Khan Continues Demands to Overturn Loss

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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Former super lightweight champion Amir Khan repeated calls this past week for his loss to Lamont Peterson to be overturned or for the sanctioning bodies to mandate an immediate rematch. The split decision, following a fight in which referee Joe Cooper deducted two points from Khan for pushing, so incensed Khan’s handlers that they filed official appeals to both sanctioning bodies, and during a conference call Tuesday afternoon, Khan reiterated his position.

“I think the IBF and WBA should order a rematch in my opinion and also look at the fight the way it was refereed,” Khan said during a conference call while on a train to London. “Let’s just see where we go from here. Overall, it was a great performance from Lamont Peterson  also. We both were happy with the way we fought, but the referee and the judging just spoiled a great night of boxing.”

Cooper deducted a point from Khan in the seventh and 12th rounds that Khan and his team insist came without customary warning. Cooper, however, warned Peterson repeatedly, Khan’s camp said, for coming in low with his head but did not issue a penalty.

Richard Schaefer, chief executive officer of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Khan’s publicity, also questioned circumstances that unfolded immediately after the fight. The suspicious activity, Schaefer said, included judges taking an exceptionally long time after the fight to pick the winner; judge George Hill’s card showing 10-10 for the seventh round and later changed to 10-8 in favor of Peterson; and the disappearance of an IBF scorecard that had the fight as a draw.

Schaefer said he spoke to IBF Champions Chairman Lindsay Tucker on Monday morning about the incident and was told the IBF supervisor at the fight said the card had vanished. Schaefer also said Tucker told him it appeared to the IBF supervisor that the D.C. boxing commission removed the card while Peterson was in the ring receiving the belt. “Then suddenly two days ago, an IBF scorecard appeared,” Schaefer said. “It looks as if it was made up after the fact. No question about it. Or it was made two days ago. The printing was way too neat and consistent, not consistent with what usually a scorecard looks like. We’re just outlining the facts here. There clearly is some smoke.”

Khan’s camp initially sent the IBF a letter stating its disapproval of the refereeing and judging, and the IBF responded by saying it did not see grounds to overturn the decision. Khan’s team then filed an official appeal that Schaefer said is set to be heard in New York on Jan. 19. Khan’s team is still awaiting an official reply from the WBA.

Peterson, meantime, has not announced an official rematch. Peterson said after the fight that he was willing to fight Khan again, and Schaefer said he approached Barry Hunter, Peterson’s trainer, with a seven-figure offer for a bout at Staples Center on May 19. The process of setting up a rematch, though, appears on hold pending rulings from the IBF and WBA.

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Got the Christmas Blues?

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Struggle Has Re-awakened Our Imagination

November 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Arundhati Roy

Text of a speech given by Arundhati Roy at the People’s University in Washington Square, NYC on 20 November, 2011.

india-arundhati-at-mike3Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back.

The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We’re not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody.

What you have achieved since September 17th, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies, mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment.

As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. And I cannot thank you enough.

We were talking about justice. Today, as we speak, the army of the United States is waging a war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. US drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and beyond. Tens of thousands of US troops and death squads are moving into Africa. If spending trillions of dollars of your money to administer occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough, a war against Iran is being talked up.

Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the US made a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – moderate Muslims, right? It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5 billion-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives — all of them fought to secure the “American way of life”.

Today, we know that the “American way of life” — the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards — has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and their jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations — American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182 billion.

The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India’s richest people own assets worth one-quarter of the country’s GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day. Two hundred and fifty thousand farmers, driven into a spiral of debt death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified. We have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.

The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks.

Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

They, the one percent, say that we don’t have demands” perhaps they don’t know, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things — a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had — for us to think about together:

We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As “cap-ists” and “lid-ites”, we demand:

One, an end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure — water supply, electricity, health, and education — cannot be privatized.

Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents’ wealth.

This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights”, and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.

As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.

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On the Verge of Transition

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

– The Syrian Expatriate

By Laura Fawaz

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Livonia, MI–“I think what happened in Syria is exactly what happened in the rest of the Arab World.  It’s the results of long term torture and oppression by the current regime,” said Ammar Ghanem, of Indiana, with the Syrian National Council, when speaking about the effect of the Arab Spring on Syria.

Last Saturday, the Syrian Expatriate, along with the Syrian National Council, held a seminar called “On The Verge of Transition, a Meeting With The Syrian National Council, at Burton Manor in Livonia.” 
The seminar focused on the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) integration within Syrian Communities across the world.  The SNC’s focus was for the Syrian community, especially in Metro-Detroit, to meet the SNC and the Syrian Expatiate. 

SNC board member Louay Sakka of Canada explained that they are hoping “for an exchange of ideas, and to discuss the future of Syria.”

Ghanem added, “The main objective is trying to help the people inside Syria, and to help drive forward the Syrian Revolution.”

Attendees were asking questions and exploring options for Syria with the SNC, as part of the seminar that was divided into four topics: The structure and the way the SNC is currently working, the economics of the Syrian Revolution and options to weaken the regime, discussing the political work being done, and lastly, international protection and interaction to protect civilians in Syria.

Ghanem explained that the plans for this event have been in the works for five weeks, and were necessary because “the people of Syria couldn’t take it anymore, and they want to up rise and want to get rid of the current regime.  Who doesn’t want freedom?”

Asked if most Metro-Detroit Syrians feel the same way about the current Syrian political party, Sakaa replied, “most of the people in general already get to a point where they are completely against the regime.  Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everyone is on the same page.  You still have people who get some type of benefit from this regime, directly or indirectly.” 

According to Sakaa, since the rest of the world is primary against the current political Syrian party, the Arab League has just removed Syria.  After this, it seems as though most Syrians are feeling the isolation, and is why less people are working with the Syrian government. 

Some of course still support the current Syrian regime. So the SNC when asked whether anyone came out and showed disagreement with this event, they explained that Burton Manor received anonymous threatening phone calls. 

The SNC took extra precautions, including having the Livonia Police Department all around the building, as well as having their own security on board.

As the rest of the Arab World has shown this past year, we truly cannot know what is happening inside country lines until it all unravels.  So for now, attending events such as this will be our closest entry point. 

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This Thanksgiving Be Grateful

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections – that you may give thanks.”

Life in the United States is by far superior to most places in the world.  This is primarily because of the freedoms we enjoy here that most other places in the world are not aware of; and for this we should give thanks.  We should be thankful to live in a country that opens its doors to other cultures, ethnic groups, and religious persuasions and allows them to live and practice as they see fit – as long as the spirit of the law is adhered to.

This Thanksgiving season that is approaching gives us an excellent opportunity to show our gratitude to God for everything He has bestowed on us.  There have been so many extraordinary acts of kindness heaped on Muslims, Jews, Christians and other people of faith, who know and understand that good people abound in other faiths as they do in the faith they ascribe to.  So we should be proud and hold our heads high and thank God for His Beneficence to those who believe in Him

We had nothing, before God, in His infinite Mercy, gave us life from the womb.  But He didn’t stop there.  He didn’t just create man and leave him be.  He created man and gave him guidance, intelligence, and put love in his heart – so that man can be grateful and express that gratitude in the best manner – which is utilizing those gifts for His service.

There are also atrocities happening in the world that we might tend to look at in a negative way.  Some might wonder how to look for ways to be grateful in the wake of such chaos?   But the truth is Almighty God makes a way for the believers to gain something positive out of everything He sends to us or allows to happen to us.  And for this we should be grateful.

We must be enthusiastic, bold, and straightforward in presenting our religion in the best light.  Above all, we must not cringe and hide our identity for fear of being looked at unfavorably.  The true religion and Islamic character will bring people to you faster than you can imagine.  The Prophet (s) was the best example of all humanity and just to act like him puts you in an imitation of his position – and other faiths realize it.  And for this we should be grateful.

The Prophet (s) treated everyone with respect.  We should do the same.  Whether you realize it or not, people admire Muslims for not taking intoxicants or unclean food – even though they might partake of these substances themselves.  It is not necessary to shout our way of life to everyone we meet, but we should be enthusiastic in living these virtues.  People will notice.  And for this we should be grateful.

We must be enthusiastic in keeping our faith in God.  Be thankful for everything.  God–ALLAH will bless us immensely for recognizing His gifts and then being thankful for them.  It is said of gratitude, “as for those who only pay lip-service to gratitude, and do not give thanks with the rest of their faculties, they are like a man who has a garment and all he does with it is touch it, but he does not put it on: it will never protect him from heat, cold, snow, or rain.  Let us wear our “garment”.

And in the Holy Qur’an He says, “If you be grateful, I will give you more.”

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Arab Films Showcase Turbulent Year

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Regan Doherty

DFI-DTFF_englishDOHA (Reuters) – The Arab Spring of pro-democracy uprisings features prominently — both directly and more subtly — in the selections at the third annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival, kicking off in the Qatari capital this week.

The festival, launched in 2009 in the tiny Gulf Arab state, seeks to showcase the work of Arab filmmakers who this year were able to draw on the momentous political changes in their own countries for artistic inspiration.

Highlights include “Rouge Parole,” set in the tumult of revolutionary Tunisia, which charts the expulsion of its president and the country’s first steps toward democracy.

Sherif El Bendary’s “On the Road to Downtown,” set in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, follows the lives and hopes of six people connected in different ways to the city’s downtown core.

“Our selection of documentaries provides for reflection on political change. But we also offer a number of films that look into private worlds and subtler aspects of the Middle Eastern experience that are not always evident to political observers,” said the festival’s Chief Arab Programer, Hania Mroue.

“The Virgin, the Copts and Me” takes on an otherworldly subject in investigating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to millions of Egyptians via a videotape on which only true believers can see her image.

“This is a very important film for post-revolutionary Egypt, as it sheds light on the Coptic community, which was taboo to do a few years ago,” Mroue said.

The Algerian title “Normale” examines what happened in the Algerian street as neighboring countries’ dictators were being toppled.

“The youth in Algeria felt they could now express themselves more freely. The film addresses the revolution in a very subtle way,” she said.

Lina Alabed’s “Yearning” focuses on the lives of women in Damascus and their approach to personal freedom in a society dominated by men.

Women are also the focus in two sports documentaries that examine the taboos surrounding women and boxing in Tunisia (“Boxing with Her”), and the life-altering experience of a young women’s basketball team in northern Iraq (“Salaam Dunk”).

Other headliners include the world premiere of “Black Gold” with Antonio Banderas, set in the 1930s at the dawn of the oil boom and the first major motion picture shot in Qatar.

Laila Hotait Salas’ “Crayons of Askalan” recreates the powerful story of Palestinian artist Zuhdi al Adawi, imprisoned at the age of 15 in Israel’s notorious Askalan jail.

Qatar launched the film festival as a partnership between the Doha Film Institute and Tribeca Enterprises, which also operates New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Created as a way to rejuvenate lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the World Trade Center, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York has become a showcase for international films with a political edge.

Organizers said the Doha event aims to do the same, using the festival to shine a spotlight on Arab cinema.

“We don’t want to focus only on the big names, we want to give a space also for new voices, especially from the region,” Mroue said.

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Crescent Moon, Waning West

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The decline of Western power in the Arab world

ShowImage.ashxAFTER a slow summer, the Arab spring has turned into a turbulent autumn. The past few days have seen the gruesome end of Muammar Qaddafi, the more edifying spectacle of an orderly and open election in Tunisia (see article) and the death of Saudi Arabia’s ancient crown prince Sultan amid demands for the kingdom to modernise faster. Egypt, by far the most populous Arab country, is poised to hold its first proper election next month. Revolts and civil strife continue across the region, from Syria to Yemen and Bahrain.

For the West, whose ties to Arab dictators once gave it great clout in the Middle East, events in the region have spun way out of control.

That fact was underlined this week by the Iraqis’ insistence that all American forces must quit the country by the end of the year. Yet the West should not regret this turn of events. The power that it has lost in the short term should, in the long run, be replaced by influence born of good relations with decent governments.

On balance, the Arab world is in far better shape than it was less than a year ago. For sure, the economies of all the countries affected by the democratic upheavals have slumped. That is true even of Tunisia, which has the best education and skills in the region. But dictatorship and state control suffocated the Arab economies—even those awash with oil. Once Arab countries’ borders open up and their governments become accountable to their citizens, they are likely to grow faster. And that will not happen until they have put in place a system of government that gives a far wider degree of participation than before.

It is beginning to happen. Tunisia has led the way. Egypt promises to follow, though the generals in charge of its transition have been horribly inept of late, raising fears that the country may slip backwards to disorder or military control. But a parliament is due for election next month. It is to choose an assembly that may take a year or so to write a constitution providing for the election of a new Egyptian president. Libya, too, should have elections within a year.

Everywhere risks lapsing into bouts of chaos and strife. But this trio of north African states looks set to give a democratic fillip to other Arab countries, including those such as Syria that seem destined for a time to be soaked in blood while they strive for liberation.

The rise of political Islam is not necessarily cause for alarm among democrats in the West and the Arab world. In Tunisia an Islamist party, Nahda (“Renaissance”), that was brutally banned for decades has won a stunning victory at the polls. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers are likely to do well too. In Libya the Islamists may also be gaining ground. This rattles secular-minded Arab liberals and many well-wishing Westerners.

But a more open and tolerant brand of political Islam better suited to the modern world seems to be emerging, especially now that its proponents must compete for the favours of voters who admire the Islamists’ hostility to corruption, but dislike the sectarian and conservative attitudes that many of them expressed when they were underground.

No one can be certain that if Islamists gain power they will give it up at the ballot box, but secular rulers sometimes fail that test. And, on the whole, the threat of religious extremism with which strongmen used to justify repression has not materialised. Barring a few ungoverned pockets in Yemen and on the fringes of the Sahara, al-Qaeda has failed to benefit from the democratic wind.

It’s a local show these days

The strength of these revolutions is that they have been almost entirely home-grown. Those in Egypt and Tunisia had no outside help.

Syria’s brave protesters are on their own and may, in time, triumph.

Libya’s new rulers could not have succeeded without NATO’s bombers, but the absence of Western ground troops and of proconsuls telling the locals what to do has been in salutary contrast to what happened in Iraq eight years ago, where democracy was crudely imposed on an unprepared people (see Lexington).

After the deaths of some 150,000-plus locals and around 5,000 Americans and other foreigners, Iraq has a freely elected government. But it has not developed the habits of tolerance between communities and the independent institutions that underlie all truly successful democracies. A decade of American hard power has been less effective than a few months of peaceful protest in setting countries on the road towards representative government.

Partly because of the Iraqi adventure, America—at least its foreign policy—remains heartily disliked by Arabs across the region. That is only slightly less true under Barack Obama than it was under George Bush. America’s unpopularity stems partly from its backing of Israel and the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, partly from its willingness to use force to get its way and partly from its history of supporting useful Arab dictators. Prince Sultan’s death may make this last point particularly salient. If the reactionary Prince Nayef becomes the crown prince and de facto regent, America may struggle to maintain an alliance with him alongside friendships with the Arab world’s nascent democracies.

Yet in the decline of Western power lie the seeds of hope for healthier relations in the future. Although the Arab world’s revolutionaries in general, and the Islamists in particular, are unlikely to hail the West as a model, they seem to be moving towards open political and economic systems. Nobody in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya is arguing for a Saudi Arabian, Iranian or even Chinese model. Arab students, businessmen and tourists in their thousands still choose to go to the West for their studies, their deals and their fun.

The prospects for Western influence in the Arab world are good. But in the future it will be won through education, investment and, when requested, advice on building up institutions. Such levers do not work as quickly as those that were forged from deals with unpopular and unstable dictators. But, in the end, they are likely to prove more reliable.

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The Biggest Lie in the War on Terrorism

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Crime of Making Americans Aware of Their Own History

By William Blum

Is history getting too close for comfort for the fragile little American heart and mind? Their schools and their favorite media have done an excellent job of keeping them ignorant of what their favorite country has done to the rest of the world, but lately some discomforting points of view have managed to find their way into this well-defended American consciousness.

First, Congressman Ron Paul during a presidential debate last month expressed the belief that those who carried out the September 11 attack were retaliating for the many abuses perpetrated against Arab countries by the United States over the years. The audience booed him, loudly.

Then, popular-song icon Tony Bennett, in a radio interview, said the United States caused the 9/11 attacks because of its actions in the Persian Gulf, adding that President George W. Bush had told him in 2005 that the Iraq war was a mistake. Bennett of course came under some nasty fire. FOX News (September 24), carefully choosing its comments charmingly as usual, used words like “insane”, “twisted mind”, and “absurdities”. Bennett felt obliged to post a statement on Facebook saying that his experience in World War II had taught him that “war is the lowest form of human behavior.” He said there’s no excuse for terrorism, and he added, “I’m sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of love for my country.” (NBC September 21)

Then came the Islamic cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who for some time had been blaming US foreign policy in the Middle East as the cause of anti-American hatred and terrorist acts. So we killed him.

Ron Paul and Tony Bennett can count themselves lucky.

What, then, is the basis of all this? What has the United States actually been doing in the Middle East in the recent past?

The shooting down of two Libyan planes in 1981 the bombing of Lebanon in 1983 and 1984 the bombing of Libya in 1986 the bombing and sinking of an Iranian ship in 1987 the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988 the shooting down of two more Libyan planes in 1989 the massive bombing of the Iraqi people in 1991 the continuing bombings and draconian sanctions against Iraq for the next 12 years the bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 the habitual support of Israel despite the routine devastation and torture it inflicts upon the Palestinian people the habitual condemnation of Palestinian resistance to this the abduction of “suspected terrorists” from Muslim countries, such as Malaysia, Pakistan, Lebanon and Albania, who were then taken to places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where they were tortured the large military and hi-tech presence in Islam’s holiest land, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region the support of numerous undemocratic, authoritarian Middle East governments from the Shah of Iran to Mubarak of Egypt to the Saudi royal family the invasion, bombing and occupation of Afghanistan, 2001 to the present, and Iraq, 2003 to the present the bombings and continuous firing of missiles to assassinate individuals in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya during the period of 2006-2011.

It can’t be repeated or emphasized enough. The biggest lie of the “war on terrorism”, although weakening, is that the targets of America’s attacks have an irrational hatred of the United States and its way of life, based on religious and cultural misunderstandings and envy. The large body of evidence to the contrary includes a 2004 report from the Defense Science Board, “a Federal advisory committee established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of Defense.” The report states:

“Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies.

The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”

The report concludes: “No public relations campaign can save America from flawed policies.” (Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 2004)

The Pentagon released the study after the New York Times ran a story about it on November 24, 2004. TheTimes reported that although the board’s report does not constitute official government policy, it captures “the essential themes of a debate that is now roiling not just the Defense Department but the entire United States government.”

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com

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Battle: 1757

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwarul Islam

evt100507085400060We’ve all heard the cliché: ‘A shot heard around the world.’ It refers to the start of the revolutionary war in 1775 that gave birth to United States of America.  In June 23 of 1757, about eighteen years before that shot, a similar incident of epic significance occurred in a not-so-known battlefield halfway around the world in India. That case, however, is known not for the firing of a shot, but rather its withholding. The outcome of the battle of Plassey would usher in the world in which we live today.

Plassey is a place in West Bengal of present day India. It is located about twelve miles north of the city of Kolkata. The battle that took place there was between Englishman Robert Clive of East India Company and nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daula. It was not a big battle. A few Englishmen and few hundred of the nawab’s soldiers were killed.

Instead, the real battle in Plassey was fought in a dark alley of intrigue and treachery, underscored by the incompetence of a young nawab. The actual details of the battle are unclear. Only one thing is certain: the shots that were supposed to have been fired for the nawab were not fired. The cannons under the command of his general, Mir Jafar, remained silent.

The battle mirrored the fractured, bickering ruling class of India at that time. The silence would change Bengal and India’s history. It would prove a definitive moment in world history and eventually pave the way for the domination of English speaking people in the world.

Robert Clive, later know as Baron of Plassey in England, became one of the richest person of England as a result of this battle. And that evoked some not-so-subtle jealousy from the established order of that time. He had to face parliamentarians to explain his actions. In his defence, he offered, “Consider the situation in which the victory of Plassey placed me.  A great prince was dependent on my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy; its richest bankers bid against each other for my smiles, I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels. Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderations.”

Mr. Clive did not mention about the silver of Bengal. May be he did not find it as glittering as the gold and jewels or it was stored in some other vaults. But for centuries silver and gold had found its way into Bengal as a result of its trading relation with the world. The Rupee, the currency of India, Pakistan and many other countries got its name from Rupa or silver as in known in many Indian languages.

Today, it is difficult to mention Bengal and wealth in the same sentence. At one time, however, Bengal was one of the most prosperous places in the world. Even after forty years of East India Company’s plundering, it still remained one of the two leading manufacturing centers of the world.

In 851, Arab Geographer Ibn Khurdabhbih wrote about his personal encounter with Bengal’s cotton textile and praised them for their superior beauty and fineness. These textiles of Bengal would attract merchants from around the world, who would buy its products in exchange for precious metals. Before the arrival of silver from the mines of Potosi in Bolivia of the New World, silver came from upper Burma-Yunnan mines which the rulers used to monetize their economies. In the middle of the first millennium, Bengal’s economy became monetized and silver coins became the medium of exchange.  Then the Portuguese came to Bengal in early sixteen century flushed with new world silver.

Eventually, the silver went back to Europe. Leadership of the world changed hands from Portugal and Spain to England with a brief interlude of Dutch hegemonic piracy. For the British, the taxes received from India’s peasants—who cultivated of fertile land in the Bengal Delta—would lubricate its economic and military engine. India became the captive market for British Industrial Products as punitive tariffs would destroy the local textile industry in order to make room for the products of Manchester. The directors of the East India Company became enormously rich and thus gained influence over governmental policies. As the parliament became stronger, the monarchy became weaker. 

On a military and political front, the victory of Plassey was the impetus for British mastery of the world. The British gained control of the saltpetre of Bengal, the indispensable ingredient of gunpowder. With Bengal under sole control of the East India Company, the French had to make do with an inferior domestic supply of saltpetre, resulting in a suit for peace in 1763. Ending the seven year war, it paved the way for the rise of the British supremacy in the world.

For the East India Company, the booty of Plassey was huge.  Two hundred barges loaded with silver and gold were floated from Bengal’s capital, Murshibad, to London. It is almost certain that the barges floated down the Ganges contained that silver the Portuguese brought in.  American historian Brooks Adams states a direct link between the industrial revolution and Plassey: “Very soon after Plassey, the Bengal plunder began to arrive in London, and the effect appears to have been instantaneous; for all authorities agree that the ‘industrial revolution’, the event which has divided the nineteenth century from all antecedent time, began with the year 1760.”

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Hillary Clinton Speaks at Eid ul-Fitr Reception

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hillary Clinton

Ben Franklin Room

2011-09-01T141308Z_1393267109_GM1E7911PY301_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA-CONFERENCE

File: Hillary Clinton in Paris September 1, 2011.

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Thank you, Farah.  Thank you.  Well, I am a wannabe athlete – (laughter) – and I have absolutely no claim to being anything other than that, but I am delighted that this evening we are going to be honoring some young people who truly are athletes and who are carving their own futures in the history of our country.

So good evening everyone.  Eid Mubarak.  And thank you, Farah, for your tireless efforts on behalf of the work that brings you not only to this podium but around the world.

It is a delight to see so many ambassadors from countries that I have visited and know well and to see many familiar faces here again, particularly some of the youth leaders that we honored at our last Iftar dinner.  The problem with Ramadan in August is it was impossible, and so we thought, well, it’s September but we’re going forward.  And so I thank you for your understanding and your being here once again.

Now, I’m told that there are two members of Congress with us, Representatives Keith Ellison and Sheila Jackson Lee, and I send a special word of welcome to them.

As Farah said, you can see through the lobby and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms some of our history of presidents affirming America’s respect for Muslims and Islam dating back to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  And we celebrate that history, and particularly today we wanted to celebrate sports and athletic competition.  Whether it be the Olympics or the World Cup, the human drive to run faster and climb higher is universal, and universally celebrated.  And it’s also a way by which talent rises to the top, ability is what matters, and people are treated equally.

And that’s part of the reason the State Department sponsors sports exchange programs and sends sports ambassadors around the world.  And for all the athletes joining us this evening, you may never have thought of yourself exactly as a role model, but you are.  And you are not only to the students that some of you visited earlier today, but to so many beyond.  And all Americans take pride in your achievements.

Now, we have some household names as well as some who will be household names.  World champion boxer Amir Khan flew all the way from London to be part of this celebration.  Where is Mr. Khan?  Thank you so much for coming.  (Applause.)

We also have a number of women athletes who are here.  When Ibtihaj Muhammad fences in her hijab, when she trains 30 hours each week without missing a prayer, she’s thinking about winning and she’s thinking about the London Olympics next year.  Where is Ms. Muhammad? 

Where is she?  Right there.  (Applause.)  But I think it’s fair to say that, as her mother has said, many people feel pride and recognize that she is representing more than just herself in her endeavors.
Now, not everybody will go to the Olympics, but even weekend warriors can get some satisfaction out of this.  And I hope many of you were able to watch the new documentary we screened earlier.  And we are joined by the coach and four members of the Fordson Tractors  from Dearborn, Michigan, as well as the filmmakers.  Where are all of them? 

That was such a great documentary and a great story.  (Applause.)

And I hope everybody gets a chance to meet our athletes here tonight, but that film highlighted the exceptional circumstances that the team faced, that they wanted to train hard and stay healthy while keeping the requirements of Ramadan.  And so like every other high school team, they geared up for football practice in August this year with two-a-day practices, except they took the field at 11:00 p.m. and finished around 4:00.  And that takes special dedication, special dedication to both your sport and your faith.

But what stood out to me is how familiar the team and the players ultimately are.  The image of the pregame huddle and prayer could’ve been filmed at any high school in America.  Shoulder pads and helmets crowded the locker room, and big-game nerves were somewhat evident on your faces, I have to confess.  But despite the extra burdens they carried, at the end of it, it was Friday night football for a team of champions.

Now, we can’t pretend that there have not been difficulties and division.  In fact, the Fordson documentary tells the story of the religious tensions in Dearborn, Michigan.  But the power of America has always been anchored in our ability to come together and move forward as one nation.

This weekend, we will mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th.  And we all lost something that day.  In the ashes and the aftermaths, we knew that we had lost Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, men, women, young, old.  And a decade later, that unity that we felt must continue to inspire and guide us.

I’m very proud that in our country, despite the challenges, we do honor the freedom of religion.  Too many countries in the world today do not, or they make it difficult and even dangerous for people to try to exercise their religion.  So as difficult as it may be, the fact that we get up every day and keep trying is a real tribute to all of us.  So at this time of celebration and reflection, and as we mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new year of renewal and possibility, I hope we can recommit ourselves to the common cause of spreading peace, prosperity, understanding to all the people of the earth.

Now I wanted to introduce two of our athletes so that you could hear  from them directly.  Ephraim Salaam has played in the NFL for over a decade, but some of you may know him best for his memorable Super Bowl commercial last year.  (Laughter.)  And Kulsoom Abdullah is a weightlifter, forging the way for Muslim women athletes to maintain their freedom of expression and still compete at the highest level. 

Please join me in welcoming first Ephraim and then Kulsoom.

(Applause.)

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Ahmadinejad’s Economic Savvy

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

‘He’s giving back half of the 60 billion dollars in savings directly to the people in monthly deposits. So every Iranian, man woman and child, is eligible to receive the equivalent of 40 dollars a month.’

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

2011-08-26T105634Z_682489454_GM1E78Q1GTX01_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-PALESTINIANS-AHMADINEJAD

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to worshippers before speaking at Friday prayers on Jerusalem Day in Tehran August 26, 2011.

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

From the White House to London’s House of Commons and beyond…few Westerners have anything nice to say about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But there’s one group that has glowing words of praise for Iran’s President – and it’s based not in Tehran, but in Washington.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest report paints a pretty picture of Iran’s economy.

It says growth has hit 3.2%, and will accelerate still further.

Inflation has dropped from 25% to 12% in just two years.

And Tehran has managed to do what every major oil exporter can only dream of accomplishing: It’s slashed subsidies on gas to recoup 60 billion dollars in annual revenue. That one-sixth of Iran’s entire GDP.

Why is this happening? And how can it be despite years of economic sanctions?

What in the world is going on?

Some say the IMF’s numbers can’t be right.

But we have no reason to doubt their work. The fund reasserted this week that its projections were independent of the government.

The real story here is that Iran has actually begun implementing some economic reforms. For decades now, Iranian leaders have tried to wean its people off cheap oil – oil that is subsidized by the government.

Cheap oil that has no connection to real market prices is not sustainable. Iran knows it, and so does every country from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela. But in the same way that any talk of tax increases here in America is considered heresy, people in oil-rich countries believe as an article of faith that they deserve cheap oil.

So how did Iran finally cut out the freebies?

The backstory is a complex game of chess between Ahmadinejad and someone much more powerful – the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

One theory goes like this: The Ayatollah thought cutting subsidies would make Ahmadinejad deeply unpopular. An ensuing revolt would then remove the one man who’s come to challenge the Supreme Leader’s power.

Another theory is that Ahmadinejad felt confident enough to go ahead with the reforms because he’s crushed the opposition Green Movement.

Either way, he’s played a smart hand. He’s giving back half of the 60 billion dollars in savings directly to the people in monthly deposits.

So every Iranian, man woman and child, is eligible to receive the equivalent of 40 dollars a month.

That kind of money won’t make any difference to Tehran’s upper classes.

But that’s not Ahmadinejad’s constituency.

On the other hand if you’re poor, if you have many children, and if you make sure the whole family signs up for the deposits, you’ll probably be saying “Thanks, Mr. President”.

The key thing to note here is that President Ahmadinejad had no choice, and neither did the Ayatollah.

Iran could not afford the subsidies anymore. Its economy is highly dysfunctional with many massive distortions and subsidies. And Washington’s recent targeted sanctions are beginning to bite.

It is now harder than ever before for Iran to do business with the world. Most of the major international traders of refined petroleum have stopped dealing with Iran. Tehran now has to rely on much costlier overland shipments for its exports.

And it is now almost impossible to conduct dollar-denominated transactions with Iran. So we were left with the bizarre case last month of China resorting to the barter system to pay Iran for 20 billion dollars worth of oil.

The IMF has a point. Iran is implementing some needed reforms and as a result its economy is doing better. The irony is that it’s happening – in some part – because of our sanctions. Talk about unintended consequences.

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After Libya, Eyes Turn to Syrian Revolt

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mariam Karouny

2011-08-20T165637Z_01_BTRE77I169700_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-SYRIA

A child holds a Syrian flag with Arabic words on it reading: “The people want the execution of killers, and freedom only” during a protest by Jordanians and Syrians against the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters, near the city of Mafraq at the Jordanian-Syrian border, northeast of Amman August 19, 2011.          

REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed 

BEIRUT (Reuters)” – The downfall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is likely to pave the way for increased Western attention to Syria and embolden protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

The implosion of Gaddafi’s rule after six months of civil war in which the rebels benefited from sanctions on Gaddafi, a no-fly zone and NATO air strikes may have implications for Syri’s six-month-old revolt and Assad’s efforts to crush it.

“The international community will now think that its strong intervention in the struggle (in Syria) will resolve the situation,” said opposition figure Louay Hussein.

“Libya has raised the morale of the West and it will have a bigger excuse to intervene. But we reject any military action in Syria.”

Hussein and other opposition activists said however the events in Tripoli would revive Syrian protesters’ hopes.

“What happened in Libya means a lot for us, it means that the Arab spring is coming without doubt … there is no solution to any problem without the will of the people,” said Michel Kilo, a prominent opposition figure.

No country has proposed the kind of action in Syria which NATO forces have carried out in Libya. But the West has called on Assad to step down and Washington has imposed new sanctions over his crackdown, in which the United Nations says 2,200 civilians have died.

Syria has an alliance with Iran and a key role in Lebanon, despite ending a 29-year military presence there in 2005. It also has influence in Iraq and supports militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

Assad on Sunday said Syria would not bow to external pressure, which he said could only affect “a president made in the United States and a subservient people who get their orders from outside.”

“As for the threat of a military action … any action against Syria will have greater consequences (on those who carry it out), greater than they can tolerate,” he said.

Assad has responded to the unrest with a mixture of reforms and force. He granted citizenship to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds, ended a state of emergency and promised to let groups other than his Baath party run in elections.

Analysts and opposition figures said they expected the situation in Syria to deteriorate further, with authorities intensifying the crackdown and protesters not backing down.

“After what happened in Libya I think he (Assad) will be tougher with the security option he is taking,” Boumonsef said.

“He sees what (he calls) the international conspiracy on him will be stronger and now that Gaddafi is out of the way it will move toward him in full strength … This is imminent.”

Some opposition figures expressed fears that Libya’s endgame might encourage voices among the opposition calling for the arming of a hitherto largely peaceful movement in Syria.

“I fear that some in the opposition who are in a hurry to end the regime, who we have always warned against repeating the Libyan example, will say now it has been successful and resort to arms,” said Hussein, who was detained during the uprising.

“But we will resist such proposals, regardless of where they are coming from.”

The anti-Assad movement is fragmented. “Despite everything that is happening, the opposition remains stuck over little issues like personal issues between its leaders,” Kilo said.

Boumonsef said it would try harder, with international help, to unify.

“The opposition will be motivated more. There is no return and (Assad’s) reforms will not stop anything. It is too late.”

Encouraged after Western leaders called on Assad to step down, Syrian opposition figures are holding talks in Istanbul to nominate a broad-based council that could aid in a transition of power if Assad is toppled.

Unlike previous opposition conferences, which were marked by divisions between Islamists and liberals, participants said there was broad agreement on 120 nominees for the council from inside and outside Syria.

The council would speak for dissidents in exile and activists on the ground, opposition figures told Reuters.

But some poured cold water on the idea. “There is no interest inside Syria in a conference happening outside because the public opinion and those inside Syria believe that what is happening outside is marginal,” Kilo said.

“We do not need a transitional council … the real challenge is not what should be done after the regime collapses but for us it is what should be done every day so that we remain standing.”

13-35

Good Will to All, With a Side of Soft-Serve

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Barry

Choc medcone, 8/1/02, 12:22 PM,  8C, 3153x5809 (2046+858), 100%, chrome 6 stops,  1/60 s, R122.8, G89.6, B111.5KENHORST, Pa.—This American summer, the heat is the least of it. A pummeled economy. A credit-rating embarrassment. More tarmac ceremonies for dead war heroes. Tornadoes, floods and other disasters, including Congress.

Presidential aspirants stalking Iowa like Barbie and Ken zombies.

Clearly, the country needs to pull off the road and take a break. It needs to treat itself to a soft-serve cone, chocolate-dipped and melting so quickly as to demand a tongue’s sculpting attention, while tiny tree creatures sing their carpe diem serenade, and reassurance comes with a stray evening breeze.

A tasty-twirly-twisty place has to be around here somewhere. There always is.

There’s one. In the Kenhorst Plaza, just outside the small city of Reading, a Dairy Queen shares asphalt space with a Dollar Tree, a Sears hardware store, a Fashion Bug, a food market, a pawn shop and a few vacant storefronts. It is the neon beacon of comfort in a tired commercial tableau.

Inside, though, this Dairy Queen seems different from the 5,000 others lighting up the country’s summer nights. It has the standard freezer filled with Dilly Bars, and the black-and-white photographs evoking a past that includes the first Dairy Queen, in prison-centric Joliet, Ill., in 1940. But plaques and letters and children’s handwritten notes cover nearly every inch of available wall, all praising someone clearly without Pennsylvania Dutch roots; someone named Hamid.

The Cumru Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Mifflin Park Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Brecknock Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Governor Mifflin intermediate, middle and high schools thank Hamid. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the soccer leagues and the baseball leagues, the Crime Alert program, the home for adults with mental retardation — they all thank Hamid.
And here comes the owner, Hamid Chaudhry, in the midst of another 80-hour workweek, fresh from curling another soft-serve. As he makes his way to a corner table, customers hunched over chicken-strip baskets and sundaes call out his name, and he calls back theirs.

“Hi, Tracey; I have that check for you.” “Bye, Mrs. Brady. All good for the homecoming?” “Bye, Mr. Rush. How was the Blizzard? Want another one?”

With such familiarity, you might think that Mr. Chaudhry, 40, grew up rooting for the Reading Phillies and taking late-night rides up to the iconic Pagoda on Mount Penn. But in words inflected by his Pakistani roots and slight speech impediment, he explains that he has lived in southeastern Pennsylvania only since the uncertain year of 2002, not long after Sept. 11.

Then, as a couple of local officials he knows catch up by the window, and a former state police officer he knows picks up a frozen cake, and a Mennonite family, regular customers, eat his soft-serve out on the patio, Hamid from the Dairy Queen tells his American story.

He was the youngest of six in a Muslim family in Karachi. His father, an accountant, was physically and mentally damaged after being hit by a car; his mother, a schoolteacher, took care of her husband and insisted that her baby go to America for a better life. That meant Chicago, where a brother was driving a cab while studying to become a college professor.

Mr. Chaudhry took several years to earn a college degree in finance, partly because of language difficulties, and partly because he was always working — mostly at the celebrated Drake Hotel. He was the unseen busboy, working his way up to assistant manager for room service and minibars, serving Caesar salad to President-elect Bill Clinton, delivering unsatisfactory apple pancakes to Jack Nicholson, tending to the dietary needs of a guest named Lassie. The Drake became an immersion course in Western pop culture.

He became an American citizen and started a career in financial-accounting software, eventually moving to New York, where he got fired. (“Wall Street wasn’t for me,” he says.) But he did meet a medical student named Sana Syed. Their first meeting was with her parents; the second was for a coffee at Starbucks; the third a brunch at a diner; and, finally, a dinner date at an Outback Steakhouse.
After they married in 2001, she landed a residency at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. While his wife worked 90 hours a week, Mr. Chaudhry mustered the nerve to ask the owner of the local Dairy Queen, at Kenhorst Plaza, whether he wanted to sell. When he heard yes, Mr. Chaudhry scraped, mortgaged and borrowed to meet the asking price of $413,000.

He completed his classroom training at Dairy Queen’s headquarters in Minnesota, where he studied everything from labor management to the proper way to hand a customer a Blizzard. On June 27, 2003, he finally opened the doors to his Dairy Queen, but he was so jittery, intent on making every customer feel extra, extra special, that one employee quit on the spot. Oh, and the soft-serve machine malfunctioned.

Once he found his footing, Mr. Chaudhry decided to give back to the community, and held an elementary-school fund-raiser in which he provided the parent-teacher organization with 25 percent of the sales.

Though the $450 seemed a generous amount, the publicity he received did not seem right to him.

“It felt like I got more in return than what I was giving,” he says.

Just like that, the Dairy Queen began to become the center of communal good, notwithstanding its contribution to the high obesity rate recorded among adults in Berks County. Mr. Chaudhry immersed himself in fund-raising, splitting everything 50-50 so that he only covered his costs. Good for promoting the business, yes, but also good for Hamid.

Fund-raisers for a father of four with cancer; for the Children’s Miracle Network; for soccer teams and Little League teams and the widow of a deputy sheriff recently killed in a shootout — he was a regular customer who liked Blizzards. Sponsorship of car washes and high school homecomings and blood drives four times a year. (Donate a pint of blood and get a $20 frozen cake.) Free parties held at every local elementary school, as well as at a Bible school run by the Mennonite church.

“My customers have made me well-to-do,” Mr. Chaudhry explains. “They patronize me, so why wouldn’t I give back?”

He gets up to hand a check to Tracey Naugel, the president of one of the local parent-teacher organizations who sits at a nearby table, enjoying a chocolate cone. Typical Hamid, she later says. She recently helped to organize a modest fund-raising event at Dairy Queen for a children’s swim team. “Hamid gave me a check for $1,000,” she says.

“And I know we didn’t make $1,000 that night.”

Every community has its magnetizing place: a post office, a diner, a coffee shop. Here it is the Dairy Queen, Ms. Naugel says, mostly because of Mr. Chaudhry. He randomly shows up at schools with frozen treats for teachers. He once set up a petting zoo outside his store. He even bought his own dunk tank to use on the patio. He tries.

“He knows everybody and everybody knows Hamid,” Ms. Naugel says. “We’re so lucky to have him.”

The soft-serve has been a welcome balm, but it is time to toss those balled-up napkins and get back on the nerve-rattling road. Time to say goodbye to Mr. Chaudhry, who can tell you that younger people prefer Oreo Blizzards and older people prefer dipped cones, but he cannot say more about his motives than that he is lucky, thank God.

Just living in Pennsylvania, he says, with a wife, two children, a thriving business, and many friends. Hamid at the Dairy Queen is home.

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Special Report: Erdogan: The strongest man in Turkey

August 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has an unspoken pact with the Turkish electorate: he delivers rapid economic growth, jobs and money, and voters let him shape what kind of democracy this Muslim nation of 74 million people becomes.

So far, the deal has served him well.

Erdogan has overseen a near tripling of per capita income in the last decade. That has helped blunt misgivings over the way he deals with dissent, and allowed him to subordinate Turkey’s powerful military, which has long seen itself as guardian of the country’s secular soul. Last year he used a plebiscite on constitutional reform to break the cliques in the judiciary, another bastion of Turkey‘s secular old guard.

The prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), socially conservative and successor to a banned Islamist party, won a third term with 50 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in June thanks largely to the success of its pro-growth free-market policies.

"Erdogan realizes he will be in power as long as the country prospers," Umit Ozlale, an economics professor at TOBB University in Ankara said. "When the economy is on track he handles other challenges from the military, judiciary or from the bureaucracy more easily."

At the same time, many Turks have a sneaking feeling that the prime minister’s road to democracy will always lead to his own party. With the economic boom now wobbling and the resignation on July 29 of the country’s four most senior generals, tensions at the heart of Erdogan’s Turkey are becoming harder to ignore.

"The fear amongst many of the (AKP’s) critics in Turkey is that the party is now overly dominant with fewer checks and balances given its controls all the main levers of the state," said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland.

BEATING THE GENERALS

When Chief of General Staff Isik Kosaner stepped down late last month along with the heads of the army, military and navy, he said he could no longer stand by while 250 fellow officers languished in jail, victims of charges he described as flawed and unjust.

The capitulation of the top brass confirmed what most Turks have known for years: the generals are a spent force in Turkish politics.

In many ways, that’s progress. Generals overthrew three civilian governments between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist-led coalition of which Erdogan was part from power in 1997. Turks respect their military, but most want to keep the uniform out of politics.

Erdogan has managed to do just that. In 2007, the military failed to stop the AKP government installing Abdullah Gul as president. That same year, Erdogan won a second term as prime minister in a parliamentary poll that let the military know they should stop messing with democracy.

That’s created a new dynamic between soldiers and politicians. The new generals Erdogan selected last week may not love the AK Party, but they’re unlikely to ignore fellow officers plotting against the government. When Erdogan chaired a meeting of the Supreme Military Council a few days after the resignations there was no doubting who was in charge. Flanked by grim-faced four-stars, Erdogan sat alone at the top of the table, where he would normally be joined by the chief of general staff.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE

Erdogan’s followers like his forceful personality and the fact he grew up in Istanbul‘s rough Kasimpasa neighborhood, where boys learn to carry themselves with a swagger and have the last word in any argument.

More than that, they appreciate his piety and sense of justice that some ascribe to his studies of Islam. Many see him as uncorruptible.

He connects with ordinary people, using everyday language in his speeches and addressing members of the audience with comments like: "Isn’t that the case, sister?," "Don’t you think so, dear mother?"

They also like that he’s engineered a shift in power away from the old Istanbul-based business houses to the so-called Anatolian tigers in the more conservative heartland of Turkey.

And his appeal goes well beyond Turkey.

The tongue-lashing he gave Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009 over the Gaza offensive, cemented his reputation in the Islamic world.

Last December, just before the uprising in Tunisia started the Arab Spring, a taxi driver in Tunis pointed to a photograph of Erdogan in a newspaper. "Nice man," the cabbie told a Reuters journalist. "The best leader in the Islamic world right now."

THREE TIMES A WINNER

Turkey‘s prime minister has long understood that the key to success is economic growth.

Over the past decade he’s transformed Turkey from a basket case dependent on IMF loans to the 16th largest economy in the world. He wants Turkey to be in the top 10 by 2023.

Flush with money and with their own economy faring far better than the euro zone, Turks have grown less enamored of the prospect of joining the European Union.

Last year Turkey notched up 9 percent growth. An Istanbul banker tells a story about a customer who wanted a loan. When asked how many siblings he had in his family the young man said: "We are four, but God has given us Tayyip, so now we’re five."

There is a sense that as long as Erdogan keeps Turks in jobs and the money rolling in, people won’t mind if the AKP government loses some of the democratic zeal that marked its early years. Erdogan has been very open about his plans for a new constitution that could open the way for him to become president.

Chances of the opposition unseating him are remote, and he has no real rivals within the AKP.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul- and Brussels-based think tank, reckons the greatest risk to Erdogan’s dominance is an economic crisis brought on by an external shock.

"Until then the AKP has a blank check," he said, speaking just before the latest market turmoil. "This situation can continue as long as international markets remain benign, as long as interest rates globally remain low, as long as risk aversion remains low."

"THE FINAL WORD"

That is a dismal prospect for members of the old elites, who fear Erdogan’s AKP aims to roll back the secular state envisioned by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan has already been in office longer than any other leader since Ataturk. Critics refer to the possibility he will rule on as president as the "Putinisation" of Turkey, though the term is seldom seen in the press.

When foreign diplomats in Ankara are asked what action Turkey might take on an issue, the answer is often along the lines of: "In the end Erdogan will have the final word."

Normally it would fall to the judiciary and press to provide a check on the government. But Turkey‘s judges and journalists have also had their wings clipped.

Only last year, Erdogan won backing in a referendum on constitutional reforms that included changes to the way judges are selected. There’s little doubt that the judiciary needed reforming, but critics say that the changes also reduced judges’ independence.

Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries in the World Press Freedom Index produced by media freedom pressure group Reporters without Borders, from 101st in 2007. Washington and Brussels have both aired concerns.

Early this year, with the election looming, police detained around a dozen journalists said to be linked to an alleged anti-government network dubbed Ergenekon, the fabled valley of Turkish legend from where a tribe of Turks escaped their enemies by following a lone wolf.

Opposition politicians and military leaders allege some prosecutors are taking revenge for past state repression of Islamist movements. Armed with leaks from either prosecutors or the police, government-friendly media report the detentions in ways that suggest the suspects are guilty before their cases are heard.

"Many people worry that the arrests of these officers and journalists may be the product of a witch-hunt mentality by those who feel they have the power now and are using the judiciary to settle old scores," said Hurriyet Daily News columnist Semih Idiz.

POLITICAL MAKEOVER

Since coming to power, Erdogan has gone out of his way to be seen as a model of pragmatism. Alcohol may cost more, but little in the way of legislation offers evidence of a religious agenda.

An attempt to lift a ban on women wearing the Muslim headscarf entering universities or working in the public sector has not been revived since it was pushed back in 2004.

In the past year, however, there was barely a murmur when universities began taking a permissive stance toward students in headscarves.

Scaremongering over the spread of Islamism proved a vote- loser for the secular opposition, so they stopped campaigning on it, opting instead to pick holes in Erdogan’s image as a champion of democracy.

The pillar of his political program is a proposal for a new constitution to replace the one drafted after a 1980 military coup. Parliament is expected to begin work on the new charter in October, and it is likely to dominate the political agenda until next summer.

"It will be a constitution emphasizing pluralism rather than a single voice. It will take the individual and their rights as its basis, protecting national unity and our shared values and accepting the wealth of social diversity," Erdogan said late last month.

Critics are unconvinced. When Erdogan has said in the past "democracy is not an objective, it is a vehicle," his foes have pounced, pointing to the words as proof of his autocratic tendencies.

"The new constitutional order will bring not liberty and democracy, as the government is trying to persuade Westerners, but a harsher new order," former Constitutional Court chief judge Yekta Gungor Ozden told Reuters.

WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT?

But the shape of a new constitution is far from clear. Burhan Kuzu, the head of the parliamentary commission looking at it, is a staunch advocate of the presidential system and argues that Turkey prospers from single-party rule and slips back when led by weak coalitions.

Not everyone in the AKP likes the idea of a presidential system: to win the parliamentary votes he needs to alter the constitution, Erdogan will have to reach out to rival parties.

Former justice minister Hikmet Sami Turk told Reuters that many opposition groups will not "accept a presidential system. It could lead to a dictatorial system."

If Erdogan fails to win his changes, he will likely still run for — and win — the presidency in 2014 even if the position remains a figurehead role.

His greatest threat is an economic crisis.

Against conventional wisdom, the central bank cut its policy interest rate to an all-time low on August 4, despite growing concerns about inflation and pressure on the lira currency.

In the last few months, Erdogan said that ideally he’d like to see real interest rates at zero, a notion that makes some worry that populist priorities could hurt the economy.

If inflation rises or the flow of foreign investment dries up, Turkey could easily find itself with a current account deficit climbing beyond 10 percent of GDP, leaving it vulnerable to an economic shock that could persuade voters to desert Erdogan just as they did his predecessors.

Until then, there’s no doubting who’s boss.

(Reported and written by Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir, Tulay Karadeniz, Orhan Coskun, Ozge Ozbilgin and Pinar Aydinli; Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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Imam Salie: Preparing Islamic Chair at UD Mercy

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

Imam SalieFarmington–August 10–Imam Achmat Salie, who championed an effort to establish an Islamic studies school at Oakland University, is now in the planning process of establishing a similar program at the University of Detroit–Mercy, a Catholic private university in Detroit.

Imam Salie is trying to establish a Chair at UD Mercy for Islamic Studies, and he explains the purpose of creating a chair is “to create a permanent place–if not, every year you have to beg for money, and spend so much time.  Once there is a chair, the money is there for life.  In 10 or 20 years, if I am gone, someone else fills that place.”

He says the chair of Islamic studies would help the Muslim community by fueling mutual understanding across religious lines and even within the Muslim community by providing bridges across the gaps of Shi’a-Sunni and other doctrinal disagreements.  “This will be a cosmopolitan approach to Islam, not an orientalist approach–an insider view, different from the skeptical and suspicious outsider view.  But this will still be objective, there will be analysis, it won’t be superficial.  Muslims speaking for themselves.  Founded by Muslims, with an Islamic ethos, with an accurate portrayal of Islam.”

The Oakland University program eventually failed under fiscal pressures.  And the learning process that Mr. Salie went through from Oakland University definitely shows in his approach to UD Mercy.  First, he chose UD Mercy in part because it is private rather than public.  

“With the recession, a lot of uncertainty in universities, public universities… [T]his is a private university, and there is more stability,” explains Salie.

He has also addressed the fundamental gap in funding that sidelined the Oakland University program.  Imam Salie has now secured “matching funding” from the IIIT, a well-funded Muslim not-for-profit based in Washington DC.

There are many Muslim graduates, Salie says, of UD Mercy’s various schools, practising dentists and lawyers, and he asks that they choose now to give back. 

“Education, like journalism, provides a safe environment, a great way to promote understanding.  Previous communities went through education to create understanding.  Catholic and Jewish communities promoted understanding of themselves by being present at educational institutions.”

The utility of the program, Salie argues, would be that it would provide exposure of Catholics to Islam, to alleviate the sometimes tense relations between the communities.  The program would also provide means for Muslims to speak across sectarian boundaries to one another.

Salie looks forward to this program because he has found “broad appeal” and acceptance at a very high level from the school and from the infrastructure of the Catholic church in Detroit, namely Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron. 

Even more importantly within the Catholic church, the pope has also expressed support for maintaining good relations with Muslims.

“The pope has wonderful relations with Turkey.  There are delegations from the Vatican to Turkey.  But at the lowest level, this type of enlightenment doesn’t necessarily filter down.” 

Imam Salie points to distrust and animosity directed against Muslims from rank-and-file Catholics, including prominent Catholics like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

“One out of four Christians is Catholic,” Salie explains.  “We should not take the Catholic position for granted–they are not all at the same level as the good people at the top.”  Therefore he says it is important to reach out to the Catholic community.

Also, Salie’s experience with Islamic Studies at Oakland University taught him that sometimes the most attentive students are not those you might expect. 

Sometimes practicing Muslims attend, merely hoping for “an easy A, but the quality of their work is very bad.”  Salie cites one atheist student who devoured the material in the Islamic Studies course and then wanted to teach other atheists about Islam.  “Muslims are fooling themselves if they are expecting an easy A.”

Salie’s Islamic Studies classes are a way to reach Muslims who no longer practice.  “I have had students from everywhere, Bosnians, Albanians, Pakistanis… totally disconnected from the religion.”  The Islamic Studies courses are sometimes for these young people a safe way of reacquainting themselves with Islam.

Muslims wanting to participate are welcomed by Salie.  “One way is through donations…. Some people offer money, some offer expertise.”  Salie invites the various communities of Muslims to participate by offering their knowledge of their own practice of Islam, or of their own national community.  Salie emphasizes that specific communities of Muslims will be spoken for by that community, rather than having an intolerant view of any branch of Muslims imposed by an outsider to that community.

Salie is trying to establish an endowment at the university.  “For the first year, we need at least $200,000 to get started. That will be used up the first year.  If we get an endowment, it takes one year to mature, and then with that endowment money in, we don’t need much in donations.”

Imam Salie aims to collect $2,000,000 in donations, which will be matched by IIIT, amounting to $4,000,000 which will be an adequate endowment to build a self-sustaining Islamic Studies program at UD Mercy.

To contribute, please contact salieac@udmercy.edu.  Or call 248-659-2109.

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Why the 21st Century Will Not Belong to China

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited transcript of Fareed Zakaria’s opening and closing statements at the Munk Debate where he joined Henry Kissinger in arguing against the proposition: “The 21st Century will belong to China.”

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

China is not going to be the dominant power of the 21st century for three reasons: economic, political and geo-political.

Economic

One thing we’ve realized over recent years is that nothing goes up in a straight line forever. China looks like it is about to inherit the world, but Japan looked like that for a while. Japan was the second largest economy in the world. We were told that one day the world would be run by Japan. It didn’t turn out that way.

Most Asian Tigers have grown at about 9% a year for 20-25 years and then shifted downward to 6% or 5% growth. I’m not predicting any kind of Chinese crash. I am simply saying that China will follow that law of large numbers and regress at some point to a slower growth rate – perhaps a little bit later than the others because it is a much larger country.

But it is also worth pointing out that there are massive inefficiencies built into the Chinese economic system. They have a huge property bubble. Their growth is highly inefficient. In terms of foreign direct investment, China attracts every month what India takes in every year.

Still China only grows two percentage points faster than India.

In other words, if you think about the quality of Chinese growth, it’s not as impressive as it appears. They are undertaking massive investments – huge numbers of airports, eight-lane highways and high-speed rail. But if you look at what you are getting in terms of the return on investment it is not as impressive.

China has another huge problem. The UN just came out with a report that pointed out that China is going to have a demographic collapse over the next 25 years. It is going to lose 400 million people.

There is no point in human history in which you have had a dominant power in the world that is also declining demographically. It simply doesn’t happen. And if you want to look at what a country in demographic decline looks like, look at Japan.

Political

Let’s say that China does become the largest economy in the world: Does it have the political capacity to exercise the kind of leadership you need?

Remember, Japan was the second largest economy in the world for decades and I didn’t see any kind of grand, hegemonic design. You need to have the political capacity to be able to exercise that kind of leadership.

China is a country ruled by a political system that is in crisis.

It is unclear whether the next succession that China goes through will look anything like this current one. China has not solved the basic problem of what it is going to do when it creates a middle class and how it will respond to the aspirations of those people.

When Taiwan went through a similar process, what you saw was a transition to democracy; when South Korea went through it, you saw a transition to democracy. These were not easy periods. They were fairly bloody and chaotic.

Geopolitics

People like to talk about the rise of Asia. But there is no such thing as Asia. There’s China; there’s Japan; there’s India. And they don’t much like each other.

You are going to find that as China rises there is going to be a spirited response in India, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and others. You already have begun to see the stirrings of this. China is not rising in a vacuum. It is rising on a continent in which there are many, many competitors.

Bet on Freedom

We are going through a crisis of confidence in the Western world. This has been true often when we have faced these kinds of new and different challenges and when we have faced nations that seem on the rise and on the march.

George Kennan, the great American statesman, used to write routinely about how he thought the United States would never be able to withstand the Soviet challenge because we were weak and fickle and we changed our minds and they were far-sighted and strategic. We were tactical and stupid. But somehow it worked out all right.

I think there is a tendency to think the same of China – that they have this incredible long-term vision and we are bumbling idiots. There is a wonderful story that encapsulates this:

When asked, “What do you think of the French Revolution?” Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is supposed to have answered, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Everyone thought, “Oh, my goodness, he’s such a genius; he thinks so long-term – in centuries.”

Well it turns out that in 1973, Zhou Enlai meant the French revolution of 1968 – a student revolution. It was perfectly rational at that point to say: “It’s too soon to tell.”

So don’t believe that the Chinese are these strategic masterminds and we are bumbling. We have managed to bumble our way to a rather advanced position despite the challenges from the Kaiser’s Germany, from the Soviet Union and from Nazi Germany.

In fact, I think what you will find is that the United States and North America are creating an extraordinary model in this new world.

We are becoming the first universal nation, a country that draws people  from all parts of the world – people of all colors, creeds and religions and finds a way to harness their talent and build a kind of universal dream. It happens over here and it draws together people from all over the world.

Don’t lose faith in free and open societies.

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Dubai Hotels Aim to Pick Up Pilgrim Trade During Ramadan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The National

Atlantis_Hotel_in_Dubai

Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Hoteliers in Dubai are trying to tempt pilgrims to stop over in the emirate on their way to Saudi Arabia to make up for an expected slump in business next month during Ramadan.

The GCC is usually the most important market for Dubai hotels during the summer months, a low season for the industry as many Europeans are put off by the soaring temperatures.

This year, Ramadan takes place throughout August. Most GCC nationals prefer to spend the holy month at home.

The dual impact of Ramadan falling during the slowest month in the year has prompted hoteliers to launch “pilgrim packages” as they seek out alternative markets. Ramadan is a peak time for umrah trips to Saudi Arabia. About 4 million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for umrah throughout last year.

“We are trying to link the stopover for many of the Muslims who are travelling from India, Pakistan, Iran, and they go for umrah in Saudi Arabia,” said Habib Khan, the general manager of the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa in Dubai. He said the packages were likely to include iftars and suhoors.

Indonesia and Malaysia were other potential markets for this business, he said, adding that the pilgrims could be persuaded to stop over either on the way to Saudi Arabia or on their way back.

“That’s an opportunity to give them a special offer and reach out to them,” Mr Khan said. “If they get a good offer, they will stop over and stay for two or three nights.”

The Ramada hotel in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area is also trying to attract pilgrims, aiming to draw stopover business from the large Muslim communities in South Africa and the UK.

“They have to transit via Dubai,” said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown Dubai. “This is another market which can generate a good proportion of business. There is another factor to consider, which is the inventory in town.

“The room inventory is increasing. We have to be tactical in our approach to win new business. Our expectations for the month of July, because of the Dubai Summer Surprises, will be 85 to 87 percent occupancy, while for the month of Ramadan our target is a maximum of 60 percent occupancy.”

Mr El Behi said the room rates could more than halve next month compared with their present rates.

An influx of tourists from the GCC, in particular Saudi Arabia, has helped hotels in Dubai to achieve high occupancy levels in the past few months.

Beach hotels in Dubai benefited from an 11 percent increase in revenue per available room, a key industry indicator, during the first four months of the year, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. Occupancy levels across Dubai reached 81 percent, compared with 77 percent in the same period last year.

Dubai hotels will also be targeting their home market, with packages for UAE residents to attract guests from neighbouring emirates.

Tourists from China could also help to counteract the expected decline next month.

“The Chinese market will come because of the low prices,” Mr Khan said. “My hotel has seen a threefold increase in the months of May and June.”

He said that Chinese tourists made up 15 percent of all guests at the hotel during that period.

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Indo-Pak Talks: Positive Move

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the fact that India and Pakistan are still a long way off from settling their disputes over several important issues, including the Kashmir-problem, they must be credited for adopting a cordial diplomatic approach towards each other. This is marked by recent Indo-Pak meeting, between foreign secretaries of the two countries, being viewed as “positive.” The amiable note on which the meeting was held between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad is marked by their addressing a joint press conference and issuing a joint statement (June 24).

Without sidelining the “complexities” in Indo-Pak relationship, after the meeting, Rao told media persons: “We are inspired by our goal of the eventual normalization of the India-Pakistan relationship and the resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful, sustained and serious bilateral dialogue.” Spelling out India’s vision of bilateral ties with Pakistan, Rao asserted: “The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship in the 21st century. Indeed, this relationship should be characterized by the vocabulary of peace,” in the interest of “our peoples” and “in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.” She described the meeting, spread over two days, as “positive” during which the two sides had “constructive and substantive discussion.”

“We have had a very productive and constructive engagement which was forward looking and imbued with a sense of purpose,” Bashir said. He pointed out: “I must underscore here that the quality of the engagement really matters and we have every reason to be satisfied with that quality.” Earlier, while welcoming Rao, Bashir said: “We welcome her for many reasons. It was some years ago that we started a process and I think that process is now well on its way.”

The comments made by both Rao and Bashir are suggestive of India and Pakistan’s keenness to continue their dialogue process with the aim of improving their bilateral ties. This is further highlighted by certain points included in the joint statement. The bilateral talks on peace and security, including confidence building measures (CBMs), Jammu & Kashmir as well as promotion of friendly exchanges were, according to the statement, “held in a frank and cordial atmosphere.” The two sides “reiterated their intention” to continue “the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.” They discussed the issues in a “comprehensive manner” and both sides “emphasized the importance of constructive dialogue to promote mutual understanding,” the statement said. This suggests India and Pakistan’s intention to backtrack from their stand of firing verbal missiles at each other, particularly on issues they entertain different stands on. This is further supported by their reference to the Kashmir-problem in the joint statement.

They “exchanged views” on Kashmir and “agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences,” according to the statement. This suggests that continuing dialogue on Kashmir is their priority and neither India nor Pakistan wants to the stall the bilateral dialogue process despite their entertaining differences on Kashmir. This is further supported by their agreement to consider measures for “strengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the Line-of-Control (LoC) and propose modalities for introducing additional cross-LoC CBMs.” A meeting of a working group on Cross-LoC is expected to be held this July, the statement said.
The statement on terrorism too indicates a major change in India and Pakistan’s diplomatic stand towards each other. Refraining from blaming each other, they agreed that “terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security.” They “reiterated firm and undiluted commitment” to “fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.” Besides, they agreed on the “need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism.”

Defeating apprehensions of their being any nuclear tension between India and Pakistan, they decided to consider mutually acceptable measures to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing nuclear and conventional CBMS to “build trust and confidence and promote peace and security.”

India and Pakistan expressed satisfaction on progress made on finalization of Visa Agreement, which will “help liberalize visa regime” and “facilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts,” the statement said. They also discussed measures to promote cooperation in various fields, which include, “facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.” In addition, they agreed that “people of the two countries are at the heart of the relationship and that humanitarian issues should be accorded priority and treated with sensitivity.”

The foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet again in New Delhi, ahead of the meeting Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers, which is expected to take place this July in the Indian capital city. Undeniably, the two foreign secretaries’ comments and the joint statement indicate the seriousness of India and Pakistan to improve their bilateral ties at various levels. Now, it is to be watched whether this “constructive” approach is seriously retained for a substantial period or not!

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Libyan Rebels Take New Ground in Western Mountains

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nick Carey

2011-06-15T224232Z_1848250202_GM1E76G0IRF01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Rebel fighters prepare to make their way to the frontline near the town of Riyayna, June 15, 2011.   

REUTERS/Anis Mili

GHARYAN, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan rebels pushed deeper into government-held territory south of the capital on Wednesday, but their advance came as strains began to emerge in the Western alliance trying to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Fighters in the Western Mountains, a rebel stronghold about 150 km (90 miles) south-west of Tripoli, built on gains made in the past few days by taking two villages from which pro-Gaddafi forces had for months been shelling rebel-held towns.

The rebels are still a considerable way from Gaddafi’s main stronghold in Tripoli, while their fellow fighters on the other two fronts — in Misrata and in eastern Libya — have made only halting progress against better-armed government troops.

“The revolutionaries (rebels) now control Zawiyat al-Babour and al-Awiniyah after pro-Gaddafi forces retreated this morning from the two villages,” Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman in the nearby town of Zintan, told Reuters.

In Gharyan, a Gaddafi-held town that forms the gateway from Tripoli to the mountains, there was an undercurrent of tension as the frontline moves closer to the capital.
Libyan government minders brought a group of reporters to the town, which lies about 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli and about 20 kilometers east of Kikla, which rebels seized from Gaddafi loyalists on Tuesday.

Despite an outward appearance of normality, numerous walls around town on Wednesday had recently painted over graffiti. The windows of one government building were smashed, the sign for another was riddled with holes.

While many traders and people on the streets were reluctant to talk to reporters, one shop owner said the calm in the area during the day was replaced by fighting every night.
“Two thirds of the people here are for the rebels,” he told Reuters, giving his name as Mohammed.

Those willing to talk in front of the minders were strongly pro-Gaddafi.

“Sarkozy is stupid, he is fighting this war for petrol,” a man called Yunis said in French, referring to the French president, villified by Gaddafi supporters as the driving force behind NATO bombing. “This is colonialism all over again.”

The NATO military alliance, which has been pounding Gaddafi’s military and command-and-control structures for nearly three months, has failed to dislodge him.

Libyan TV said on Wednesday a NATO bombardment had killed 12 people in a convoy in Kikla. A NATO official denied it.

Ties are becoming strained in the alliance, with some NATO members complaining that others have been reluctant to commit additional resources needed to sustain the bombing mission in the coming months.

Adding to the pressure, Republicans in the U.S. Congress are pressing President Barack Obama to explain the legal grounds on which he was keeping U.S. forces involved in Libya without the authorisation of Congress.

Speaking in London after meeting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated that time was running out for Gaddafi and that the alliance was as determined as ever.

“I think there is a very clear pattern emerging which is time is on our side, because we have the support of NATO, the United Nations, the Arab League, a huge number of countries in our coalition and in our contact group,” he said.

Rasmussen echoed those comments despite senior NATO commander General Stephane Abrial on Tuesday raising questions about the alliance’s ability to handle a long-term intervention.

“Allies and partners are committed to provide the necessary resources and assets to continue this operation and see it through to a successful conclusion,” Rasmussen said.

Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said the alliance was “sliding down and being dragged more into the eventuality of a land-based operation in Libya.”

In a theatrical show of defiance, Gaddafi was shown at the weekend playing a game of chess with a Russian official, but after weeks of ambivalence, Moscow has joined Western countries this month in calling for Gaddafi to step down.

Saad Djebbar, a former legal adviser to the Libyan government, told Reuters Gaddafi would continue to play for time and seek to demoralise and split the coalition.

“Gaddafi’s mentality is that as long as my enemies haven’t triumphed, I haven’t lost,” he said.

“The U.S. stance, that the major outside role should be played by the Europeans and Arabs, sends the wrong signal. Gaddafi will be very encouraged by it. His line is ‘We are steadfast. We can wait it out.’”

Gaddafi has said he has no intention of leaving the country — an outcome which, with the military intervention so far failing to produce results, many Western policymakers see as the most realistic way out of the conflict.

The Libyan leader has described the rebels as criminals and al Qaeda militants, and called the NATO intervention an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya’s oil.

Potent Force

Though under attack from NATO warplanes and rebel fighters, Gaddafi’s troops have showed they are still a potent force.

A rebel spokesman in Nalut, at the other end of the Western Mountains range from Zintan, said Gaddafi’s forces had been shelling Nalut and the nearby border crossing into Tunisia. The rebels depend on that crossing to bring in supplies.

On Tuesday, the rebels tried to advance in the east of Libya, setting their sights on the oil town of Brega, but they were unable to break through.

In Misrata, Libya’s third-biggest city about 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, rebels have been inching slowly west toward the neighbouring town of Zlitan along the coast road to Tripoli, but have repeatedly had to fall back under fire.

The rebels there have expressed frustration that NATO is not more active at taking out Gaddafi’s forces there, and is not doing more to coordinate with fighters on the ground.

A Reuters correspondent in Misrata said there were no further advances toward Zlitan on Wednesday.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger will visit the rebels in Benghazi on Sunday to offer “concrete support,” his office said, the latest in a series of such visitors.

13-25

Be Yourself

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

A friend is someone who gives you strength. A friend is someone who makes you feel better after you see them or talk to them. A friend is happy because you are happy and a friend is upset when you are upset. So why is it so hard to find a friend in this world? Why is it so hard to give and receive love?

I have been communicating with a large number of women who are in despair because they feel like they invested so much – or gave up so much – for their marriage relationship: dropped out of college, quit their job, had X amount of kids, cleaned the house, cooked the food, did the bookkeeping… You would think that the least her husband could do would be to love her back!!! Flow some love, man!

Why does the dream of love appear so unattainable, even though it is as vital to our survival as food? It seems like the harder we work to please someone, the more sacrifices we make for someone, the less they love us. We get stuck in this situation where we are trying to be with someone, while they are judging us about whether they think we are good enough to merit their affection. This type of unhealthy dynamic is not limited to marriage. It can happen at work, at school, and in our social lives.

Some people start to think that it’s not even worth trying to love anyone anymore because no one ever loves you back – even those who are way too young to give up hope. Many of us at the prime our lives waste our youth and middle age in despair. Reality check: Either try something new that you haven’t thought of before, or else just give up for now and be patient. Be yourself. “Let them come to you,” said a very wise Iranian woman on Facebook.

If someone stresses you out to the point where you are becoming overwhelmed, just stay away. If you can’t avoid them, try to dwell on other thoughts. Make them a small part of your life. You can’t let other people “get to you.” If someone is upsetting you to the point where you cannot eat or sleep or concentrate because you are so upset, this is a sign that this is not a healthy relationship.

The Prophet Mohammed (s) advised that we should go towards a situation that gives us inner peace, and stay away from a situation that creates huge fluctuations in mood. When we become emotionally attached to someone that repeatedly causes us to have great hopes, and then totally disappoints us, this is a huge emotional drain that will affect not only our mood, but our ability to provide for everyone who depends on us. If we are clinging to such a person, we will become completely debilitated and useless.

When we try our best to be what someone else needs, we become less of ourselves. Less of a person to love. Sometimes we even become resentful. Ultimately, we become less lovable. We are not being the best we can be for the sake of God.

You can only be truly loved if you are totally being yourself. You can never truly love someone else unless you look at the other person as a unique person within their own unique situation.

A lot of people have a list of criteria for their potential mate. But our neediness gets in the way of true love. This list of wants gets in the way of viewing the Other as a human being. Because guess what. There is no human being out there that was specifically created to fulfill your needs. Human beings are not commercial products or drugs you can buy in order to solve your problems. Every person has their own Path they need to walk. God gives us what we need. No single person or situation can ever do that for us.

Choosing a mate or friend is not the same as looking for an apartment. If you look at someone else as a means to need-fulfillment, they will feel exploited. Likewise, if someone came up to you and said, “This is what I need. This and this and this. Can you do it?” – you would hardly fall in love with them.

We have to be ourselves, and let other people be themselves, and observe. Does it make sense for us to spend more or less time together? Do we enhance each others’ strengths or exacerbate each others’ weaknesses?

We can never have a true friendship or find true love unless we go beyond the question of “Do you meet my needs?” On the other hand, if we are getting nothing out of a friendship or marriage other than anguish, it may be time to detach. It must be a matter of the balance of respect for each other. It takes two people making an effort to have a relationship.

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