Interfaith Statement: “Don’t Cut Programs that Will Cost Lives, Harm America”

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Nation’s faithful down to the wire with Super Committee, Congress:

By Church World Service

Washington, November 21, 2011 — While members of the Congressional Super Committee all but acknowledged their failure to reach an agreement on the federal budget, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches and representatives of Church World Service joined with people of faith in cities across the United States on Sunday to warn that cuts to programs for the most at risk families and children in the United States and abroad would cost lives and harm America.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary, said NCC member communions agree on one message for U.S. political leaders: “Do not try to solve America’s budget problems by taking away from those who have least to give.

“That’s why we are part of the Faithful Budget Campaign, and why we are taking part in Sunday’s interfaith Super Vigil, asking God to move the hearts of policy makers in order that fairness and compassion will guide their decisions,” Kinnamon said.

As part of a nationwide Super Vigil, people of diverse faith communities united in prayer at public rallies in cities across the country. At a rally in Washington across the street from the White House, the crowd heard national leaders representing Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths speak to the moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Church World Service (CWS) Advocacy Director Martin Shupack was among the Washington faith leaders calling on members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to not reduce the deficit by placing an undue burden on the poor while shielding the wealthiest from additional sacrifice.

Shupack, one of four faith leaders who led the rally in a Litany for a Faithful National Budget, said, “We live in a world that is intensely interconnected. Loving our neighbors requires that we promote the global common good. Yet, programs may be severely cut that respond to HIV and AIDS, extreme poverty, food insecurity, overwhelming debt, violence against women, natural disasters and other urgent needs.” The rally group responded, praying “for a just and compassionate budget” for those “who live on the margins of our world.”

“Members of Congress are listening to the top 1 percent of Americans who take home 25 percent of all household income. They’re listening to Wall Street bankers and the Tea Party, bankrolled by billionaires, who want their tax cuts,” Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, told the ralliers. “Like Old Testament prophets, we stand here today to say that any political leader or system that pursues profits and power at the expense of the common good stands under divine judgment.

“God will not be mocked. Greed will not go unpunished. Justice for the common man is our cry,” he said. “Let’s fund not tax cuts for the wealthy but our nation’s future competitiveness. That means funding programs that build skills and productivity.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, Director of Public Policy, The Rabbinical Assembly, told ralliers and Congress, “When the Torah tells us that the poor will never cease from the land, we are not to read those words as an excuse for neglect.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director of Faith in Public Life, told the assembly, “As a pastor I cannot stand idly by as more and more families struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. And I cannot remain silent as misguided politicians push an immoral agenda that punishes these people to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, national director for Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America, said, “The federal budget reflects the moral conscience of the American people and so it must reflect our moral commitment to protect those who are poor and vulnerable here in America and around the world.”

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said, “We are witnessing through the Faithful Budget Campaign growing numbers of persons of faith who declare that our Creator has something to say about political leaders using people in poverty as political pawns in their fight over the federal budget. . . . God’s truth will not be silenced in this federal budget debate.”

In addition to the D.C. prayer rally, religious Americans gathered this weekend for prayer demonstrations and other acts of religious activism in Richmond, Va.; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., Dallas and Midland, Texas, Phoenix, Ariz., Cincinnati, Ohio, Seattle, Wash. and Sarasota, Fla. In Los Angeles, the Sisters of Social Service are celebrating their 85th anniversary as a congregation featuring a Super Vigil as part of their basic mission to respond to the social needs of society.

Following Sunday’s Washington rally, CWS’s Shupack said, “If no acceptable agreement is reached by the Super Committee in the short time before the deadline, Congress will now have an immediate need to vote to continue payroll tax relief and unemployment insurance for the sake of working Americans and the unemployed, and for the sake of an economy that needs this money circulating.
“During the months ahead, Congress will have to make decisions that are going to be fair and just before January 2013 when automatic deep cuts come in,” he said. “Congress will have to find a way to fiscal health by putting people back to work, increasing revenues and instituting only cuts that don’t harm the poor here and abroad.”

Shupack and the Interfaith leaders presenting at the Washington vigil are among those spearheading a Faithful Budget Campaign in recent months.

In July, the campaign organized high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of top religious leaders, daily prayer vigils near the U.S. Capitol Building and a peaceful demonstration in the Capitol Rotunda just days before Congress passed the debt ceiling compromise that culminated with the arrest of CWS’s Shupack and 10 other faith leaders for refusing to stop praying for the nation’s most vulnerable.

Over the past six weeks, the Faithful Budget Campaign and its network of religious worshipers have flooded congressional offices with telephone calls and letters encouraging them to preserve vital funding for the most vulnerable at home and worldwide.

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Million Gallons of Oil a Day Gush into Gulf of Mexico

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Interviews with surviving Deepwater Horizon rig workers show how explosions led to what may be the world’s worst oil spill

By David Randall

2010-05-12T172405Z_806941934_GM1E65D03XV01_RTRMADP_3_OIL-RIG-LEAK

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) holds a can of oil collected from the Gulf of Mexico during the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee hearing on the Deepwater Horizon Rig Oil Spill on Capitol Hill in Washington May 12, 2010.

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

An extraordinary account of how the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred emerged yesterday in leaked interviews with surviving workers from the rig. They said that a methane gas bubble had formed, rocketed to the surface and caused a series of fires and explosions which destroyed the rig and began the gushing of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening wildlife and coastal livelihoods. Oil-covered birds caught by the outer edges of the 135-mile slick are now being found.

Word also came yesterday that the oil spill may be five times worse than previously thought. Ian MacDonald, a biological oceanographer at Florida State University, said he believed, after studying Nasa data, that about one million gallons a day were leeching into the sea, and that the volume discharged may have already exceeded the 11 million gallons of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, widely regarded as the world’s worst marine pollution incident. Mr MacDonald said there was, as of Friday, possibly as much as 6,178 square miles of oil-covered water in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, at the site of the ill-fated well, a mile beneath the surface, a massive metal chamber had been positioned over the rupture so it could contain and then capture the bulk of the leaking oil. The operation, which uses undersea robots, and has never before been attempted at this depth and pressure. But last night, the formation of ice crystals meant the dome had to be moved away from the leak.

The interviews with rig workers, described to the Associated Press by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor, recall the chain reaction of events that led to the disaster. They said that on 20 April a group of BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project’s safety record. Far below, the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well.

The workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well, reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. But a chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.

As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurised shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers. “A small bubble becomes a really big bubble,” Professor Bea said. “So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face.”

Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240ft in the air. Then, gas surfaced, followed by oil. “What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig labourer was swoosh, boom, run,” he said. “The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing.” The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, he said. “That’s where the first explosion happened,” said Professor Bea, who worked for Shell Oil in the 1960s during the last big northern Gulf of Mexico oil well blow-out. “The mud room was next to the quarters where the party was. Then there was a series of explosions that subsequently ignited the oil that was coming from below.”

According to one interview transcript, a gas cloud covered the rig, causing giant engines on the drill floor to run too fast and explode. The engines blew off the rig and set “everything on fire”. Another explosion below blew more equipment overboard. The BP executives were injured but nine crew on the rig floor and two engineers died. “The furniture and walls trapped some and broke some bones, but they managed to get in the lifeboats with assistance from others,” said the transcript. The workers’ accounts are likely to be presented in some form to the hearings held by the US Coastguard and Minerals Management Service, which begin next week.

By then, the success of the dome-lowering, if it is resumed, will be known. On Friday, a BP-chartered vessel lowered a 100-ton concrete and steel vault on to the ruptured well in an attempt to stop most of the gushing crude from fouling the sea. “We are essentially taking a four-storey building and lowering it 5,000ft and setting it on the head of a pin,” said BP spokesman Bill Salvin. With the contraption on the seafloor, workers needed at least 12 hours to let it settle and stabilise before the robots could hook up a pipe and hose that will funnel the oil up to a tanker. By today, the box the size of a house could be capturing up to 85 per cent of the oil.

The task became urgent as toxic oil crept deeper into the bays and marshes of the Mississippi Delta. A sheen of oil began arriving on land last week, and crews have been laying booms, spraying chemical dispersants and setting fire to the slick to try to keep it from coming ashore. But now the thicker, stickier goo is drawing closer to Louisiana’s coastal communities.

There are still untold risks and unknowns with the containment box. The approach has never been tried at such depths, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine, and any wrong move could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse. The seafloor is pitch black and the water murky, though lights on the robots illuminate the area where they are working. If the box works, another one will be dropped on to a second, smaller leak at the bottom of the Gulf. At the same time, crews are drilling sideways into the well in the hope of plugging it up with mud and concrete, and they are working on other ways to cap it.

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Senate Gives “Audit the Fed” a Unanimous Victory

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Nichols

“The Fed can no longer operate in virtual secrecy,” declared Vermont independent Bernie Sanders Tuesday after the Senate voted 96-0 to add his “Audit the Fed” amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill.

The Senate amendment is not as muscular as the bipartisan legislation backed by the House, which was sponsored by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, an aggressive progressive, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an equally aggressive conservative with libertarian leanings. The Grayson-Paul bill authorizes audits by the Government Accountability Office of every item on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, including all credit facilities and all securities purchase programs; there would be exemption only for unreleased transcripts, minutes of closed-door meetings and the most recent decisions of the central bank. The Senate measure is narrower in its focus, but it would require the GAO to scrutinize some several trillion dollars in emergency lending that the Fed provided to big banks after the September 2008 economic meltdown.

The actual amount of public money that has been set aside for private banks is not known. That’s one reason why this audit is so important. But there can be no doubt that the figure is astronomical. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Wall Street Bailout Tally shows that since 2008, the U.S. government has flooded Wall Street banks and financial institutions with $4.7 trillion dollars in taxpayer money, mostly in the form of loans from the Fed reserve. The Fed has never told us which firms got these loans and what type of collateral American taxpayers got in return. This will now be revealed. We will also get an accounting of the Fed’s “stealth” bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Sanders tried to pass a broader amendment, but when he faced roadblocks — and the prospect that audit language might be excluded entirely from the final bill — he agreed to propose an amendment outlining the one-time audit of post-meltdown Fed activity.  That did not sit well with all senators. Even as Republicans such as New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg tried to prevent any demand for transparency, Louisiana Republican David Vitter proposed tougher language along the lines what Grayson and Paul pushed through the House. While most Democrats and a number of Republicans opposed the tougher language, Sanders joined the most serious reformers in the Democratic caucus — Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Virginia’s Jim Webb and Oregon’s Ron Wyden — in voting “yes.”

The Vitter amendment failed on a 62-37 vote and Feingold was especially disappointed.  “Unfortunately,” the Wisconsin progressive declared, “the defeat of the Vitter amendment means American taxpayers will still not have a complete picture of how one of the most powerful government agencies makes policy and spends their tax dollars.”

Still, Feingold acknowledged that, “Senator Sanders’ amendment will mean more transparency for the Federal Reserve, so the public will have a better idea of how it is spending taxpayer dollars.”

That transparency is consequential, noted Sanders. “Let’s be clear,” he explained, “when trillions of dollars of taxpayer money are being lent out to the largest financial institutions in this country, the American people have a right to know who received that money and what they did with it.  We also need to know what possible conflicts of interest exist involving the heads of large financial institutions who sat in the room helping to make those decisions.”

The “Audit the Fed” language that is included in the final legislation remains to be seen, as the differences between the House and Senate proposals will have to be reconciled by a conference committee. That will provide an opening for Grayson, Paul, Sanders and their allies to push for the broadest possible transparency. But, make no mistake, there will be pushback.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly refused to respond to demands from Sanders and others for information about the banks that have been bailed out by the taxpayers — and that continue to pad their accounts with public dollars. President Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their aides are critics of the “Audit the Fed” push, as well.

So why, with so much official opposition, did the “Audit the Fed” movement win a 96-0 vote in the Senate? Campaigners on the left and right made the issue a high priority. A good deal of credit must go to Sanders and Paul — long-time critics of the Fed who opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts and then steered anger at those bailouts toward the “Audit the Fed” movement — which was boosted on the left by websites such as Jane Hamsher’s Firedoglake and on the right by the Paul-linked Campaign for Liberty, as well as by outspoken economists such a Dean Baker and watchdog operations such as CMD’s BanksterUSA project.

Ultimately, however, much of the credit must go to Grayson, who embraced Paul’s proposal — which had languished in the House — and led the campaign to get Democrats to sign on to the bill. As Hamsher says, “Tremendous credit goes to Alan Grayson. It was Grayson who decided to take up Ron Paul’s bill and bring Democratic support for it.

Sanders, who took some hits for compromising, also deserves credit at this point for making sure, even when he was forced to trim back on his amendment, that critical elements of the initial proposal by Paul — especially the defined role for the GAO — were retained. That will make it harder for the Obama White House and their allies in the congressional leadership to gut the audit language in the conference committee.

There will, as well, be additional fights:

“While passage of Senator Sanders’ amendment will provide some long overdue accountability and transparency for the Federal Reserve, the overall bill still needs a lot of work,” said Feingold. In particular, Feingold and other real reformers have focused on the need for the bill to restore the firewall between Main Street banks and Wall Street securities firms and insurance companies, which contributed to financial institutions growing “too big to fail.”

While the bipartisan support for auditing the Fed represents a step in the right direction, Feingold is right when he says it is only one step on a long road toward addressing the way in which bad decisions by Congress “led to deregulation and the increased concentration of economic power and economic decision-making.”

John Nichols is Washington DC correspondent for The Nation magazine.

12-20

Musharraf wants to enter into Pakistani Politics with a Big Bang

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I will surely be in Pakistan before the next General Elections for one last contest: Musharraf in Houston

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         “You have mentioned in your English and Urdu newspapers that return of Musharraf is imminent. Now I will have to prove this statement,” said former President of Pakistan General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf, while talking to Pakistan Chronicle & Pakistan Journal Newspapers Publisher Tariq Nehal Khan and Marketing & Distribution Manager Mohammad Jameel Siddiqui, at luncheon held in his and his wife Mrs. Sehba Musharraf’s honor at the residence of famous Houston Attorney Nauman (Noami) Hussain. One day before this luncheon meeting, General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf and his wife had reached Houston and had meetings with members of a reputable think tank.

Large number of Pakistani Community and American personalities were present on the luncheon occasion, including Stephen Prentiss Payne, a most famous American lobbyist from Houston, Texas, who has been Mr. Musharraf’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C.; Counsel General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem and his wife; Former City Councilman Masrur Javed Khan; Former Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Dr. Naseem Ashraf and many more. Sumptuous luncheon of Mezban Restaurant and Demasis Mediterranean Restaurant was served.

Naomi Hussain introduced Pervez Musharraf as the person, who after President Bush said either you are with us or with the terrorists; stood besides USA. Musharraf started his ten minutes presentation by thanking Naomi Hussain & his wife and everyone in the large gathering and said whatever he did after 9/11 was first in the interest of Pakistan, then of the world and of course USA.

Talking about his political future, he said disinformation is being implanted into various Pakistani media that when I recently visited Washington, D.C., not a single important person met me. If it is not for privacy issues, he said he would have mentioned the names of top officials, with whom he had concrete talks; and that would have meant restless days and sleepless nights for these persons, who are merely doing false propaganda.

Former President Pervez Musarraf said that ground realty is recently I started my face-book and got the most clicks by any person in a day in the whole world, resulting in an interview with Becky Anderson of CNN in London England. I do a Q-&-A session every 14th day on my face-book and 85% of the people want me to return to Pakistan and play a positive role in the political arena of Pakistan. Several seasoned and credible politicians of Pakistan recently met him in Middle East and everyone wants his return. Nature is with him in that he is the only alive notable personality of Pakistan, who has the chance to take politicians, bureaucracy and arm-forces of Pakistan together and that present & future of Pakistan needs a personality, who especially has these credentials.

He said at present with no real responsibilities and traveling to various places for speaking tours, he is living very peacefully and in serenity. But when calls to return for the betterment of Pakistan reach him, they make him to think hard and he is at presently considering to remain living comfortably or returning to Pakistan and work hard to make the country the best in the world. He said he is strongly inclined to return as Pakistan comes first; for sure before the next national elections and final word will be coming from his camp within the next two months.

“I just do not want to return and be a mediocre player in Pakistani politics. I want to return with a big bang and give Pakistani people a real third choice in politics, where present government has failed miserably in resolving issues and problems have compounded, while on the other hand, we have Nawaz Sharif & PML (N). Mr. Sharif has some kink in his brain, as he is always confronting with some; previously with 4 Generals and presently making agreements with the government but then at time becoming angry and at other times remains quiet. I have called Mr. Sharif a Closet Taleban, who as in Urdu we say have beard in the tummy; he is most dangerous for Pakistan and for everybody. I am sure I will able to provide the most viable Third National Choice in the next elections. Pakistan deserves better leadership and if I do not try, that will not be good. I am not scared of failure. I will give it the best try,” said Musharraf amidst applause.

General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf said there is figure of Pakistan, who is more than 25 years veteran politician, but now-a-days dormant (he said he does not want to give his name). When recently he called him to get suggestions about future and referenced the scene from a famous cowboy movie, where only one bullet is left and person is contemplating to go back for one last fight or not. Musharraf was told by this politician that it is better to go back for one last fight and he may very well find this dormant politician besides him.

Former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf said the way so many people have here to Naomi’s home, similarly people in other cities, like recently Chicago have met him. But all this effort is scattered. He said if you see him to work hard for Pakistan and Pakistanis, it is necessary that those who are in favor of my thumping return to Pakistan, collect their resources and efforts.

12-20

War & Water in South Asia

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

12-20

Obama Fights ‘Otherization’

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

of Muslims, through Envoy Rashad Hussain

By Josh Gerstein, Politico

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT
 

President Barack Obama’s aggressive outreach to the Muslim American community is reducing its sense of isolation, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Muslim world told a conference in Washington Wednesday evening.

“We’ve really started to knock down that sense of otherization,” said Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer who also serves as liaison to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain defined the rather esoteric term “otherization” as a sense that many Muslims had during the Bush years that their value or danger to society was viewed solely through the prism of terrorism.

“Muslims … sometimes feel like they don’t have as much of a stake or a role in the future of the country,” Hussain told the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy conference. “That’s something that all of the engagement that the United States has done on these issues both internationally and domestically has helped to counter.”

Hussain was the keynote speaker at the session, which marked one year since Obama’s historic speech in Cairo last April, where he attempted to reset America’s relationship with Muslims around the globe.

In many ways, the most remarkable thing about Hussain’s speech was the context in which it took place: a conference that featured explicitly “Islamist” political leaders from Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as a provocative Oxford scholar whom the Bush administration effectively banned from the U.S., Tariq Ramadan. Many Republicans, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, continue to use the term “Islamist” to describe enemies of the U.S. The GOP politicians also fault Obama for failing to recognize the threat such an ideology poses to the U.S.

Giuliani’s view is pretty much 180 degrees from the prevailing sentiment at Wednesday’s conference. “There doesn’t really seem to be much of a debate about whether engagement with Islamists should happen,” Professor Peter Mandeville of George Mason University declared. “There really is no other alternative. The question now is about the nature of that engagement … rather than the question of whether this is something the United States should do.”

In his 20-minute speech and a subsequent Q & A session, Hussain generally stuck to Obama’s rhetorical formulation of using the term “violent extremism” for what the Bush folks — and just about everyone else — used to call “terrorism.” However, Hussain did use the T-word a couple of times. He touted the U.S. commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to a diplomatic resolution of tensions with Iran, to avoiding religious- and nationality-based profiling in airport security screening and to freedom for Muslims around the world to wear Islamic garb.

In response to a question about the U.S. willingness to deal with Taliban members who are prepared to renounce violence, Hussain said, “The U.S. will engage those groups that are lawfully elected and are lawfully part of the political process and don’t engage in violence, and that is a commitment that is demonstrated over a set period of time.”

Pressed by a questioner urging U.S. action against Israel over its refusal to end settlement-building activity, Hussain didn’t offer much to satisfy the pro-Palestinian audience. “The best way to address that issue is to get negotiations between the parties back on track again. … It’s not something that you will see this administration walk away from,” he said.

Hussain did seem a tad exasperated by complaints that, despite the vaunted Muslim outreach campaign, Obama has failed to visit a mosque in the U.S. as president. “If there is this silver bullet people are looking for, that the president visit a religious center in the United States, I’m sure there will be an appropriate time for that as well,” Hussain said.

Shortly after his appointment as the OIC envoy earlier this year, Hussain grabbed some headlines for a flap over comments he made in 2004 describing the Bush administration’s actions against some terror suspects as “politically motivated persecutions.” He initially said he had no recollection of making the remarks, but after POLITICO obtained a recording of the presentation he conceded he’d made the comments and called them “ill-conceived or not well-formulated.”

12-19

Obama to Hold Global Summit if Latest Middle East Talks Fail

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT

File:  U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden smile as they are pictured with bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 21, 2010.

REUTERS/Jason Reed 

Barack Obama could call a world summit by the end of the year to pave the way for a Palestinian state should hoped-for peace talks bring no breakthrough in coming months.

The US President is understood to have informed European leaders of his plan to break an Israeli-Palestinian deadlock if negotiations have not borne fruit by September or October, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz cited unidentified Israeli officials as saying.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday told reporters that special envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the Middle East next week, when she said that proximity talks – the first since peace talks stalled in January 2008 – would begin again. The planned return to the negotiating table was delayed last month after a row over Israeli plans to build new homes in East Jerusalem.

If those talks are again knocked off course, a broader summit will become more likely. The four members of the Middle East Quartet negotiating group – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – would be expected to play a leading role in the summit to present a united front, the paper said. The summit would address core issues, including Jerusalem and final borders.

The bold move reflects Mr Obama’s resolve to find a solution to the decades-old conflict that has eluded his predecessors and raises the possibility that Washington might seek to impose its own settlement on the parties, a prospect viewed with hostility by Israeli politicians.

Mr Obama has placed negotiations at the forefront of his political agenda while acknowledging that a continued stalemate threatens the US’s own security interests.

After months of intense US diplomacy in the region, the indirect “proximity” talks represent the best chance of a breakthrough in the peace process.

While a final settlement has appeared tantalisingly close in the past, few Palestinians believe that a solution can be reached without outside help, and Israelis repeatedly insist they have no partner for peace.

“Leaving the peacemaking hostage to agreements between both sides is not a good idea,” said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority. “The international community has to play a larger role.”

Earlier this month, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Mr Obama to impose a peace solution, a plea that will have worried Israeli officials, who insist that a negotiated solution between the two parties is the only way out of the impasse.

Mr Obama’s efforts to bring both sides to talks have stalled over the critical issue of Jewish settlements in Arab-dominated East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and later annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestinians covet East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas backed out of talks in early March after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by the US Vice-President Joe Biden. The resulting row plunged relations between Israel and the US, its closest ally, to their lowest point in recent memory.

A US State Department official declined to confirm back-up plans for a global summit, saying: “Peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside. Our focus remains on seeing the discussions that are under way lead to formal negotiations that will address all of the complex issues.”

12-19

Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

US Muslims Condemn Times Square Attack

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By KWTX

WASHINGTON (May 5, 2010)–In separate statements, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, pledged their loyal citizenship and support for law enforcement and condemned the botched attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square.

CAIR’s National Executive Director Nihad Awad said, “In no way, shape or form does this attack represent the American Muslim community and what we stand for as a faith community.”

Authorities in New York have brought terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges against Faisal Shahzad, who’s a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan.

A criminal complaint says Shahzad confessed to buying an SUV, rigging it with a homemade bomb and driving it Saturday night into Times Square, where he tried to detonate it.

12-19

PAKPAC Condemns NY Attempted Bomb Plot

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

“Washington DC: May 4th, 2010: The Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee (PAKPAC) condemns the Times Square attempted attempted bomb plot over the weekend. We appreciate the efforts of the New York Police Department as well as the FBI and vigilant NY residents in responding to this incident and saving hundreds of lives. PAKPAC is shocked and saddened to learn that the prime suspect is of Pakistani heritage. Though details of the case are still being uncovered and investigations are on going, we denounce this attempted attack on our soil and seek that this individual or any accomplice, to be tried and punished under American Judicial system. Whether this is an act of a lone individual or a group, it harms everyone and benefits no one. As a community, we should have zero tolerance for such acts as they damage and disrupt the way of life of Americans. 

“PAKPAC agrees with President Obama’s call for all citizens to be vigilant, it maybe be recalled that it was reporting by a vigilant NY resident that stopped this tragic incident from happening. PAKPAC and Pakistani Americans are committed to protect and defend the United States of America. We ask the Pakistani Americans and American Muslims to demonstrate an iron resolve against terrorism and to remain vigilant and continue to report anything that is illegal or suspicious to law enforcement agencies.

“Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stated on the “Today” show that it was premature to label any person or group as suspect. “Right now, every lead has to be pursued,” she said. “I caution against premature decisions one way or the other.”  PAKPAC requests  that the U.S. law enforcement agencies and American community to safeguard the civil rights of the thousands of law abiding Pakistani Americans and ensure that there is no backlash against the community, locally in Connecticut or across the nation. Pakistani American community seeks to work together with the Obama Administration and law enforcement  agencies, and to provide them with resources to protect the safety of our nation and its citizens.

“The US ambassador to Islamabad Anne Patterson held talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on this issue. Mr. Qureshi assured Pakistan’s full cooperation to US in this regard. The nation of Pakistan along with its armed forces has given unprecedented sacrifices in US-led war on terrorism. It is estimated that over five thousand Pakistani military and civilians have lost their lives, while Pakistan economy has suffered a loss of $35 billion since September 11 attack. PAKPAC welcomes the full cooperation offered by Pakistan Government.

“PAKPAC is monitoring this developing situation and will keep you updated periodically.”

FOR FURTHER CONTACT:

Executive Director: Irfan Malik   ED@pakpac.net    202 558 6404
Connecticut contact: Saud Anwar   saud.anwar@pakpac.net   202 558 6404

The Pakistani (Acting) Consul General For the West Coast of the United States

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Muhammad Khalid Ejaz

Los Angeles–April 10th–My last two articles came out of a discussion with the Indian (former) Ambassador to Afghanistan.  I was fortunate to hear a speech of the (Acting) Consul-General of Pakistan to the Western United State at the South Asian Studies Association (S.A.S.A) banquet here at U.S.C. (the University of Southern California).  His comments balanced those of Ambassador Maukapadya in Berkeley a month before.

Dr. Ejaz stated that Pakistan was the fifth most populous country in the world, but because of political disruptions over the land, (there has not been an accurate census since 1991, but it is safe to say that in early 1994, the inhabitants of Pakistan were appropriately estimated at 126 million, making it the ninth most populous country in the world although its land area, however, ranks thirty-second among nations.  Thus, Pakistan, then, had about 2 percent of the world’s population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world’s land. The population growth rate is among the world’s highest, officially assessed at 3.1 percent per annum, but privately considered to be closer to 3.3 percent for each year. Pakistan is assumed to have reached 150 million citizens ten years ago, and to have contributed to 4 percent of the world’s growth which is predicted to double by 2022.)  All this past paragraph demonstrates is that the  Consul-General’s approximation of Pakistan’s place in population today in relation to the demographics of the world probably is close to correct.

Strategically, his nation is at the intersection of four vital locales to the U.S. and to the developing world.  That is both Central and South Asia, and the Middle East and with China on its border connected by the Karkoram Highway.  Several of these regions are either oil/gas rich, or require Pakistan’s help to transport this energy to their ever-expanding economies.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Rawapindi was America’s most allied of (trusted) allies.  Now, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) fulfills that function for Washington. 

In the 1980s, the two countries joined forces to help defeat the Russians in Afghanistan, but the District of Columbia deserted not only the Pakistanis, (but the Afghani and foreign fighters in the Hindu Kush Mountains. With the retreat of the Russians, and the collapse of their empire [the U.S.S.R, or [the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic], and [the whole “Second World” with it]), a five-way Civil War developed in Afghanistan, and eventually the rise of Taliban.) 

Thus, (your author consigns the blame the roots of 9/11 on the Reagan Administration ill-advised policy of not providing development aid and skills to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This, in turn, has lead to our current War in the Pakistani-Afghanistani Mountains.  That is why your writer designates Reagan to have been one of the worst of American Presidents instead of one of the best which the vulgar declare him to be in the Metropole [the Center of Empire] here.  Besides Washington’s airport being named after, there is a movement to put his face on the fifty dollar bill!).

After the ninth of 9th of September 2001 Islamabad was (forced) to become a front line State once again.  Ejaz asserted our allied relationship with the U.S.A. should evolve into a more equitable one.  We should have a “normalized” relationship with both those in the West, (and with the Taliban)!

We (Pakistan) are, also, under the threat of terrorism whose roots reside along the Durand Line.  It is a porous border that dives a subnationality (the Pashtoons) that should have a right to regularly cross that frontier to visit their relatives on the other side!  We cannot seal the borderland where the tribes exist in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It is true, though, many things that happen on the Afghani side of the border deeply impact the Northwest Frontier Provinces.

With this porous borderland, there are fighters who cross into our country for sanctuary.  Thus, despite the West’s accusations, Rawalpindi has suffered high casualties!  Muhammad Khalid Ejaz called on the U.S.A. to become more involved with development in the Af-Pak territories.  There is a serious problem between Pakistan and India, too, over water rights; the great powers could help negotiate this.  Still, Pakistan, as a nuclear power, has issues with nuclear India.  He affirmed that Kashmir can be settled!

He concluded that the U.S.A. has a role in the Afghan conflict, but the tribes have to have their traditional rights of cross-border movement.

12-19

Muslim Business Leaders Invited by Democrats

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

The blowback of the Bush administration’s fierce pressure against Muslims has been the movement of once stalwart Republican Muslims over firmly to the Democratic camp.  Thus, 28 powerful Muslim businessmen and politicians flocked to a Democratic fundraiser in Washington, meeting with White House and Democratic Congressional leaders on April 14th and 15th–a project sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The event was organized by Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the two Muslim congressmen.

It comprised on the first day (April 14) a visit to the White House, and on the second day (April 15) a breakfast and meeting with House Democratic Congressional leaders.

This meeting was actually the second annual DCCC “Leadership Summit.” The delegation of 28 Muslims went to the White House and met with White House senior advisor Valerie Bowman Jarrett (Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Relations), who interestingly was born to American parents in Iran and speaks Persian.

The delegation had a very friendly and fraternal meeting with congressmen including Keith Ellison and Andre Carson,  and the following Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip James Clyburn, DCCC Chaimran Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the House Finance Committee Barney Fank, Chairman of Ways and Means Committee Sandy Levin, Chairman of the Homeland Securiity Committee Bennie Thompson, as well as seven other members of congress, and the DCCC executive director Jon Vogel.  The friendly nature of the meeting is evidenced by the testimony of attendees and also by the warmth of the discussions from pictures from the event.

Saeed Patel, a prominent New Jersey businessman, President of Amex Computers, said of the two days of meetings that “the main theme was making introductions, raising concerns, and the second thing was promotion of business.”

“Ellison now has been looking into arranging trade delegations to other countries, including India,” explained Mr. Patel–”he’s focusing on Muslim countries but there are also 150 million Muslims in India.”

Patel attended a recent such trade commission to Turkey.  “We went to Turkey last year–one week, different places, to promote trade.  We were hosted by the US ambassador in Ankara.  We met quite a few people… made a lot of contacts.”

“I am hopeful,” he said.  There can be “a lot of business between here and Turkey.”

The delegates, as described by Mr. Patel, included “a lot of people, some social activists, some doctors.”

“I felt that [Democratic leaders] were very gracious–they went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable.  Pelosi, Jarrett, all were very nice.  Very sympathetic.”

The honorable Mohammed Hameeduddin, a city councilman of Teaneck NJ, explained that his  agenda was “racial profiling.”

As an example, Hameeduddin cited the recent visit by Saeed Patel to Turkey–saying Patel on his return trip was “treated harshly by the TSA.”

“I expressed my views to Pelosi, Frank, and Benny Thompson,” said Hameeduddin.

Patel explained that the meeting was “very promising, Ellison and Carson both mentioned that, and Jarrett–this is not just hello and goodbye, this is hello and more hello, more interaction.”  The democrats communicated that “You are more than welcome, give us your personal opinions and experiences to take into account.”

“It was a good exchange,” said Patel.  “Nobody was holding back, everyone was speaking his mind.”

Some of the delegates expressed some consternation, he said, that Obama and the Democrats have been in office more than a year and yet there is still harassment in travel.

Benny Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, explained in seriousness that if a person is mistreated by airport security personnel he should “always get the name of the person disrespectful to you.”  But he also quipped, “Not too long ago your community was Republican, was it not?”

Patel explained that a follow-up meeting is in the works with Attorney General Eric Holder, on the subject of civil rights abuses against Muslims.

12-17

Taliban for Peace?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Supreme Leader Signals Willingness To Talk Peace

By Stephen Grey in Kandahar

AFGHANISTAN/

Taliban fighters pose in front of a burning German military vehicle in Isaa Khail village of Char Dara district of the northern Kunduz Province April 3, 2010. Three German soldiers were killed and five others seriously injured in fighting in Kunduz, the German Army Command in Potsdam said on Friday.

REUTERS/Wahdat

April 18, 2010 “The Times” — The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has indicated that he and his followers may be willing to hold peace talks with western politicians.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, two of the movement’s senior Islamic scholars have relayed a message from the Quetta shura, the Taliban’s ruling council, that Mullah Omar no longer aims to rule Afghanistan. They said he was prepared to engage in “sincere and honest” talks.

A senior US military source said the remarks reflected a growing belief that a “breakthrough” was possible. “There is evidence from many intelligence sources [that] the Taliban are ready for some kind of peace process,” the source said.

At a meeting held at night deep inside Taliban-controlled territory, the Taliban leaders told this newspaper that their military campaign had only three objectives: the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners and the restoration of security.

“[Mullah Omar] is no longer interested in being involved in politics or government,” said Mullah “Abdul Rashid”, the elder of the two commanders, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity.

“All the mujaheddin seek is to expel the foreigners, these invaders, from our country and then to repair the country’s constitution. We are not interested in running the country as long as these things are achieved.”

The interview was conducted by a reputable Afghan journalist employed by The Sunday Times with two members of the shura that directs Taliban activity across the whole of southern Afghanistan, including Helmand and Kandahar provinces. It was arranged through a well established contact with the Taliban’s supreme leadership.

Looking back on five years in government until they were ousted after the attacks in America on September 11, 2001, the Taliban leaders said their movement had become too closely involved in politics.

Abdul Rashid said: “We didn’t have the capability to govern the country and we were surprised by how things went. We lacked people with either experience or technical expertise in government.

“Now all we’re doing is driving the invader out. We will leave politics to civil society and return to our madrasahs [religious schools].”

The Taliban’s position emerged as an American official said colleagues in Washington were discussing whether President Barack Obama could reverse a long-standing US policy and permit direct American talks with the Taliban.

If the Taliban’s military aims no longer included a takeover of the Afghan government, this would represent “a major and important shift”, the US official said.

The Taliban objectives specified on their website had already shifted, Nato officials said, from the overthrow of the “puppet government” to the more moderate goal of establishing a government wanted by the Afghan people.

In the interview, the two leaders insisted that reports of contact between the Taliban and the Kabul government were a “fraud” and stemmed from claims made by “charlatans”. Up to now, no officially sanctioned talks have taken place, they said.

They laid down no preconditions for substantive negotiations, saying simply that the Taliban were ready for “honest dialogue”. Another Taliban source with close links to the Quetta shura said the movement was willing to talk directly to “credible” western politicians, including Americans, but not to intelligence agencies such as the CIA.

This source said that although the Taliban’s unwavering objective remained the withdrawal of all foreign troops, their preconditions for talks might now be limited to guarantees of security for their delegates and a Nato ceasefire.

According to a Nato intelligence source, Taliban representatives have established direct contact with several ministers in President Hamid Karzai’s government. But they refuse to have any direct contact with Karzai, whom they regard as an “illegitimate puppet”.

During an interview that lasted for several hours and was interrupted only by the coming and going of messengers on motorbikes, our reporter heard nothing from the Taliban leaders to suggest that the movement was weary of war, as some western analysts have claimed.

Instead, he was told that the Taliban believe they are winning and are able to negotiate from a position of strength. Asked about a forthcoming Nato offensive in the Kandahar region, a local Taliban commander who sat alongside the two scholars boasted: “We’re ready for this. We’re going to break the Americans’ teeth.”

The Taliban leaders said that lessons had been learnt from Nato’s last big offensive in the Marjah area of Helmand province earlier this year. When Nato gave advance notice of the operation, the Taliban were lured into sending too many fighters to the area, some of whom died.

The leaders said that in Kandahar a plan to counter Nato had already been prepared.

“There will be no surprise there,” said Abdul Rashid. “We have our people inside all positions in the city, in the government and the security forces.”

He added that America already had enough problems “to haunt her” and fighting in Kandahar would only turn more people against it.

“People don’t trust the foreigners because they are backing the warlords. People are fed up with crime and brutality and that’s a big problem for the Americans. We’re well positioned, with supporters everywhere.”

As they prepare for the traditional summer fighting season, the Taliban leaders are placing as much emphasis as Nato on winning the hearts and minds of the population.

Abdul Rashid said there had been Taliban commanders who had financed their campaigns by taking bribes to give safe passage to Nato supply convoys or from drug smugglers. But the Taliban’s leadership had ordered a halt to this.

“What we do is not for a worldly cause — it is for the sake of Allah. More important than the fighting for us now is the process of purification. We are getting rid of all the rotten apples,” he said.

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Negotiating with the Taliban?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Sleeping” with the Enemy”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Differences Between the U.S., Afghani and Indian Governments

Point Isabel, Point Richmond (Calif.)–Your author is taking his subtitle from a less than notable American film of several years ago to finish up his report on the recent Indian Ambassador to Kabul’s comments , Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

At the moment your reporter finds himself at a lovely promontory pointing into San Francisco Bay, and it seems strange to be considering so many matters so far away that I begun two weeks ago from Berkeley.  At that time I decided to divide the presentation into two parts because of its length.

Mukhopadhaya continued on how the political position amongst the American voters regarding Afghanistan was shifting away from support to criticism of official military policy in the Hindu Kush.  Therefore, the District of Columbia had to change its tactics in response.

Pakistan operates in this War as it perceives to its own interests.  Thus, the Ambassador deems that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) allies in the Hindu Kush consider Rawalpindi to be unreliable — which is far from the truth in your writer’s opinion. 

Both the U.S. and Pakistan are targeting the Taliban, (but Islamabad only considers one branch of the Taliban to be hostile to their interests.  The other four branches – which are within their territory, too – they do not consider a threat, and all these parties are comparatively accommodating to the other – including Pakistan.  Up to 80% of the Pakistani Taliban resides in the federally administered Northwest Provinces.)

The Americans and Pakistani Armies mutually oppose one “clan” of Taliban, and they are fully within Islamabad’s Federally Administered Territories.  Thus, Peshawar sees no threat to their survival from the Afghani Taliban. 

Further, Washington sees no alternative to the Karzai government that the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives as militarily undependable.  At the same time, the U.S. Administration comprehends Kazai’s Presidency to be a corruptible one – an uneasy alliance to say the least! 

In the London Conference on the Afghani conflict last January (2010), the European and Canadian allies supported the “Afghanization” of the War and the “regularization” (normalization) of our relations with the Taliban!  This, hopefully, would lead to meaningful discussions and, eventually, peace within the Mountains!  These talks should be mutually respectful between each party – including the Taliban.

At same time, the Indian representative from New Delhi’s Department of External Affairs had to take a dig at their traditional competitors:  “We need leadership from the Pakistanis!”  (This struggle beyond the Khyber is an opportunity to bring these two South Asian nuclear neighbors closer together instead of tearing them further apart to the dangerous detriment to all!)  His Excellency accused D.C. of a failure of leadership during this international crisis.  To settle the military security, he urged U.S.-Pakistan operations.  (Of course, the loss of Islamabad’s national sovereignty would be totally unacceptable to its Muslim citizenry, and put the security of Pakistan’s topography under question for its Western and regional allies!)  Simultaneously, the Saudis close allies to both, are working with Islamabad and Washington to bring their policies closer together.

On the other hand, the Taliban itself is fed-up.  The London Conference approved the Taliban’s grasp of the countryside while NATO and the Afghani government would occupy the cities.  This is not the battle plan of these “Students.”  They wish to hold the total fasces within the dry, cold hills, and their mindset is far from compromise at this time.

Yet the Americans presume that they have an upper hand, and, correspondingly, are in the position of strength to negotiate with their adversaries.  Actually, it is the Pakistanis who are central for negotiating with the problem some Quetta branch of the Talibani. The Pakistani Army has already begun to begin dialogue in Baluchistan.  Rawalpindi considers it has made some progress, and the Generals at their Military Headquarters are encouraged by their discourse with the irregular tribesmen.

The U.S.A. has been following a contradictory policy in the Af-Pak itself.  While D.C. has been throwing development funds in Southern Afghanistan, it has been shoring up the military on the frontlines in Pakistan.

Ultimately, though, Ambassador Maukapadya does not discern a desire by the Taliban to parley.  In the late 1990s, the Taliban regime in Kabul led the U.S. on their intentions.  (Your essayist has some questions about this, and that is His Excellency is not separating the goals of a Nationalist Taliban and an Internationalist Al’Quaeda.)  Would the Taliban be willing to form a coalition government with Karzai or whoever may succeed him (them)?  (Whatever, a re-establishment of the regime of the 1990s is totally unacceptable to International Civil Society without the checks and balances of the partnership of all Afghani peoples and tribes!)  The Ambassador is “…not optimistic.” 

There is preparation for a major NATO assault upon the Taliban stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar, the center of Talibani power.  Maukapadya  does not feel the battle will turn the War around.

Concurrently, Europe and North America and their regional associates are employing dual strategies against the Taliban who are replying in kind.  This War is far from coming to a mutually acceptable denouement.

12-17

Female Squash Player from Waziristan

April 22, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Khurram Shahzad, Pakistan Link

maria-toor-608

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Sports Pir Aftab Shah Jillani presenting Maria Toor with a cash award as her family looks on during a ceremony to reward top players on the national circuit in Islamabad.

-Photo by APP

Pakistan’s squash champion Maria Toor Pakay cut her teeth fighting boys in a tribal district synonymous with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, defying convention to become a trailblazer in her sport.

She hails from South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal belt branded by Washington as the most dangerous place in the world. It is rife with militant groups, while tribal customs often force women to remain at home.

None of that stopped 19-year-old Pakay, however, who is now Pakistan’s top-rated female squash player and the world number 85.

“I never acted like a girl and always played and fought with the tribal boys,” she told AFP in the northwestern city of Peshawar, now her home.

“My early days roaming around the Shakai streets wearing boys’ clothes and fighting against them eventually made me an independent young woman.”

Dressed in shorts and smart T-shirt, hair boyishly cut above the neck, she would stand out in her home village of Shakai, on the outskirts of South Waziristan’s capital Wana, where many women wear the all-encompassing burka.

Muscular Pakay smacks the ball against the wall almost 30 times in a minute. Face perspiring with aggression and gripping the racket tightly, she moves swiftly across the squash court.

It was Pakay’s father Shamsul Qayum, a government servant and elder of the Wazir tribe, who first noticed her athletic potential. Concerned about her days spent brawling with street boys, he decided to channel her anger into sports.

Risking the scorn of his conservative Muslim tribe, he took his daughter to Peshawar and began training her as a weightlifter.

But with few opportunities for female weightlifters in Pakistan, he was forced to disguise 10-year-old Pakay as a boy and enter her in the National Boys Weightlifting Championship under a fake boy’s name, Changez Khan.

“And Changez Khan won the championship!” Pakay says with a laugh.

“It was the first step for me, my first achievement, and then I never got scared by any pressure, restrictions or tribal tradition.”

It was a meeting soon after with former world squash champion Jansher Khan that set Pakay’s life on its current course, and in 2004 she became Pakistan’s top female squash player and started climbing the international ranks.

She has risen seven places in the world rankings in the past month, and made the semi-finals of the World Junior Squash Championship in India last year.

She is a regular player on the Malaysian circuit, and aims this year to participate in the Cayman Islands Open and the Texas Open Championship.

But her determination to defy tradition and champion girls’ sports in the conservative northwest has won her some enemies.

Taliban militants who operate across swathes of the northwest oppose co-education of girls and boys and advocate a harsh brand of law, staging bomb attacks to try and advance their aims.

“I have received some threats from unknown people who have advised me to stop playing and going out of the house, otherwise they would kill me. But they can’t detract me… I would never quit playing,” she tells AFP.

“I feel pity for other women of the area, they are confined in the walls and have no rights. I feel pity for my cousins, who don’t have rights and can’t go out, and who have to wear burkas.”

Although she is glad to be free from the restrictions of tribal customs, Pakay says she owes a great deal to her upbringing in the badlands along the Afghan border, which sit outside direct government control.

“My strong muscles are a gift from hiking the rocks of Shakai. I love the solid mountains and feel sorry that I can’t go there now,” she said.

The streets of Shakai where Pakay once fought neighborhood boys have now become a battlefield for the Taliban and Pakistan’s armed forces.

The military sent 30,000 troops into South Waziristan in October last year to try and quash Taliban strongholds, and the fighting rages on.

The instability was one of the reasons Pakay’s father wanted her to break free of the tribal region and he has nothing but pride now in his daughter’s achievements, despite the reaction from his Wazir tribe.

“They call me honorless and say you have lost pride and gone away from the traditions of Islam and the tribe,” Shamsul Qayum told AFP. “But I don’t care, I have won for my girl and her victories are my pride.”

12-17

Community News (V12-I17)

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Parvez Ahmed nominated to serve on Human Rights Commission

Dr. Parvez Ahmed, assistant professor of finance at University of North Florida, has been nominated by the mayor of Jacksonville to serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission.

“There are some here that believe they caught somebody that’s an evil person,” Mayor John Delaney told the council committee. “That is not the case here. It has the feel of lynching. It has the feel of what happened to the Japanese citizens on the West Coast in World War II who were incarcerated for simply being who they were.”

There were two protestors at the council meeting one of whom was escorted out.

The council committee voted to approve the nomination. The process will be complete when the full council votes later on.

Ahmed’s nomination was opposed by councilman Clay Yarborough who had earlier voted in his favor but reverses his stance this week. He did not cite the reason.

“I think there is a lot of fear, and the fear is exploited by people with definite agendas who have stated agendas of disempowering Muslims in America,” Ahmed said.

Young Muslims in US Seek Homegrown Imams

By Vidushi Sinha | Voice of America

The Muslim population in the United States is growing, and so is its need for spiritual guidance. A new generation American Muslims is demanding more from local mosques than they can always provide.

“It’s not what you see on television or it’s not what people are talking about or a dress code or whatever. It’s about being good to your fellow man, about being good to your God. That’s all it is. That’s what it is,” said Adeel Zeb, an aspiring imam and a Muslim chaplain at American University in Washington. He reaches out to young Muslims with what he calls the real message of Islam.

Zeb says there is often a disconnect between young Muslims and the foreign born leaders who head many mosques in the United States.

“When a youth comes and approaches the imam who comes from a different country – first of all there is a language barrier, second of all, there is a cultural barrier, and then there is also an age barrier. Many barriers have to be overcome,” he said.

Sayyid Syeed is a top official with the Islamic Society of North America. He concedes that many imams at American mosques are from overseas, but he says that’s beginning to change.

“We had to reject some imams who only knew the Koran, but could not relate themselves to the people. They came with the mentality that did not fit with our constituency where you have men and women actively in the leadership positions of islamic centers and these imams who came from overseas could not reconcile themselves with the fact that women were running the islamic centers,” he said.

In many Islamic countries, the imam’s   sole job is to lead the prayer. But here in  the United States, they often serve a  broader role.

“It is much more about leading the community than leading just the prayer,” said Sheikh Shaker Elsayed, the imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia. “Here you are a judge, you are an arbitrator, you are a mediator, you are a psychologist, you are a psychiatrist at times and you are a friend. You are a brother, you are a leader, a teacher, and all of those combined, and everybody wants to pick from you what they need.”

Imam Elsayed came from Egypt three decades ago. “The learning curve of most imams is very steep. It takes an average of five to eight years for an imam to become a true, local, effective imam, especially when you move from your very small environment to a big, large, open environment like the United States,” he said.

But young American Muslims often have questions that require more immediate answers. “You need an imam who has an understanding of Muslim life here. I know I grew up around a mosque I went to only twice a year,” said Tanim Awwal.

The community at large understands the need for an imam who knows the turmoil a Muslim American goes through while growing up in a non-Muslim country.

“You have to reach them at high school level, at the college level when they are exploring. When they are learning, when their mind is still young and receptive,” said Adeel Zeb.

Zeb argues that Muslim Americans want a spiritual guide who can help to reconcile 14 centuries of Islamic scholarship with the modern traditions of American life.

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White House Quietly Courts Muslims in U.S.

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Elliott, NY Times

When President Obama took the stage in Cairo last June, promising a new relationship with the Islamic world, Muslims in America wondered only half-jokingly whether the overture included them. After all, Mr. Obama had kept his distance during the campaign, never visiting an American mosque and describing the false claim that he was Muslim as a “smear” on his Web site.

Nearly a year later, Mr. Obama has yet to set foot in an American mosque. And he still has not met with Muslim and Arab-American leaders. But less publicly, his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.

Muslim and Arab-American advocates have participated in policy discussions and received briefings from top White House aides and other officials on health care legislation, foreign policy, the economy, immigration and national security. They have met privately with a senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss civil liberties concerns and counterterrorism strategy.

The impact of this continuing dialogue is difficult to measure, but White House officials cited several recent government actions that were influenced, in part, by the discussions. The meeting with Ms. Napolitano was among many factors that contributed to the government’s decision this month to end a policy subjecting passengers from 14 countries, most of them Muslim, to additional scrutiny at airports, the officials said.

That emergency directive, enacted after a failed Dec. 25 bombing plot, has been replaced with a new set of intelligence-based protocols that law enforcement officials consider more effective.

Also this month, Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic, visited the United States for the first time in six years after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reversed a decision by the Bush administration, which had barred Mr. Ramadan from entering the country, initially citing the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Mrs. Clinton also cleared the way for another well-known Muslim professor, Adam Habib, who had been denied entry under similar circumstances.

Arab-American and Muslim leaders said they had yet to see substantive changes on a variety of issues, including what they describe as excessive airport screening, policies that have chilled Muslim charitable giving and invasive F.B.I. surveillance guidelines. But they are encouraged by the extent of their consultation by the White House and governmental agencies.

“For the first time in eight years, we have the opportunity to meet, engage, discuss, disagree, but have an impact on policy,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. “We’re being made to feel a part of that process and that there is somebody listening.”

In the post-9/11 era, Muslims and Arab-Americans have posed something of a conundrum for the government: they are seen as a political liability but also, increasingly, as an important partner in countering the threat of homegrown terrorism. Under President George W. Bush, leaders of these groups met with government representatives from time to time, but said they had limited interaction with senior officials. While Mr. Obama has yet to hold the kind of high-profile meeting that Muslims and Arab-Americans seek, there is a consensus among his policymakers that engagement is no longer optional.

The administration’s approach has been understated. Many meetings have been private; others were publicized only after the fact. A visit to New York University in February by John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, drew little news coverage, but caused a stir among Muslims around the country. Speaking to Muslim students, activists and others, Mr. Brennan acknowledged many of their grievances, including “surveillance that has been excessive,” “overinclusive no-fly lists” and “an unhelpful atmosphere around many Muslim charities.”

“These are challenges we face together as Americans,” said Mr. Brennan, who momentarily showed off his Arabic to hearty applause. He and other officials have made a point of disassociating Islam from terrorism in public comments, using the phrase “violent extremism” in place of words like “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism.”

While the administration’s solicitation of Muslims and Arab-Americans has drawn little fanfare, it has not escaped criticism. A small but vocal group of research analysts, bloggers and others complain that the government is reaching out to Muslim leaders and organizations with an Islamist agenda or ties to extremist groups abroad.

They point out that Ms. Jarrett gave the keynote address at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America. The group was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based charity whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling money to Hamas. The society denies any links to terrorism.

“I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates,” said Steven Emerson, a terrorism analyst who advises government officials. “These are the wrong groups to legitimize.” Mr. Emerson and others have also objected to the political appointments of several American Muslims, including Rashad Hussain.

In February, the president chose Mr. Hussain, a 31-year-old White House lawyer, to become the United States’ special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The position, a kind of ambassador at large to Muslim countries, was created by Mr. Bush. In a video address, Mr. Obama highlighted Mr. Hussain’s status as a “close and trusted member of my White House staff” and “a hafiz,” a person who has memorized the Koran.

Within days of the announcement, news reports surfaced about comments Mr. Hussain had made on a panel in 2004, while he was a student at Yale Law School, in which he referred to several domestic terrorism prosecutions as “politically motivated.” Among the cases he criticized was that of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer-science professor in Florida who pleaded guilty to aiding members of a Palestinian terrorist group.

At first, the White House said Mr. Hussain did not recall making the comments, which had been removed from the Web version of a 2004 article published by a small Washington magazine. When Politico obtained a recording of the panel, Mr. Hussain acknowledged criticizing the prosecutions but said he believed the magazine quoted him inaccurately, prompting him to ask its editor to remove the comments. On Feb. 22, The Washington Examiner ran an editorial with the headline “Obama Selects a Voice of Radical Islam.”

Muslim leaders watched carefully as the story migrated to Fox News. They had grown accustomed to close scrutiny, many said in interviews, but were nonetheless surprised. In 2008, Mr. Hussain had co-authored a paper for the Brookings Institution arguing that the government should use the peaceful teachings of Islam to fight terrorism.

“Rashad Hussain is about as squeaky clean as you get,” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is Muslim. Mr. Ellison and others wondered whether the administration would buckle under the pressure and were relieved when the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, defended Mr. Hussain.

“The fact that the president and the administration have appointed Muslims to positions and have stood by them when they’ve been attacked is the best we can hope for,” said Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

It was notably different during Mr. Obama’s run for office. In June 2008, volunteers of his campaign barred two Muslim women in headscarves from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit, eliciting widespread criticism. The campaign promptly recruited Mazen Asbahi, a 36-year-old corporate lawyer and popular Muslim activist from Chicago, to become its liaison to Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Bloggers began researching Mr. Asbahi’s background. For a brief time in 2000, he had sat on the board of an Islamic investment fund, along with Sheikh Jamal Said, a Chicago imam who was later named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case. Mr. Asbahi said in an interview that he had left the board after three weeks because he wanted no association with the imam.

Shortly after his appointment to the Obama campaign, Mr. Asbahi said, a Wall Street Journal reporter began asking questions about his connection to the imam. Campaign officials became concerned that news coverage would give critics ammunition to link the imam to Mr. Obama, Mr. Asbahi recalled. On their recommendation, Mr. Asbahi agreed to resign from the campaign, he said.

He is still unsettled by the power of his detractors. “To be in the midst of this campaign of change and hope and to have it stripped away over nothing,” he said. “It hurts.”

From the moment Mr. Obama took office, he seemed eager to change the tenor of America’s relationship with Muslims worldwide. He gave his first interview to Al Arabiya, the Arabic-language television station based in Dubai. Muslims cautiously welcomed his ban on torture and his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year.

In his Cairo address, he laid out his vision for “a new beginning” with Muslims: while America would continue to fight terrorism, he said, terrorism would no longer define America’s approach to Muslims.

Back at home, Muslim and Arab-American leaders remained skeptical. But they took note when, a few weeks later, Mohamed Magid, a prominent imam from Sterling, Va., and Rami Nashashibi, a Muslim activist from Chicago, joined the president at a White-House meeting about fatherhood. Also that month, Dr. Faisal Qazi, a board member of American Muslim Health Professionals, began meeting with administration officials to discuss health care reform.

The invitations were aimed at expanding the government’s relationship with Muslims and Arab-Americans to areas beyond security, said Mr. Hussain, the White House’s special envoy. Mr. Hussain began advising the president on issues related to Islam after joining the White House counsel’s office in January 2009. He helped draft Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech and accompanied him on the trip. “The president realizes that you cannot engage one-fourth of the world’s population based on the erroneous beliefs of a fringe few,” Mr. Hussain said.

Other government offices followed the lead of the White House. In October, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke met with Arab-Americans and Muslims in Dearborn, Mich., to discuss challenges facing small-business owners. Also last fall, Farah Pandith was sworn in as the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities. While Ms. Pandith works mostly with Muslims abroad, she said she had also consulted with American Muslims because Mrs. Clinton believes “they can add value overseas.”

Despite this, American actions abroad — including civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and the failure to close Guantánamo — have drawn the anger of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Even though their involvement with the administration has broadened, they remain most concerned about security-related policies. In January, when the Department of Homeland Security hosted a two-day meeting with Muslim, Arab-American, South Asian and Sikh leaders, the group expressed concern about the emergency directive subjecting passengers from a group of Muslim countries to additional screening.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, pointed out that the policy would never have caught the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is British. “It almost sends the signal that the government is going to treat nationals of powerless countries differently from countries that are powerful,” Ms. Khera recalled saying as community leaders around the table nodded their heads.

Ms. Napolitano, who sat with the group for more than an hour, committed to meeting with them more frequently. Ms. Khera said she left feeling somewhat hopeful.

“I think our message is finally starting to get through,” she said.

12-17

US Puppet Cuts His Strings

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Thwarted by the American government on compromise with Taliban, Karzai has begun openly defying his patrons

By Eric Margolis

2010-03-31T115509Z_01_BTRE62U0X4200_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-AFGHANISTAN-TALIBAN-OBAMA

U.S. President Barack Obama inspects a guard of honor with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, March 28, 2010.

REUTERS/Jim Young  

April 11, 2010 “Toronto Sun” — Henry Kissinger once observed that it was more dangerous being America’s ally than its enemy.

The latest example: the U.S.-installed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is in serious hot water with his really angry patrons in Washington.

The Obama administration is blaming the largely powerless Karzai, a former CIA “asset,” for America’s failure to defeat the Taliban. Washington accused Karzai of rigging last year’s elections. True enough, but the U.S. pre-rigged the Afghan elections by excluding all parties opposed to western occupation.

Washington, which supports dictators and phoney elections across the Muslim world, had the chutzpah to blast Karzai for corruption and rigging votes. This while the Pentagon was engineering a full military takeover of Pakistan.

The Obama administration made no secret it wanted to replace Karzai. You could almost hear Washington crying, “Bad puppet! Bad puppet!”

Karzai fired back, accusing the U.S. of vote-rigging. He has repeatedly demanded the U.S. military stop killing so many Afghan civilians.

Next, Karzai dropped a bombshell, asserting the U.S. was occupying Afghanistan to dominate the energy-rich Caspian Basin region, not because of the non-existent al-Qaida or Taliban. Karzai said Taliban was “resisting western occupation.” The U.S. will soon have 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, plus 40,000 dragooned NATO troops.

Karzai even half-jested he might join Taliban.

Washington had apoplexy. A vicious propaganda campaign was unleashed against Karzai. The New York Times, a mouthpiece for the Obama administration and ardent backer of the Afghan war, all but called for the overthrow of Karzai and his replacement by a compliant general.

An American self-promoter, Peter Galbraith, who had been fired from his job with the UN in Kabul, was trotted out to tell media that Karzai might be both a drug addict and crazy.

Behind this ugly, if also comical, spat lay a growing divergence between Afghans and Washington. After 31 years of conflict, nearly three million dead, millions more refugees and frightful poverty, Afghans yearn for peace.

For the past two years, Karzai and his warlord allies have been holding peace talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia.

Karzai knows the only way to end the Afghan conflict is to enfranchise the nation’s Pashtun majority and its fighting arm, the Taliban. Political compromise with the Taliban is the only – and inevitable – solution.

But the Obama administration, misadvised by Washington neocons and other hardliners, is determined to “win” a military victory in Afghanistan (whatever that means) to save face as a great power and impose a settlement that leaves it in control of strategic Afghanistan.

Accordingly, the U.S. thwarted Karzai’s peace talks by getting Pakistan, currently the recipient of $7 billion in U.S. cash, to arrest senior Taliban leaders sheltering there who had been part of the ongoing peace negotiations with Kabul.

It was Karzai’s turn to be enraged. So he began openly defying his American patrons and adopting an independent position. The puppet was cutting his strings.

Karzai’s newfound boldness was due to the fact that both India and China are eager to replace U.S./British/NATO domination of Afghanistan. India is pouring money, arms and agents into Afghanistan and training government forces. China, more discreetly, is moving in to exploit Afghanistan’s recently discovered mineral wealth that, says Karzai, is worth $1 trillion, according to a U.S. government geological survey.

Russia, still smarting from its 1980s defeat in Afghanistan, is watching America’s travails there with rich enjoyment and not a little yearning for revenge. Moscow has its own ambitions in Afghanistan.

This column has long suggested Karzai’s best option is to distance himself from American tutelage and demand the withdrawal of all foreign occupation forces.

Risky business, of course. Remember Kissinger’s warning. Karzai could end up dead. But he could also become a national hero and best candidate to lead an independent Afghanistan that all ethnic groups could accept.

Alas, the U.S. keeps making the same mistake of seeking obedient clients rather than democratic allies who are genuinely popular and legitimate.

12-16

Why Do You Want to be a Journalist?

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

The following is the winning essay, by Zuleqa Husain, on the subject “Why do you want to be a journalist?” She received First Prize, a $1500 scholarship.

By Zuleqa Husain

ZHusain-Photo American’s fourth estate, the press, is one of the most influential game-changers in US living rooms. As an undergrad who majored in marketing and PR, I was always fascinated with the public’s information intake and subsequent behavior change based on that information. I joined the nascent International Media program at American University because of my desire to straddle the worlds of media analysis and mass communication.  Having worked at a policy shop—the Muslim Public Affairs Council—and an international media organization—Voice of America—I had an acute appreciation for the role of good journalism and its impact on the globe.  As I honed my interests through internships in radio (WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi), TV production (Story House), and international broadcast news (Al Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Show); I became increasingly interested in long-format programming. As I gain international media experience, I hope to join the policy-making community in the public diplomacy sector of the federal government.

When I quit medical school back home and came to the US, two months before 9/11 hit the nation, I wasn’t quite sure which direction my life would take. I knew that a good liberal arts education would help me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Marketing and PR seemed a good choice and I was good at it and so I majored in those subjects. Speaking skills, presentation skills and selling ideas, this came naturally to me. As America sought to understand Muslims and Islam, I co-founded the nation’s first publicly funded Muslim student organization at the University of Minnesota. Here, I was able to conduct workshops and presentations on Islam at high schools and community centers, churches and hospitals. I joined the Islamic Speakers Bureau and created packets of useful information on Muslims so that I could help contain the hysteria Americans were facing with George Bush’s War on Terror.

I graduated in 2004 and moved to Washington, D.C. That same month, Muslim Public Affairs Council’s national office offered me a position. Working at a policy shop such as MPAC was the best place to get the pulse of the Muslim American community and be able to define a unique Muslim identity for ourselves. Planning national communication strategies for MPAC’s ‘Countering Terrorism’ initiatives, helping abate the media frenzy during the Danish cartoon crisis, and fighting Islamophobic rhetoric stateside and abroad, helped me develop an appreciation for a focused strategy in media communications and an understanding of framework and messaging that is utilized in brand management.

The more we were in the spotlight of the media, and the more we were meeting with top government officials, the more I saw the need to change the paradigms that were present in our media systems. It wasn’t enough that we had a civil liberties organization like the Council on American Islamic Relations, looking out for our best interests. It wasn’t enough that top government liaisons for the Muslim community understood the predicament that American Muslims were facing because of the actions of a few misguided Muslims halfway across the world. To make the American people understand what was going on in the world, you had to get into their living rooms. I felt that if any change was to happen, it would be through the American media system. And that’s when I realized I wanted to be a journalist. I was busy telling the story for so long, I didn’t realize that the mike was turned off.

When I got a job as a reporter for Voice of America, for the first time, I felt like I was making a significant contribution. I was telling the true American story to the people of Pakistan and there was a considerable effect. We would get calls from viewers in Pakistan amazed that a hijabi Muslim in America was able to report on a story without being attacked on the street for being visibly Muslim. At VOA, I was able to bring the American-Muslim story to light for the Muslim populations worldwide. Our show was broadcast to 11 million viewers across the world.

Having worked for VOA for a year, and done numerous stories on American Muslims, concluded that the way forward was not to remain in the reporter track, but to become a producer. Producers control the content of the show. They decide what to air and what not to air. They have the final say in what stories get covered and how the show will be structured. I realized that if you wanted to change the dynamics of America’s newsrooms, the best route is to be a producer.
And for this, I went back to school.

During my three-year joint degree Masters program in International Media through the School of International Service and School of Communication at American University, I developed a solid academic grounding for how international media and communications work in today’s ever-shrinking world. In my coursework, I learn about international communication theory and why certain countries manage their journalists the way they do. I learned about propaganda, its role in mass media, the elements which make it effective and how to turn them in our favor. I also learn the art of producing a well-crafted news show that has a multi-media platform, including radio, video, web, and social media networks. I am also working on becoming a producer trained for long-format programming that is more conducive to good story-telling.  My final Masters project is a biopic documentary highlighting the historic tolerance and pluralism found in pre-independence India between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. Such narratives of tolerance and harmony need to be told, both for the American Muslim audience and for the Muslims around the world.

I have had the opportunity to learn the art of journalism at various prestigious media institutions during my degree program. I was a research assistant with The Kojo Nnamdi Show at NPR’s local affiliate in Washington DC. My input was most appreciated not when I was giving them a story idea about Muslims or Islam, but when I was giving them a fresh perspective on an existing story idea. They appreciated my nuanced insight on various subjects, political or otherwise.

I was also the assistant producer intern at the internationally acclaimed Riz Khan Show on Al-Jazeera English. There, I provided research and story ideas for the live daily talk show. I was able to direct the show to do stories that are under-represented in the media. Al-Jazeera English is keen on becoming the ‘Voice of the South’ and was open to my suggestions. 

Just last week, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale rolled out a new communication strategy with the Muslim world, one that involved pro-actively shaping global narratives. In a statement to Congress, she announced a redefining of the State department to include a position for Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Media. This would bolster communications outreach to “inform, inspire, and persuade target audiences and to counter misinformation.” There is a visible paradigm shift in such a strategy compared to previous administrations that were trying to ‘win hearts and minds’ by bolstering those voices that helped their cause. Countering misinformation is a bigger, more challenging task and media efforts weakening the effects of disinformation is a more powerful strategy.

After working for a number of years in the news networks, I see myself working for the Public Diplomacy arm of the State department as an international media expert. Having worked with international media networks, I will have insight into what are the effective ways to utilize messaging to generate a positive response vs. those that create media trauma.

As for the Muslim American community’s media needs, there is a significant gap between the effort that the Muslim American media outlets are putting into getting the word out on the peaceful nature of Islam and the impact of this effort. This gap needs to close, if there is to be any change in the minds of the American people about Islam and Muslims. Public relations efforts and putting out fires as the Muslims American community is hit by one media nightmare or another is not the solution. A concerted effort is needed wherein Muslim journalists have a set identity within the media networks of the nation. The Muslim journalist is not exclusive with his/her reporting. There cannot be just a Muslim beat, or an ethnic or religious beat for the Muslim. Juggling various identities fluidly is the mark of a Muslim journalist today.

I want to be a journalist because I want Muslims to be able to present their stories, their narratives, their perspectives, their understanding of the world around them, without feeling that they are constantly defending their religious and cultural identity. Muslim Americans have a lot to offer to the diverse fabric of America. The United States of America is one of the best places to live as a practicing Muslim today and our job is to make sure that the press fulfills its duties to the citizens of our great nation.

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Pak MP’s Refuse Body Scan

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Shah-Mehmood-Qureshi
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

Pakistani MPs abandon US visit over body scanning

Pakistani lawmakers belonging to different political parties have refused to visit the United States amid a row over body scanning at American airports.

A senior member of the Pakistani Parliament told Press TV on condition of anonymity that 18 lawmakers had rejected official invitation extended by the US embassy in Islamabad.

The lawmakers say they would not visit the US until their exemption from scanning at US airports.

Earlier this month, a six-member Pakistani parliamentary delegation, protesting full body scanning in Washington, cut short their official US visit immediately to return home.

The US state department had invited them to Washington to discuss security in the troubled tribal regions of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

The X-ray machines show naked images of passengers.

Under the new rules, citizens from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive an extra check of their body and carry-on bags before boarding a plane.

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