US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

Obama Picks Special Envoy to World Muslim Group (OIC)

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ResizedImage130160-rashad Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama appointed a special envoy Saturday to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the 57-nation organization that calls itself the “collective voice of the Muslim world.”

He is Rashad Hussein, an Indian-American Muslim who has been a deputy associate White House counsel, described by Obama as “an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff.”

Obama made the announcement Saturday in a video message to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. He said he made the move to broaden the outreach strategy toward the Muslim world he laid out last year in Cairo.

“Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Quran, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work,” Obama said. A hafiz is someone who has memorized the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be speaking Sunday at the 7th annual forum and Obama took the opportunity Saturday to laud the event and reiterate what he calls the “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” – a relationship that he says has been marred by “misunderstanding and mistrust.”

“The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq; we are removing all our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August, and we will partner with the Iraqi people on behalf of their long-term security and prosperity. In Afghanistan and beyond, we are forging partnerships to isolate violent extremists, reduce corruption and to promote good governance and development that improves lives.

“We remain unyielding in pursuit of a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians. And the United States will continue to stand for the human rights and dignity of people around the world,” he said.

Obama said his administration has held thousands of events with students, civil society groups, faith leaders and entrepreneurs, including Clinton’s “landmark” visit to Pakistan.

“And I look forward to continuing the dialogue during my visit to Indonesia next month. This dialogue has helped us turn many of the initiatives I outlined in Cairo into action,” the president said.

Obama also listed outreach initiatives toward the Muslim world in education, economic development, science and technology, food security, and global health.
“None of this will be easy. Fully realizing the new beginning we envision will take a long-term commitment. But we have begun.”

Hussain has served as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He posted a message on the White House blog saying he is “honored and humbled” by the appointment.

“I am committed to deepening the partnerships that he (Obama) outlined in his visionary address last summer. I look forward to updating you on the Administration’s efforts in these areas over the coming months,” he said.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference says it is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations and that its 57-state membership is “spread over four continents.”

12-8

Wardere to Vie for Senate

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kay Fate, Faribault Daily News

washington-dc-us-capitol-s Mahamoud Wardere knows his story is interesting.

“Can you imagine?” he asks. “An anti-war GOP candidate who is an immigrant from Somalia, an African-American, too, and Muslim.”

Wardere describes his candidacy as one that will be “different, with fresh ideas and a world class of understanding.”

He plans to run for U.S. Congress in Minnesota’s Second District, a seat held by Republican John Kline.

The six years he spent working as a community liaison for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman were invaluable, Wardere, 42, said.

“One thing I learned is how the system works, and at what level,” he said. “You have to know what Congress can do and what it can’t do. You have to know what your constituents expect from you.”

His goal is to develop long-term ideas.

“There are things that today may be politically helpful, but in the long run may not help,” Wardere said.

His campaign slogan sums it up, he added: Uniting the country and passing peace and prosperity to our children and grandchildren.

“I’m running because I’m very much aware of the challenges the residents of the Second District face every day,” he said, “and I believe I can do a better job.”

Wardere’s four priorities for the Second District are to tackle a poverty level that has risen 7 percent in one year; unemployment; the suffering of small businesses; and more benefits for the men and women in uniform, as well as their caregivers.

He is just as determined to make change at the national level.

He’d like to see GOP Chairman Michael Steele resign.

“He failed miserably to lead our party and explain who the GOP leaders are,” Wardere said. “He failed to reach out to Latinos and even African Americans. He must resign.”

Wardere is hardly alone in his desire to make change within the GOP.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is considered by some to be the father of the Tea Party movement, faces three opponents in the March Republican primary.

Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain, too, will have a challenger in J.D. Hayworth, a conservative talk radio host.

Closer to home, Kline has yet to formally announce he will seek a fifth term.

Still, said Troy Young, his communications director, “Congressman Kline fully intends to run for re-election.”

DFLer Dan Powers will also seek Kline’s seat, said Mary Breitenstein, Powers’ campaign manager.

She had no comment on Wardere’s decision to run, but believes it’s time for Kline to go.

“As we say, we’re focused like a laser beam on winning the DFL endorsement,” Breitenstein said. “We do know that Kline’s been in Congress for a while, and has not been listening to his constituents. Dan wants to listen.”

Also in the DFL Congressional race is Shelley Madore, a former state representative from District 37A.

“I won’t shy away from criticizing the establishment,” Wardere said. “I believe our Congress has a constitutional responsibility to oversee federal agencies and must take part in the checks and balances… We need to elect competent Congressmen and women who can understand world issues. It’s the responsibility of our congressional delegates to understand the world issues and keep America safe.”

Diversity is power, Wardere said.

“When we were fighting against Germany and Hitler, what language did we use?” he asked. “We used the language of the Native Americans. That worked.”

Of his 12 national priorities, nearly half of them include passing resolutions to recognize those who work for peace.

“Anybody who brings peace, you have to praise,” Wardere said. “We must worry about passing insecurity to our children and grandchildren the same way we worry about passing the deficit to them. We must pass them many friends, not many enemies.”

He would also work on legislation that defines the goal of the war on terror, clarifies the U.S.’s position and expedites ending wars.

“Washington has sent many conflicting broad and vague messages to the world, and some of them are self-defeating,” he said. “Our message should be simple and clear: we have been attacked, and we will attack anyone who wants to harm us and we will defend our people, period.”

So, has Wardere discussed his plans with Coleman, his former boss?

“No,” he smiled. “This is my decision. I don’t know what he’d say.”

12-8

This is Not a National Emergency

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt

Let me put American life in the Age of Terror into some kind of context, and then tell me you’re not ready to get on the nearest plane heading anywhere, even toward Yemen.

In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society; 5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760 children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.

As for airplane fatalities, no American died in a crash of a U.S. carrier in either 2007 or 2008, despite 1.5 billion passengers transported. In 2009, planes certainly went down and people died. In June, for instance, a French flight on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared in bad weather over the Atlantic, killing 226. Continental Connection Flight 3407, a regional commuter flight, crashed into a house near Buffalo, N.Y., that February killing 50, the first fatal crash of a U.S. commercial flight since August 2006. And in January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, assaulted by a flock of birds, managed a brilliant landing in New Yorks Hudson River when disaster might have ensued. In none of these years did an airplane go down anywhere due to terrorism, though in 2007 two terrorists smashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane tanks into the terminal of Glasgow International Airport. (No one was killed.)

The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived. Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York States 2008 traffic death toll of 1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as “alcohol-impaired fatalities.”

Had the 23-year-old Nigerian set off his bomb, it would have been a nightmare for the people on board, and a tragedy for those who knew them. It would certainly have represented a safety and security issue that needed to be dealt with. But it would not have been a national emergency, nor a national-security crisis. It would have been nothing more than a single plane knocked out of the sky, something that happens from time to time without the intervention of terrorists.

And yet here’s the strange thing: thanks to what didn’t happen on Flight 253, the media essentially went mad, 24/7. Newspaper coverage of the failed plot and its ramifications actually grew for two full weeks after the incident until it had achieved something like full-spectrum dominance, according to the Pew Research Centers Project for Excellence in Journalism. In the days after Christmas, more than half the news links in blogs related to Flight 253. At the same time, the Republican criticism machine (and the media universe that goes with it) ramped up on the subject of the Obama administrations terror wimpiness; the global air transport system plunked down millions of dollars on new technology which will not find underwear bombs; the homeland security-industrial-complex had a field day; and fear, that adrenaline rush from hell, was further embedded in the American way of life.

Under the circumstances, you would never know that Americans living in the United States were in vanishingly little danger from terrorism, but in significant danger driving to the mall; or that alcohol, tobacco, E. coli bacteria, fire, domestic abuse, murder, and the weather present the sort of potentially fatal problems that might be worth worrying about, or even changing your behavior over, or perhaps investing some money in. Terrorism, not so much.

The few Americans who, since 2001, have died from anything that could be called a terror attack in the U.S. whether the 13 killed at Fort Hood or the soldier murdered outside an Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark. were far outnumbered by the 32 dead in a 2007 mass killing at Virginia Tech University, not to speak of the relatively regular moments when workers or former workers “go postal.” Since 9/11, terror in the U.S. has rated above fatalities from shark attacks and not much else. Since the economic meltdown of 2008, it has, in fact, been left in the shade by violent deaths that stem from reactions to job loss, foreclosure, inability to pay the rent, and so on.

This is seldom highlighted in a country perversely convulsed by, and that cant seem to get enough of, fantasies about being besieged by terrorists.

Institutionalizing Fear Inc.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which had the look of the apocalyptic, brought the fear of terrorism into the American bedroom via the TV screen. That fear was used with remarkable effectiveness by the Bush administration, which color-coded terror for its own ends. A domestic version of shock-and-awe Americans were indeed shocked and awed by 9/11 helped drive the country into two disastrous wars and occupations, each still ongoing, and into George W. Bushs Global War on Terror, a term now persona non grata in Washington, even if the “war” itself goes on and on.

Today, any possible or actual terror attack, any threat no matter how far-fetched, amateurish, poorly executed, or ineffective, raises a national alarm, always seeming to add to the power of the imperial presidency and threatening to open new “fronts” in the now-unnamed global war. The latest is, of course, in Yemen, thanks in part to that young Nigerian who was evidently armed with explosives by a homegrown organization of a few hundred men that goes by the name al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The fear of terrorism has, by now, been institutionalized in our society quite literally so even if the thing were afraid of has, on the scale of human problems, something of the will o the wisp about it. For those who remember their Cold War fiction, its more specter than SPECTRE.

That fear has been embedded in what once was an un-American word, more easily associated with Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany: “homeland.” It has replaced “country,” “land,” and “nation” in the language of the terror-mongers. “The homeland” is the place which terrorism, and nothing but terrorism, can violate. In 2002, that terror-embedded word got its own official government agency: the Department of Homeland Security, our second “defense” department, which has a 2010 budget of $39.4 billion (while overall “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget reached $70.2 billion). Around it has grown up a little-attended-to homeland-security complex with its own interests, businesses, associations, and lobbyists (including jostling crowds of ex-politicians and ex-government bureaucrats).

As a result, more than eight years after 9/11, an amorphous state of mind has manifested itself in the actual state as a kind of Fear Inc. A number of factors have clearly gone into the creation of Fear Inc. and now ensure that fear is the drug constantly shot into the American body politic. These would include:

The imperial presidency: The Bush administration used fear not only to promote its wars and its Global War on Terror, but also to unchain the commander in chief of an already imperial presidency from a host of restraints. The dangers of terror and of al-Qaeda, which became the global bogeyman, and the various proposed responses to it, including kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), secret imprisonment, and torture, turned out to be the royal road to the American unconscious and so to a presidency determined, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others liked to say, to take the gloves off. It remains so and, as a result, under Barack Obama, the imperial presidency only seems to gain ground.

Recently, for instance, we learned that, under the pressure of the Flight 253 incident, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration position that a president, under certain circumstances, has the authority to order the assassination of an American citizen abroad. (In this case, New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar Aulaqi, who has been linked to the 9/11 plotters, the Fort Hood killer, and Abdulmutallab.) The Bush administration opened the door to this possibility and now, it seems, a Democratic president may be stepping through.

The 24/7 media moment: 24/7 blitz coverage was once reserved for the deaths of presidents (as in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) and public events of agreed-upon import. In 1994, however, it became the coin of the media realm for any event bizarre enough, sensational enough, celebrity-based enough to glue eyeballs. That June, O.J. Simpson engaged in his infamous low-speed car “chase” through Orange County followed by more than 20 news helicopters while 95 million viewers tuned in and thousands more gathered at highway overpasses to watch. No ones ever looked back. Of course, in a traditional media world thats shedding foreign and domestic bureaus and axing hordes of reporters, radically downsizing news rooms and shrinking papers to next to nothing, the advantages of focusing reportorial energies on just one thing at a time are obvious. Those 24/7 energies are now regularly focused on the fear of terrorism and events which contribute to it, like the plot to down Flight 253.

The Republican criticism machine and the media that go with it: Once upon a time, even successful Republican administrations didnt have their own megaphone. Thats why, in the Vietnam era, the Nixon administration battled the New York Times so fiercely (and my own guess that played a part in forcing the creation of the first “op-ed” page in 1970, which allowed administration figures like Vice President Spiro Agnew and ex-Nixon speechwriter William Safire to gain a voice at the paper). By the George W. Bush era, the struggle had abated. The Times and papers like it only had to be pacified or cut out of the loop, since from TV to talk radio, publishing to publicity, the Republicans had their own megaphone ready at hand. This is, by now, a machine chock-a-block full of politicians and ex-politicians, publishers, pundits, military “experts,” journalists, shock-jocks, and the like (categories that have a tendency to blend into each other). It adds up to a seamless web of promotion, publicity, and din. Its capable of gearing up on no notice and going on until a subject none more popular than terrorism and Democratic spinelessness in the face of it is temporarily flogged to death. It ensures that any failed terror attack, no matter how hopeless or pathetic, will be in the headlines and in public consciousness. It circulates constant fantasies about possible future apocalyptic terror attacks with atomic weaponry or other weapons of mass destruction. (And in all of the above, of course, it is helped by a host of tagalong pundits and experts, news shows and news reports from the more liberal side of the aisle.)

The Democrats who don’t dare: Its remarkable that the sharpest president we’ve had in a while didn’t dare get up in front of the American people after Flight 253 landed and tell everyone to calm down. He didn’t, in fact, have a single intelligent thing to say about the event. He certainly didn’t remind Americans that, whatever happened to Flight 253, they stood in far more danger heading out of their driveways behind the wheel or pulling into a bar on the way home for a beer or two. Instead, the Obama administration essentially abjectly apologized, insisted it would focus yet more effort and money on making America safe from air terrorism, widened a new front in the Global War on Terror in Yemen (speeding extra money and U.S. advisers that way), and when the din from its critics didn’t end, “pushed back,” as Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote, by claiming “that they were handling terror suspects much as the previous administration did.” Its striking when a Democratic administration finds safety in the claim that its acting like a Republican one, that its following the path to the imperial presidency already cleared by George W. Bush. Fear does that to you, and the fear of terror has been institutionalized at the top as well as the bottom of society.

9/11 Never Ends

Fear has a way of reordering human worlds. That only a relatively small number of determined fanatics with extraordinarily limited access to American soil keep Fear Inc. afloat should, by now, be obvious. What the fear machine produces is the dark underside of the charming Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue,” in which Manhattan looms vast as the rest of the planet fades into near nothingness.

When you see the world “from 9th Avenue,” or from an all-al-Qaeda-all-the-time “news” channel, you see it phantasmagorically. Its out of all realistic shape and proportion, which means you naturally make stupid decisions. You become incapable of sorting out what matters and what doesn’t, what’s primary and what’s secondary. You become, in short, manipulable.

This is our situation today.

People always wonder: What would the impact of a second 9/11-style attack be on this country? Seldom noticed, however, is that all the pinprick terror events blown up to apocalyptic proportions add up to a second, third, fourth, fifth 9/11 when it comes to American consciousness.

So the next time a Flight 253 occurs and the Republicans go postal, the media morphs into its 24/7 national-security-disaster mode, the pundits register red on the terror-news scale, the president defends himself by reaffirming that he is doing just what the Bush administration would have done, the homeland security lobbyists begin calling for yet more funds for yet more machinery, and nothing much happens, remember those drunken drivers, arsonists, and tobacco merchants, even that single dust devil and say:

Hold onto your underpants, this is not a national emergency.

[Note: The figures on the 2010 Department of Homeland Security budget and “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget were provided by the National Priorities Project.]

How to Watch the Banks

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Henry M. Paulson, Jr.

SIXTEEN months ago, our financial system teetered on the brink of collapse. The Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took actions that were unpopular and previously unthinkable — but absolutely necessary to stave off an economic catastrophe in which unemployment could have exceeded the 25 percent level of the Great Depression.

These temporary actions have ended or will end. And our financial system is much more stable. But it is critical that we learn from the financial crisis and put in place reforms to avert a repeat of 2008 or something even worse.

Congress must pass financial regulatory reform. Delays are creating uncertainty, undermining the ability of financial institutions to increase lending to the businesses of all sizes that want to invest and fuel our recovery. Our overriding goal in restructuring our financial architecture should be that taxpayers never again have to save a failing financial institution.

The debate recently has centered on big banks and trading risks. I agree that big banks do pose a dangerously large risk to our financial system, and I am troubled that concentration in the industry has only increased since the crisis. But if we are to protect our system from falling into trouble again, we need broad-based reform that covers all types of financial institutions and all forms of potentially risky activities.

For example, the most recent proposal by the Obama administration — to bar big banks from trading driven by other than customer-related activity — would not have prevented the collapse of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, American International Group, Washington Mutual, Wachovia or other institutions whose failure contributed to the crisis. Rather than dictating a set of rules that will become out of date as the markets evolve, policy makers should devise legislation that ensures that regulators have the authority to tackle the issue of size and all potential systemic risks.

This calls for two vital changes. First, we must create a systemic risk regulator to monitor the stability of the markets and to restrain or end any activity at any financial firm that threatens the broader market. Second, the government must have resolution authority to impose an orderly liquidation on any failing financial institution to minimize its impact on the rest of the system.

Together, these two reforms will enable the regulatory system to better prevent the kinds of excesses that fueled our recent crisis, restore market discipline and keep the failure of a large institution from bringing down the rest of the system.

A single agency responsible for systemic risk would be accountable in a way that no regulator was in the run-up to the 2008 crisis. With access to all necessary information to monitor the markets, this regulator would have a better chance of identifying and limiting the impact of future speculative bubbles.

Given our global markets, we have to address the issue of size on a multinational level. We should work through the Financial Stability Board, a global regulatory agency with headquarters in Switzerland, to establish an international agreement calling for stronger capital and liquidity requirements for large, complex institutions. The need for adequate liquidity cushions is not as well understood, but in my judgment it is even more important than the need for banks to maintain higher capital levels.

As for our domestic approach, we now have different government regulators focusing on the individual trees, and we need one regulator accountable for looking at the entire forest. My preference is for the Federal Reserve to be the systemic risk regulator, because the responsibility for identifying and limiting potential problems is a natural complement to its role in monetary policy.

Congress, however, seems to be moving toward having a council of regulators perform this function. While that is not my preference, I believe a council can be workable if it is led by either the Treasury secretary or the Fed chairman, and is structured to ensure that strong decisions are reached quickly in a crisis. Too many such panels in government act by consensus, allowing a single member to render the council immobile.

No systemic risk regulator, no matter how powerful, can be relied on to see everything and prevent future problems. That’s why our regulatory system must reinforce the responsibility of lenders, investors, borrowers and all market participants to analyze risk and make informed decisions. This is possible only if everyone understands that no financial institution is too big to fail, and that its investors and creditors will have to bear the consequences if it does. 

To address the moral hazard issue, the government needs broad-based authority to liquidate any failing financial institution without going through the bankruptcy process, which is not well-suited for such complex firms in the midst of a financial crisis. We must send a clear signal to market participants that whenever this process is put in motion, the outcome is liquidation; we cannot leave any hope that we would inject taxpayer dollars to preserve the failing firm in its present form.

Winding down a large institution is difficult and time-consuming. The regulators with this responsibility will need to be trained to do the job. And we must also require all large firms to develop a road map for their liquidation well ahead of any failure.These are not the only necessary reforms — we must also address regulation of derivatives and our over-reliance on credit ratings agencies.

Over time, we have to simplify the patchwork quilt of regulatory agencies and improve transparency so that consumers and investors can punish excesses through their own informed investing decisions. We have to examine the many policies that favor homeownership, and recalibrate our support for them. We must also tackle what is by far our greatest economic challenge — the reduction of budget deficits — a big part of which will involve reforming our major entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

It has been a difficult, and humbling, two years for our nation. But every other major country has more significant economic problems than we do and, with the resilience of our economy and the ingenuity of our people, we can meet our challenges. Nonetheless, we must not lose our sense of urgency, or the political courage to make the necessary reforms to ensure our long-term prosperity.

12-8

Gaza Defiant

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Sacramento–Several weeks ago I reported on (former) Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s rousing description, which she delivered here at the Salim Center in California’s capital city, on how she successfully — after two previous attempts – “ran” the Israeli blockade into Gaza.  Equally, as inspiring was the Senior Lecturer from the University of California, the Palestinian-American firebrand Hatem Bazian, on the history of the struggle and the aftermath now a year later on the smaller Palestinian country sandwiched between (West) Jerusalem and Cairo.

Just today as your reporter writes it is being relayed that Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) had submitted their rejoinder to the U.N. (United Nations’) Report of “alleged” atrocities.  The Hamas government in Gaza City itself said it did not commit any War crimes because of the overriding preponderance of their casualties (over 1400 and a decimated infrastructure) in comparison which attested to the violation of the International Law of Proportionality governing the conduct of Warfare; therefore, they have not submitted their justification defense for their self-defense.

With such a morbidity rate it is clear that Tel Aviv meant to kill and maim innocent civilian lives.  Any rockets that the Arabs shot up were infused into the battlefield as a feeble attempt at self-defense, and not to destroy human life (which, in fact, rarely hit Jewish citizens).

The lead author of the 575-page Report of the United Nations’ Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Judge Richard Goldstone — who gained fame for his fairness and courage as a Constitutional Judge in his native South Africa helping to end Apartheid and to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during Nelson Mandela’s Presidency in the multi-racial government of his native South Africa, and, of recent — in this his later career — he has served in executive judicial capacities on several of the more high-profile War Crime International Tribunals, and his latest service, on the circumstances of Gaza of which Report is commonly referred to under his name, the Judge stated the root of the violence in Gaza “…is [the Israeli] occupation.” 

Mr. Bazian illustrated the extent of occupation in his talk:  U.N. Resolution 242 (November 22, 1967) instructed Israel to withdraw from the territory they had gained in the 1967 War.  The infamous Jewish Settlements in the (Israeli) Occupied (Palestinian) Territories are immensely illegal under International Law, but they have only increased since the Oslo Accords (of 1993) which agreement was meant to end the Hebrew expansion into Arab land.  In fact, Settler Colonialism has expanded their presence on Palestinian soil since then.  Palestinian borders and the sea lanes are controlled by the Hebrews.  The citizens of Gaza are in a penitentiary!   Further, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) claims the right of “hot pursuit” under their interpretations of its necessity.  (That is, they claim an extra-legal prerogative in the determination for its implementation.)

(George W.) Bush demanded the 2006 elections which Hamas won evenhandedly according to the international observers – including (former U.S.) President Jimmy Carter!

The culpability and corruption of Fatah, the Palestinian-controlled party in the West Bank cannot be denied either.  Egypt would not sell the occupation Army cement, but Ramallah smoothed it over, and the Apartheid walls have resulted; stealing the Palestinian natural resources and driving the indigenous Arabs — mainly Islamic but, also, Christian – from their lands. 

Palestine is not permitted to have an abiding militia but merely a police force.  Also, irregular guerillas operated outside International approbation protect and resist the oppressors.  On the other hand, the Hebrew forces are the fifth largest in the world with a nuclear arsenal to match.

While Washington has gifted Tel Aviv our most sophisticated weaponry, the homespun Qassam rockets possessed by the Palestinians are most primitive.  The military balance is ridiculous!  Yet, “We are blamed for [our] resistance!”

The fact is that Israel broke the ceasefire (as your correspondent has documented previously on these pages).  “We [Americans] have to change our frame of reference!”  The Jewish State is a criminal in the context of global edicts.  According to Dr. Bazian, irregular soldiers are not considered in the same framework under International norms.  (This is a debatable legal point, and that is why Goldstone accused the Gazan Administration of War criminality which, in turn, their officials denied based on the proportionality employed against them.)  “The IDF didn’t make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant.”  Thus, under conflict directive the counterattack can only be relative to the primary aggression, (and this absolved the Gazan Palestinian Arabs, for their counter-offensive upon Sderot and Ashkelon for Israel violated the Law of Proportionality against the citizenship on the Strip). 

Succinctly, Hamas and the Gazan people they represented did not constitute a security threat at all.  The Hebrew government assaulted this miniscule State because they did not wish an Islamist-dominated country on their Southern border, and, again, in Hatem’s view, the Jewish Labor Party-led government had to make up face for their very real lose to Hezbollah in 2006 north in the Galilee.

A majority of military observers agree that the Gazan War was a defeat for the Israeli Defense Forces; for they failed to create the “regime change” they had hoped to do because the native stakeholders in this ancient land of the Philistines did not rise up against their democratically elected representatives. 

We as a nation have to take responsibility for our part in the carnage!  

Now, 92% of the surviving children are suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome.  The medical infrastructure has further, been destroyed! 

Up on the West Bank, the Hebrew State has set up 462 checkpoints.   

As Americans, we must see that all Israel’s weaponry came with the stamp of “Made in America.” 

While back in Gaza itself; there is 44% unemployment a 96% of the foreign consulates that were there have had to close.  External aid that has already been pledged has been denied delivery by the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.

The Goldstone Report conservatively attests to War and, possibly, Crimes against Humanity instigated by the Israeli Army.  It has been referred to the General Assembly for further discussion and hopefully action.  

There will be an educational Conference on Palestine in San Anselmo (Calif.) in Marin County just north of San Francisco on March 5th-6th at the First Presbyterian Church there (415) 456-3713 where Dr. Hatem Bazian is scheduled to give one of the workshops.  Also, there will be two Conferences in Honolulu and Seattle this month.  Information on those gatherings can be gathered directly from Sabeel North America at (503) 653-6625.

Professor Bazian concluded his Sacramento speech by exclaiming “Palestine wants to be free… [America] needs to speak out!”

12-8

President Obama Announces Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Conference

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release of February 13, 2010

WASHINGTON – Today, President Obama appointed Rashad Hussain to serve as his Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Comprised of over 50 member states, the OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organization in the world. As Special Envoy to the OIC, Rashad Hussain will deepen and expand the partnerships that the United States has pursued with Muslims around the world since President Obama’s speech in Cairo last June.

President Obama said, “I’m proud to announce today that I am appointing my Special Envoy to the OIC—Rashad Hussain. As an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff, Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Qur’an, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work.”

Rashad Hussain biography

Rashad Hussain is presently Deputy Associate Counsel to President Obama. His work at the White House focuses on national security, new media, and science and technology issues. Mr. Hussain has also worked with the National Security Staff in pursuing the New Beginning that President Obama outlined in his June 2009 address in Cairo, Egypt. Mr. Hussain previously served as a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hussain was a legislative assistant on the House Judiciary Committee, where he focused on national security-related issues. Mr. Hussain received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation, he served as a Law Clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mr. Hussain also earned his Master’s degrees in Public Administration (Kennedy School of Government) and Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

12-7

Wars Sending US into Ruin

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Obama the peace president is fighting battles his country cannot afford

By Eric Margolis, QMI Agency

2010-02-10T142132Z_01_BTRE61913W200_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-AFGHANISTAN-ASSAULT

U.S. Marines walk during a dust storm in a U.S Marines camp near the town of Marjah in Nad Ali district of Helmand province, February 8, 2010.    

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.

In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug — debt.

More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.

To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defence budget.

No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget.

Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire.

The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.

China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations ­– putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.

This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.

America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud.

If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.

America needs a fair, honest war tax.

The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.

It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.

Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe — what neocons call “full spectrum dominance.”

If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.

12-7

Pakistan’s Border War Grows Murkier

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adnan R. Khan, AOL News

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Feb. 7) — Last week’s suicide attack in Pakistan’s volatile Lower Dir region, the site of Pakistani military operations against the Pakistani Taliban, has added fuel to an already raging wildfire of conspiracy theories in the country. The attack killed not only its presumed American targets but also two schoolgirls, and injured more than 100 others. But what caused the Pakistani government special discomfort was the spotlight it shone on the American military presence here.

For Pakistanis, that presence is only part of a larger and increasingly murky game being played out in the war-torn Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the adjoining Tribal Areas. Even as operations against militants continue, rumors of meetings between militants and the Pakistani army have clouded perceptions of the government’s strategy to confront Pakistan’s growing insurgency.

Anti-American sentiment has surged in recent days with the conviction in New York of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui on terrorism charges, a judgment the Pakistani government and the Taliban alike have condemned as proof of U.S. prejudice against Muslims.

If that weren’t enough, American intelligence sources claimed this week that a drone attack last month killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a key Pakistani Taliban leader. Officials in Pakistan, where drone attacks are another daily unwanted reminder of Islamabad’s highly unpopular cooperation with U.S., have pointedly not confirmed the death.

That disconnect highlights what has become a deadly public relations exercise, pitting a nervous U.S. administration keen to win over Pakistani public opinion against a Pakistan army that is trying both to maintain its links with shady militant groups it considers useful and at the same time appease U.S. demands that it crack down on them.

For years, Pakistan has refused to let go of its links to the militants while Washington has turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s duplicity, fearful of losing a crucial ally in its war on Islamic extremism. The net result has been confusion and chaos. Even beneath that U.S.-Pakistani tension, the war in NWFP, on the Afghanistan border, is treacherous and bewildering even to those in its midst.

“No one knows what exactly is going on,” says Faheem Urrahman, the 42-year-old mayor of Bazi Khel, a dusty town just south of Peshawar, capital of NWFP, and bordering the Khyber tribal agency. “I don’t know who exactly I’m supposed to be fighting anymore.”

Urrahman has seen first-hand how the game is played and how men like him can turn suddenly from favored ally to expendable pawn. A few short months ago, he was the darling of the Pakistani military, which lavished him with praise for raising a small army to take on Taliban-linked militants in his war-torn region of Khyber. Today, Urrahman fears for his life, and he blames not just the Taliban, but also the Pakistani Army.

A few miles from his heavily guarded compound, his sworn enemies, the Lashkar-i-Islam (LiI), an Islamist group now considered part of the Pakistani Taliban, are re-grouping. A military operation against them that began in August last year has done little to weaken their presence. The leader, Mangal Bagh, one of the most wanted men in Pakistan, remains at large, yet that operation appears to be winding down.

“I don’t understand it,” Urrahman says. “If the Pakistani army made a sincere effort to get rid of these guys, it could be over in a month.”

The abortive operation in Khyber suggests to him and others that Pakistan’s war against Islamic militancy is sometimes more a public relations exercise than a legitimate push to cleanse the country of its fundamentalist threat.

According to one senior agent with Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence, or ISI, Bagh, an illiterate former bus conductor, is only the latest in a long line of Pakistani militants groomed by ISI agents. As Taliban influence rises throughout Pakistan’s tribal areas, the ISI has struggled to maintain its influence over an ever more complex array of militant groups formed in the wake of the war in Afghanistan. “Mangal Bagh was supposed to be our man in Khyber,” says the ISI source. “But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. “

That is putting it mildly. Since Bagh took control in Khyber, Taliban influence there has skyrocketed, with violence spilling over into Peshawar itself. In August last year, the Pakistani army began a major operation, listing Bagh as one of Pakistan’s most-wanted militants and promising to rid Khyber Agency of the LiI. Months earlier, Faheem had set up his own anti-Bagh militia, after attacks against his men in Bazi Khel forced his hand. “We had the support of the military then,” he says. “I’d like to think we still have the support of the military now.”

But that appears less and less likely. The Pakistani military recently announced a moratorium on military operations and has strongly backed an initiative by Afghan President Hamid Karzai seeking reconciliation with low- to mid-level Taliban commanders. Al Jazeera recently reported that meetings were under way between the United Nations and the Quetta Council, the Afghan Taliban’s central authority, including Mullah Omar, which has been operating out of the Pakistani city Quetta bordering Afghanistan’s restive Kandahar province.

“This Khyber operation has been a game,” says one officer of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. “I can tell you from what I saw: there is no operation. Not in Khyber and not in other places the military claims it is taking on the Taliban.”

In fact, the officer says the army is still on speaking terms with Bagh, even as it claims publicly to be hunting him down.

“I saw [Bagh] meet with senior generals at Bala Hisar in the middle of December,” he says, referring to the British-era fort in Peshawar’s old city . “I don’t know what the meeting was about but I saw him come in with a convoy of military officers.”

The Pakistani military could not be reached for comment, but a former senior officer with Inter-services Public Relations, the army’s media wing, told AOL News that no one there would “ever confirm such a meeting took place.”

So where does that leave Urrahman , so recently hailed as an anti-Taliban patriot? Nervously glancing around his compound, he admits he is uneasy. Two attempts on his life in recent months have left him on edge. He never stays at the same place for more than one night. On November 8 last year, Haji Abdul Malik, another anti-Taliban militia commander operating just a few miles south, was assassinated by a suicide bomber. Urrahman senses he might be next.

“Of course I have reservations,” he says, blaming the government for not doing enough to protect him. “How can I trust the authorities after all that has happened? They haven’t arrested a single person linked to the attacks on me, even though they know who was behind them.”

12-7

The Drone Wars

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—that is, pilot-less drones—shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report—and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program—reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese—became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war—that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it.

It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture and coeditor of History Wars, the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past.

12-7

Muslim Americans Inspire at the Apollo

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sarah Jawaid, Common Ground News

apollo_facade Washington, DC – As I peered down from the lower mezzanine level of Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater, I knew I was witnessing history. The village of Harlem has been a beacon of inspiration for artists throughout the 20th century; novelists, poets, musicians and actors found it a safe-haven for expression through various art forms such as music and theatre. On 23 January, a burgeoning Muslim American culture also found voice on the Apollo’s historic stage.

The Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) organised a special edition of Community Café, usually held in IMAN’s hometown of Chicago. This Muslim-led event was meant to provide a space for the socially conscious to celebrate and engage in various artistic forms of expression. Muslims from across the spectrum showcased their incredible talents while shattering self-propagated boundaries of race, gender, sect and vision. A sold-out audience cheered on the dynamic range of creativity from artists, like singer/actor Mos Def, comedian Aasif Mandvi, Progress Theater, musician Amir Sulaiman and The ReMINDers.

The most striking and memorable aspect of the event was not any one performance, but the performances’ effect on those attending. The social cohesion resulting from the event extended beyond the Apollo, sending reverberations throughout the American landscape as attendees returned home. With the recent catastrophic events in Haiti heavy on the hearts of the performers, it was a night of social responsibility, artistic sharing and advocacy.

This event couldn’t have come at a more perfect juncture in the Muslim American experience. Our identity continues to be shaped by our diversity, reaction to world events and sometimes the stereotyping within and outside of our communities. Nevertheless, Muslim Americans are proactively constructing their own unique identities by contributing meaningfully to society through engagement in causes they truly care about.

For example, there’s the woman getting her Ph.D. in psychology to bring attention to mental disorders often seen as illegitimate in many of our communities. There’s the man shattering misconceptions about masculinity by taking on issues of domestic violence. There’s the painter donating proceeds from what she creates to the victims of Haiti.

These are everyday people. They aren’t in the limelight. They don’t have book or movie deals. They are living their lives, doing genuine good work because they believe in it. Yes, they are Muslim, and so much more.

Oftentimes, the media highlights folks on the fringes as the only ones confronting singular expressions of Islam. Those in the middle go unnoticed because they aren’t as sexy, loud or attention seeking. While the former expressions are one patch in the quilt that makes up the dynamic nature of the Muslim American community, they shouldn’t receive a disproportionate amount of attention. Our collective hope for society should be a higher level of consciousness, and that won’t happen by focusing only on those at the edges of society, who are most visible.

Focusing on the everyday folks instead can lead us to a stronger sense of social cohesion. These individuals provide us with something intangible but extremely valuable. They are the steady calm, the heart that keeps beating even when gone unnoticed. These individuals are helping create a Muslim American narrative that is based on God-consciousness by confirming faith with good works, community engagement and a purpose that goes beyond their existence.

As I sat there at the Apollo, listening in awe to the beautiful operatic voice of Sumayya, an African American woman with a pink hijab (headscarf), and Zeeshan, a Bangladeshi American Andrea Bocelli, I knew I was home. They were sharing a part of their soul with me while shattering barrier upon barrier.

Art comes from deep within us, a place that often thrives with mental quietude and presence. And when art is shared with one another, it has the power to inspire, build bridges to uncharted places and heal wounds. As we continue to shape our stories, let’s remember our essence and how we are all connected to friends of other faiths, the earth and our communities–from a place of wholeness.

* Sarah Jawaid is a writer, artist and faith-based activist working on urban planning issues in Washington, DC. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

12-6

The Center for Global Understanding Announces 25 Scholarships for Muslims

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

American students to Intern in Washington D.C.

Torrance, February 1, 2010 – The Center for Global Understanding (CFGU) in partnership with The Washington Center (TWC) announces the availability of 25 scholarships for Muslim American students to intern in Washington D.C.

Program components are as follows:

1. Placement: Tailored toward students’ interest. We work with students in all majors. Past placements include the Department of the Treasury, The White House, Voice of America, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, National Institutes of Health, American Civil Liberties Union, National Endowment for the Arts, Congressional offices, law firms, corporations, think tanks, lobbying firms, and many more!

2. Academic Credits: Students will take a seminar-style class for about 3 hours one evening per week. Students may get academic credits from their college or university.

3. Housing: We have housing arrangement in an apartment setting.

4. Financial Aid: 25 scholarships of $3,000 each are available to qualified students for the summer of 2010.

5. CFGU Public Affairs: Lectures and discussions with Muslim American Leaders from Congress, Business, Public Health and other fields.

We encourage Muslim American students to visit our website for more details about the requirements and to apply online.

Please feel free to contact us at internship@cfgu.us or 310-710-3460 if you need any further information; 640 Maple Avenue, Torrance, Ca 90503 • Tel: (310) 710-3460 • Fax: (310) 787-7350 • Email: info@cfgu.us.

For details, please visit www.centerforglobalunderstanding.org

43% of Americans Admit to Feeling Some Prejudice toward Muslims

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Analysis by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudice toward Muslims — more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%). The findings are based on a new Gallup Center for Muslim Studies report, “Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam,” released Thursday.

In a separate question asking Americans to express their overall view about each of the four religions evaluated, Islam is the most negatively viewed. Nearly one-third of Americans (31%) say their opinion of Islam is “not favorable at all” versus 9% who say their opinion is “very favorable.” This stands in contrast to Americans’ views of Christianity and Judaism, which are far more likely to be “very favorable” than “not favorable at all,” while Buddhism draws almost equally positive and negative opinions at the extremes. Gallup conducted the nationwide U.S. survey between Oct. 31 and Nov. 13, 2009, spanning the Fort Hood shooting in which a U.S.-born Muslim military doctor killed 13 people on the Army base on Nov. 5.

The new report further explores variables that are associated with extreme prejudice (“a great deal”) toward followers of Islam as well as variables that may be related to lack of prejudice. To download the full report, go to www.muslimwestfacts.com. Key findings from the report will also be released next month in Cairo, Egypt. The Gallup Center for Muslim Studies conducts its Washington, D.C., and Cairo launches with its Muslim West Facts partner, the Coexist Foundation.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct.31-Nov.13, 2009. Gallup Panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.4 percentage points.In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

12-6

Karzai to Pay Taliban to Lay Down Their Arms

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheedullah Massoud (AFP)

2010-01-27T192506Z_1489401820_GM1E61S09H201_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Hamid Karzai waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street after his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London January 27, 2010.  

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs 

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an ambitious Western-funded plan Friday to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms in an effort to quell a crippling insurgency.

His comments to the BBC came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan’ s “political fabric”, but said any future role would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.

Karzai’s plan echoed similar proposals by Washington to try and bring low and mid-level extremists back into mainstream society, but the leadership of Islamist insurgent groups remain hostile to negotiations.

Militants led by the Taliban movement have been waging an increasingly deadly rebellion against the Afghan government and foreign troops since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from power in late 2001.

“We know as the Afghan people we must have peace at any cost,” Karzai said in the television interview aired Friday ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London next week, where he will present the plan.

“Those that we approach to return will be provided with the abilities to work, to find jobs, to have protection, to resettle in their own communities.”

The Taliban gives its foot-soldiers higher salaries than the Afghan government can afford to pay its forces, and the president said his project would have international backing to provide the necessary funds.

Hardline Taliban supporters, who were members of Al-Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme, Karzai added.

The Taliban leadership have repeatedly rebuffed peace talks in the past, and on Friday a spokesman for the militia, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated that they would not negotiate with Karzai’s government.

“Our only and main goal is the freedom and independence of our country. We cannot be bought by money and bounties. The Taliban will not sell themselves off for cash,” Mujahid said, reacting to Karzai’s comments.

“We insist on our previous stance that we will not negotiate with this government. Any negotiation now would mean accepting being a slave of America. Our goal is enforcing an Islamic government and withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who commands another radical Islamist group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, would come to the table with the US and Afghan government, but only under strict conditions, his spokesman Zubair Sediqi said.

“All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally. A permanent ceasefire must be enforced. All prisoners from all side must be freed. An interim administration must take charge for one year,” Sediqi told AFP.

Karzai has in the past urged the United States to back talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar but Washington has resisted negotiations with any figures linked to wider extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

On a visit to Pakistan — which has come under intense US pressure to do more to wipe out Islamist extremists along its border with Afghanistan — Gates said the Taliban had to prove they wanted a role in Afghanistan’s future.

“The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participating in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families,” he told reporters.

Gates had said earlier that some lower-ranking insurgents might be open to making peace with Kabul, but warned that the senior-most Taliban leaders would unlikely reconcile with Afghanistan’s government.

In Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a long-term non-military strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy aims to to rebuild the Afghan farm sector, improve governance and bring extremists back into mainstream society.

It complements a military strategy in which President Barack Obama announced on December 1 he would deploy another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

Extra troop commitments from NATO allies are expected to take to around 150,000 the total number of foreign troops operating in Afghanistan under US and NATO command in the coming year.

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Muslim Medical Groups in Haiti

January 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

(Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 24, 2010) – The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) said today that it has helped convert the “Bojeux Parc” amusement park in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to a health care facility. The facility is being operated through a partnership between IMANA, Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) and AIMER Haiti volunteers.

With existing hospitals in Port-Au-Prince overwhelmed with patients, IMANA said physicians at the facility are hoping to increase their capacity as quake victims continue to present with fractures, infected wounds and dehydration.

“On day one, an air hockey table doubled as a procedure table. Now, with our partners, we are providing services from pediatricians, obstetricians, emergency doctors, and surgeons to at least 100 patients a day. We are hoping to arrange equipment that would allow our surgeons to go from performing simple procedures to running a full mobile operating room,” said Dr. Sameer Gafoor, a volunteer physician in Port-au-Prince. Gafoor is a cardiologist at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

IMANA is planning to send additional teams of physicians and surgeons every week with shipments of supplies to support existing operations.

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Clinton Ends US Visa Ban on Tariq Ramadan

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

swissinfo.ch and agencies

ramadan-709854 The United States has lifted a ban on Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan entering the country.

Ramadan has had his US visa revoked several times since 2004 when he was due to take up a university teaching post. He was banned from the US over alleged ties to terrorism.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has signed orders enabling the re-entry of Ramadan and Adam Habib, a professor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, once they obtained required admittance documents, department spokesman Darby Holladay said on Wednesday.

He said Clinton “has chosen to exercise her exemption authority” for the pair’s benefit. “Both the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that the US government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Holladay said.

Both professors, who are frequently invited to the US to lecture, were critics of the war in Iraq.

Government lawyers have said Ramadan was barred because he gave money to a Swiss-based charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP), between 1998 and 2002. Washington listed ASP as a banned group in 2003, saying it supported terrorism and had contributed funds to the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

“The decision brings to an end a dark period in American politics that saw security considerations invoked to block critical debate through a policy of exclusion and baseless allegation,” Ramadan said in a statement.

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Community News (V12-I5)

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

IMANA sets up clinic in Haiti

imana

Imana team on their first day in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) said today that it has helped convert an amusement park in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to a health care facility. The facility, which is seeing over 100 patients a day, is being operated through a partnership between IMANA, other medical teams, and local partners such as Aimer Haiti.

With existing hospitals in Port-Au-Prince overwhelmed with patients, IMANA said physicians at the facility are hoping to increase their capacity as quake victims continue to present with fractures, infected wounds and dehydration.

“On day one, an air hockey table doubled as a procedure table. Now, with our partners, we are providing services from pediatricians, obstetricians, emergency doctors, and surgeons to at least 100 patients a day. We are hoping to arrange equipment that would allow our surgeons to go from performing simple procedures to running a full mobile operating room,” said Dr. Sameer Gafoor, a volunteer physician in Port-au-Prince. Gafoor is a cardiology fellow in Washington, D.C.

IMANA  is planning to send additional teams of physicians and surgeons every week with shipments of supplies to support existing operations.

Flint Islamic center seeks expansion

FLINT, MI–The Flint Islamic Center, catering to more than 1500 Muslims in the area, is seeking a $4.5 million expansion to its existing facilities. The new complex will have a mosque, a grade school, and will double its size from its current facility.

Besides an expanded worship space, a multi-purpose hall for social gatherings, a professional kitchen and new offices, the plan is to revamp the school operation with a new media center, science lab, school cafeteria, a new gym, an expanded computer lab to include long-distance learning, and room for a new high school program, said board member Abed Khirfan to mlive.com.

The Flint area continues to attract Muslim professionals and their families to the area due to its excellent schools, communities, and hospitals.

Kais Menoufy honored for his human rights work

SACRAMENTO, CA– Kais Menoufy, a Muslim community activist in Sacramento, was honored by the Florin Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen’s League, for his commitment to civil rights.

Menoufy helps bring “Songs of Hope” – an annual concert performed by Arab and Israeli musicians – to Sacramento.

Since 2006, the Florin JACL has partnered with Muslim organizations to take Muslim American youths to the Manzanar Internment Camp in the Southern California desert where Japanese American were interned during World War II.

Eboo Patel to speak at Stanford graduation ceremony

Interfaith leader Eboo Patel is one of the featured speakers at this year’s graduation ceremonies beginning on June 11, 200. He will joing UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Stanford Philosophy Professor Debra Satz.

Patel is a member of the Obama administration’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. A Muslim born in India and raised in Chicago, he founded the Interfaith Youth Core in 1998 to inspire and train college students to build understanding.

He is the author of a Washington Post blog, “The Faith Divide,” which explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. He also wrote “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.” He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois.

“We believe Eboo Patel’s lifelong work to encourage religious tolerance and to prompt young people to take action will inspire all of us to make a difference,” the class presidents said.

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Israel is Immune From Criticism

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Brian Cloughley

Bombing-in-Gaza-001
The Goldstone report, which HRW supported, accused Israel of a disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population. Photograph: Hatem Omar/AP

The state of Israel has descended – plummeted – to one of the lowest levels of conscious barbarity that is currently evident in this horrible world.

Any nation that has behaved towards a subject people, as Israel has to Palestinians, is worthy only of utter contempt. On Sunday January 4 I heard a rabbi on the BBC’s morning religious program saying that he supported Israel’s air strikes on Gaza. A man of God actually endorsed the killing of hundreds of people. To say that I was – and am – aghast at the sentiment expressed is to put it very mildly. This religious leader, a person supposed to spread and preach tolerance, patience, charity and peace, was supporting war crimes of immense gravity. His approval of the killing of Arabs was blood-chilling.

And this rabbi was British. Here we have a British citizen supporting hatred and bigotry on a BBC religious program. But of course he isn’t really British. He is an Israeli religious propagandist of British citizenship whose main allegiance is to Israel. There are thousands like him in the UK and the US. They unconditionally promote Tel Aviv’s plans and policy and wield amazing influence over politicians and businesses. Killing Palestinians is Israeli policy, and these people spare no effort to justify it.

Here’s a resident of Gaza talking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the horrors experienced by Palestinians (and congratulations to Haaretz for having the courage to print it): “I keep the children away from the windows because the F-16s are in the air; I forbid them to play below because it’s dangerous. They’re bombing us from the sea and from the east, they’re bombing us from the air. When the telephone works, people tell us about relatives or friends who were killed. My wife cries all the time. At night she hugs the children and cries. It’s cold and the windows are open; there’s fire and smoke in open areas; at home there’s no water, no electricity, no heating gas. And you [the Israelis] say there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Tell me, are you normal?”

No, they’re not, is the short answer, and the ruthlessness is epitomized by the evil Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who is using the Gaza war to establish her credentials as a reliably hard-nosed barbarian. She declares “there is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”

It was reported on January 5 that Israeli troops are using white phosphorus (WP) artillery shells in Gaza, supposedly to create smoke screens to conceal their advance.

American troops used WP – fondly known as Willy Pete – in their destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and the US tried to lie its way out of the war crime, but junior officers unintentionally blew the lies apart by writing in the magazine Field Artillery that “WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions . . . and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against insurgents in trench lines and spider holes . . . We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents using WP to flush them out and high explosive shells (HE) to take them out.” In fact WP is an effective killer, and anyone who inhales particles will suffer a particularly hideous and painful death. As recorded by The Independent newspaper in Britain “In the aftermath of the battle [at Fallujah], the State Department’s Counter Misinformation Office issued a statement saying that WP was only “used very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night [which isn’t the propose of a smoke-shell], not at enemy fighters.” When The Independent confronted the State Department with the first-hand accounts of soldiers who participated, an official accepted the mistake and undertook to correct its website.” Big deal. Lie, lie and lie again, until you’re found out and it’s impossible to deny the facts. And the Israelis seem to be taking the example, as usual, and are stoutly denying what has been seen by independent witnesses.

Article two, Protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states: “It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons.” But Israel is only following the US example. “Shake and bake” is such an attractive military option that it would be a shame to spoil their fun, especially when it has rabbinical approval.

Here is part of what is laid out in Protocol 1, Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977 . . . General Protection Against Effects of Hostilities: “Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Israel, supported energetically by Washington (and using US-supplied aircraft, bombs and rockets), has caused “incidental loss of life” and general civilian casualties on an enormous scale. The Israeli military and the Israeli people knew full well that their genocidal attack on Gaza would kill civilians. The use of white phosphorous in built-up areas is worthy of the Nazis at their most brutal. Stalin and Mao would nod approvingly. It wasn’t considered important that there would be countless civilian deaths. Nobody cares, and least of all American politicians.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refuses to comment on the atrocities. The vice-president has been silent. President Obama? As Reuters reported : “Obama . . . has not commented on the Middle East crisis since Israel launched attacks on Gaza nine days ago. His advisers insist that only President George W Bush can speak for America until then.” But it was noted that “The president-elect has commented on the global economic crisis and his plans to try to pull the US economy out of recession.”

Of course he has. And were it not for the power of Israel in America he would no doubt comment adversely on the slaughter in Gaza, because he is a decent man.
But Mr. Obama dare not criticize Israel, even for its use of chemical shells. Nor can any American who wishes to enter or remain engaged in politics. The kiss of political death in the United States of America is to censure Israel. It can’t be done.

And that is why apartheid is permitted in Israel; it’s why the mass-punishment blockade was enforced months before the attack went in; and it’s why the near-genocide in Gaza is allowed to continue.

Does anyone remember the hearing on the so-called Israeli-Palestine peace process in the US House of Representatives in February 2007? Of course not. It was a farce. And why was it such a revolting and hideous charade? – Because it was a three card trick.

The main witness, of the three cards who were called, was one Martin Indyk, a former official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which is the richest and most powerful lobby group in the country (two of whose members are currently under a mysteriously delayed investigation for spying for Israel). From there, inevitably, he went to be US ambassador in Tel Aviv. (And, incidentally, whose book on the Middle East was the subject of a glowing review in last week’s Economist.) Another witness was David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (founded by Indyk; it’s all very chummy in pro-Israel sewers), which is funded extensively by American interests that support Zionism. (Among other connections, it is closely associated with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.) And was the third witness a counter-balance to two energetic supporters of Zion? Could he or she present a rather less biased view of the Middle East? Perhaps a person who would make the point that Israel has contemptuously ignored UN Security Council resolutions concerning illegal occupation of Palestinian lands?

Not a bit. The third member was a comic quasi-intellectual character called Daniel Pipes who once declared that Muslim immigrants to the US were “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.” (Germanic? – How quaint.) Pipes founded the Middle East Forum (MEF) which encourages university students in America to report lecturers and professors who they consider to be anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. (In Hitler’s Germany there were awards given to young people who identified and reported those they thought to be pro-Jewish; I know a very elderly German lady who did this when she was 15. She is now terribly ashamed at the memory, because she actually informed on her own father. How times change. Or don’t, of course.)

In 2006 Pipes was given the ‘Guardian of Zion’ award, an annual prize to a prominent supporter of Israel, by the Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

With a galaxy of partisan propagandists like Indyk, Makovsky and Pipes being the only people selected to give evidence on Israel-Palestine to the nation’s legislators in Washington, there was no chance whatever that the Congressional Sub-Committee would be presented with a balanced view of the Israel-Palestine problem. The deck was stacked, and the legislators listened. They had no choice, because of the power of the Israel lobby. They’ve been shaken and baked.

There is little doubt that the bias towards Israel will continue in the legislature and administration of the United States of America, no matter what Obama might really think, and no matter how many Palestinian children the Zionists have slaughtered. The Israelis are behaving like genocidal people, but those who stay silent about their atrocities are not far behind in the gutter stakes.

Brian Cloughley’s book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK)

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Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society’s support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments’ support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year’s Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt’s plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

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Don’t Panic. Fear Is Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

The attempted bombing says more about al-Qaeda’s weakened state than its strength. In the eight years before Sept. 11, al-Qaeda was able to launch large-scale terrorist attacks on several continents. It targeted important symbols of American power — embassies in Africa; a naval destroyer, the USS Cole; and, of course, the World Trade Center. The operations were complex — a simultaneous bombing of two embassies in different countries — and involved dozens of people of different nationalities who trained around the world, moved significant sums of money and coordinated their efforts over months, sometimes years.

On Christmas an al-Qaeda affiliate launched an operation using one person, with no special target, and a failed technique tried eight years ago by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. The plot seems to have been an opportunity that the group seized rather than the result of a well-considered strategic plan. A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil. That’s why the terror group proudly boasted about the success of its mission.

Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. “We approach airline security with the understanding that it’s a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures — caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what’s broken and keep improving the design and execution,” says Zelikow.

Imagine if that were the process after a lapse in homeland security. The public would know that any attack, successful or not, would trigger an automatic, serious process to analyze the problem and fix it. Politicians might find it harder to use every such event for political advantage. The people on the front lines of homeland security would not get demoralized as they watched politicians and the media bash them and grandstand with little knowledge.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy’s father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

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