egypt, worked for years to make it happen. Those saying it couldn’t be done were not permitted to get in the way of those doing it. Nonviolent strategists like American Gene Sharp advised the organizers of a force that developed completely beneath the U.S. media’s radar. What burst forth earlier this year appeared to be spontaneous. It was not.

It will come as a surprise to most Americans, and indeed to most Afghans, that a dedicated group of Afghan youth has begun building a principled and disciplined nonviolent movement for peace, independence, and unity in Afghanistan. By independence, the Afghan youth mean independence from the United States and NATO, but also from Pakistan and Iran and all other outside control, as well as independence from rule by the Taliban, warlords, and oligarchs of all stripes. By unity, they mean national Afghan unity inclusive of all ethnicities.

Bringing Cairo to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, will not be achieved by occupying a central square this week and gradually increasing the crowd size for months and years as Afghans come to appreciate the value of the movement. Taking over the streets of the capital, if that tactic is employed, will not happen until a great deal of groundwork has been laid. That groundwork will likely involve several steps that have been identified by those working on this project.

Ethnic Unity

First, ethnic divisions will have to be healed. Afghanistan is 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, and smaller percentages of several other ethnic groups. As long as these groups are rivals, it will be more difficult for the people as a whole to challenge corrupt oligarchs. A newspaper editor in Kabul told me he believed that even legitimate, credible elections — something Afghanistan has not had — would not produce a just and stable representative government, because any president would be from one ethnic group and not the others.

Afghans should be so lucky as to have that problem! The reality is that until the ethnic groups unite, and other progress is achieved, Afghans are unlikely to be able to compel their government to hold open and verifiable elections.

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of the Afghan Parliament, finished third in the official count of the 2009 presidential election. He is Hazara, and the first and second-place finishers were Pashtun and Tajik respectively. But Bashardost told me that he received more support from outside his ethnic group than from within it. Bashardost is a proponent of Gandhian nonviolence, ethnic unity, and national independence. He employs no security guards, cruises around town in a beat-up old car, and holds court in a tent in an empty lot in a particularly poor neighborhood.

Bashardost favors political reforms that would empower the legislature and disempower the president as well as political parties, thus allowing greater representation of minority groups. Bashardost is a powerful voice on the inside of the Afghan government for peace and nonviolence. Here is video of an interview I conducted with him. But Bashardost is not an activist or an organizer. He is a unifying figure, but he is a politician.

Teck Young Wee is another story. He is a medical doctor and a native of Singapore who began working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan 9 years ago and moved to Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan seven years ago. He was taken in by an Afghan family and given the name Hakim. Bamiyan is relatively free of U.S. forces and therefore something of a success story in terms of suffering low levels of violence.

Hakim has been mentoring youth in Bamiyan and elsewhere. The Bamiyan youth, primarily Hazara and Tajik, primarily boys and young men, but including girls and young women and other ethnic groups as well, have established the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV). Peace is a radical idea, and apparently frightening to some. Hakim received threats from unidentified sources, and the people of Bamiyan created a warning system to protect him that involved plans to put their own bodies in the path of any violence. The threat has faded.

AYPV have taken steps toward ethnic unity, controversially arranging for college students from every ethnic group to room together. A similar approach of using housing rental policies to integrate the country on a larger scale is something I’ve heard advocated by professors in Kabul.

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers from Bamiyan in the north have made particular efforts to reach out to Pashtun youth in the south. Peace volunteers hand made cell phone cases from second-hand leather and hand sewed the word ‘Peace’ in the Dari language on them. They sent these to Pashtun youth in Kandahar along with a video message. Then they phoned Pashtun youth leaders to say they had done this out of love and a desire for reconciliation. A Pashtun leader, in Hakim’s words (here’s video), “said this is impossible – he couldn’t believe it.” He said “this is a love you have shown us and we will never forget it.” That’s a powerful statement in a country where the things you most commonly hear people say they will never forget are acts of violence.

Hakim stresses that part of eliminating ethnic divisions will have to be recognizing and addressing the forces that strengthen them, namely the violence of warlords backed by the United States and NATO. Here, as elsewhere, is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Unity is needed to drive out the occupiers, but the occupiers are a barrier to unity. Yet, this is always the way, and such traps have been opened before.

Women Behind The Wheel

A second part of the groundwork that is probably needed is the empowerment of women. A nonviolent peace movement stands a far greater chance of success, experts say, when it includes women and embraces a movement for women’s liberation.

An Afghan film director Sahraa Karimi has produced an engaging and illuminating documentary called “Afghan Women Behind the Wheel”. When she told me the title with a bit of an accent, I thought the last word was “Veil.” It could almost as well have been. The film is about the limited rights and options of women in a country that is not just poor and war-ravaged, but in which many men passionately believe women to be inferior.

The movie has great footage for anyone wondering what life in Kabul looks like, and it tells the stories of a number of women who learn to drive. In a scene that drew laughs from all the Afghans watching it with me, a driving instructor tells them “Another important thing is traffic lights, even though we don’t have any.” He goes on to explain what red, yellow, and green mean. I’m told there are a few traffic lights, but I haven’t seen them.

Something else you won’t see much of is women drivers. The women in the movie are violating a taboo. When they begin driving, vicious rumors are spread about them, including that they are working!

It’s actually very hard for anyone to find a job in Afghanistan, and driving lessons cost a good percentage of the average annual income. Some of the women in the movie are in fact working, one in a health clinic, one in a school, and one decides to become a taxi driver. She describes an unloved childhood and a forced marriage to a man 18 years her senior, a man who abused her. She enjoys the sport of Kabul driving, not a skill easily learned by anyone. Her story resembles the others’ — fathers prefer sons, sons inherit property, marriages are forced.

The taxi driver sees driving as the one thing she is able to do, and she is terrified of not being able to afford the gasoline to continue doing it. She dreams that cars might run on water. The same woman builds a house herself and loves it, but is afraid that her stepfather next door might hurt her or her children, and so lives in an apartment. Better times and changes come into her life, which is quite touching and revealing.

I certainly hope to see many more women driving in Afghanistan. If women are going to lead a movement, as they must, to reject both the U.S. occupation and the Taliban, they cannot remain in the position of children always asking for a ride.

A third part of a successful movement will be the educating and organizing of youth. In Afghanistan, 68% of the country is under age 25, and the life expectancy at birth is 44. A nation this young will rise or fall with the actions of youth.

This is almost certainly an advantage, in that youth have fewer years of trauma, bitterness, and ideologies of vengeance to overcome. While some of the leading members of AYPV lost family members to the Taliban, it is the youth more than their elders who carry less weighty memories and resentments. Watch this video of Afghan kids at an orphanage and you will feel more confident about Afghanistan’s future whether you want to or not. Watch this one of Afghan shepherd boys with slingshots and the possibility of David nonviolently halting Goliath’s assaults may appear within reach.

While Hakim is their mentor, the young men of AYPV are the leaders of this budding movement. They are thoughtful, experienced beyond their years, relentlessly energetic and upbeat. Abdullah, age 15, whose father was killed by the Taliban, recently explained his desire for peace and nonviolence from all sides to a defender of the US/NATO occupation. The icy response was that the Taliban ought to have killed him as well. Abdullah was told that he was too young to know real suffering. But the younger man was the wiser in this conversation, responding without anger or hatred and opposing the maintenance of a vicious cycle of violence.

One morning earlier this month, four members of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers spoke to a college class in Kabul. The professor with the loudest voice argued that the United States and NATO wanted the good of all people. Faiz, age 20, was among those who spoke up in response. Speaking to elders is not part of the tradition these young men have grown up in, but they believe it has become necessary. Some eyes were opened. About half the class, by the end of the session, seemed to believe that peace might be possible.

A fourth important step is precisely that of persuading Afghans who have no experience with peace that peace is indeed possible, and that the nonviolent tools of peace are powerful enough to bring it about and to resist violent seekers of power, whether Afghan or foreign.

The U.S. military encourages Afghans to believe that only foreign violence can prevent domestic terror. Here’s a video showing U.S. advertisements for war in Afghanistan. A poster shows an Afghan baby with the words “suicide bomber or doctor?” The Peace Volunteers reject the notion that one violent force is needed to hold off another.

Afghanistan’s history has much to draw on in countering the idea that violence is inevitable. In particular, there is the history of a nonviolent Pashtun army under the leadership of Badshah Kahn resisting the British occupation of what was then the Northwest Frontier of India and is now Pakistan. A new film telling this story should be viewed by all Americans, but more importantly by all Afghans.

Imagining peace in Afghanistan is made difficult by decades of war, by traditions of honor and vengeance, by the current ubiquity of violence, but also by factors that dominate the lives of Afghans while often slipping from the minds of the rest of us. Afghans are hungry, miserable, suffering, and scared. Many have little or no electricity, healthcare, or potable water. In Afghanistan 850 children die every day.

There is no difficulty in motivating Afghans to protest in anger. But organizing a disciplined campaign of nonviolence moved by justice, while free of anger, may prove — as it usually is — more of a challenge.

A fifth factor is the building of alliances abroad, something the AYPV have been busy with, hosting dozens of foreign peace activists in Afghanistan, scheduling global conference calls on Skype, and sending messages far and wide. Here’s a video of U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly speaking in the United States last week about her visits to Afghanistan.

The U.S. embassy has refused visas to members of AYPV who have been invited to visit and speak in the United States. What possible harm can the U.S. State Department believe would come from Americans meeting a few Afghans face-to-face and hearing about their plans for nonviolent activism and peace? Former Afghan member of Parliament Malalai Joya recently had a visa to the United States accepted following intense public pressure; so such reversals are possible.

The Revolution Has Begun

Whether a nonviolent movement will succeed in Afghanistan we have no way of knowing. Whether the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and others inspired by them will play a major role, I certainly can’t say. Briefly visiting Afghanistan has imprinted the views of a small unrepresentative sample of Afghans on my mind in a way that no reading about the nation can do; and even those who live there are unable to predict the future. If a nonviolent movement achieves power, the basic sequence of events is hard to foresee. The U.S. military could be forced out before a representative government is established, or vice versa. Or everything could come at once. The point I want to make is that such a thing is completely possible and that it may have already begun.

The small group of thoughtful, committed citizens that Margaret Mead said can change the world has already begun working toward peace and justice in Afghanistan. They’ve begun small. Here’s a video of the Peace Volunteers installing an illuminated sign with the word for ‘Peace’ on the side of a mountain. Here they are planting trees for peace last month. Here’s a candlelight vigil. And here is a slideshow from what I hope will be the first of many marches for peace in Kabul — this one held on March 17th of this year.

The march was covered by all of the local television stations in Kabul as a startlingly new phenomenon. Peace? Who even dreams of such a thing, much less proposes a strategy to build it? Police surrounding the marchers with batons and riot gear were a less unusual sight.

Of course, there have always been marches and protests in Afghanistan. As in the United States, such events receive far less media attention than do acts of violence. But most such demonstrations do not propose nonviolence, peace, and love. They oppose particular campaigns of violence and are generally considered at risk of spawning violence of their own. When I was in Kabul earlier this month, students at Kabul University held a march against the U.S. occupation. I would have loved to attend and speak against the crimes of my own government, but as an American I was strongly urged to go nowhere near an event at which being an American could get me killed.

The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have sought to send their message of nonviolent opposition to war to the heart of the empire. Here’s a video of U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Bamiyan telling the AYPV that he will deliver their message to President Obama. Here’s a video of Congressman Keith Ellison promising the same.

The messages send out by the AYPV are eloquent and important. The immediate actions they advocate include establishing an international mediation team, a cease fire, a peacekeeping force, crisis teams, a unity campaign, restorative justice, and clean elections.

In another direct appeal the Afghan youth implore:

“Humanity has taken too long and lost too many in implementing non-violent, civil ways to resolve human conflict. We human beings can do better than repeatedly resorting to force and war to address human hurts and needs. Stop the killings, stop killing one another, stop killing the people. Stop killing us.”

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie.”

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Press Release: Remembering Deir Yassin

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Deir Yasin

For Palestinians, 9th of April is imprinted in their collective memory.

It is the anniversary of Deir Yassin massacre when in the early morning of April 9, 1948, commandos of the Irgun and the Stern Gang, attacked the village of Deir Yassin, killing over 200 Palestinians. Armed with explosives and machine guns, a force of 120 men attacked the sleeping village at 4:30 in the morning in what was then code named “Operation Unity”. Eye witnesses and British interrogating officers confirmed brutal killing of women and children.

The massacre in Deir Yassin was part of an official Zionist strategy to frighten Palestinians out of their land and into neighboring countries.

Yosef Weitz, member of the Jewish Agency’s Transfer Committee declared that “between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both people together in this country… we shall not achieve our goal with the Arabs in this small country. The only solution is a Palestine without the Arabs and there is no other way than to transfer Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, not one village not one tribe should be left”.

“Deir Yassin is one in a list of many atrocities against the Palestinians”, said Majed Al Zeer, the General Director of PRC. “Many other atrocities and massacres were carried out simultaneously in 1947 and 1948, when Zionist Para military forces were embarked on a program to expel Palestinians out of their ancestral land. 750,000 Palestinians, over a quarter of the population, were exiled and continue to endure suffering as refugees”.

“Though Palestinians fled, they could not escape Israel’s violence and aggression. Many more atrocities followed, most notably Sabra Shatilla, Jenin, Khan Younis, Hebron and Gaza. Even now as we remember Deir Yassin, Palestinians in Gaza are being killed by Israel”, said Mr. Zeer.

Gaza continues to be gripped by a siege and on the anniversary of Deir Yassin 11 more, including 5 children were killed and many more were wounded as the Israeli army shelled the already damaged Gaza International Airport in Rafah. Israeli air strikes were also carried out in central Gaza where many homes on the eastern part of the city were shelled.

According to Palestine News Network, A Palestinian farmer was also wounded when the Israeli Air Force fired missiles into the Al Waha area, North West of Gaza city. Several Air Strikes also targeted areas east of Dir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, and Al Hawouz area in addition to the Al Rantissi Base, north of Gaza, causing excessive damage.

PRC calls on all to take a moment and remember Deir Yassin and bear in mind that the forces of aggression and the conditions of injustice behind this massacre has locked Palestinians into a cycle of oppression, exile and violence which has disgracefully normalized violence and aggression against the Palestinians.

Ending this ongoing cycle of violence against the Palestinians and giving them their rights is the only just and realistic path to peace.

This will not happen unless the international community demands that Israel respect and abide by the rule of law and until the international community takes effective measures to enforce them, as it did in Libya.

The international community must show the same level of concern as it did for the civilians of Ben Gazi and impose a similar heavy price on an Israeli regime that drops bombs just because it can. Such double standards must end and real justice must prevail over the national self interest of one party if we are serious about justice and peace.

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Imams Condemn the Killing of UN workers in Afghanistan

April 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

(WARREN, MI, 4/2/11) – The Imams committee of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan condemns in the strongest terms the killing of innocent people and the UN workers at Mazar-i-Sharif UN station in Afghanistan.

Such violence is against the Islamic teachings and the spirit of the Holy Qur’an.

We are saddened by the unjust killing by a violent mob in Afghanistan, reacting to the Qur’an burning by Mr. Jones. Neither his provocative act nor any offense against the Islamic faith or Muslims would justify the killing of innocent.

We urge Mr. Jones to cancel plans to bring his hateful message to Michigan at the Islamic Center of America on April 22, to avoid potential irrational reaction by some equally ignorant among Muslims.
We urge all Muslims to ignore such provocative or aggressively symbolic acts against their faith.

The Qur’an teaches, “The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.” (41:34), the Qur’an further teaches, “…if anyone slays a human being unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth-it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind…” (5:32)

On behalf of the Imams and the Muslim community we offer our condolences and deepest sympathy to the family of the victims as we pray for peace and a world free of hate and bigotry.
The Imams Committee of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan represents a coalition of Muslim religious leaders (imams) in the Metro-Detroit area.

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