certifired_img

Books and Documents

Islamic World News (25 Nov 2009 NewAgeIslam.Com)



India is indispensable to the US: Obama

Stay the course in Afghanistan, PM Manmohan Singh urges US

Barack Obama: "We are going to dismantle and degrade" al-Qaeda's capabilities and 'finish the job' in Afghanistan

Committed to fully implement nuke deal with India: Obama

'Traces of Babri villains thrive in every pillar of the system'

Iran: 12 couples held for partner swapping

John Paul II ‘whipped’ self in penance

Indonesia: Haj, A lucrative business of sweat and blood

Iraq war inquiry opens in UK

Hijab and Playing Rugby In Kashmir

Bangladesh: Politics versus justice: Khaleda throws down the gauntlet

Obama's Afghanistan strategy must be more than more troops

We Can't Criticize Operation Cast Lead Because Of Iran?

21 massacred in run-up to Philippine polls for post of governor in Maguindanao, a predominantly Muslim province

Islam in Europe: Swiss to vote on banning minarets

FBI disarms itself vs. domestic Islamic terrorism

Babri demolition: Proof of planning, conspiracy in a big blow to BJP, RSS

BJP: No regret on Ayodhya

‘Exoneration of Narasimha Rao shocking’

Indictment is very clear, says Congress

Kalyan calls Liberhan report 'politically motivated'

Ayodhya remains indifferent to Liberhan storm

Pak nuke facilities at risk, says expert

China refuses to take Hurriyat bait, says not party to Kashmir conflict

Mirwaiz scraps Hurriyat posts, assumes full control

Islamic fashion fest launched in style

A tour of Deoband: a city of global importance

Beware of radical Islam and its converts

Iraq inquiry told of 'clear' threat from Saddam Hussein

Afghan governor warns Dutch troops over pullout

US, Israel lack 'courage' to attack: Ahmadinejad

Why Iran’s Ahmadinejad is warmly welcomed in Brazil

Why Wright is Wrong: A Liberal Pundit Blames America for Maj. Hasan’s Jihad

Fort Hood shooter gets permanently paralysed

France's attempts to censor burqas will be ineffective

Greater Equality for India's Muslims Can Mean Greater Equality for Muslim Women

Tajikistan fails to curb abuse of women: Amnesty

For Muslim women, respect cuts both ways

Public perception already holds BJP guilty: Congress

Little done to block terror funding: J&K DGP

1st Pak-made jet ready to fly

Obey's Afghan War Surtax

Afghan troops announcement likely Dec. 1

Death toll rises to 46 for Philippines killings

Massacre Major Hasan's Breaking Point

Muslim Mafia Scribe: How I 'Toyed' With TPM muckraker

Many Iraqis sadder at soccer ban than poll delay

The Hijabi Monologues: A Public Conversation Made Private

'Moderate' Malaysia Faces Islamized Bureaucracy

Russian security officials beheaded in Muslim dominated region

Osama bin Laden Should Be Prosecuted in Civilian Court, Sen. Menendez Says

Bringing Gitmo Terrorists  to U.S. Is Democrats’ Job Program, Franks Says

Peace in Afghanistan

An Islamic revival in Azerbaijan

U.S. youths recruited to fight in Somali militia, authorities say

Egyptian President meets with Israeli counterpart

Lessons From Nuremberg

Charges against 8 in missing Somali case unsealed

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL of this Page: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/india-is-indispensable-to-the-us--obama/d/2138

------

India is indispensable to the US: Obama

November 24, 2009

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on Tuesday given a rousing welcome at the White House where he was received by President Barack Obama

before they sat down for bilateral talks during which the two countries are expected to take their strategic ties to a new level.

Obama and First Lady Michelle personally welcomed Singh, the first State guest of the Obama Administration, and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the White House.

Chilly, damp weather caused the White House to move the ceremony indoors, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Obama stood before photographers and television cameras in the East Room as a Marine band played the national anthems of both countries.

Singh's visit is the first state visit hosted by the administration, the highest honor extended to a foreign dignitary, and the two would discuss a wide range of bilateral

issues and the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan during their one-on-one meeting.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said: "India is indispensable to the US and the Indian Prime Minister's  visit reflects abiding friendship between the two countries."

"Ours is a story of two great economic marvels. India is a leader in Asia and around the world and the two nations are dedicated to liberty, equality".

Stating that India and US are bound together by values of democracy Manmohan Singh said, "We seek to broaden and deepen our strategic partnership with US."

Manmohan also spoke on the issue of terrorism and nuclear weapons.

"India and US should cooperate in challenges of combating terrorism. The two nations also need to cooperate for a world free of nuclear weapons," said the PM.

Though the two leaders met in April on sidelines of the G-20 Summit in London and briefly at Pittsburgh's G-20 Summit, this would be for the first time they would discuss

bilateral issues and possibilities of cooperation on key global issues like climate change.

The two leaders are understood to have exchanged views on a range of issues, including terrorism, situation in the region, climate change, economic and business ties, agriculture and education.

A host of Indian leaders have dined at the majestic White House in the past, but the state

dinner for Manmohan Singh has received an unprecedented pre-event media coverage.

American media has gone all-out to focus on it from all angles, speculating about the menu, the guest list and highlighting that President Barack Obama's gesture marks

India's growing stature.

A total of 320 guests have been invited to the 'black tie' event, ABC reported. (With inputs from agencies)

http://www.ndtv.com/news/world/india_is_indispensable_to_the_us_obama.php

------

Stay the course in Afghanistan, PM Manmohan Singh urges US

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN 24 November 2009, 05:33am IST

 

WASHINGTON: India has enduring civilizational links with Afghanistan. India will continue to assist Afghanistan in building its institutions and

 

With these two sentences, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday threw down the gauntlet to Washington, Islamabad and perhaps even Beijing and other world capitals that India would not be budged from pursuing its interests in Afghanistan -- primarily of preventing the country from turning toxic under Pakistan’s malignant influence and American uncertainty.

 

“The road to peace on Afghanistan will be long and hard. But given the high stakes involved, the commitment of the international community must be sustained by firm resolve and unity of purpose." Singh told Washington’s top policy wonks gathered to hear him at the Center for Foreign Relations, amid a continuing review by President Obama about U.S options in Afghanistan.

 

The remarks were clearly meant for the US President and his principals who have been bashing heads for several weeks now over next steps in Afghanistan amid charges of dithering on the crucial issue. Singh’s advice ahead of his meeting with Obama on Tuesday -- Stay the course; we are going to be there.

 

Singh offered similar advice in an earlier address to US and Indian business leaders that the international community needs to remain engaged in Afghanistan and any “premature talk of exit will only embolden the terrorists.”

 

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Mumbai carnage, Singh also told the elite gathering, many of them regional experts keen to see India talking to Pakistan, that "for that to happen Pakistan must make a break with the past, abjure terrorism and come to the table with good faith and sincerity."

 

He said his government had invested heavily in normalizing relations with Pakistan and "we are ready to pick up the threads of the dialogue including on issues relation to Jammu and Kashmir.”

 

“We should not harbour any illusions that a selective approach to terrorism , tackling it on one place while ignoring it in others, will work," Singh added.

 

Clearly, the Prime Minister too has taken a tough stand in the past few days on Pakistan even as Islamabad as reverted to its maximalist position on Kashmir, falling back on the long-lapsed UN Security Council resolution on the subject. The Prime Minister’s conditional offer of talks followed remarks in a television interview over the weekend in which he despaired about who to talk to in shifty Islamabad, where the civilian dispensation seemed to be overwhelmed by the country’s military.

 

Even on the nuclear issue, a confident Singh indicated India would not be overawed or intimidated by the Obama administration's non-proliferation initiatives, welcoming talks on fissile material cut off treaty and while steering clear of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Much of what he said before the policy gathering seemed preparatory to his meeting with the US President tomorrow, their first bilateral encounter.

 

Singh showed the mildest sign of movement in New Delhi's stand in the climate change talks saying India will not compromise the right of developing countries to develop and lift their populations out of property, but "we will do more if there is global support in terms of financial resources and technology transfer.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/Stay-the-course-in-Afghanistan-PM-Manmohan-Singh-urges-US/articleshow/5262957.cms

---

 

Obama says he wants to 'finish the job' in Afghanistan

 

US President Barack Obama has said it is his intention to "finish the job" in Afghanistan after eight years of conflict there.

Mr Obama said he would announce a long-awaited decision over sending more troops to Afghanistan "shortly".

Some US media reports have suggested that the US president is intending to send 34,000 more troops.

He has been considering a request from his top commander in Afghanistan for 40,000 more US troops.

Mr Obama said a continuing review of US policy in Afghanistan had been "extremely useful", stressing that it was in the US strategic interest to make sure al-Qaeda and its allies could not operate in the area.

"After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job," he said.

Speaking at a press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he added that the Afghan people were "going to have to provide ultimately for their own security".

Mr Obama is widely expected to announce his decision on US troop reinforcements in Afghanistan in a prime-time TV address next Tuesday.

He said he thought the American people would "be supportive" of the eventual decision when provided with a "clear rationale".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8377331.stm

---

 

Committed to fully implement nuke deal: Obama

November 24, 2009

President Barack Obama is hailing the relationship between the United States and India as one of the "defining partnerships" in the world.

The President welcomed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the White House by heaping praise on him as the leader of the largest democracy in the globe. Obama announced that he had accepted Singh's invitation to go to India next year.

Obama said the two leaders had agreed in morning talks to beef up cooperation on law enforcement and intelligence, climate change, education and other areas. And the US president reaffirmed support for a civilian nuclear cooperation accord signed into law last year after years of close communication.

http://www.ndtv.com/news/world/committed_to_fully_implement_nuke_deal_obama.php

------

'Traces of Babri villains thrive in every pillar of the system'

Maneesh Chhibber

Nov 24, 2009

New Delhi : Underlining that bureaucrats helped the then Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh to subvert the system so that the Sangh Parivar could achieve its goal of demolishing the Babri Masjid, the Justice Liberhan Commission of Inquiry is said to have observed that the infiltration of the government and of the administration by pro-Sangh elements was complete.

Not just this. Sources have told The Indian Express that the Liberhan report goes on to say that its “traces and remnants are still thriving all over the country,” and pose as grave a threat as ever — continuing to spread in scope to “encompass every pillar of the Constitutional system.”

After coming to power, Kalyan Singh, Liberhan is learnt to have observed, worked to identify and replace officers who could have resisted his attempts and stopped the demolition. Transfer was a weapon used with alarming frequency, almost always to replace these officers with pliant ones. The transfers resulted in giving the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates a free run on the disputed structure, the report is said to state.

Liberhan is said to be most scathing in his condemnation of Kalyan Singh and his ministerial colleagues and officers. He is learnt to have said that Kalyan, his ministers and their chosen officers created circumstances that led to the demolition and split Hindus and Muslims, resulting in massacres across the country. And that at every step, the state government supported the imminent demolition by tacit, open and material support.

Liberhan is also learnt to have observed that as part of the same game plan, the state government stationed fresh recruits to the armed police in Faizabad and Ayodhya and these recruits got so close to the kar sevaks that they wouldn’t have fired at them even if they had been asked to do so.

Referring to the role or the lack of it of the then P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government during the build-up and afterwards, Liberhan is learnt to have said the Central government was crippled by failure of intelligence inputs as well as the fact that the matter was before the Supreme Court.

One of the key conclusions of Liberhan is said to be that Kalyan Singh stood guard against any pre-emptive and preventive action by the Union Government or the Supreme Court. He is also said to have observed that Kalyan tied the hands of security forces and agencies by issuing orders that directed them not to fire at kar sevaks come what may. Liberhan is learnt to have found that by leaking information about such directives to the police, the state government further weakened the already-dejected force and ensured that kar sevaks had no fear.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/traces-of-babri-villains-thrive-in-every-pillar-of-the-system/545518/

------

 

Iran: 12 couples held for partner swapping

Tehran, Nov. 23: Iran’s moral police has arrested a dozen couples for engaging in illicit sexual acts, including swapping of partners, the conservative Jomhuri Eslami reported on Monday.

The report said the couples and another individual were running a website, Iran Multiplication, which was aimed at promoting illicit sexual relations. The couples were said to have carried out sexual acts in the presence of each other and several times with multiple partners, the report added. Those arrested held university degrees, while some were government employees and had children. The paper gave no further details about their identities or when or where they were arrested.

Extra-marital sex is illegal in Iran where Islamic sharia law is the principal source of legislation. If found guilty of adultery, those arrested in the crackdown face being stoned to death. Reports of partner-swapping are a rarity in conservative Iran, but in March the elite Revolutionary Guards said it had launched a crackdown on several groups who had set up anti-Islamic and pornographic Internet sites. —AFP

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/international/fort-hood-shooter-gets-permanently-paralysed-.aspx

------

John Paul II ‘whipped’ self in penance

London, Nov. 23: Pope John Paul II, who died four years ago at the age of 84, regularly whipped himself in "remorse for his sins", a nun has claimed.

Pope John Paul is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church. And, as part of Vatican’s investigation, thousands of documents have been collected and examined by officials from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Among them is the testimony of Polish nun Tobiana Sobodka, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus order, who worked for Pope John Paul in his private Vatican apartments and at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome.

Sister Sobodka said: "Several times he (Pope John Paul) would put himself through bodily penance. We would hear it — we were in the next room at Castel Gandolfo. You could hear the sound of the blows when he flagellated himself. He did it when he was still capable of moving on his own."

The flagellation is also confirmed by another bishop who has given testimony, Emery Kabongo, who for several years was a secretary for Pope John Paul, leading Italian newspaper La Stampa reported.

"He would punish himself and in particular just before he ordained bishops and priests. Before passing on the sacraments he wanted to prepare himself. I never actually saw it myself but several people told me about it," he said.

However, a Vatican spokesman was quoted by the British media as saying, "The investigation and documentation is still secret and as such we can make no comment on it until the final report is published."

http://203.197.197.71/presentation/leftnavigation/news/international/john-paul-ii-%E2%80%98whipped%E2%80%99-self-in-penance.aspx

------

Indonesia: Haj, A lucrative business of sweat and blood

Khairil Azhar

11/24/2009

All Muslims wish to go to Mecca to perform haj as required in the Koran. And every year Indonesia sends the largest number of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, because the Saudi Arabia government allocates 1 percent of the total Muslim population for each country, or 210,000 participants, for this year.

As the government charges about Rp 33 million (US$3,350) each, this year's the total payment from pilgrims is about Rp 2.8 trillion. A huge amount for sure.

If we use the hitungan dagang (business calculation), like many Minangkabau traders in Tanah Abang Market say, the haj travel bureaus together with the Ministry of Religious Affairs will at least get one third as profit.

The pilgrims, of course, will spend more than Rp 33 million. One to three months before their departure, there are series of practices, or training conducted by the travel bureaus or related agencies.

Before and after performing the haj, the participants should donate more money for certain ceremonial and charitable activities.

And don't forget, they should also provide their relatives, neighbors and colleagues with gifts from Tanah Suci, the Holy Land. Overall, each participant may spend about Rp 50 million.

It's a very costly spiritual journey.

One of my close friends, who often became the guide for Indonesian pilgrims, revealed that he made much money every time the season came.

His father, who ran the haj business, could afford to build a nice house and his family enjoyed an easy life. And my friend told me that he was really motivated to learn Arabic and Islam at a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) because he wanted to work for his family business.

He said in the haj business he profited in two ways: Reward from God as well as the reward (wealth) from running the business.

The officials at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, especially those who work at the Ministry's directorate general for haj affairs, may also share my friend's view.

It is a lucrative business and the office is often regarded as lahan basah (a financially profitable division). Once you are there, you will prosper, the officials there often say.

And they are not alone, surely. The fact that one corrupt bureaucracy is correlated with other corrupt ones has been known for long time in relation to the haj management. We can clearly see how all the elements from beginning to end are monopolized.

Take a look at how the ministry manages accommodation. Almost everything is fraudulent: the arrival, the catering, the hotels, transportation, guides, and communication.

The government is very lucky, because many Indonesians are used to being patient and passive. And we can trace this "luck" back to two or three centuries ago.

As retold by Marcel Willox (1997), when it was recorded before the nineteenth century, Indonesians risked their lives and wealth and everything for the haj.

They will tend to remain passive even though they have to sacrifice themselves here or there, because they deeply believe that their death is never a waste. As their intention is declared before they leave, they are already indoctrinated for the eternal life.

But will this kind of business that exploits the belief and willingness of the people carry on like this? Are not there any alternatives to make it fairer and therefore less exploitative?

First of all, since the rules of the game are typically bureaucratic, and therefore strengthen the corrupt practices, the chance for change is slim. So, there should be an initiative from the lawmakers to review or amend the 2008 law on the haj management.

The management of the haj should be required to be more transparent and accountable, especially before the public.

There should be reliable and standardized procedures and operations that the public can trust. The law should ascertain that there is no more aji mumpung (taking advantage) or yang penting jalan (just go ahead).

Second, there should be independent institution(s) filled with independent people which are legally continuously supervising, assisting and auditing the management of the haj in all its aspects.

And it is the government itself, the President at best, that should establish it since it is under the executive's scope of work. The existence of this institution will enable the checks and balances process in the handling of the haj.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/11/24/haj-a-lucrative-business-sweat-and-blood.html

-----

Iraq war inquiry opens in UK

November 24, 2009

A public inquiry into the UK's role in the Iraq war has opened in London, with former civil servants first to appear in hearings that will climax with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, taking the stand.

One-time senior officials from the foreign and defence ministries will outline Britain's policy towards Baghdad in early 2000, as the five-member committee investigates what lessons can be learned from the US-led war.

John Chilcot, the inquiry chairman and a former civil servant, said he was confident of producing a "full and insightful" account of the decision-making that led Britain to join the 2003 invasion against strong opposition at home and abroad.

An appearance by Blair, who took Britain into the conflict, is likely to be the highlight of the inquiry, although he and other Labour government figures are not due to give evidence until next year.

'Unprecedented' inquiry

Shane Greer, executive editor of Total Politics, a British political magazine and website, told Al Jazeera that he believes the inquiry will uncover new information about the Iraq war.

"First of all the scope of this inquiry is absolutely unprecedented.

"Already back in July Sir John [Chilcot] began speaking with families of injured and killed soldiers ... now he's going onto the spy chiefs, civil servants ... and moving onto politicians.

"So I think we're going to see much more from this inquiry than any previous inquiry, because of course the frame of reference is so much wider, the access to information is so much wider.

"And also the inquiry has been given the power to apportion blame which really is quite incredible."

'No trial'

Chilcot has said that nobody will be on trial in the inquiry, held at a conference centre near parliament in central London, but has also vowed not to shy away from any criticism if the findings warrant it.

"No-one is on trial here. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that.

"But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms, either of institutions or processes or  individuals, where they are truly warranted," he said in opening remarks.

Chilcot and his fellow committee members have already met families of some of the 179 British troops who died during the six-year conflict, who raised issues about whether they were properly equipped and trained.

The inquiry will also look into the justification for the war, principally the claim that Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president, had weapons of mass destruction.

These weapons were never found.

Among the first witnesses to be called on Tuesday is Peter Ricketts, who chaired the government's senior intelligence committee between 2000 and 2001 before taking a senior post at the Foreign Office (FCO) between 2001 and 2003.

Also due to present statements at the hearing are William Patey, the former head of the FCO's Middle East department; Simon Webb, the fomer head of operational policy at the Ministry of Defence; and Michael Wood, an former FCO legal adviser.

War 'legality'

Families of soldiers who died in the conflict have said they want "honest" answers from the inquiry.

Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in Iraq in 2004, said: "We do hope that the committee are going to be honest ... I don't know why he died until the end of this inquiry," she said.

Demonstrators have protested outside the conference venue, with some dressed up as former US and UK leaders with blood on their hands.

Anti-war campaigners are calling for a ruling on the legality of the conflict, which was carried out without explicit approval by the United Nations Security Council.

Two official investigations into the run-up to the war have already taken place, but ministers had refused to hold a full inquiry until after the military deployment had ended.

Analysts have said the inquiry is incapable of addressing the key issue of whether the invasion was legal, because of a lack of lawyers and judges on its six-member committee.

An unnamed senior judge told The Guardian newspaper that analysing the war's legality was beyond the committee's competence.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2009/11/200911244168327359.html

-----

Hijab and Playing Rugby In Kashmir

November 24th, 2009

"I feel I am doing something great... This challenge has been the best experience of my life," says Saliah Yusuf, 18, a Class 12 student in Srinagar. 

Saliah, who recently captained the national rugby team, has earned a rare honour: She is one of the two Kashmiri girls to qualify for the first phase of an International Rugby Board course. Saba Akhtar, 17, is the other qualifier. The two will be travelling to Pune for the 10-day course to be conducted by officials from the Ireland-based rugby board. Saliah is also scheduled to attend another training to become a Rugby Development Officer, after which, she would be able to coach budding players and earn emoluments worth Rs 4,000 - Rs 5,000 per month (US$1=Rs 46.5) paid by the Indian Rugby Association.

In a state torn by violence for the past two decades, an entire generation has missed out on normal life. Women have been the worse victims of the violence and the diktat of terror groups.

Given this scenario, it is nothing less than amazing that there are 450 registered rugby women players across Kashmir since 2004, when the sport was first introduced to women here. Many families and schools now encourage their female wards to take up the game and some aspirants are seriously thinking of making it a career. 

"In traditional Kashmiri society, a career in sports and that too for a girl is still a distant dream. That my family is allowing me to play outside the state is a big thing," acknowledges Sajida Yusuf, Saliah`s younger sister, who studies in Class 9 at Linton Hall School, Srinagar. Both sisters, however, give credit to their mother - a widow - for encouraging them to play rugby.

"My mom says, `You are my sons, go and face the world`. She takes care of our diet chart. Since it is a physical game that needs strength and agility, the diet has to be a balanced mixture of proteins and carbohydrates. Fatty food is totally prohibited," informs Sajida. She adds, "Rugby means strength, stamina, mental sharpness and agility. A player cannot afford a size zero figure." 

Today, it`s not out of the ordinary to see young Kashmiri women dressed in T-shirts and track pants - some even sporting their `hijab` (head scarf worn by Muslim women) - jostling with each other on the sports field. "We don`t wish to lag behind in any area dominated by boys. We wish to outshine the boys," says Aqsa Mustaq, 16, a trainee from Srinagar.

Such is the passion for this sport that in the Yusuf household rugby is like religion. The two sisters follow a strict regimen and devote an hour every day for the game in school, and at home on holidays. They also attend the practice organised by the Kashmir Rugby Association at the famed Polo Grounds every Sunday. "At the National Rugby Championship, we played against the top teams in India and performed well. We have to work hard. More coaching camps will improve our performance, which will fetch Kashmiri girls berths on the Indian team," feels Saliah.

Saliah, however, has proved her mettle as she was among the 26 girls from all over India to qualify for the rugby national camp in Mumbai recently. But while Saliah has her sister to give her company in pursuing their passion, Rutba Amin, 18, was a torch bearer of sorts - being the only girl in her family to ever play any kind of sport. Ecstatic about their daughter`s potential on the field - Rutba has been playing rugby for the past three years and badminton prior to that - the Amins agreed to send their daughter to the outstation national camp in Mumbai for two weeks earlier this year.

"Girls are excelling in various fields and there is no reason why we should not participate in games like rugby," says Rutba. "My parents have no objection in my playing. They support me and I hope I will do better and play at state or national level," pipes up Qurat-ul-ain, who is studying medicine. 

Despite knowing that rugby is likely to make them prone to injuries, the young girls are adamant about making the game their future. Not surprisingly, most of the players now wish to take up rugby as a full-fledged career instead of playing it as just another sport. Initially, these girls played with the oval rugby ball just to chill out with friends but now they play for a host of reasons. For some, it`s their way of cocking a snook at a male-dominated society; for others, it offers a chance to travel; and for a few it`s the thrill of meeting new people.

"A few years ago, when the game was introduced in Kashmir among boys, we never dreamt that it would become so popular among girls... Rugby is genetically suited to Kashmiris," says Sarmand Hafez, Joint Director Tourism and a promoter of the sport.

However, the Yusuf sisters, Rutba Amin and others are lucky to have family support. Others are not so fortunate. Salma Akhtar, 17, (name changed) is an excellent rugby player but despite being selected to play in the nationals she was unable to participate because her parents did not want to send her outside Kashmir for the matches. "My coach says I am a talented player but my parents think that rugby is only for men. I fail to devote adequate time to the game. Despite their objections, though, I do play local matches," she declares.

The Rugby Association of Kashmir is also doing everything possible to polish the skills of its players for which it has hired an American coach, Gregory Bruce. Scores of players, including women of all age groups, have received essential tips from Bruce, who has played for the Boston Irish club in the US.

Mohamed Iqbal, a former national rugby player, who has been appointed as Rugby Development Officer of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Rugby Association has trained about 350 Kashmiri girls. He says that a majority of the female players come from educated, affluent families. Admitting that training women players isn`t always easy for a male coach, he recalls, "In the beginning, we had lots of problems. Most families didn`t want their daughters to play rugby fearing they would hurt their teeth or break bones and then nobody would marry them. We promoted the game in the local schools. We kept in touch with parents to try to convince them there was nothing wrong with rugby and when the parents were convinced of their wards` safety they began sending them for coaching camps and tournaments too."

Iqbal`s task has been made easier by the fact that all the girls are enthusiastic and genuinely interested. "They are eager to learn. ...Sometimes difficulties do creep in and for that we need female supervisors while coaching," he says. Efforts are on to get a female coach at the earliest. Saliah and Saba have already been accredited to the Indian Rugby Association and could be possible coaches.

The popularity of rugby among girls can be gauged from the number of matches and tournaments being hosted in the state. Over 10 teams from various schools in Jammu and Kashmir participated in the recently-conducted girls Rugby State Championships, played at the sub-junior, junior, under-20 and senior levels. The Kashmir Rugby Association is also working towards an exchange programme with New Zealand and the US.

All this portents well for many young women who have defied tradition and even  family pressures to excel on the rugby fields of Kashmir. 

http://thesop.org/sports/2009/11/24/hijab-and-playing-rugby-in-kashmir

-----

-------

Bangladesh: Politics versus justice: Khaleda throws down the gauntlet

N.M. Harun

24 Nov 2009

The odyssey is over. A five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Tafazzal Islam, pronounced on November 19 the final judgement on the Bangabandhu murder case. The High Court Division's 2001 judgement, sentencing all the 12 convicts to death on the charge of murdering Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of independent Bangladesh, on August 15, 1975, has been upheld. There is an outpouring of self-congratulatory statements from all quarters, claiming that justice has eventually triumphed. This is, at best, a half-truth.

The truth is: at a favourable turn of events, politics has prevailed over conspiracy and inflicted a body blow on the forces of the August 15 counter-revolution. The Court has played a facilitating role in the implementation of the government's avowed policy of upholding the rule of law and its electoral pledge that the "[HC] judgement of the Bangabandhu murder case will be made effective".

This interplay between politics and justice has been succinctly expressed by Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh. A grandnephew of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Taposh, whose parents Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni and Arjoo Moni were also murdered on August 15, 1975, was on the government panel of lawyers in the Bangabandhu murder case. At a post-judgement press conference, held on the premises of the Supreme Court on November 19, Taposh said: "Bangabandhu struggled for 24 long years to win the nation independence, and it's a shame that we had to beg from door to door for 34 years for the trial of his killers."

The murder of Sheikh Mujib; the Indemnity Ordinance that barred the trial of his killers for long 21 years from 1975 to 1996; the patronisation of the killers of Mujib by the governments of Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, General Ziaur Rahman, General H.M. Ershad and Khaleda Zia; the annulment of the Indemnity Ordinance in 1996 by the first government of Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, opening up the scope for the trial of the killers of her father; judges of the higher courts feeling 'embarrassed'; the suspension of the trial during Khaleda Zia's third term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 on the plea of shortage of judges in the Appellate Division; the resumption and completion of the trial in 2009 during Sheikh Hasina's second term in office are all matters of politics.This contest of politics, overriding the crime and tragedy of August 15, has apparently been the factor which determined the response of BNP Chairperson and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia to the final judgement in the Bangabandhu murder case. She has not joined the chorus, singing praises of the judgement as the vindication of the rule of law or the triumph of justice. She greeted the judgement with deafening silence. This is the loudest statement of her politics: let the killers of Mujib be hanged, long live the Islam-pasand polity.

The August 15 counter-revolution foisted the Islam-pasand polity on the country in 1975. Apparently in pursuance of practical politics, Khaleda has sidetracked the Awami League government's abiding interest in the Bangabandhu murder case, and avoided condemning August 15 counter-revolution and its perpetrators. Khaleda has thus sent a strong message to the votaries of Islam-pasand politics to regroup at a time when they face a moral crisis. The Islam-pasand polity used to respect August 15 with a 'halo of patriotism' and now the judgement in the Bangabandhu murder case has replaced the halo with a badge of shame and crime.

There is a widespread condemnation of the murderous orgies of August 15, 1975. But it is a lie -- a very convenient lie during the resurgence of the Awami League under Mujib's daughter -- to assert that the whole nation is united in punishing the killers of Mujib. And an equally cheap propaganda is that the whole people are eager to re-embrace Mujib's fundamental political legacy: his four principles of Bengali Nationalism, Democracy, Socialism and Secularism. Remember the demonstrative popular enthusiasm with Baksal and juxtapose this with the eagerness of powerful sections among the elites and the common people alike to join the bandwagon of Islam-pasand Bangladeshi nationalism of Zia, Ershad and Khaleda. Also don't forget how many have gone out of the way in accommodating the Jamaat and other Islamist forces in post-'75 Bangladesh and how the Jamaat was welcome to share state power in the name of protecting sovereignty and Islamic values.

National unity, forged by the War of Independence and Liberation of 1971, was torn asunder by the August 15 counter-revolution of 1975. Bangladesh has since been a divided nation -- in a state of virtual civil war. The November 19 Supreme Court judgement is but a step towards the dismantling of the edifice of the counter-revolution. A political battle far more grim than the court battle lies ahead as Khaleda has made it abundantly clear that she will lead the defence of the Islam-pasand polity.

On the morrow of independence in 1971, the victorious secular-socialist-Bengali nationalist forces dropped their guard against the remnants of Islam-pasand political forces. The rest is history. Will that history be averted this time?

Albert Camus made some sobering reflections in The Plague:

"Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperilled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learnt from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and enlightening of men, it roused up its rats again and sent them forth to die in a happy city."

http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?news_id=85182

-----

Obama's Afghanistan strategy must be more than more troops

November 24, 2009

A plan that doesn't also deal with the Karzai problem and economic development is doomed to failure.

No wonder it's taking President Obama so long to make up his mind on Afghanistan. The more we examine his options, the less we like any of them. The costs keep going up even as the definition of success is scaled back. Obama already has rejected an immediate withdrawal, for fear of emboldening Taliban insurgents to take power in Kabul and of destabilizing neighboring Pakistan -- concerns we share. But we're also skeptical that staying put or increasing troop levels will have the desired opposite effect. Indeed, even proponents of a modest-to-substantial military buildup couch their projections in cautious terms.

Eight years and $240 billion into the war in Afghanistan, with more than 900 U.S. military deaths so far, many Americans are asking fundamental questions about goals and strategy. What are U.S. forces still doing there, particularly after Al Qaeda largely has moved its operations to safer terrain in Pakistan? How can the U.S. back the inept government of President Hamid Karzai, whose legitimacy was further undermined by his fraud-tainted reelection? How long will our engagement last, at what price and to what end? Finally, how do we get out? These are the right questions, and Obama owes the country clear answers.

The United States has two overlapping national security interests in South Asia: to reduce the threat posed by Al Qaeda and to stabilize the region so that the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan does not fail and fall into the hands of Islamist extremists. The administration believes that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would lead to a Taliban takeover and that Afghanistan once again would host Al Qaeda, providing it with better communications, finances and recruitment bases than it has in the Pakistani borderlands. Although the Afghan Taliban is largely a nationalist movement, its Pashtun leaders have a decades-old alliance with the global jihadis in Al Qaeda. Together they threaten to destabilize Pakistan by strengthening their Islamist allies there, as well as posing a more formidable threat to the United States.

After weeks of deliberation and consultations, Obama has said he will soon announce his strategy for how to move forward in Afghanistan. The options before him run the gamut. At one end, it is argued that the United States does not have sufficient troops and treasure -- much less the tenacity -- to defeat the indigenous Taliban, and therefore should dramatically reduce the 70,000 U.S. troops now there, focus narrowly on counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda and husband resources for a long-term commitment to economic development in Afghanistan. In this view, the U.S. troops are taking part in a civil conflict and cannot impose a legitimate government on the country; the longer U.S. forces remain, the more they will be seen as occupiers.

At the other end of the spectrum, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has requested up to 40,000 additional troops for an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign to fulfill Obama's aim, laid out in March, to "disrupt, defeat and dismantle Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan." He proposes using them to train and expand Afghan security forces, win over the Afghan people and address the corrupt and ineffective governance that fuels the insurgency. Without the deployment of tens of thousands more troops, McChrystal warns, the mission "will likely result in failure."

Obama appears to be leaning toward a mid-level increase of perhaps 25,000 troops, phased in over time as the Karzai government meets specific benchmarks for developing the Afghan army, improving governance and curbing corruption -- prerequisites for an eventual drawdown of international troops. Karzai must be pressed to expand his circle of power to include his political and ethnic competitors, and to invest in their regions. He also must be supported in efforts to reconcile with combatants, their commanders and tribal leaders whose grievances with the government have sent them to the Taliban for support. These goals are key, because security forces alone can't hold a country together or compensate for a government that lacks the support of its people. Karzai must be held accountable if the United States is to avoid a quagmire.

Success will take a long time and a strong commitment. And even if the administration does everything right, it may not succeed in staving off a Taliban government or stabilizing the region. But if the administration pursues the war at the expense of political engagement and economic development, then it surely will fail.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-afghanistan24-2009nov24,0,3210314.story

------

We Can't Criticize Operation Cast Lead Because Of Iran?

23 Nov 2009 04:34 pm

Frum combines two talking points:

There is only one last non-military stop on this train: President Obama’s initiative to organize so-called “crippling” sanctions against Iran.

These sanctions would penalize the firms that sell, carry and finance the half-million tons of gasoline that Iran must import every month. (Incredibly, this huge oil exporter and aspiring nuclear power refines only about half the gas it needs.) Such firms are vulnerable to international pressure: Two of the three Swiss firms that provide the bulk of Iran’s gasoline have substantial investments in Canada, for example. If Canada joins the sanctions regime, Canada can bring great pressure to bear on these suppliers — and thus upon Iran.

    To sustain sanctions over any length of time, however, will require international co-operation, especially from Russia, China and India. Will that co-operation be forthcoming? So far, the record is not promising. But if those countries understand that the final destination of the Iranian effort is an Israeli military strike on Iran, maybe they will rethink. For that reason, the whole world has an interest in enhancing the credibility of Israeli action. For that reason, the campaign to penalize and demonize Israel for its actions in Lebanon and Gaza is an affront to world peace. Only an effective Israel can believably threaten the strike that will incentivize Iran’s trading partners to join the U.S. economic campaign.

So we have gone from denying outright any moral problems associated with the Gaza attack to arguing that, regardless of what actually happened, the whole world should back Israel because of the danger of Iran and the fact that Israel's threatened military strike is the only real lever we have.

Well: let's see how China might view this. They might ask: why should we care if Iran goes nuclear? Or rather: do we care enough that we are prepared to initiate a global terror war with utterly unforeseen consequences rather than tolerate a nuclear - or a latent nuclear - Iran? I think the Chinese would understandably say: nope. Ditto the Russians. They're happy to watch America squirm because of Israel's insistence on either crippling sanctions or war (with no concessions, of course, with respect to the Palestinians).

Would China and Russia move in quickly to fill the gap created by US-European sanctions? You betcha.

Would the Arab and Muslim world blame Russia and China if Israel, with US cover, then attacked Iran? Surely not. The war between Islam and the West after a US-Israel attack on Iran would become as intense as that between Islam and Israel. Russia and China could sit back and watch the American empire be destroyed by a global terror war that simultaneously sends the US economy - and possibly the American constitution - into the toilet. China would suffer collateral economic damage from global depression, but that's a small price to pay to watch the US hegemon go down the drain of religious global conflict.

And let's see how the Iranian people, including the Green Movement, would see this: they oppose sanctions and they oppose military strikes. If the US were to back Israel in crippling sanctions, they'd be accused of being in league with a Zionist plot to starve their fellow citizens. If the US were to tolerate a military attack by Israel, the Green opposition would perforce back the coup regime against a foreign military attack. And every single Muslim and Arab suspicion that Israel controls US foreign policy would be given a propaganda victory.

Tehran's coup regime is wicked but not stupid. They know that on the nuclear issue, they have the winning hand. And if Israel insists on making the US go to the brink over this issue - then the US will lose. Israel may gain a temporary pause before it too faces its end-game. But it's the US that would truly lose.

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/11/you-cant-criticize-operation-cast-lead-because-of-iran.html

------

21 massacred in run-up to Philippine polls for post of governor in Maguindanao, a predominantly Muslim province

MANILA, Nov 24 — In what may be the bloodiest start to a Philippine election in recent history, gunmen abducted and then massacred at least 21 people among a group of politicians and journalists in the country’s strife-torn south yesterday.

Military officials said the bodies of 13 women and eight men — some of them mutilated — were found close to an area where the group of about 30 people, travelling in a convoy of three vans, was hijacked on Mindanao island.

“We believe more bodies are buried in the ground,” said armed forces spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Brawner. “Unfortunately the killing happened before our troops got there.”

The authorities were unable to confirm who was responsible for the massacre up until late last night; or say for sure that it was linked to next May’s general election.

But relatives of the victims blamed a political rival. The convoy was waylaid on its way to an election office, where the wife of a local official was to file her husband’s candidacy for the post of governor in Maguindanao, a predominantly Muslim province.

Several of the victims were journalists travelling in the convoy.

The Philippine government expressed its anger over the killings.

“We’re in shock and in total outrage,” said President Gloria Arroyo’s political adviser, Gabriel Claudio. “Justice will be served and the perpetrators punished, whoever they are.”The National Press Club also expressed outrage, amid reports that 12 journalists were among those killed.“We are condemning this brutal incident. We have this culture of impunity in Mindanao that needs to change,” club president Benny Antiporda said.Feuds and deadly clashes among rival political families are common in Maguindanao and other parts of Mindanao, where local political strongmen run private armed groups. In this region, too, Islamic rebels have been waging a long-running separatist rebellion.

Elections are customarily bloody affairs here, especially at the level of local-government politics. But the scale of the violence yesterday was extraordinary.

Last Friday marked the start of a three-month registration period for candidates to register with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Vice-mayor of Buluan town Ismael Mangudadatu, who was not in the convoy, told the ABS-CBN television station that his wife, sister and other relatives had been abducted on their way to a Comelec office by between 30 and 50 gunmen. Identifying the attackers as the followers of a powerful political rival, he said the victims were beheaded.

The Mangudadatu clan has reportedly had a long-running feud with the family of Maguindanao’s incumbent governor, Andal Ampatuan, who is known to run a large private armed group. Representatives of the Ampatuan family have not commented on allegations of their involvement in yesterday’s attack.

The Philippine National Police, supported by the military, is leading the hunt for the killers.

“This is more on political violence and a police matter,” said Colonel Jonathan Ponce, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

The massacre will certainly reinforce efforts by Comelec to impose a total ban on carrying guns in public when the official campaigning period starts next year.

Right now there is an amnesty until the end of November to turn in illegal and unlicensed firearms; police estimate there are over a million of them. — The Straits Times

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/world/44412-21-massacred-in-run-up-to-philippine-polls

------

Islam in Europe: Swiss to vote on banning minarets

November 23rd, 2009

The European backlash against Islam has entered a new phase. This Sunday, there’s a referendum in Switzerland on whether to add the sentence “The construction of minarets is forbidden” to Article 72 of the Constitution. Needless to say, Muslims, churchmen and Amnesty International are all pleading with the Swiss to vote against the ban.

The Right-wing Swiss parties behind the referendum claim that the construction of minarets is not protected by the freedom of religion as they have “no religious significance”. That strikes me as a pretty bogus argument: of course they have religious significance. But the campaigners also describe minarets as “symbols of a religious-political claim to power and dominance which threatens – in the name of alleged freedom of religion – the constitutional rights of others.” They have a point, surely, since in Islamic countries the constitutional rights of Christians either don’t exist or are trampled on.

Anyway, Amnesty is campaigning vigorously for the minarets – though, idiotically, the press release it’s sent me is embargoed until Wednesday. So I can’t quote directly its argument that to ban minarets but not church spires is a direct infringement of the human rights of Swiss Muslims, who so far make up over four per cent of the population. (I don’t want to sound prejudiced, but the words “so far” can be inserted into any measurement of the Islamic presence in Europe.)

Actually, the church spires/minarets analogy doesn’t really work, because although bells sometimes ring out from church spires, minarets broadcast a call to prayer which interrupts the lives of Muslims and Christians alike. As I reported earlier this year, that old booby the Bishop of Oxford is only to happy to have the muezzin sounding through parts of his own city – curiously, not the bit where he lives – but residents feel differently.

It’s a tricky one. Let’s imagine that we were faced with a similar referendum. A legal ban on the construction of a certain sort of building strikes me as a very un-British, top-down solution. Giving local people the right to decide whether they want a minaret in their midst, on the other hand, is very British. But what if the locality is a Muslim ghetto? I wish I could say that last question is hypothetical, but increasingly it isn’t.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100017570/islam-in-europe-swiss-to-vote-on-banning-minarets/

------

FBI disarms itself vs. domestic Islamic terrorism

Monday November 23, 2009

Categories: Islamic terrorism, Religion (general)

Reuel Marc Gerecht on why the domestic Islamic terrorism threat is real, and why the FBI isn't prepared to fight it:

    For the FBI, religion remains a much too sensitive subject, much more so than the threatening ideologies of yesteryear. Imagine if Maj. Hasan had been an officer during the Cold War, regularly expressing his sympathy for the Soviet Union and American criminality against the working man. Imagine him writing to a KGB front organization espousing socialist solidarity. The major would have been surrounded by counterintelligence officers.

    A law-enforcement agency par excellence, the FBI reflects American legal ethics. Because the FBI is always thinking about criminal prosecutions and admissible evidence, its intelligence-collecting inevitably gets defined by its judicial procedures. Good counterintelligence curiosity--that must come into play before any crime is committed--is at odds with a G-man's raison d'être. And much more so than local police departments--which are grounded to the unpleasantness of daily life--it is highly susceptible to politically correct behavior.

    Powerfully intertwined in all of this is liberal America's reluctance to discuss Islam, Islamic militancy, jihadism, or anything that might be construed as invidious to Muslims. The Obama administration obviously doesn't want to get tagged with an Islamist terrorist strike in the U.S.--the first since 9/11. The Muslim-sensitive 9/11 Commission Report, which unambiguously named the enemy as "Islamist terrorism," now seems distinctly passé.

    Thoughtful men should certainly not want to see a U.S. president propel a "clash of civilizations" with devout Muslims. However, clash-avoidance shouldn't lead us into a philosophical cul-de-sac. The stakes are so enormous--jihadists would if they could let loose a weapon of mass destruction in a Western city--that we should not prevaricate out of politeness, or deceive ourselves into believing that a debate between Muslims and non-Muslims can only be counterproductive.

Journalists too disarm themselves, at least when it comes to dealing with groups they deem to be Underdogs (this is where I think liberal bias in newsrooms is most damaging). It's not that journalists are especially sensitive to religion, and that's why they are, and always will be, incurious about the extent of Islamic radicalization in America's Muslim institutions and mosques. It's that they don't really understand religion, and the power of ideas, and feel in their bones their job is to protect Muslims from the great American unwashed masses, especially the Christian ones they're sure are out there ready to string up Muslims at the least opportunity.

We Americans, religious and secular both, have powerful fundamental views about religion that put radical Islam in a certain context, one that prevents us from understanding how unlike other American religious expressions it is -- and how much of a threat it is to the civil order. If you think of radical Islam not as a religion, but as a hostile ideology (e.g., communism), its nature becomes clearer.

http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/11/fbi-disarms-itself-vs-domestic.html

------

Babri demolition: Proof of planning, conspiracy in a big blow to BJP, RSS

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Once the dust from the unnecessary debate over who leaked the Liberhan Commission’s findings settles down, the country will be in a better position to reflect upon the political consequences of the enquiry report on one of independent India’s most sinister mass crimes: the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

Though it is not yet clear whether Mr. Liberhan has fixed criminal or merely political responsibility on top Bharatiya Janata party leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the commission report seems to have concluded that the demolition was no act of spontaneous vandalism but a pre-planned conspiracy. The circle of conspirators may well have been small but it is impossible to imagine that leaders like Mr. Advani were completely unaware of what was underfoot. Either way, the Manmohan Singh government is duty-bound to get to the bottom of the matter and to do so without any further delay.

For years, the BJP walked a fine line on the demolition. Senior leaders like Advani sought to avoid direct culpability for what was, after all, a criminal act, while also exploiting the communal polarisation the masjid/mandir issue caused for political gain. The strategy worked fine at first. The demolition was used by the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to spread the sangh parivar’s influence beyond the Gangetic plains and into Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. By the time the BJP came to power in Delhi as part of the National Democratic Alliance, however, the signs of mandir fatigue were already apparent, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As the communal virus of the 1990s slowly exhausted itself and robbed Ayodhya of its political potency, the BJP moved on to other issues. With Mr. Liberhan content to drag out his enquiry, the legal fallout of the demolition was managed by petty clerical fiddles at the Central Bureau of Investigation and the U.P. bureaucracy. The end result: many senior leaders of the party, including Mr. Advani, extricated themselves from the demolition cases which were, in any case, progressing at snail’s pace.

Two-fold problem

The problem for the BJP today is two-fold: First, Mr. Liberhan chose to complete his labours and that too during the tenure of a Congress-led government; and second, the scope for whipping up religious sentiments and rallying Hindus around the prospective martyrdom of leaders like Mr. Advani is extremely limited. Indeed, ordinary Hindus know that the Babri Masjid’s demolition, like the Gujarat massacres of 2002, is part of the backstory of urban terrorism, including the rise of homegrown terrorist outfits like the Indian Mujahideen. They also know instinctively that religious polarisation of the kind the sangh parivar has sought to engineer has made India a more dangerous and violent place. Any campaign the BJP mounts now will be marked by the desperate search for legal loopholes, alibis and fixes, not defiance and bravado in the service of Lord Rama.

Ironically, the best hope for the BJP lies in the Congress’ reluctance to press ahead its political advantage. At the best of times, the party has never been too enthusiastic about ensuring punishment of those involved in communal crimes. The findings of the Srikrishna Commission of Enquiry into the 1992-1993 communal killings in Mumbai, for example, have remained largely unimplemented. Going by the law of probability — since the probability of law is so low — there are good reasons to believe the Liberhan findings will also meet the same fate.

http://www.hindu.com/2009/11/24/stories/2009112460511000.htm

------

BJP: No regret on Ayodhya

Nov. 23: A day after Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani said that the BJP was not against the minority community, the Liberhan Commission report to be tabled in Parliament reportedly indicted the outfit and its top leaders for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. However, an unrepentant BJP made it clear that the party has "no regret about the Ayodhya movement".

Desperately clinging to its aggressive Hindutva card, Mr Advani declared that though he was "distressed over the demolition of structure, as far as the movement is concerned, it was my mission and would work towards it all my life".

The contents of the report could now possibly hurt the BJP’s attempt to break out of its Hindutva image. With its back to the wall, the party would now go full steam ahead and try return to it core ideology.

Party strategists have decided to go on the offensive and intend to disrupt the proceedings till the government tables the report. The final decision will, however, be taken on Tuesday. The BJP was also contemplating moving a privilege motion against the home minister.

What rattled the outfit was the alleged indictment of its tallest leader and former Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. The former PM, called the party’s moderate face, was often described as the " right man in the wrong party". The deputy leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the party was "shocked and surprised" at the mention of the veteran leader in the report. She said the BJP leaders had met Mr Vajpayee on Monday morning and informed him that they would be demanding tabling of the report in Parliament.

The BJP claimed the UPA government has no intention of tabling the full report as "it indicts the then Congress government of P.V. Narasimha Rao". The BJP claimed there were only two copies of the report — one with Justice Liberhan and the other with the MHA "under lock and key".

The findings of the report could come as the breather for Mr Advani has been looking for. Immediately after Parliament plunged into chaos, he indicated that he was going to face it and take it up as a "challenge". Party sources said this meant he would like to "hang on to his post as long as he can and would make it difficult for the RSS to ask him relinquish the post since he has reportedly been targeted by the report."

Mr Advani was expected early next year and make way for a new leadership.

RSS leaders had indicated that Mr Advani would step down by March 2010.

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/india/bjp-no-regret-on-ayodhya.aspx

------

Exoneration of Narasimha Rao shocking”

Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: Samajwadi Party (SP) general secretary Amar Singh on Monday expressed “shock” at the reported “indictment” of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Liberhan Commission Report extracts that have been leaked in the media.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Singh said he was “shocked” that Mr. Vajpayee had been “indicted” and that former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, who was in power when the Babri mosque was demolished, was reportedly “exonerated” in the report.

“The Indian public is aware about the role of the Narasimha Rao government, and unless some new facts are revealed in the report, I am shocked about Mr. Vajpayee’s indictment. He is the liberal face of the party,” he said.

Signalling that the party had reverted to its combative role with the Congress, especially after the SP’s poor showing in the recent Assembly by-elections in Uttar Pradesh when it drew a blank on 11 seats, Mr. Singh said it took the Congress 20-odd years to apologise to the Sikhs for the 1984 riots. “How long will it take for the party to apologise to the Muslims for the Babri mosque demolition?” he said.

Kalyan Singh was never a part of SP”

The SP is desperate to win back the Muslim constituency in U.P. that it lost after its alliance with Kalyan Singh, who was the Chief Minister when the mosque was demolished.

“Kalyan Singh was never a part of the Samajwadi Party. He left the BJP because he had differences over ticket distribution. We respected public perception about him and have washed our hands of him,” Mr. Singh said.

“The Congress wants management by postponement. Whether it is Sacchar, Ranganath Mishra, Sri Krishna or Liberhan panel, the Congress only knows how to set up commissions but does not implement anything. They only want to use Muslims for votes. It has admitted in its party Shiv Sena members like Sanjay Nirupam, Chagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane who are now holding ministerial portfolios,” he added.

Muslims do not want Mandir or Masjid, Mr. Singh said, adding: “They want law and order and safety.”

He said it was he who raised the issue of the “speedy disposal of the Babri Mosque and tabling of the Liberhan Commission report” in the Rajya Sabha’s Business Advisory Committee, on which the house will take up a “structured debate.”

“We want a speedy trial of the Babri Masjid demolition case and that the guilty should be punished,” Mr. Singh added.

A Bahujan Samaj Party member, speaking to The Hindu, described as “ridiculous” the reported “exoneration” of Narasimha Rao, when, according to him, “the National Integration Council had authorised to him to dismiss the State government and to impose President’s rule before December 6.”

While the BSP will give its reaction after seeing the report, the party member felt that by leaking the report, its seriousness had been diluted.

http://www.hindu.com/2009/11/24/stories/2009112460541000.htm

------

Indictment is very clear, says Congress

Age CorrespondentS

Nov. 23: The Congress targeted the BJP on Monday, saying the indictment of those responsible for the Babri Masjid demolition is very clear.

"Perceptionally the indictment is very clear. Perceptionally the issue in the mind of people is already settled as far as guilt and culpability are concerned. The BJP and its affiliates are responsible for the demolition," Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said.

BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the "selective leaks" of the commission’s report to the media were politically motivated and had come at a time when the Opposition was united against the government over issues like price rise and sugarcane prices.

Mr Kalyan Singh, who was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh during the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, refused to comment on the "leaked" portions of the Liberhan Commission report which appeared in the media.

"I will not comment on the findings of the Liberhan Commission till it is placed in Parliament," the former BJP leader, who is now an Independent MP from Etah, said.

The Samajwadi Party, BSP and the CPI(M) demanded an explanation from the government on how the report was leaked to the media and said it should be tabled in Parliament at the earliest.

Railway minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said that the Liberhan Commission should be tabled in Parliament and those held responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid should be brought to justice. "We want the Liberhan Commission report to be immediately placed before the Parliament. Those who are found guilty should be punished accordingly," Ms Banerjee said when asked to comment on the issue.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee termed the leakage of the report undesirable. "I have learnt about the findings of the Liberhan Commission from television. If that is true, then it is a very undesirable incident," he said.

Mr Chatterjee added that there were past instances when the government of the day had rejected a committee report following the pre-mature leakage of its contents.

"Such incidents have happened in the past. In this case it is upto the government what action it wants to take. The government should table the report and the ATR," Mr Chatterjee added.

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/india/indictment-is-very-clear,-says-congress.aspx

------

Kalyan calls Liberhan report 'politically motivated'

2009-11-24

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh Tuesday justified the 1992 razing of the Babri mosque and said he suspected a 'political conspiracy' behind the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry that has indicted all the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for its catastrophic event.

Unrepentant over the mosque destruction that sparked off communal violence across India, Kalyan Singh also admitted to reporters that it was true that he told the police not to open fire at the hundreds of thousnds of Hindu activists gathered in Ayodhyya on Dec 6, 1992.

Kalyan Singh said he had told the police to use their 'lathis' and tear gas to disperse the 'kar sevaks'. 'But I made it clear that there should be no firing on the kar sevaks.

'The question before me was: who should I save? I prevented a massacre. The structure (mosque) went (in the process).'

The Liberhan Commission has come down strongly on Kalyan Singh, portraying him as one of the key men responsible for the events leading to the razing of the 16th century mosque.

Hindu radicals who tore it down claimed that the mosque had been built at the birthplace of Hindu Lord Ram.

Kalyan Singh, who later quit the BJP and broke ranks with the Samajwadi Party earlier this month, told reporters here that he was in no doubt that a grand Ram temple would come up at the site where the mosque stood.

'It will be a temple, a temple, a temple,' he said, repeating the word thrice to lay emphasis.

'In the Liberhan Commission there is a stench of politics,' he said, and added that the nearly 1,000-word report was 'politically motivated'.

He denied the charge levelled by M.S. Liberhan that there was a conspiracy to bring down the mosque.

'I say there was no deep conspiracy and there was no advance planning to break the structure. Dec 6 was an explosion.'

At the same time, Kalyan Singh sought the cooperation of the Muslim community in the building of the Ram temple at the site in Ayodhya, about 700 km from here.

'There will be peace in the country (once the temple comes up),' he said. 'This source of tension will end.'

He said indefinitely postponing the construction of the Ram temple 'will not benefit the Hindus or the Muslims or the country'.

'The earlier the temple is built it will be good for the nation,' he said. 'The (Babri) mosque can never come up there.'

'I have no regrets,' he added, referring to the mosque destruction. 'The Ram temple has to come up, the structure (mosque) had to go.'

Kalyan Singh also said he was ready to face any case filed against him by the central government in the wake of his indictment in the Liberhan Commission.

Speaking of his plans to go to Ayodhya in the coming days, Kalyan Singh said the time had come for 'a new political mission'.

He expressed indignation over the indictment of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Liberhan report.

http://sify.com/news/Kalyan-calls-Liberhan-report-39-politically-motivated-39-news-National-jlyuudbfddi.html

-----

Ayodhya remains indifferent to Liberhan storm

Amita Verma

Nov. 23: There was furore and political turbulence in Delhi but the waters in Saryu river in Ayodhya were unusually tranquil and placid. The city that had witnessed unmatched fire and fury in the run up to the Babri demolition in December 1992 remained completely indifferent to the Liberhan leak on Monday.

"Kya farak padta hai — 17 saal ho gaye. Ek puri pidhi chali gayi. Mandir ka mudda hi khatam ho gaya (What difference does it make — it has been 17 years and an entire generation has passed away. The temple issue is over)," said Pandit Arvind Giri, a priest at the famous Hanuman Garhi temple, as he mechanically attends to the line of devotees.

The young saints in Digambar Akhara are not even aware of the fact that the Liberhan Commission report is out and there has been trouble in Parliament.

"We did not get time to see the TV today and in any case what will the report do now. The Babri mosque is gone, the temple is yet to be made, the ‘kar sevaks’ have lost interest and Ayodhya has also moved on, the temple movement has petered out. Nobody even takes any interest on the December 6 anniversary any more. It is only the political parties that want to keep the issue alive," said a young saint who refuses to reveal his name. At the makeshift Ram Janambhoomi temple, a group of pilgrims from Tamil Nadu line up for darshan. When asked to react on the issue, their main concern is security. "I hope there is no trouble here. We have come on a pilgrimage and would feel unsafe if anything happens," said Satya N. Reddy, a senior member of the group.

As an afterthought, he adds, "Why does everyone want to rake up old issues? It is best to let sleeping lions lie. Seventeen years is a long time and the wounds have healed — why scratch them again?"

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/india/ayodhya-remains-indifferent-to-liberhan-storm.aspx

------

Pak nuke facilities at risk, says expert

Toronto, Nov. 23: A Taliban insurgency and the war in neighbouring Afghanistan have put Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal at risk giving rise to a "troubling" situation, an arms control expert who served as former US President George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser has said.

"The situation in Pakistan is troubling from a lot of perspectives," said Stephen Hadley, who advises the US Institute of Peace, a Washington-based think tank.

"There is a lot of concern about what happens to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if the government fragments in some way," he said on Sunday at an international security conference in Halifax.

Mr Hadley said there was concern in the Bush administration after the September 2001 terrorist attack that US-led military action inside Afghanistan might destabilise Pakistan and could even lead to a Taliban government.

"So far that hasn’t happened, and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons remain firmly in the control of the established civilian government," Mr Hadley was quoted as saying by media reports here. He said the US has assisted Pakistan since 9/11 in maintaining legitimate command and control efforts over its arsenal.

"Whenever we checked with our military and intelligence people, we said, ‘Is this a nuclear arsenal at risk?’ The answer so far has always been, ‘No,’" Mr Hadley said.

"And we have now a democratic government in Pakistan that is really revitalising their effort against the Taliban. They see it now for what it is — a strategic threat to the stability of that democracy," Mr Hadley said. He said while in the last eight years all stakeholders have done "pretty well" in managing the affairs. —PTI

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/international/pak-nuke-facilities-at-risk,-says-expert.aspx

------

China refuses to take Hurriyat bait, says not party to Kashmir conflict

Saibal Dasgupta

24 November 2009

BEIJING: China on Tuesday refused to be drawn into the renewed controversy over Kashmir, which has been ignited with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, saying that Beijing should act as it had a stake in the region's peace.

"The Kashmir issue is an issue between India and Pakistan left over by history. We hope the two sides could properly resolve the issue through dialogue and negotiations," Qin Gang, the foreign ministry spokesman said in reply to a question seeking his response to Farooq’s remarks.

Qin’s statement is significant in view of India’s unhappiness over one portion of the joint declaration issued by China and the United States during Barack Obama’s recent visit to China. The statement said the two countries supported “the improvement of relations between India and Pakistan”.

The foreign ministry spokesman was asked to comment about the snag developed during the launch of the Agni-II missile on Monday.

“It is an internal matter for India. We hope India would contribute to regional peace and stability,” he said.

Qin told a journalist he had not read reports about New Delhi denying visas to 3,000 workers. But China always supported development of trade and economic relationship with India. Trade and business relationship will also contribute to better neighborly relationship and help resolve pending issues, he said.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/China-refuses-to-take-Hurriyat-bait-says-not-party-to-Kashmir-conflict/articleshow/5264334.cms

------

Mirwaiz scraps Hurriyat posts, assumes full control

Shujaat Bukhari

MAKING HIS POINT: Chairman of All partie Hurriyat Conference Mirwize Umar Farooq Adressing in Jamia Masjid Downtown. Mirwaiz assumed complete administrative control of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. File photo

The Hindu MAKING HIS POINT: Chairman of All partie Hurriyat Conference Mirwize Umar Farooq Adressing in Jamia Masjid Downtown. Mirwaiz assumed complete administrative control of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. File photo

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is heading a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, has dissolved all its positions and administrative structure, taking complete “administrative control.” The development came at an extraordinary meeting of the Hurriyat executive council, which was supposed to deliberate on New Delhi’s offer of quiet dialogue. The meeting, chaired by the Mirwaiz himself, did not discuss the issue, but dissolved all the administrative positions and banned members of the general or executive council from issuing personal statements.

The Mirwaiz told The Hindu that the administrative set-up was dissolved to streamline things. “It is part of the usual restructuring and organisational process.” The meeting, attended by all executive members, “only discussed the restructuring of the conglomerate.”

Apparently irked by the anti-dialogue statements issued by some members, the Mirwaiz said these created confusion in the minds of the people. “The Hurriyat cannot tolerate any indiscipline. All the members have been asked not to issue any personal statements. Everything will come out from the platform,” he said, warning of action against those violating the directive. The Mirwaiz said the general and executive councils remained intact. The Hurriyat would meet soon after Eid-ul-Azha to decide on the future course of action and the organisational structure.

“The controversial statements and parallel processes are not only violating the constitution but also harming our movement and cause. Individuals cannot hold the Hurriyat hostage,” he said.

As for the dialogue, the Mirwaiz said: “We are yet to decide on that, and a visit to Pakistan has not been decided. We will discuss that after Eid.” He reiterated that the Hurriyat was not against the dialogue, but “we have to discuss things before we go ahead with it.”

On his proposed visit to China, and the controversy over visa, he said: “I will do what everyone is doing.”

Keywords: Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, seperatists

http://beta.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article53816.ece

------

Islamic fashion fest launched in style

November 24, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: The Islamic Fashion Festival VIII was launched in style yesterday featuring showcases from Royal Terengganu Songket and Muslim wear designers.

Present at the event was the Raja Perempuan Perlis Tuanku Tengku Fauziah Almarhum Tengku Abdul Rashid, and other members of the royalty.

This year, IFF VIII will be featuring renowned designers from the Middle East, Italy, Britain, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Going by the theme “Ahlan Wasahlan” or “Welcome”, the designs will feature a Middle Eastern influence befitting the theme.

In his speech, Datuk Raja Rezza Shah, founder and chairman of the KL-Jakarta IFF VIII, said he hoped IFF will become a global name.

“We are working on ways to position IFF as an active player in the fashion industry with a truly global presence. Monte Carlo will be our next destination and this marks a great achievement to everyone who have been very committed to bringing Islamic fashion to the fore,” he said.

Since its launch in 2006, the IFF, which is under the patronage of the Prime Minister’s wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, has brought together designers from various parts of the world including India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The three-day event will end tomorrow and it will be graced by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah.

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/11/24/nation/5168036&sec=nation

-----

A tour of Deoband: a city of global importance

24 November 2009

Deoban series- first part

Deoband is on the world map thanks to a famous institution that was established here in 1866. Manzar Bilal of TwoCircles.net, a Darul Uloom’s graduate visited Deoband recently to give us a glimpse of life in this city and its famous madrasa. First part of the seven part series.

By Manzar Bilal TwoCircles.net,

Famous for all the wrong reasons, Deoband is a city in the district of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. It is located at about 150 km North of Delhi. Deoband used to be surrounded by thick forests called Devi Van, or 'the Forest of the goddess' and with the passage of time it became Deoband.

Deoband is one of the ancient cities in the country. Maulana Zulfiqar Ali counted it in his book among those towns which came up after the deluge of Noah. The presence of Muslims in the city is since early 13th century. According to the census of 2001, the city has a population of 1, 61,706. Muslims constitute 65% of the population. It has an average literacy rate of 70%.

There are hundreds of mosques in the city. Some of them were built during the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal rule. Masjid Qila reminds us of the time of Sultan Sikander Lodhi (1488-1517 A.D.), Masjid Khanqah came up during the regime of Akber (1555-1605 A.D.) and Masjid Abul Ma’li during the reign of Aurungzeb (1657- 1706 A.D.).

Deoband is on the world map because of Darul Uloom, one of the most important and influential schools of Islamic Studies. It is best known all over the world for contribution of great Islamic scholars and authorities of Islamic jurisprudence and also for the centre of publication of books and publishing houses. The adjoining areas of Deoband have a large number of relics and tombs of great figures of Islamic history of the Indian subcontinent.

Besides Darul Uloom, Deoband has several other educational institutions. Among those- Darul Uloom waqf, Madrsa Asgharia, Jamia Imam Anwer, Jamia Tibbiya, College of Unani Medicine, Inter College, Tehsil School, Islamia Higher Secondary School, Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya, Public School, Vidya College, B.ED College and Madani Technical Institute deserve special mention.

When you get down from the train at Deoband station, you will be welcomed by rickshaw-wallahs crying ‘Darul Uloom, Darul Uloom, Darul Uloom’ and sometimes your luggage will be snatched and a rickshaw selected for you. When you sit on the rickshaw, they will drive it so fast in narrow streets that if you are new you will be scared but fear not as they are the experts.

After some minutes traveling by rickshaw from the station you will reach Tehseel office where the main market of the city called ‘Mina Bazar’ is located. Here you will find both Muslims and non-Muslims shopkeepers sitting in their shops. From right here you will encounter a sea of young men with skull caps. These are Madarsa student who have come to market for their needs.

When you proceed further, you will see a number of book stalls, publishing houses and shops of other things related to education on both sides of road where daily students of madrasas throng. Books worth of lakhs of rupees are dispatched every day from here to different part of the country as well as abroad. Presence of thousands of student not only of Darul Uloom but also of a large number of madarsas patronize several garment shops, hotels and tea stalls providing business opportunity to residents of the area.

Though Deoband is a world famous town and it has succeeded in drawing people form across the global still it is not a developed city though for the last few years it is getting better. Many new colonies are coming up. The pucca roads have been constructed from streets to streets and some parks are also built where people can take in fresh air but there is a lot to do concerning hygien and cleanliness as you will find garbage on the roads at several places including near Darul Uloom.

If you go to other side of the city, there are bus halts, hospitals, banks, telephone exchange and offices. This is Muzaffarnagar-Saharanpur road, which divides the area into Muslim and Hindu majority population on either side of the road.

Thanks to the Muslim population, Muslims have been occupying the chairman post of the municipal board of the city. Years back, late Maulana Habibur Rahman Usmani, the ex-rector of Darul Uloom was the chairman for several years and now it is headed by Maulana Haseeb Siddiqi who is a product of Darul Uloom.

“Muslims are financially in moderate position in the city as by the virtue of many educational centres literacy rate is good here but there are also a number of those who are working on daily wage and pulling rickshaws” said Nadeemul Wajdi, editor of Urdu monthly Tarjuman-e-Deoband.“Muslims and Hindu are living here have friendly relations and they are busy in their own works. Some years back Praveen Togadia visited the city and try to spread the poison of communal tension but local Hindus did not give him positive response. Hence, the environment of the city remained calm and peaceful” he added.

Noted Urdu journalist and grandson of Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Maulana Azhar Shah Qaiser said: “This historical city has been an example of communal harmony. In 1992 when violence spread out in several parts of the country a student was gunned down by police as he came out of Madarsa campus which angered the students but administration of Darul Uloom controlled them. In my opinion, it is because Muslims and Hindu are living in almost separate areas and also it is a place of Sufi saints and religious personalities who always made efforts for the cause of good relation between the communities.”

http://twocircles.net/2009nov23/tour_deoband_city_global_importance.html

-----

Beware of radical Islam and its converts

November 23, 2009

It was a sad but preventable day when Fort Hood was attacked by a probable terrorist.

There were red flags that should have led to the suspect's arrest before the first shot was loaded into a weapon. Many times he was heard to state that America was attacking Islam, a statement that should be considered to be coming from a convert to radical Islam.

We are at war with radical Islam and it is a war we cannot afford to lose. Their goal is to implement Sharia law throughout the world. In order to do that, they intend to eliminate both Israel and America.

The have no need to do much for Europe, as many countries have a large enough Muslim population the nations cannot engage in the war against radical Islam. Even the United Nations cannot do anything as the regimes controlled by radical Islam have support in that body.

Other converts to radical Islam are coming from our prisons where their missionaries find an audience that already has animosity toward our nation. Under the shield of religious freedom those missionaries work unimpeded, producing a growing cadre of ready jihadists.

— Robert A. Graves, Keizer

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20091123/OPINION/911230304/1050

------

Iraq inquiry told of 'clear' threat from Saddam Hussein

24 November 2009

Sir Peter Ricketts, a top intelligence official at the time, said it was assumed it was not "our policy" despite growing talk in the US about the move.

Former civil servants and advisers are giving evidence on the war's origins on the first day of public hearings.

The inquiry chairman has said he hopes to conclude his report in late 2010.

Relatives of some of the 179 UK service personnel killed in Iraq gathered outside the venue in central London where the hearings are being held, as did a number of anti-war protesters.

The long-awaited investigation, looking at the UK's involvement in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the war itself and its aftermath, is expected to last for more than a year.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be among the future witnesses.

Tuesday's session is looking at UK foreign policy towards Iraq in the lead-up to the war, which began in 2003.

Asked about the threat posed by Iraq in early 2001, Sir Peter Ricketts, who was the then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee - which oversees MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - said it was palpable.

He said there was a "clear impression" of Saddam's "continuing intention" to acquire capability for weapons of mass destruction, having used them in the past.

Impact of 9/11

However, Sir Peter said there was no-one in the UK government in early 2001 "promoting support" for regime change, as it was assumed "it was not our policy that we were seeking the removal of Saddam Hussein".

While there were "voices" in Washington calling for Saddam to be removed even before the Bush administration came to power in early 2001, this did not result in a change to the longstanding policy of trying to contain Iraq through sanctions, he said.

Former Foreign Office official Sir William Patey said the UK had been aware "of the drumbeats from Washington" but wanted to "stay away from that end of the spectrum".

Asked how the 9/11 attacks in the US had impacted on British attitudes towards Iraq, Sir Peter said it highlighted the threat of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction without being subject to any international control.

"I think it gives the whole issue greater political prominence," he said. "It added an edge to that work on weapons of mass destruction."

Despite there being no evidence of a direct link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, Sir Peter said there was a "tone of voice" in Washington after 9/11 that there would be "major implications" for Iraq if that was the case.

US priorities after 9/11 remained al-Qaeda and Afghanistan, but he said it became clear by the end of the year that the so-called war on terror was moving into a second, as yet, "undefined" phase.

"It was clear from late autumn (2001) that Iraq was being considered in a different light in light of the 9/11 attacks," he said.

But he said he did not "recall" any conversations with British ministers or policy discussions in Whitehall about regime change at that stage.

Others giving evidence on Tuesday are former senior Ministry of Defence official Simon Webb and ex-Foreign Office official Sir Michael Wood.

'Open mind'

Earlier, inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said the panel had an "open mind" about the UK's involvement in the Iraq conflict and its aftermath.

In his opening statement he said it was the panel's job to "establish" what happened in Iraq - "to evaluate what went well and what did not, and crucially why" - so that lessons could be learned.

He said he intended to produce a report which was "thorough, impartial, objective and fair", stressing that it would not hold back from criticising institutions and individuals where this was "warranted".

While most hearings would be held in public, Sir John said he reserved the right to conduct sessions in private where issues directly affecting national security were addressed.

Controversial dossier

The members of the inquiry's committee were chosen by No 10, leading critics to ask whether it can be independent of the government.

Over the coming weeks the inquiry is expected to hear from a succession of diplomats, military officers and politicians, including Mr Blair, who is due to appear early in the new year.

Sir John Scarlett, the former chief of MI6 who as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2002 drew up the Government's controversial dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, is also due to appear.

Former Conservative leader Michael Howard said the inquiry would be broader than other past investigations into aspects of the Iraq conflict.

"I hope what we get out of Chilcot is the truth. That is what people yearn for," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, said it was important the inquiry had access to all documents covering the run-up to the war.

"There needs to be some definitive view about what happened."

Previously, the Butler inquiry looked at intelligence failures before the war, while the Hutton inquiry examined the circumstances leading to the death of former government adviser David Kelly.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8375439.stm

-----

Afghan governor warns Dutch troops over pullout

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LONDON: The governor of an Afghan province pleaded Tuesday with the Netherlands not to withdraw troops from the region next year, warning its job is "only half finished," a report said.

Asadullah Hamdam, the governor of Uruzgan, said he has been asking the Dutch government to reverse its decision, amid fears a pullout will create instability in the region undergoing critical economic development.

"The people of Uruzgan are very familiar with the Dutch - they have spent a lot of time here - and they are asking them to stay," he told UK newspaper.

"We are very happy with what the Dutch security forces have done here. "If they do leave, it will mean they are going at an important time and with their job only half finished," he said in the provincial capital.

Nearly 2,000 Dutch soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in Uruzgan, as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

http://thenews.com.pk/updates.asp?id=92096

------

US, Israel lack 'courage' to attack: Ahmadinejad

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

BRASILIA: Visiting Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Monday that US and Israeli military threats against Iran were a thing of the past, and that, in any case, "they don't have the courage" to attack Iran.

"The age of military attacks is over, now we've reached the time for dialogue and understanding. Weapons and threats are a thing of the past," the Iranian told a joint press conference with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, closing his one-day visit.

Ahmadinejad's visit was greeted Sunday in Rio de Janeiro by a 1,000-strong rally of members of Jewish, anti-racist and gay rights groups who protested his past tirades against Israel and other groups.

Fielding a question on whether he feared an attack from Israel or the United States, Ahmadinejad said armed confrontation was no longer a possibility.

That's clear "even for mentally challenged people," he said with a smile.

Besides, he added, "those you mention (Israel and United States) don't have the courage to attack Iran. They're not even thinking about it."

During the joint press conference, a protester quietly waved a gay-rights banner in the crowd before police escorted him from the venue.

Ahmadinejad met for three hours with Lula to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear program, over which Lula urged Teheran to find a "just solution" with Western powers.

After his day-long Brazilian leg, Ahmadinejad was to depart for Bolivia for talks with his counterpart Evo Morales, then on to Venezuela to see his "friend," President Hugo Chavez. Both Morales and Chavez are strongly critical of the United States.

http://thenews.com.pk/updates.asp?id=92094

------

Why Iran’s Ahmadinejad is warmly welcomed in Brazil

By Taylor Barnes

November 23, 2009

Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – whom US President Barack Obama called 'the most popular politician on earth' – hosted Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today. It is the first visit by an Iranian president.

When Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – dubbed by US President Barack Obama “the most popular politician on earth” – hosted Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brasília today, he was doing what Mr. Obama has taken heat for proposing: engage Iran without preconditions.

The difference? Mr. da Silva (known as Lula) “engaged” with a publicized series of hand clasps, smiles – and a prolonged embrace that his American counterpart presumably would avoid. (Watch the O Globo video here.)

It’s the first visit by an Iranian president to Brazil. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to the world’s fourth largest democracy – part of a five-country tour also slated to include Gambia, Senegal, Venezuela, and Bolivia – comes after Iran sank international hopes that it would follow through on a recent deal to ship most of its enriched uranium out of the country. On his Asia tour, Mr. Obama said Iran would face “consequences” if it did not show good faith.

But in Brazil, the Iranian leader will get a reprieve from Western threats of sanctions. With Lula, Ahmadinejad – and his entourage of businessmen – will discuss opportunities to increase and diversify commerce as well as boost cooperation in nanotechnology, biotechnology, agriculture, and energy, according Brazil’s Foreign Ministry. An Iranian deputy foreign minister said that Tehran hopes to increase trade with Brazil from $2 billion to $15 billion in the field of petrochemicals, agriculture, and medicine, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The trip to Brazil offers Ahmadinejad a chance to change the global narrative, one that’s been largely focused on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

There’s a clear pattern of Iranian efforts to reach beyond the traditional global discussions that its been engaged with, because those discussions tend to be about ways to limit Iran’s influence,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of Council of the Americas, a New York consultancy. Mr. Farnsworth testified at a Congressional hearing in October about Iran’s reach into Latin America. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the Iranian leader to expand [his country’s] reach.”

So what’s in it for Brazil? In addition to the potential trade incentives, Brazil may be welcoming Ahmadinejad as part of its own effort to play a role as Middle East peacemaker. This month, Brazil hosted Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres, the first such visit by an Israeli president in 40 years.

But Brazil’s Middle East policy is eclectic by American standards. When he hosted Israel’s Mr. Peres, Lula discussed increased economic and defense cooperation. On the other hand, Brazil is the rare major Western power to publicly defend Iran’s development of a nuclear program – for peaceful purposes. And when speaking with Mr. Abbas in the northeastern city of Salvador last week, Lula declared that Israeli settlement expansion into the West Bank must stop immediately.

Were Brazil-Iran relations just economic, Farnsworth says, there would be no need for a polemical visit by the Iranian head of state – they could just swap ministers and businessmen.

Though sovereign nations can invite whomever they please, “it’s unnecessary. There’s no compelling reason why the president of Brazil has to have a visit from the president of Iran other than to say, ‘I can’,” Farnsworth says. He notes that the timing of the visit is “perfectly awful,” since it comes as other international powers are trying to ramp up pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Even if Lula is looking for a negotiator role in the Middle East, Ahmadinejad, in a televised interview with the Brazilian media conglomerate O Globo, seemed to be hoping for more than a mediator. His responses to questions posed in English were then translated into Portuguese subtitles:

“The world needs a new economic order. Iran and Brazil have independent positions in relation to the international situation. … The two can work together to help create a new international order.“

The US has not been pleased by Ahmadinejad’s recent thrusts into its diplomatic backyard. Since Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, Iran has opened new embassies in Colombia, Nicaragua, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Bolivia – and added ones to Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Venezuela, according to the Washington Post.

But Ahmadinejad’s visit doesn’t come totally from the geopolitical left field.

Brazil hosts a significant Shiite Muslim population in the states of São Paulo and Paraná. While gays, Jews, Christians, and Holocaust survivors protested against his visit Sunday on Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach, a counter-display of support upon Ahmadinejad’s arrival made for an even rarer sight in Brazil: Women and girls in headscarves and men waving Iranian and Brazilian flags, chanting the state guest’s name.

http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/11/23/why-iran%E2%80%99s-ahmadinejad-is-warmly-welcomed-in-brazil/

------

Why Wright is Wrong: A Liberal Pundit Blames America for Maj. Hasan’s Jihad

November 23rd, 2009

At first liberal pundits had a series of explanations for why Major Nidal Malik Hasan went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood. He was simply a lone deranged mental case; a Muslim furious that Army buddies discriminated against him because he was a Muslim and also made derogatory comments to his face; a doctor who had secondary traumatic stress disorder, which he suffered from due to all those returning veterans who actually had it. Or, perhaps, like the perpetual disgruntled former postal employee, he just went bonkers. Anything was possible, except to blame his actions on the radical Islamist ideology he evidently practiced.  As Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News, the Army wanted to blame it on a medical condition, in order “to avoid any implication that there was any connection between his Islamist beliefs…and his actions.”

None of these explanations washed, and the more they were made, the sillier they sounded. The connections the public made — based on clear evidence — were far superior to those made by scores of apologists. Now, this past Sunday, one liberal pundit has taken to the op-ed pages of The New York Times to offer what is perhaps the most preposterous and disingenuous explanation offered. The analysis comes from Robert Wright, a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and editor of The Progressive Realist, a foreign policy blog.

Wright’s argument, believe it or not, is that yes—Major Hasan was an Islamic jihadist and terrorist — but his acts of terror were our fault! Wright reverts to the once popular “blame it on America” syndrome exposed years ago by the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick, during the waning days of the Cold War against the Soviet Union.   Wright’s argument goes this way: Conservatives support war in Iraq and Afghanistan; they and liberal hawks want to contain “the virus of Islamist radicalism.”

In so doing, Wright claims, the killing of innocent Muslim civilians — accidental as they may be — inflame the Muslim populace. They see battlefield video footage and are pushed “over the edge” towards the ideology of bin Laden and company, and want revenge. Major Hasan drew close to a radical imam he knew years earlier and communicated with him by e-mail; by this point, he had become “radicalized by two American wars.” Thus the Islamist terrorism he inflicted at Fort Hood was a result of our “war on terrorism.”

Next, Wright actually takes after claims he says conservatives will now make — but which they have not ever argued. He predicts conservatives will now say Hasan was a lone nut, in order to escape admitting that he acted because the US was waging unjust war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Again, he argues that a “hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy-a global anti-jihad” of Americans killing Muslims, is both dubious and counter-productive. His proof: it produces people like Major Hasan, who go over the edge and retaliate against those waging war on Muslims.

Islam, he argues, “isn’t an intrinsically belligerent religion,” and right-wing stereotypes that it is have led to many Muslims taking these conservatives at their word, and hence they see the U.S. as an enemy of their religion. Now, there are some conservatives and analysts of Islam who do indeed say that jihad is an intrinsic aspect of Islamic theology, and that its adherents are engaged in permanent war against the West. But the majority of Americans, conservatives included, have argued that Islam is a religion of peace that was hijacked by those who have misinterpreted it. They have gone out of their way to assure the American Islamic community that in no way are they going after those who are Muslims.

Robert Wright wants to ignore this — the various times, for example, that President George W. Bush had Muslims to the White House and assured them that the United States was not about to persecute their community for its religious beliefs. Instead, he wants to believe that it is the denigration of Islam by the right-wing that is responsible of leading some like Major Hasan to move towards acceptance of the radical beliefs and to adopt terrorism.  He cites one case as evidence. When a 24-year-old Muslim American shot a soldier at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas six months ago, he told the police he did so because of the US “killing of Muslims” in the two wars we are fighting.

So, Wright concludes, our wars have failed to reduce anti-American terrorism abroad, and have “inspired homegrown terrorism.”  Thus it is US foreign policy — in particular the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that has moved bin Laden “a bit closer to his goal” of tearing our country apart. The way to defeat him, in Wright’s view, is simply to reverse our foreign policy, pull out of both areas, and thus give them no excuse to be angry.

What Robert Wright ignores is that there is a radical Islamist movement, whose leaders’ views predated those of our recent wars, and who did not need any US action to motivate them. In fact, if the United States did what he proposes, it would hand the Islamists a major victory, energize them, and convince their imams that their tactics and preaching are working.  In short, it would only lead to an increased amount of jihadists, who would have sound evidence that incidents like a few shooting sprees have forced America to back down.

Robert Wright is so anxious to score points against both conservatives and liberal hawks that he advocates a policy of appeasement that would please no one more than the jihadists he purports to oppose.  Are his arguments really the best that the residents of one of liberalism’s major think tanks can come up with?

http://pajamasmedia.com/ronradosh/2009/11/23/why-wright-is-wrong-a-liberal-pundit-blames-america-for-maj-hasans-jihad/2/

------

Fort Hood shooter gets permanently paralysed

Washington, Nov. 23: US Army Major Nidal Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, earlier in November, is paralysed from the chest down and doctors believe his paralysis will be permanent, the Washington Post reported late on Sunday.

"He has no sensation from the nipple area down," Hasan’s civilian attorney, John Galligan, is quoted as telling the newspaper in a telephone interview.

During a closed-door hearing in Hasan’s hospital room on Saturday that lasted about an hour, a magistrate ruled that Hasan be confined until his military trial, the report said.

"In the middle of this hearing, he started to nod off and go to sleep," Mr Galligan said. "When I’ve spoken with him, he’s coherent, but your ability to have any meaningful exchange with him is limited in time and subject."

Hasan has been recovering from gunshot wounds at Brooke Army Medical Centre in San Antonio, where he is in intensive care.

The Post said he had been receiving letters and cards, which the government had been copying before delivering. —AFP

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/international/fort-hood-shooter-gets-permanently-paralysed-.aspx

------

France's attempts to censor burqas will be ineffective

By Danielle Kennedy

The French government decided about a week ago, after a debate lasting most of the summer, that they would not ban the wearing of burqas, but would rather "discourage" their use. The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, said in a major address to both houses of the French parliament that France cannot have "women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity. … The burqa is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience."

This is not the first time the French government has attempted to ban religious symbols, nor is it the first time other European countries have broached this issue. A law passed in 2004 that banned Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, and Christian crosses in French public schools sparked a similar debate. In 2008 the Dutch government attempted to ban burqas, but stopped short of doing so over fears that it would limit religious expression.

The people of France have seemingly little to say about the controversy, perhaps because only a very small number of women-less than a thousand-wear full burqas, though this number is said to be increasing. Even so, France is home to over 5 million Muslims, the largest population in Western Europe, and some French leaders have worried that a full ban could lead to tensions between the Muslim community and the rest of France.

A sizable portion of France's Muslims come from North Africa, so the tensions are not only religious, but also racial. Many of these North African immigrants live in poor areas and are subject to police harassment and brutality. These racial/religious tensions have flared up before: in 2005, French youth incited riots in response to the deaths of two young men who were being chased by police. The riots led to a state of emergency that lasted nearly three months.

It's clear that Sarkozy thinks the ban on burqas will alleviate these tensions. He noted in his address to parliament that immigrants face particular economic challenges, and that France's "integration model isn't working anymore … Instead of producing equality, it produces inequality. Instead of producing cohesion, it creates resentment."

While Sarkozy's efforts to improve the economic situation for North African/Muslim immigrants are admirable, the implications of his remarks are troubling. Does he believe that banning burqas will stamp out their use entirely? Does he think that drawing attention to burqas and calling them moving prisons will improve relations between Muslims and the rest of France, or will it lead to further stigma? Most puzzlingly, he seems to think that denying women the choice to wear burqas will somehow increase their agency. There are also ethnocentric assumptions at work-besides his patronizing assumptions about the psychology of wearing burqas, Sarkozy thinks the old "integration model" has stopped working, so his best solution is to force all women to dress as non-Muslim women do.

At its root, the burqa is only a symbol of Islam's rules regarding appropriate female behavior, and Sarkozy's attempts to improve France's race relations by banning a garment worn by an extremely tiny fraction of the minority will hardly be effective. However one feels about Islam and its attitudes toward women, punishing them for what they wear is not a practical solution.

http://www.retrieverweekly.com/?module=displaystory&story_id=5131&format=html

------

Greater Equality for India's Muslims Can Mean Greater Equality for Muslim Women

By Aziza Ahmed

November 24, 2009

ast month Muslim women from around India met at the third annual convention at the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) – the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement.  Led by their founders, Zakia Soman, Naish Hasan, and Noorjahan Niaz -- the 1500 women met to bring their issues to the fore of discussion and debate on women’s rights in India. The BMMA exemplifies the reality that women’s rights movements face in addressing the numerous issues and challenges of both the struggle of women and the upliftment of entire communities to which women belong.

For women who actively occupy some other minority status choosing between these two or more identities is ongoing -- whether it is defending these multiple identities or understanding oppression within them.  Muslim women in India occupy this space.  As a religious minority Muslims are given particular deference with regard to family and personal law.  For Muslim women this means dealing with the reality of ill treatment being both justified by religion (often manifesting through informal court mechanisms) and supported by the state who does little to ensure that the Muslim community, and especially Muslim women, are able to access the basic services they desperately need and further marginalize the Muslim community.  On the other hand, being Muslim and marginalized mean that women are constantly defending their faith and their freedom to practice.

The women of the BMMA gathered under the meeting theme: “When Will We Become Full Citizens?” harkening to the exclusion of Muslim women from both secular and religious spheres of power and decision making. The women of the BMMA called for an ongoing examination of the Sachar Committee Report, a study commissioned by the Prime Ministers Office, highlighting the problems of the Muslim community in India including  access to education (less than 4% of Muslims graduate from school and literacy rates are far below the national average for Muslims), health, and sanitation.  Alongside these issues of basic needs the report acknowledges the ongoing political targeting of Muslims– the high presence of police in Muslim localities, the disappearance and questioning of Muslim boys and men, and the isolation of Muslim communities connected to political marginalization.  The active mistreatment of Muslims in India came to fore in the horrific genocide in Gujarat in 2002, in which amongst other gruesome acts of violence women were specifically targeted as the bearers of Muslim culture, community, and religion.

Recognizing that women’s rights, especially for Muslim women, are often dependent on the upliftment the Muslim community, and that women’s issues cannot be addressed in isolation the BMMA made a series of requests to the government of India. These demands of the BMMA were drafted and compiled through consultation with the broader membership of the network.  These requests include increased access to education, increased access to basic infrastructure, an end to communal violence, and end to the targeting of Muslims as terrorists including constant surveillance, and reformation of personal law.

The broad approach that the BMMA takes to women’s rights is illustrative of an underlying questions within women’s rights activism – is focusing on only women’s rights enough? Do we need to have a broader focus on social and economic inequality in order to really transform society (for everyone including women)? How do we do this given resource constraints? In the case of the Indian Muslim women’s movement, the BMMA has made clear that the rights of women are nestled within and will only be realized when both the basic needs of the Muslim community are met and Muslims are no longer seen as suspect citizens.

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/11/24/greater-equality-indias-muslims-can-mean-greater-equality-muslim-women?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rhrealitycheck+%28RHRealityCheck.org%29

------

Tajikistan fails to curb abuse of women: Amnesty

Mon Nov 23, 2009

ALMATY (Reuters) - The government of the Central Asian state of Tajikistan is failing to protect women from violence and abuse, human rights group Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday.

Mostly Muslim Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, is the poorest former Soviet republic, its economy devastated by a civil war in the 1990s.

Observers see its government, led by President Imomali Rakhmon, as less repressive than those in neighboring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but London-based Amnesty said the issue of women's rights was pressing.

"Women in Tajikistan are beaten, abused, and raped in the family but the authorities tend to reflect the societal attitude of blaming the woman for domestic violence," Tajikistan expert Andrea Strasser-Camagni said in a statement.

The group said one-third to a half of Tajik women have been regularly subjected to physical, psychological or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands or in-laws and all women had very limited employment opportunities.

"Women are being treated as servants or as the in-laws' family property. They have no one to turn to as the policy of the authorities is to urge reconciliation which de facto reinforces their position of inferiority," Strasser-Camagni said.

"This experience of violence and humiliation in the family makes many women to turn to suicide."

Amnesty said many girls were being denied the opportunity to receive proper education, dropping out of school early to enter marriages, often polygamous or unregistered.

It urged the government to introduce laws and support services to tackle domestic violence and carry out public awareness campaigns addressing illegal marriage issues.

"By writing off violence against women as a family affair the authorities in Tajikistan are shirking their responsibility to a large part of the population," Strasser-Camagni said.

"They are allowing perpetrators of such crimes to act with impunity and, ultimately, denying women their human rights."

http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE5AN01820091124

------

For Muslim women, respect cuts both ways

November 23, 2009

Natasha Fatah

When you think of Buenos Aires you're more likely to envision Catholic churches and Virgin Marys, not so much minarets and Muslims. But, much to my surprise, South America's largest mosque can be found in Palermo, one of Buenos Aires's most fashionable districts.

The King Fahd Islamic Cultural Centre is an enormous structure surrounded by sweet smelling jasmine flowers and heavy-duty security.

I hadn't come to Argentina to go to mosque but out of a mixture of journalistic curiosity and tribal obligation I decided to pay a visit. Catholics aren't the only ones ridden with guilt.

But unlike the Catholic churches all around the city, you can't just enter King Fahd's mosque whenever you feel like it.

You have to answer a series of questions posed by the guards at the security barrier. And you can only visit two days a week, at noon, for a brief, guided tour.

When I arrived at the King Fahd, the tour group had already entered the mosque. The security guard asked me a few questions and, upon realizing that I was a Muslim, said that I would have to cover up with a Saudi-issued cloth.

Out of respect for the institution, I took the black, polyester garb he gave me and proceeded to drape myself.

Then another man, maybe an imam, maybe an overzealous congregant, came over and pointed at my feet. I was wearing sandals and my feet were exposed despite my new black tent.

He told me first in Spanish and then again in English for effect, "I shouldn't see your feet." I told him, if I cover my feet then I can't walk.

We had a bit of a Mexican standoff but in the end I relented and pulled the curtain down so my feet were covered. He proceeded to walk me and my friends to the rest of the tour group.

It was then that I realized just how special my treatment had been.

There were between 50 or 60 people on the tour, men and women of all ages, some English speakers, some Germans and a few curious local residents. Not a single other person — including the women — had been asked to cover their hair, arms, legs or, you guessed it, feet.

I wasn't wearing anything tight or revealing. In fact, there were other women in shorts, dresses and short sleeves but they had not been asked to cover up.

I was likely the only obvious Muslim in the whole crowd. I say obvious because of my name and country of origin. Converts aren't always obvious in either respect. And that's probably why I was the only person asked to cover up.

Some sisterhood

When my Argentinean friend Juan saw that no other person had been asked to cloak themselves like this he urged me to remove the burka, saying "Don't worry about it Natasha, you're in Argentina now."

I tried to explain to Juan that it didn't matter if I was in Argentina or Algeria, I would receive the same treatment in any mosque.

Sometimes, and I'm only speaking for myself here, but sometimes when you're a Muslim woman, membership does not have its privileges.

In Indonesia, a colleague and I attended an event at a police academy in the Sharia-law-abiding city of Banda Aceh.

My colleague, whose blond hair was visible through her loose headscarf, was left alone. But when the officers found out that I was a Muslim they wanted my scarf so tightly wrapped around my head you'd think I was being prepared for mummification.

The same kind of thing happened earlier this year in India when I was shopping in a small store along with some non-Indian tourists.

The owner of the store was a Muslim, and was pleasant enough initially. But when he found out I was a Muslim, his tone and manner completely changed and he asked me loudly in front of the other patrons "What are you wearing?" I was wearing an orange long sleeve blouse and blue jeans.

Even in my own city, Toronto, I've seen Muslim men shake the hands of my friends and colleagues but refuse to shake mine because I'm a "sister."

Respect runs both ways

Here's my guess at what some of these men are thinking: You're a Muslim woman. That means you have a direct line to God and to heaven, provided you behave properly.

Non-Muslims are bound for hell anyway and not really our problem, and unless they convert we won't bother with them. But since you're one of us, we better teach you how to behave and dress like a proper Muslim woman.

These men may think they are doing the right thing, but they are not helping.

In fact, this attitude poses a huge problem for someone like me who identifies as a Muslim and who wants to be part of the community, but who is and sees herself as an independent person who makes her own decisions.

I realize that I when I go to a mosque or a government office, like a police academy, in a Muslim country I am there as a guest. So I try to accommodate myself as much as possible to the community standards. That is only being respectful.

Other women journalists at the CBC, non-Muslims who visit mosques or Muslim countries, will often wear head scarves as a symbol of respect. But they are never asked to dress in a full, body-covering burka.

Why should I face this double standard?

In the case of the storeowner in Mumbai, I left his store.

I'm willing to be respectful to men like this, but I would like a little in return.

Don't make an example out of me in front non-Muslims just because you think you can. Treat me as somebody who is on your side, on your team.

Let my behaviour and conduct dictate how you treat me, not whether you can see my hair or feet. Surely, the measure of a Muslim woman cannot be reduced simply to her appearance.

So, I ask of these men: Let me dress the way I want and pray the way I want, and shake my hand when I extend it. And please keep your black, itchy cloaks for yourselves.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/11/23/f-vp-fatah.html

------

Public perception already holds BJP guilty: Congress

Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI: Whatever the Liberhan Commission report might say, the matter has already been settled in the public perception which holds the Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates guilty of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Congress said on Monday.

Questioning the disruption of Parliament, Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari pooh-poohed the charge that the leak was motivated to divide the Opposition, which had stood as one on the sugarcane price issue.

The Congress counter to this charge was that the government did not have to leak the report to divide the Opposition. “Had the government wanted to divide the Opposition as is being made out, it could have just tabled the report,” said a senior Minister, indicating that the party might well opt for this route now to contain the controversy.

The Congress top leadership had swung into action by evening, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling up from the U.S. and asking Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to convene a meeting of the Cabinet to clear the report, the Action Taken Report (ATR), and table it in Parliament without delay.

Cabinet clearance is mandatory for such reports. The Congress had contemplated all day whether to call the Cabinet or not in the absence of the Prime Minister. There were also some practical considerations pertaining to procuring enough copies of the voluminous report and the ATR for circulation to all members.

Limited time

Given the limited time at the government’s disposal, plans were afoot to table just a few copies in Parliament and then upload the entire report and the ATR on the Internet for all to access.

Add to this the issue of translation into Hindi. In the Rajya Sabha, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, in fact, attributed the delay in tabling the report to the fact that the Hindi translation was not complete.

However, this requirement can be side-stepped with the consent of the presiding officers of the two Houses.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj made it clear that her party would have no problem with the absence of Hindi copies as long as the report was tabled.

http://www.thehindu.com/2009/11/24/stories/2009112460491000.htm

------

Little done to block terror funding: J&K DGP

Rahi Gaikwad

Ongoing counter-terrorism measures leave much to be desired, says meet

Mumbai: The ongoing counter-terrorism measures leave much to be desired when it comes to gagging the sources of funding tapped by terrorists across the world. This was the concern raised by a think-tank of eminent persons from the police ranks, politics and media at a summit on ‘Preparedness to fight terror’ here on Monday.

“We have done pretty little to stop funding to the terrorists,” Ashok Bhan, Director General of Police (DGP), Jammu and Kashmir, told the audience. He listed hawala, extortion, counterfeiting currency, voluntary contribution and money from infiltrators as the ways of money transfer to terrorists.

“There is large scale counterfeiting of quality currency, even the Reserve Bank of India and the security press are not able to detect. For 3 lakh rupees you can easily get 5 lakh rupees worth of counterfeit currency. They are generally in the denomination of 100 rupees and 50 rupees,” Mr. Bhan said.

Another important mode is the Western Union Money Transfer through which crores of rupees come into the country. “We have to address funding. Banks under the garb of secrecy and commercial interests have not come on board,” he pointed out.

Ajai Sahani, executive director, Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi, spoke on the larger human resource crisis, which enfeebled our systems against facing the challenge of terrorism. For example, there existed a whole system of dubious financial dealings making monitoring of terror funding nearly impossible.

“How are you going to control terrorist finance? It is not just the terrorists who use hawala. It’s used by corrupt politicians and people too. You cannot have a thriving black economy and say we want to prevent terrorism. You have a flourishing grey market where you can buy smuggled goods,” Dr. Sahani said.

Praveen Swami, Associate Editor at The Hindu, underlined the lack of a national debate on the steps needed to diminish the capability to carry out terrorist acts. “Within India we need to address the issue of financial infrastructure. The Maoists thrive on extortion, the jehadis on funds from abroad and within. We have been poor in [cracking] these infrastructures,” he said. The experts also pointed to Pakistan’s role in the spread of terror in India.

Dr. Bhan pointed to the correlation between reduced violence in J&K and terrorist incidents in the rest of the country. “Around 1994-1995 violence was at its peak in J&K. It increased again at the time of Kargil. Pakistan used the period after 1995, when there was a decline in violence in J&K, to create terror structures in the rest of the country. From 2001 onwards there have been a series of incidents in the country. Post 26/11 there is an increased focus on J&K; infiltration has picked up.”

He said India could not depend on the U.S. or any other country to fight Pakistan. “We have to fight terrorism on our own.” Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil and Mumbai Police Commissioner D. Sivanandan were present.

http://www.hindu.com/2009/11/24/stories/2009112460581100.htm

------

1st Pak-made jet ready to fly

Rezaul H Laskar

Nov. 23: Pakistan on Monday rolled out its first indigenously assembled version of the JF-17 combat jet developed jointly with China as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the Air Force will be equipped with the latest technology to tackle militancy.

The JF-17 Thunder jet was rolled out at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, the country’s main facility for building and maintaining combat aircraft. According to Janes the Pakistani Air Force plans to make the first JF-17 squadron officially operational between 2010-12.

The jet, which was completed after being in development for almost a decade, is a lightweight, all weather, day-night multi-role fighter.

"We are living in challenging times. The fast changing technology-intensive battle arena requires intense involvement of airpower which has emerged as a major player in conflict scenarios," Mr Gilani said in his address. "The role of the Air Force also becomes vital in tackling the threat posed by the forces of extremism and militancy.

Under these circumstances, a modern Air Force is a national requirement, and for this reason, I firmly believe in a strong and well-equipped Pakistan Air Force," he said.

The PAF worked with the Army in the drive against militants, he added. Mr Gilani described the rolling out of the first JF-17 jet assembled in Pakistan as a "momentous occasion" and "an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to attain self-reliance." As the jet matures, it will become the "mainstay for the PAF," he said. —PTI

http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/news/international/1st-pak-made-jet-ready-to-fly.aspx

------

Obey's Afghan War Surtax

NOVEMBER 24, 2009

The real liberal objection to the war on terror is that it takes away from domestic spending priorities like ObamaCare.

The White House says domestic politics is irrelevant to its pending Afghanistan decision, but domestic politicians beg to differ. "There ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan," the liberal warhorse David Obey told ABC's Jonathan Karl, before threatening a "war surtax" if President Obama does end up granting General Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops.

"That's what happened with the Vietnam War, which wiped out the Great Society," the House Appropriations Chairman said with his customary subtlety. "That's what happened with the Korean War, which wiped out Harry Truman's Square Deal. That's what happened with the end of the progressive movement before the '20s when we went into World War I. In each case, the costs of those wars shut off our ability to pay for anything else."

Well, that's one reading of 20th-century national security, but another way of putting it is that the real liberal objection to the war on terror is that it takes away from domestic spending priorities like ObamaCare. For many Democrats, the goal isn't victory in Afghanistan, but victory on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Obey last floated a war surtax in the Iraq debate of 2007, and this year's iteration would be imposed on all taxpayers up to 5% on the highest income bracket. Combined with the House health-care surcharge of 5.4 percentage points and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, that would bring the top federal marginal rate to above 50%. Economic growth, in other words, would be hostage to both the anti-antiterror and the single-payer left, if that isn't redundant.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704779704574554073562506180.html

------

Afghan troops announcement likely Dec. 1

By Michael D. Shear and Scott Wilson

November 24, 2009;

McChrystal and U.S. ambassador to testify on Afghanistan war

President Obama has finished gathering information about troop options in Afghanistan and will likely announce his decision in an address to the nation next Tuesday, Dec. 1, administration officials said.

"After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision and he will announce that decision within days," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in an e-mailed statement early Tuesday.

While Gibbs did not specify a date, another administration official -- speaking on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made -- said the president would likely explain his thinking to the American people Dec. 1. Administration officials also said that the top U.S. general and the U.S ambassador in Afghanistan have been told to prepare to testify as early as next week before the congressional committees that would consider additional war funding requests.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry have not been given a date for their congressional appearance, officials said, but have been told that their testimony would quickly follow Obama's announcement, so that they could offer details and support for the president's strategy for how to proceed with the eight-year-old war.

Opinion polls show that most Americans believe the war is no longer worth fighting.

On Monday night, Obama met for two hours in the White House Situation Room with his senior national security advisers, including Eikenberry. McChrystal participated by teleconference from Kabul.

In an effort to weaken the Taliban insurgency and destroy al-Qaeda, Obama is choosing from several strategic options, all of which call for deploying thousands of additional U.S. troops and would cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

Several leading Democrats have already raised the possibility of a surtax on the wealthiest Americans to help pay for an expanded war effort.

McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has requested 40,000 additional U.S. troops to reverse the Taliban's momentum and to train Afghan forces more quickly. But Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who served in Afghanistan, opposes additional troop deployments until President Hamid Karzai roots out corruption in his administration and takes other steps to strengthen the country. Given their opposing views, their congressional testimony could prove politically delicate.

Gibbs told reporters before the Monday evening review session that Obama was still seeking information on "not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out." He said the subject would be the focus of the meeting, the ninth and last such session planned.

Obama met with his war council throughout the fall to determine a new strategy in Afghanistan, where 68,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed. He had only 18 weekdays left to announce his decision -- not counting Thanksgiving break -- before he leaves for his Christmas-holiday vacation in Hawaii.

But his schedule for the rest of November and December is filled with other events and appearances, some of which could have created public relations challenges if they happened too close to the presentation of an expanded war effort.

Obama has scheduled a "jobs summit" at the White House on Dec. 3, for example, and plans to travel to Allentown, Pa., the next day to talk about jobs and the economy. The White House would not want to distract from those events with an important foreign policy announcement.

Obama also likely wanted as many days as possible between the troops announcement and the date in mid-December when he is to travel to Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize.

Later in December, the health-care debate is sure to be roiling the Senate, as lawmakers race to meet the president's call to send him a bill by the end of the year.

In addition to McChrystal and Eikenberry, senior administration officials whose support for the Afghan strategy is essential are preparing to be in town next week for possible appearances before Congress.

For example, Greek officials announced Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will not be attending next week's Athens meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Clinton missed the last OSCE meeting after breaking her elbow. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also has no announced plans to travel next week.

Obama could choose several venues for his address to the nation, including making it his first from the Oval Office. But speeches from behind a desk are usually short, not the kind of address that would likely lend itself to Obama's desire to explain his thinking on the difficult and complicated situation in Afghanistan.

The president also could seek to come before a joint session of Congress, something he did to jump start his health care bill earlier in the year. Or he could pick another location with a different audience for a national address, with the expectation that networks would likely carry it live.

Staff writers Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Paul Kane and Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/24/AR2009112401010.html?hpid=topnews

-----

Death toll rises to 46 for Philippines killings

24 November 2009

At least 46 people are now known to have died in a mass political killing the Philippines, after more bodies were discovered in a shallow grave.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has declared a state of emergency in two provinces on the island of Mindanao to allow police to search for the gunmen.

The victims were killed as they were travelling to file nomination papers for elections next May.

It is one of the worst incidents of pre-poll violence in the Philippines.

There are conflicting reports about whether anyone survived.

More bodies

On Monday it was announced that 21 bodies had been found. This number has now increased to 46 and the death toll from the incident may rise still further.

"It's a big area where these bodies were found. They are finding a couple of bodies every couple of hours or so," Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

He described a farming area covered in hastily dug graves, several kilometres away from where the killing is thought to have occurred. A bulldozer was parked nearby.

All the victims were civilians, including the wife of the vice-mayor of Buluan, a town in Maguindanao province, who had intended to file nomination papers for her husband to run for governor in local elections next year.

An investigator at the scene told reporters all victims had been shot at close range, some in their vehicles and others apparently while fleeing.

Warlord culture

"It is an undying fact that Philippines is still ruled by clans and warlords - and these people are monsters created by President Gloria Arroyo and past governments," said Marites Vitug, editor of Newsbreak and author of several books on Mindanao, corruption and politics.

Central government in the Philippines is habitually weak and buys local support by supporting the local patriarchs.

Complicating the mix in Mindanao is the ongoing series of Muslim and communist insurgencies which have long been used by the authorities to justify new sources of funding for local favourites.

In this case some of the suspected killers were "Civilian Volunteers", groups of young men organised to support the local police in "anti-insurgency" work.

"The volunteers are supposed to support the police but in the process they are used by warlords. Budgets are limited for the police so it is common knowledge that powerful local families support them financially," said Ms Vitug.

The dominance of patronage politics in the Philippines, she explained, has allowed political families to thrive.

The BBC's Vaudine England says both clans in this case are allied to Mrs Arroyo, limiting analysts' expectations of any effective response from the central government.

The country is to hold nationwide elections in May 2010. Registration for local and national races began earlier this month

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8375588.stm

-----

Massacre Major Hasan's Breaking Point

November 24, 2009

Richard Shulman

New America Foundation’s Robert Wright assesses the breaking point that propelled Major Hasan into the Ft. Hood massacre.

Mr. Wright’s thesis is not new, but he puts new arguments into it.  He asserts that under modern conditions, our wars may be radicalizing Muslims into becoming terrorists, even in our own country.  He questions whether terrorists need foreign countries, when they can use the Internet to radicalize our own Muslims.  With Internet and its video, powerful emotional messages reach across the seas.  The videos contain images of Americans killing videos.  This strains less emotionally strong individual Muslims to their breaking point.  Radical imams encourage such individuals to take action.  Becoming the butt of suspicion at work, further alienates Muslims.

The fact that very few U.S. Muslims have taken such action convinces Wright that Islam is not inherently a belligerent religion.

Wright makes a distinction that conservatives just wanted to kill terrorists, whereas liberals wanted to kill terrorism.  (NY Times, 11/22, Opinion).

The assessment contains creative thinking, unfortunately rendered less plausible by Mr. Wright’s succumbing to the temptation to rub his thesis into conservatives.  One wonders whether his case on terrorism is driven by a desire to triumph over conservatives. 

It was President Bush who called ours a “war on terrorism.”  Few well-known people suggested that we devise a strategy against the ideology, although I recall some conservative commentators doing so.  I think Wright’s ideological partisanship is misguided, in what must be a unified and non-partisanship national effort to fashion a workable strategy.

There have been American Muslim attempts at terrorism, but not many.  Their limited number does not prove much about Islam.  Muslim numbers here have not attained the critical mass that emboldens violent types.  Suppose their numbers grew?

The question Wright should ask is why does terrorism infect Muslims more than people of other faiths?  Why are they liable to become radicalized?  Why do they identify with radical Muslim organizations, rather than scorn their terrorism?  Can something be done about radical abuse of Internet, as a criminal or war matter, without taking away our own freedom?  A sound strategy requires asking and answering.

How tempting Wright’s thesis must be for those who would like a simple way to abandon wars against terrorists!  It would be even more tempting if he advanced an alternative.  Does our immigration policy protect or imperil us, in this regard?

Wright declares that terrorists don’t need bases in host or failed states, to harm us.  It seems to me that the resources that such havens allow terrorist organizations to amass enable them to plan major operations like 9/11.  Each country they take over not only fastens their type of dictatorship upon millions of people, but enables them to gather more national resources against the remaining countries.  Wright does not seem to have asked, what if we don’t stop state-by-state take-over.

Whether the U.S. still has the resources to mount such wars is a question, too.  We need a strategy that does not require the old style mass-invasion.

Another question is why we have tolerated radical regimes, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which finance radical mosques and terrorist organizations.  The mosques and madrassas that they subsidize graduate potential terrorists as fast as we kill them, and those states provide the necessary arms.  Wright did not comment upon whether such mosques and madrassas are rising in the United States.

http://www.examiner.com/x-7095-NY-Israel-Conflict-Examiner~y2009m11d24-Massacre-Major-Hasans-Breaking-Point

-----

Muslim Mafia Scribe: How I 'Toyed' With TPMmuckraker

Justin Elliott

November 24, 2009

Muslim Mafia author Dave Gaubatz says in a new interview that his open call for a Winnebago, a pair of motorcycles, and $25,000 to conduct counterterrorism research in North Carolina was "bait" designed to draw attention away from real field research he was conducting elsewhere.

"While Elliot [sic] and like terrorist supporters were focused on my 'alleged' research in NC, I was hundreds of miles away conducting research in other locations," Gaubatz tells FrontPageMag, a Web publication edited by David Horowitz.

We've been following Gaubatz ever since his book was embraced by several congressional Republicans alleging that Muslim intern "spies" may have infiltrated Capitol Hill. After the Fort Hood killings, Gaubatz made, then retracted, a call for a backlash against the Muslim community.

The blog post on the North Carolina research said that the project would begin Dec. 5, and that one lucky donor could tag along as a member of the investigative team. We even interviewed Gaubatz over e-mail, and he told us that his "Muslim researchers [would be] attending prayer and lectures."

But not so fast. As Gaubatz now tells it, the blog post, which was pulled after it went up, was an elaborate ruse:

    I would like to end Jamie by asking Americans to be careful who and what 'self described' investigative journalists they take as being true journalists. An example is TPMmuckraker's Justin Elliot. TPMMuckraker is simply a group of tabloid liberals who have no clue how to conduct investigative journalism. Recently I 'toyed' with Elliot to prove this point. For years I have informed people in my various writings that my blog articles are primary [sic] used to 'bait' people like CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper and poor journalists like Elliot.

    Last week I put a small article on my blog about conducting field research in NC and describing the resources required. Elliot took the bait and ran. ...

    While Elliot and like terrorist supporters were focused on my 'alleged' research in NC, I was hundreds of miles away conducting research in other locations. On the other hand I am thankful for the Elliot's and Ibrahim Hopers because they make my research much easier.

Got that? Gaubatz put up a blog post announcing research to begin Dec. 5 in order to distract terrorist supporters while he was conducting separate research in November. So is the North Carolina Winnebago project still on? Only time will tell.

He also accuses us of ignoring underlying issues about CAIR, which, as we've noted, has been defended by an 87-member Congressional caucus that described CAIR as a "civil rights group."

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/11/muslim_mafia_scribe_gaubatz_how_i_toyed_with_tpmmu.php

-----

Many Iraqis sadder at soccer ban than poll delay

Tue Nov 24, 2009

By Mohammed Abbas

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Wrangling over Iraq's general election has triggered political uproar and dismayed U.S. leaders eager to withdraw their troops but many Iraqis are more concerned with a ban on their beloved national soccer team.

For a moment in 2007, at the peak of the sectarian violence set off by the 2003 U.S. invasion, the gunfire that rang out across Baghdad was the sound of Iraqis firing in the air in joy at their team's surprise Asian Cup win, and not at each other.

Last week Iraq was suspended from international soccer by the FIFA world governing body for what it said was "governmental interference" in the country's Football Association, the news saddening more Iraqis than a likely delay of a national poll.

"We're not interested in the polls. It's the same old story and nothing good will come out of it. Football is 100 times more important. It brings together Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds," said Israa Munthar, speaking for a group of three women out shopping.

A general election meant to cement democracy and pave the way for a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops next year is unlikely to take place in January as planned, after haggling politicians held up a law needed to hold the polls.

Most Iraqis interviewed in central Baghdad Tuesday said they expected little more from their bickering politicians but the FIFA ban was a real blow.

"I doubt there will be elections after the performance of these people who call themselves politicians. The football is more important, and it shouldn't have been politicized. It's the one thing that brings all Iraqis together," said retiree Mamdouh al-Qubaysy, sitting in a coffee shop.

Iraq's soccer suspension follows a long-running power struggle between the country's Olympic committee and the Iraqi Football Association. The committee has demanded the IFA elect a new governing board but the soccer federation refused.

SECTARIAN DIVIDES IN SPORTS, POLITICS

At the heart of the dispute is an effort by Iraq's new Shi'ite Muslim-led authorities to wrest control of soccer from an association they view as dominated by sports figures from ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein's era.

Hussein's son Uday tortured some football players and other athletes for what he considered poor performances when he was Iraq's sports chief.

Parliament has also been stymied by sectarian wrangling between Iraq's new leaders and once dominant Sunnis.

Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi vetoed a law needed to hold the January polls on concerns that Iraqi voters abroad, including many Sunnis, were under-represented.

Monday, lawmakers from the Shi'ite majority and Kurdish minority communities passed an amended law which would reduce Sunni voting power. Hashemi is expected to veto the law again.

Holding polls after January would violate the constitution and could hurt U.S. plans to end combat operations next August.

"Whether the elections are delayed or not makes no difference. Iraqis are more concerned with the football. It's the one thing that brings us happiness and brings the country together," said Louay Kareem, a day laborer.

"In the elections, if one side wins, the other will always complain."

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsMaps/idUSTRE5AN2Y820091124

-----

The Hijabi Monologues: A Public Conversation Made Private

By   Dilshad D. Ali

Nov. 24, 2009

Standing on the darkened stage in Chicago in 2007, after the first-ever performance of the "Hijabi Monologues" was over, Sahar Ullah, a co-creator and writer of the drama fielded a question from an audience member who said something that made for the quintessential "aha" moment-- that defining moment when all the hard work Ullah and her friends had put into the drama elicited a defined light of clarity about what it was like to be a Muslim woman in America.

"He stood up and said 'I’m a black man, and people used to think black men are all bad,'" Ullah recalled. "And then he said, 'but you Muslims have it bad. When I’m at the airport and I see a woman who’s covered, I think, what does she have under there? Does she hide a bomb under there?' It was really telling, what he said.

"And then he said the real truth: 'I just realized that you’re people, and you’re good people.' The whole audience was quiet. It was pretty amazing what he said. It highlighted for us who are involved in the project why we do this," Ullah said.

That project, "The Hijabi Monologues" was conceived by Ullah and her friends, Dan Morrison and Zeenat Rehman in 2006 while the three were studying at the University of Chicago. The drama production is a series of monologues that relate unique and individual stories coming from the lives of real Muslim women.

The monologues are not meant to represent Islam or tell everyone’s stories. In fact, the hijab itself features as a prop, Ullah said, rather than as the central thing that shapes the monologues.

"We debated the title of this production a lot but ultimately went with 'The Hijabi Monologues.' But one thing I wanted to make clear that we’re not telling everyone’s stories. We don’t represent everybody. We represent the stories of the people who are telling them.

These stories are about women who wear the hijab, but they don’t talk about their hijab all the time," Ullah said.

The show, which cut its teeth on university performances, is facing a milestone as it gears up to hits the famous Millennium Stage, an open-air theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. But behind the scenes the goal remains the same: To have the audience members leave with questions, not answers. To not talk about why women wear or don’t wear the hijab, but rather what are the stories that Muslim women are living, and how do these stories weave themselves into the fabric of daily living?

It’s All About Telling A Story

One monologue is called "Hitting on a Hijabi," and is a hilarious riff on all the different pick-up lines men use with Muslim women. Another is "The Football Story," which relates the story that started "The Hijabi Monologues," about when Ullah, as a hijab and niqab-wearing undergraduate at the University of Miami, struggled to find a place to pray while attending a college football game. Then there’s "I’m Tired," to which many minority groups and Muslim women are drawn: It’s a lonely dialogue by a hijab-clad woman who relates how she’s tired of being exposed and put up as a representation.

The medium of storytelling is what makes "The Hijabi Monologues" accessible in a way that bridge-building or dialogue sessions or "Islam 101"  presentations cannot, says co-founder Zeenat Rehman, director of strategic partnerships at the Interfaith Youth Core. "Take the story of the African-American man who saw the program and what he said. You can’t get that reaction through eight hours of dialogue."

May Alhassan, a performer and organizer for the Monologues, said that the power of storytelling is "both timely and timeless. Oral tradition is a practice enshrined in the history of our faith. There is no better time than now to revive the spirit of storytelling and oral transmission of information of our experience as Muslims."

Alhassan came to "The Hijabi Monologues" not through auditioning, but through a correspondence with Ullah and after she saw the Los Angeles production in 2008 at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Impressed by Alhassan’s drama experience and enthusiasm for the project, Ullah, though she had never met Alhassan in person, agreed to send her some of the monologues to perform. Alhassan ended up putting on a performance in Cairo. The two finally were united when they met later in Washington D.C. for a performance there.

Alhassan and Ullah agree that the one-woman storytelling aspect fosters a direct relationship with the audience, which in turn creates a walloping impact in a way that a traditional play or informative presentation on Islam cannot. It makes the "hijabi" stories relatable to everyone watching because the performers seek to create a meaningful relationship with viewers by focusing on the human aspects of each story.

"Simply, even as a non-hijabi," said Alhassan, "I relate to all the monologues on four levels—as a Muslim, an American, a woman, and a human being. That is how I, as a twenty-something single woman, can perform the role of a mother of four grieving the loss of her eldest son (in "My Son’s Wedding Feast") and as an unmarried, love-scorned pregnant teenager (in "Light on My Face"). I find the point of universal understanding and common human experience, because each [monologue] contains these elements."

People don’t want to be told what to think, Ullah added. They don’t want to be lectured at or preached at. "But when you hear a story, it’s so powerful because we say these are true stories. And when you tell a story, you allow a person to live that experience at that moment. They step into your shoes at that moment.

"Ground Zero is where we all agree that we are human beings," Ullah said. "After that we talk about ideas--I believe this, you believe that. But if people don’t even have the beginning point where we’re both human beings, then it’s very difficult to have a conversation. That’s what ‘The Hijabi Monologues’ is trying to achieve—that baseline where we are just human."

Why the Hijab Matters, and Why it Doesn’t

It’s called "The Hijabi Monologues," but it’s about Muslim women living their lives, and it’s about the humanness that everyone shares even though they don’t realize it, according to Ullah.

The hijab itself, the whole issue of how Muslim women dress or don’t dress is what can be the barrier against that basic human understanding. The hijab is how the creators and organizers of "The Hijabi Monologues" draw in the audience, but it’s the stories beyond the hijab that make the connection.

Alhassan, said though the production seeks to elevate the conversation beyond the hijab, Muslim women’s choice of dress has been and will continue to be a media magnet. Where as many Americans look upon the freedom of choice to be a right, with the hijab "the freedom of choice has been reduced down to clothing  choice, which is in turn, is falsely perceived as a lack of choice," she said. "Why would anyone choose to wear a headscarf if it isn’t forced?

"It’s the imposition of this perceived standard of beauty … that holds Muslim women to such ludicrous interpretations of liberated womanhood—both covering and non-covering Muslim women," Alhassan added. "Because I don’t cover, people assume that I adopt a stock laundry list of liberal values that include drinking, smoking, and a disregard for salat [prayer]."

 It’s these notions that "The Hijabi Monologues" seek to dismiss. That wearing the hijab, or not wearing it, is not a representation of the whole Muslim woman. That one must dig deeper. With that stance, the production takes on a symbolic role as well—dispelling myths and breaking down stereotypes.

With this thought in mind, Ullah plans to take the Monologues to Portland, Oregon, where a group of girls asked her to come and perform the production because there’s been talk of trying to ban the hijab in public schools. "Sometimes we’re called in for damage control," Ullah said.

The performance a few months back in Florida came on the heels of a situation where a mosque in Miami was vandalized a few times, and the culprits turned out to be Latino. "So the people who asked us to bring "The Hijabi Monologues" to Miami were Latino, and one of those women said she was hurt to see what some in her community had done to the mosque because they were a minority group as well," Ullah said.

So even though the organizers strive to make the hijab a prop in the production, it does become a flash point to opening up a deeper conversation on the problem of representation. "One thing Zeenat and I talk about a lot," Ullah said, "is how the media always wants to put Muslim women on display as a good or bad representation. And it shouldn’t be necessary that people should to expose their private lives.

"But if we need to expose our hijab stories, our Muslim women stories, our life stories just to get other people to realize, ‘Hey, we’re all human beings,’ then I’m willing to do it," Ullah said. "And the most rewarding part is when a Muslim girl who sees the show says to us, ‘I know that story. Now I know I’m not alone.'"

http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1258880474550&pagename=Zone-English-ArtCulture%2FACELayout

-----

'Moderate' Malaysia Faces Islamized Bureaucracy

Fabio Scarpello

24 Nov 2009

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- As a country often referred to as an example of a moderate Muslim-majority state in the region, Malaysia has been raising eyebrows worldwide lately.

A string of incidents has recently underlined tensions between the Muslim majority and the Christian and Hindu minorities, and otherwise painted the country with more Islamic colors. These have included Muslims protesting against Hindu temples by parading in front of one carrying a cow's head; fathers converting their children to Islam without informing the mother; housewives sentenced to whippings for daring to drink a beer; and pop concerts being banned.

But more worrisome is the level of Islamization in the nation's bureaucracy, which has taken on a life of its own and seems accountable to no one. Each of the 13 states in Malaysia now has its own Islamic administration and jurisdiction.

The case of respected cleric Asri Zainul Abidin has brought the problem to the fore, pushing the issue onto the national agenda. In so doing, it has opened the door to potentially significant ripple effects for Malaysia's political and religious future.

On Nov. 18, Asri was charged in the Selangor Sharia Court with teaching without a permit. He pleaded not guilty, but if convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to two years.

The scholar was briefly arrested at the beginning of November, when 35 members of the Selangor Islamic Administration led some 20 police officers in storming the private house where he was giving a lecture.

The teaching permit is required in several states of the Malaysian federation to avoid the spreading of heretical Islamic sects. It is, nonetheless, rarely imposed on those who have well-known, mainstream Islamic credentials.

Asri, who has a doctorate in religious studies and was the highest religious authority in the state of Perlis until recently, certainly qualifies as far as his credentials go. But his view of Islam as a religion that needs to be seen through a modern lens remains controversial.

In the last few years, he has not hesitated to speak out on a number of sensitive issues. He has argued that there should be no punishment for apostasy, and that Islamic authorities have no right to conduct raids on hotel rooms looking for unmarried Muslim couples. He has also defended the right of non-Muslims to use "Allah" as a translation for "God" in Bibles and other non-Muslim texts, and called for teaching all children interfaith lessons at school.

These views are seen as a threat by the Islamic bureaucracy and intelligentsia, which have successfully marginalized alternative voices in the last two decades. Hence, their mob-like attack on the scholar.

Asri's arrest was supported by the National Ulama Organization, the Sharia Lawyers Association of Malaysia, and a plethora of ultra-conservative NGOs. This same informal coalition had last month opposed his nomination to lead the Islamic Da'wah Foundation of Malaysia, a high-profile, government-sponsored Islamic missionary organization.

Moderate academics, non-partisan NGOs, civil society groups and religious minorities have long voiced concerns over the growing power of the religious apparatus. But over the last two decades, these concerns were overshadowed by the larger political battle -- between the governing United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) -- for the country's Muslim vote, which accounts for 40 percent of its 26 million people.

Today, though, the political landscape has changed. Islam is no longer the sole political commodity available, and both PAS and UMNO have shown signs of opening up toward a more inclusive political platform.

PAS has opened its ranks to non-Muslims. And although UMNO faces internal divisions, with one faction calling for further Islamization, it has begun to consider softening the affirmative action policies that, since the 1970s, have given the ethnic Malays a privileged position in government, education and the bureaucracy.

The Malaysian constitution states that Malays must be Muslim, inextricably linking the religious issue to that of ethnic relations in a country where millions of ethnic Indians and Chinese feel less than equal.

Asri, who is very popular among the young, has previously been courted by both the UMNO and PAS, and both parties have expressed their support for his cause. Both Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim have made public statements of support, as have many NGOs, academics and civil society groups. The case has also been relentlessly reported by the national media, with a clear bias in favor of the cleric.

With such popular and political support, it is unlikely that Asri will be convicted for a crime that contradicts the constitution's secular right of freedom of speech. In fact, it is quite possible that the ordeal will convince him to enter politics, bringing his erudite, progressive view into that public arena.

Moreover, Asri's plight could push the political establishment further, toward confronting a despotic Islamic bureaucracy that no longer serves the interests of a modern, multi-ethnic Malaysia as it struggles to attract the foreign investment needed to continue its progress.

If not, the country once known for its moderate form of Islam might instead continue to make headlines for cows' head protests, beer whippings and banned pop concerts.

Fabio Scarpello is the Southeast Asia correspondent for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International. He is based in Denpasar, Indonesia.

Photo: The Blue Mosque in Selangor, Malaysia (Photo by Wikimedia User Lerdsuwa, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation 1.2 License).

http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=4685

-----

Russian security officials beheaded in Muslim dominated region

24-Nov-2009

Moscow: A police investigator and a court bailiff were found beheaded in a car trunk in Russia's Muslim-dominated region of Kabardino-Balkaria, in North Caucasus, RIA Novosti reported today.

The bodies were found last night in the town of Chegen, the agency said quoting a security official.

''The beheaded bodies of the men, a district bailiff and a police officer, were found in the trunk of a Mercedes,'' sources said, adding they were 26 and 27 years old respectively.

The men had been shot with automatic weapons before being beheaded. Police were looking into several theories behind the crime, including Islamic violence.

The mainly Muslim republic has been plagued by instability afflicting other regions of Russia's North Caucasus.

Militant violence, organised crime, high unemployment and corruption have been rife in the impoverished region dependent on subsidies from Moscow.

Kabardino Balkaria borders North Ossetia, the site of the bloody 2004 school siege in Beslan, is 50 km west of Chechnya.

Political analysts said relatively peaceful Kabardino-Balkaria could fall victim to rising violence in Ingushetia and nearby Chechnya, where Moscow has fought two separatist wars in the last 15 years.

Last month Ingush opposition campaigner Maksharip Aushev was shot dead in Kabardino-Balkaria while on a visit to relatives.

Following a trip to Chechnya and Ingushetia, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, said the situation in the region was worrying.

''Increased activity by illegal armed groups, the lack of effective investigations into disappearances and killings, and murders of human rights activists are of particular concern,'' he said in a report today.

http://www.mynews.in/News/Russian_security_officials_beheaded_in_Muslim_dominated_region_N31025.html

-----

Osama bin Laden Should Be Prosecuted in Civilian Court, Sen. Menendez Says

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Matt Cover

(CNSNews.com) – New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez told CNSNews.com that Osama bin Laden should be brought to justice and prosecuted in civilian court, where he will most certainly be convicted.

Menendez, interviewed at the Capitol Thursday, was asked whether –when caught – bin Laden should be read his Miranda rights, as is required for all federal criminal defendants. Menendez said that as far as he was concerned, the al Qaeda leader should be prosecuted and convicted in court. (Hear Audio)

CNSNews.com: When we catch bin Laden, should he be Mirandized? Should he be read his Miranda rights? If there’s going to be a civil proceeding, the attorney general said it wouldn’t matter.

Menendez: As far as I’m concerned he should be prosecuted, brought to justice, and hopefully – and I fully expect – convicted.

Menendez was referring to questions raised by his Republican colleagues – particularly Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) – who questioned Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday over how the administration would treat terrorists caught in the future, now that they will be send to federal court to stand trial.

Graham asked Holder, “If we captured bin Laden tomorrow, would he be entitled to Miranda warnings at the moment of capture?

Holder, who was unable to provide a direct answer, said that whether or not bin Laden would be read his Miranda rights – including the right to remain silent during interrogation and the right to a taxpayer-funded attorney – “all depends.”

“Well, it does not depend,” Graham retorted. “If you’re going to prosecute anybody in civilian court, our law is clear that the moment custodial interrogation occurs, the defendant – the criminal defendant – is entitled to a lawyer and to be informed of their right to remain silent.”

Holder answered that the case against bin Laden would not rest on any statements the al Qaeda leader might make to federal interrogators.

“Again I’m not – that all depends. The case against him [bin Laden], both for those cases that have already been indicted – the case that we could make against him for the – for his involvement in the 9/11 case would not be dependent on Miranda warnings – would not be dependent on custodial statements.”

According to the Supreme Court in Miranda v Arizona, all civilian criminal defendants, now including terrorists, have the right to:

-- Remain silent during interrogation

-- Consult with an attorney during interrogation

-- Have an attorney appointed at government expense

-- Have an attorney present during interrogation

-- Stop answering questions at any time during interrogation

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/57612

-----

Bringing Gitmo Terrorists to U.S. Is Democrats’ Job Program, Franks Says

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Nicholas Ballasy, Video Reporter

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) idea to house Guantanamo Bay detainees in Illinois shows that the Democrats have “at least” come up with “a jobs program.”

Franks sarcastically praised Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s idea to house terrorists from Gitmo in the Thomson Correction Center in Northwest Illinois saying, “Let’s bring terrorists to America, and let’s make sure that we have a lot of jobs to take care of them.”

On Capitol Hill, CNSNews.com asked Franks, “Congressman, you mentioned the Obama administration’s handling of terrorism and national security issues. The Obama administration has announced it will try the alleged mastermind behind the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in a military commission. Do you believe he can get a constitutionally legitimate and fair trial in a military commission?”

“I think the administration makes a profound error in bringing terrorists into this country to try them under our constitutionally structured federal government court system, because all of a sudden it changes them from enemy combatants, unlawful combatants, to having the same status as citizens – and it threatens to, I think, endanger all of the country,” Franks said.

“I will say this,” Franks continued, “It was pretty profound. One nexus here is that Senator Durbin – a liberal senator – has said that they want to bring the Gitmo detainees into Illinois to house them there for these trials in America rather than the military tribunals that they should face. But he said it’s partly for jobs.

“So now at least the Democrats have come up with a jobs program,” said Franks, speaking at a press conference on Nov. 17 about the downside of a big federal government.

“Let’s bring terrorists to America, and let’s make sure that we have a lot of jobs to take care of them, and it also unfortunately might create the need for a lot more jobs to deal with the havoc that they create,” Franks added.

Franks further said that the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other 9/11 plotters in a civilian court could encourage terrorists to harm Americans on U.S. soil.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Nov. 13 that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and five other 9/11 suspects would be tried in a civilian court in New York City instead of in a military tribunal.

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/57613

-----

Peace in Afghanistan

Javid Husain

Afghanistan remains in turmoil 30 years after the Soviet Army marched into it to install in power a regime of Moscow's choice. The Afghan jihad finally succeeded in liberating the country from the Soviet occupation in 1989. However, even the fall of the Soviet installed Najibullah regime a few years later because of the continued armed struggle of the Afghan mujahideen did not restore peace in Afghanistan. Instead the country was thrown into a civil war in which basically the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns communities in Afghanistan were arrayed against each other. The US occupation of Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11 has not ended this underlying internal armed conflict in Afghanistan. Thus, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is defined not only by the fight between the coalition forces led by the US and the local forces spearheaded by the Taliban but also by the internal armed conflict between the Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns.

During the pre-9/11 period, the internal armed conflict in Afghanistan was complicated by the support given by Iran and Pakistan to the non-Pashtuns and Pashtuns respectively. The situation was further aggravated by the involvement of India and Russia with Iran in supporting the Northern Alliance. The short-sighted policies of Iran and Pakistan during the 1990's prolonged the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Afghanistan policies of both Iran and Pakistan during this period were driven by their security establishments whose lack of comprehension of the situation in Afghanistan was matched by their misplaced zeal to promote their narrow national interests at the cost of peace in Afghanistan. The political leaders on both sides showed a remarkable inability to rise above narrow national considerations and promote a peace settlement in Afghanistan on the basis of mutual accommodation. The greater responsibility for this failure lay with the Iranian leadership when the Rabbani regime was in power in Kabul and later with the Pakistan leadership when the Taliban took over control of most of Afghanistan.

The net result of the short-sighted policies of Iran and Pakistan was that both of them lost in Afghanistan which is now occupied by non-regional forces led by the United States of America. Although Iran welcomed the fall of the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11, the presence of the US forces on its eastern frontier with Afghanistan should be a cause for concern to it. As for Pakistan, it has suffered even more than Iran subsequent to 9/11. On the one hand, it has lost influence in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime which it had supported at the cost of regional and international isolation and at the risk of encouraging religious extremism within Pakistan. On the other, the reversal of its pro-Taliban policy after 9/11 under the US pressure has not only earned it the enmity of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan (in addition to that of non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan because of its earlier pro-Taliban policies) but has also pitted it against the Pashtuns in its tribal areas, who are linked through tribal and ethnic ties to their brethren in Afghanistan. The resultant battle against the Taliban in Pakistan has badly destabilised our nation through acts of terrorism perpetrated by the former. The instability in Afghanistan is thus leading to instability in Pakistan. The leadership of Pakistan's security and foreign policy establishment, particularly during the period from 1997 to 9/11 in 2001, must be held accountable for this debacle.

The US is now essentially faced with the tasks of the elimination of Al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan to prevent any further attacks on it and the restoration of peace in that country. The successful completion of these tasks should enable it to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in an honourable manner. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration broadened its goal to cover also the establishment of a government of its liking in Afghanistan in total disregard of the ethnic and tribal realities of the country and its conservative character. The new political dispensation imposed in Afghanistan after the Bonn agreement on the debris of the Taliban regime alienated most of the Afghan Pashtuns, the ethnic community to which the overwhelming majority of the Taliban belonged, and dragged the coalition forces led by the US into an armed conflict with them. Considering that the Pashtuns constitute almost half of the population of Afghanistan, the US set for itself an impossible task of imposing a government of its choice in defiance of the wishes of the Afghan Pashtuns.

The US task was made more difficult by cross-the-border links of the Afghan Pashtuns with their brethren in Pakistan's tribal areas. Consequently, the coalition forces have been bogged down in an unending war in Afghanistan. Instead of recognising the indigenous character of the armed inflict in Afghanistan and finding a solution for it through a judicious combination of the use of force and political initiatives to accommodate the Afghan Pashtuns within the framework of an inclusive political system, the US has relied on the use of force to bludgeon the Pashtuns into submission with disastrous results so far. Its pressure on the Pakistan government to prevent the Taliban Pashtuns in our tribal areas from going into Afghanistan to the help of their tribal brethren has resulted in increasing the frequency of terrorist incidents in Pakistan.

The US is now at a crossroads. The ongoing review of the Afghan strategy by the Obama Administration provides Washington with a useful opportunity to change course with a view to eliminating the threat of terrorism posed by Al-Qaeda to the US security and taking political initiatives to bring the conflict in Afghanistan between the Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns to an end. The use of force against Al-Qaeda and its allies should continue to overcome their threat to global and regional security. At the same time, the US should open lines of communications to the Taliban to engage the moderates among them and to isolate and weaken the extremist elements. One way to achieve this objective would be to convene a conference of the leaders of the various Afghan communities, tribes and political groups under the UN auspices to evolve a political framework which has the consensus support of the different Afghan political forces. This political framework should be inclusive in character so as to establish a just formula for power sharing among the various Afghan communities and political groups. The new political framework should have the endorsement of the regional countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran, and the UN to enhance its legitimacy and chances of success. The US failure to take a political initiative on these lines to ameliorate the conflict in Afghanistan will condemn it to prolonged fighting in that country with the growing risk of destabilising the whole region.

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Opinions/Columns/24-Nov-2009/Peace-in-Afghanistan

-----

An Islamic revival in Azerbaijan

November 24, 2009

In a series of programmes, Al Jazeera follows Muslim pilgrims from around the world as they prepare to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage.

It is an ancient land at the crossroads of Europe and Central Asia and is said to have been the location of the Garden of Eden.

Different cultures and civilisations have met in Azerbaijan for thousands of years and the country was one of the first to embrace Islam when Arabian invaders imposed their religion on the region in the seventh century.

But when Azerbaijan fell under the control of the former Soviet Union in 1920, atheism became state policy; many Muslim leaders were exiled or killed and mosques were closed down or destroyed.

When the country regained its independence in 1991, many embarked on a journey to rediscover their faith and heritage and to fill the religious vacuum left by Communist rule.

Painful journey

Thirty-one-year-old Salamova Samira is a mother of two and part of the 95 per cent of Azerbaijanis who consider themselves Muslims. But, more significantly, she is one of only five per cent who actually practice their faith and is about to embark on the Hajj pilgrimage.

"I started praying when I was around 12 years old. There was only grandma [Samira's great-grandmother] who prayed in our family. She was 115 years old. She read the Quran," Samira says.

"When I was a schoolgirl, I also took lessons to learn the Quran. This was difficult then as many people viewed Islam in a bad light, unlike today."

The older generation, like Samira's mother, lived their lives without observing the central tenets of their religion and, more often than not, do not feel any need to start doing it now.

Samira will travel from Baku, the country's capital where she lives, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. But, for her, the road to Hajj has been a long one marked by pain and hardship.

"I had been praying until I turned 17. Then I got married and stopped praying. Having a family with children, I just could not find the time.

"My husband was a Muslim too. He was not against the fact that I prayed regularly. But I just could not do it. I have two daughters, aged 11 and 13 years old," she explains.

Her relationship with her husband soured and after five years of marriage they divorced.

"As the saying goes, when the world knocks you down on your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray," she says.

Performing the pilgrimage seemed like an impossible dream for Samira.

Although she earns a decent living as a house-keeping manager at a hotel, she knew it would take her years to save enough money to go on Hajj.

"Going to the Hajj was my dream. But with my salary, it was not possible. I always thought it would take a miracle for me to go," she says.

But fate was to intervene for Samira when a friend of her mother offered to sponsor her pilgrimage.

Islamic revival

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has witnessed something of an Islamic revival; hundreds of new mosques have been built, old ones have been restored and new religious schools have been opened.

For many young Azerbaijanis, like Samira, an interest in Islam is re-emerging and stronger than ever.

"I can not describe my feelings, the first was fear. At the same time, I feel happy too," Samira says.

"After the Hajj, you would expect more of yourself. Before the Hajj, you can make some mistakes, but after the Hajj, you should be more careful in making your decisions.

"Everyone makes mistakes, commits sin, and lies. After the Hajj, you should not go back to your old ways. It is easy to go to the Hajj, but after that, it is as if you are born again, you become clean and innocent."

"And you should keep yourself that way. That is very hard. That is why I am afraid. But I will go and when I come back, I hope I can manage to do so."

Road to Hajj: Azerbaijan can be seen on Wednesday, November 25, at the following times GMT: 1030, 1630, 2330.

http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/hajj/2009/11/2009112475725127176.html

------

U.S. youths recruited to fight in Somali militia, authorities say

By Josh Meyer

November 24, 2009

Young Somali Americans, many in Minneapolis, were lured to fight with an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, court documents allege. Eight suspects alleged to be part of that network face criminal charges.

Reporting from Washington

Federal authorities unsealed criminal charges Monday against eight suspects alleged to be part of a U.S. recruiting network that sent young men to fight in Somalia -- one of the largest militant operations uncovered in this country since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The court documents disclosed how some older members of the Somali American community in Minneapolis are believed to have lured younger ones to fight in Somalia -- some as suicide bombers -- with an Al Qaeda-affiliated group known as Al Shabab, or "The Youth."The charges include providing financial support to fighters who traveled to Somalia, attending Al Shabab training camps and fighting with the group against the U.S.-backed transitional government there, as well as against Ethiopian government forces and African Union troops.

The recruitment of young people from Minneapolis and other U.S. communities "has been the focus of intense investigation for many months," said David Kris, the assistant attorney general for national security.

The new charges bring the number of men accused in connection with the case in Minnesota to 14. Several of the newly disclosed defendants are believed to be outside the United States.

At least 20 men, all but one of Somali descent, are thought to have left the Minneapolis area and traveled to Somalia between September 2007 and October 2009, according to court documents and interviews.

Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the United States, an estimated 60,000. Many arrived in the early 1990s as refugees, fleeing famine and a brutal civil war. A cluster of high-rise apartments and the surrounding neighborhood in eastern Minneapolis have come to be known as Little Mogadishu.

As with members of many refugee groups around the country, young Somalis have struggled with negotiating the conflicts between traditional culture and modern America. Authorities say Somali youths in the United States are more easily radicalized than other young Muslims because they are often extremely poor and more isolated from society as a whole.

Amid that struggle, some have come to admire Al Shabab, a hard-line Islamist militia that controls much of southern and central Somalia.

Even among the less militant in this country, there is broad opposition to the regime that was put in place after Ethiopia, backed by the United States, invaded in 2006 and overthrew an Islamic coalition.

The fighters from Minneapolis, according to authorities, were trained in Somalia in the use of small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and military-style tactics. Authorities added that the recruits were also indoctrinated with "anti-Ethiopian, anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Western beliefs."

Authorities said one of the men, Shirwa Ahmed, attended Al Shabab training camps after leaving Minneapolis in 2007 and took part in one of five simultaneous suicide attacks on targets in northern Somalia in October 2008.

Until Monday, the public aspects of the investigation had focused on the Somalis who had gone overseas.

But the newly unsealed court documents provide a wealth of new details. Peers and elders recruited the men, according to the documents, in some cases by exhorting them to fight for their homeland and, in others, to fight for jihad, or holy war, against the West and what they described as its puppet government in Mogadishu.

"Instead of the kids going over there as cannon fodder, this identifies some of the recruiters behind them," said one federal law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Federal authorities say they are particularly concerned that some of the men who receive training in guerrilla warfare and terrorism tactics in Somalia might return to the United States and launch attacks here.

They cited a recent case in which Australian authorities arrested at least four men of Somali and Lebanese descent who they charged with planning to use automatic weapons to carry out a suicide attack on a military base in the southern city of Melbourne.

According to Australian police, some of the men had trained with Al Shabab, but the group issued a statement denying it.

Federal authorities said they had been investigating support and finance cells for the network in several U.S. cities, including Boston, San Diego and Columbus, Ohio.

"It's always troubling when you find indications of a terrorist recruitment and training operation with structure, organization and continuity, because those are the makings of an effective terrorist cell," said Kenneth Wainstein, who tracked the threat of Somali Americans fighting overseas as the head of counter-terrorism and homeland security in the George W. Bush administration until earlier this year.

"And while that terrorism may be focused today in the Horn of Africa, which is troubling enough, that same operation could conceivably be directed at us or our allies in the future," Wainstein said.

The documents unsealed Monday in federal court in Minneapolis show how FBI agents followed some of the suspected ringleaders for at least two years, using confidential informants who had quietly pleaded guilty to similar charges.

One of the informants said recruits stayed at Al Shabab safe houses and trained at camps with dozens of young ethnic Somalis from Somalia, elsewhere in Africa, Europe and the United States.

One of the accused, Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, is said to have regaled young Somali Americans with tales of how he was wounded and experienced "true brotherhood" while fighting there, according to documents.

He told alleged co-conspirators "that traveling to Somalia to fight jihad will be fun and not to be afraid," and that it was "the best thing that they could do," according to FBI affidavits filed in support of the charges.

Faarax and Abdiweli Yassin Isse were charged in an Oct. 9 criminal complaint with conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons outside the United States. An affidavit filed in support of the complaint said that in the fall of 2007, Faarax and others met at a Minneapolis mosque to telephone co-conspirators in Somalia to discuss the need for Minnesota-based fighters to go to Somalia.

Faarax was interviewed three times by authorities, the affidavit said, "and each time denied fighting or knowing anyone who had fought in Somalia."

Another of those charged, Mahamud Said Omar, 43, is a permanent U.S. resident and Somali citizen accused of visiting an Al Shabab safe house in Somalia and providing financial support and personnel to Al Shabab -- including donating money to buy AK-47 rifles for the men from Minneapolis. He was arrested two weeks ago in the Netherlands, and the Justice Department is requesting his extradition.

The Justice Department also announced Monday that four residents of Minneapolis had entered guilty pleas in connection with the investigation and that another defendant awaited trial on charges of making false statements to the FBI.

Ralph S. Boelter, the FBI special agent in charge of the Minneapolis field office, stressed that the investigation focused on "a small number of mainly Somali American individuals and not the broader Somali American community itself, which has consistently expressed deep concern about this pattern of recruitment activity in support of Al Shabab."

The FBI began investigating the network after the disappearance of some young Somalis from Minneapolis several years ago.

At least three of the young men have been killed in fighting, and others have been arrested in Africa, Europe and elsewhere.

In recent years, Al Shabab has trained with and provided refuge for senior Al Qaeda operatives wanted in connection with the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and a 2002 hotel bombing in Kenya.

As part of its war with the transitional government, Al Shabab has attacked police stations, border posts, government facilities and civilian targets.

It also has launched suicide bombings and produced numerous jihadist propaganda videos, including ones showing decapitations of its purported enemies. It has declared that its ultimate goal is the imposition of Sharia, or strict Islamic law, throughout Somalia.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-na-somali-terror24-2009nov24,0,2665303,print.story

------

Egyptian President meets with Israeli counterpart

Adam Schrader

23 November 2009 in Egypt, News, Palestine

CAIRO: Israeli President Shimon Peres traveled to Egypt on Sunday to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The two met at the Presidential palace in Cairo to discuss the state of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the status of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier currently held by Hamas, and the issue of nuclear proliferation in Iran.

The two leaders also discussed bilateral issues including ways to prevent arms smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza strip and methods for strengthening cooperation on matters of security and intelligence.

After the meeting, President Mubarak expressed his concern for the faltering peace process and outlined Egypt’s concerns regarding the resumption of talks.

“We want to see a halt to the settlement in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and the continuation of negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines,” he said, as well as, “an end to the siege of Gaza, and an increase of improvements for the Palestinian people.”

President Peres affirmed that Israel is committed to reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.

“We want the Palestinians to be happy,” he remarked after the meeting. “The government of Israel is prepared for a solution of two states for two peoples,” he continued, “with the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

At a memorial service Monday for David Ben-Gurion, Peres urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do everything necessary to bring an end to the conflict.

“Today, there is just one step left between us and the end of this conflict,” he said, “the current government can and must do it,” the Israeli president argued. He added that the work of dividing the land between the two peoples was something that Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, took on himself.

Peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis have been stalled since December 2008. One of the most contentious issues revolves around the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The two state solution based on the 1967 border would place Israeli settlers within a new Palestinian state.

With regard to settlement activity, Peres said that “the minute we shall start to negotiate there won’t be new settlements, there won’t be confiscation of land.” His statement echoed the Israeli government’s position that a settlement freeze should not be a precondition for peace talks, something that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas views as non-negotiable for the resumption of talks.

Mubarak also voiced his concerns about the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians view as their capital, remarking that future of the city was something that concerned the entire Islamic world. Peres replied that while Jerusalem was under Israeli sovereignty and any change to its status would require Knesset approval, “[Israel has] no intention of building on the Temple Mount. We respect the Muslims.”

The leaders also discussed the status of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldiers currently held by Hamas. Shalit was captured by Palestinians after a cross border raid in 2006. Egypt has been involved in the negotiations for his release, and Peres hinted that there had been “progress” in efforts to free him. Some reports speculate that a deal may be announced by Egypt to coincide with the Eid al-Adha holiday this Friday.

On the issue of nuclear proliferation, Peres reaffirmed the Israeli government’s position as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. “Israel does not threaten any party,” he said, “but Iran is threatening the destruction of Israel.”

On same day the presidents met, Israeli aircraft bombed two suspected weapons factories and a smuggling tunnel in the Gaza Strip. The attack comes after Hamas’ announcement that militant groups in Gaza had agreed to stop firing rockets into Israel. Al Jazeera reports, however, that groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have denied they ever agreed to such a ceasefire.

http://bikyamasr.com/?p=5998

------

Lessons From Nuremberg

By Allan Gerson

Published: November 24, 2009

The Obama administration’s remarkable decision to hold the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other masterminds of 9/11 in a civil court in New York, rather than use the conventional military tribunal structure, rests on one fundamental pillar: It is the moral thing to do. It will demonstrate to friends and foes alike that unlike the Bush administration, the Obama White House is truly committed to the rule of law.Across the globe, or so the scenario goes, viewers will be riveted to TV screens as they witness American justice: the application of the full panoply of procedural rights of due process accorded to the ordinary criminal now applied, for the first time, to the evildoers of 9/11.

In fact, a trial in New York is likely to have exactly the opposite effect, demonstrating that the decision to bypass the military tribunal apparatus lacks any moral force. Moral force, as articulated in prevailing international law nearly since its inception, requires that we distinguish acts in times of war from those in times of peace. In times of war, the balance shifts. Individual civil liberties can be curtailed in order to fend off imminent harm. Military tribunals have traditionally been set up for this purpose, distinguishing the ordinary criminal who acts outside the law from the soldier who abides by a code of conduct at odds with our own core beliefs.

In moving the proceedings away from a military tribunal to a federal court we destroy this fundamental moral distinction between belligerents and nonbelligerents. The families of the victims of 9/11 rightfully believe that their loved-ones died as a result of wartime acts. They rightfully believe that radical Islam had declared a global jihad against the United States. They rightfully believe that the key defendant, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was a key soldier in that war, and that he was no ordinary murderer, but a war criminal.

If, in fact, 9/11 was an act of war, then by definition a military tribunal is the appropriate venue for trying war criminals. This has never been the responsibility of civilian courts. Thus, whether the Bush administration’s call for a war on terrorism was indeed technically a war is of no relevance. What is relevant is that radical Islam declared war on the United States; that 9/11 was the deliberate expression of their wartime agenda; and that its perpetrators, under U.S. and international law, were nothing less than war criminals.

Reasons cited by Attorney General Eric Holder and other proponents of a shift from military tribunals fail scrutiny. The contention — implied or implicit — that military tribunals are closed proceedings and that a civilian trial, by contrast, is open, is simply not true. The most open military tribunal of all time was the one convened at Nuremberg in 1946; it held 403 public sessions of the trial of major Nazi war criminals.

Moreover, there were no restrictions on access by the press, including cameras. As concerns present-day military tribunals, there is no prohibition in their governing laws on being fully open to the public.

While it is true that military tribunals have in the past not accorded defendants the full range of procedural safeguards applicable in a criminal trial, this has changed in recent years. Section 949l(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2009 specifically provides that the burden of proof, which rests on the government, is nothing less than that applicable in a criminal trial: beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the allowances for the use of hearsay and coerced evidence have been eliminated by the Military Commissions Act of 2009. If one truly wants to have a “show” trail of U.S. fairness, there is no better model than what the military courts would do.

Finally, the use of a military tribunal would be understood around the globe. No country other than the United States has ever suggested that war crimes be tried in ordinary courts. The true moral advantage lies in demonstrating that military courts can live up to the promise of the rule of law.

Regardless of whether a civilian court at enormous additional expense is employed, or a military court, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that a trial at either venue will serve as a teachable moral lesson for the world — either as to the evils of 9/11 or the rendering of justice to its perpetrators. Nuremberg, which involved crimes of an enormously greater magnitude, ended up, after a brief flurry of public interest, to only garner occasional public interest when a dramatic witness was introduced. The bulk of the sessions at Nuremberg, and certainly those before a contemporary civilian or military tribunal, are guaranteed to be seen by the viewing public as dull and repetitious.

There is also another cost to forgoing the traditional route. The 9/11 families do not deserve to be doubly victimized: by the atrocity itself, and by the falsification of history to create the impression that their loved ones were the victims of some aberrant murderer who flouted the law. Rather, these deaths were at the hands of a committed faction of radical Islam that initiated war against the United States and made the thousands of people at the World Trade Center their primary target. Wartime acts deserve to be treated as wartime acts.

Allan Gerson, a former deputy-assistant attorney general and counselor for international affairs in the Reagan administration, is involved in the representation of 9/11 families in their lawsuit against various Saudi financial institutions.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/opinion/24iht-edgerson.html

------

Charges against 8 in missing Somali case unsealed

by Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio,

Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio

November 23, 2009

Minneapolis — Court documents unsealed Monday named eight individuals allegedly involved in a plan to send men to fight in Somalia, marking a significant development in the government's massive Minnesota-based counterterrorism case.

The documents provide the most complete picture thus far in the roughly yearlong investigation into the alleged recruitment and motivations behind the departures of about 20 alleged fighters from Minnesota.

Authorities believe they went to train or fight along with the violent insurgent group al-Shabaab, which the U.S. declared a terrorist organization in February 2008.

According to the charging documents, the offenses include providing financial support to those who traveled to Somalia to fight on behalf of al-Shabaab, attending terrorist training camps operated by al-Shabaab, and fighting on behalf of the organization.

"We hope that our combined law enforcement efforts send a strong message to those tempted to provide financial support or personnel to any individual or group involved in terrorist activities in foreign countries," said U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said at a news conference Monday. "The message that they should hear, loud and clear, is that we will seek you out and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

In all, 14 people with Twin Cities ties face federal charges, ranging from perjury to providing material support to terrorists.

Mohamud Said Omar

"The recruitment of young people from Minneapolis and other U.S. communities to fight for extremists in Somalia has been the focus of intense investigation for many months," Assistant Attorney General David Kris said. "While the charges unsealed today underscore our progress to date, this investigation is ongoing."

Those who sign up to fight or recruit for al-Shabaab's terror network should be aware that they may well end up as defendants in the United States, or casualties of the Somali conflict."

Last week, the FBI hinted that the arrest of a St. Anthony man was a "significant step" in the investigation. Omer Abdi Mohamed, 24, was indicted Tuesday on charges that he helped send six of the young fighters to Somalia.

One of the eight named Monday is Mohamud Said Omar, who is currently being held in the Netherlands. According to documents released today, Omar allegedly provided money to young men to travel from Minneapolis to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab. Omar also allegedly visited an al-Shabaab safehouse, and provided hundreds of dollars to fund the purchase of AK-47 rifles for men from Minneapolis.

Another one of the court documents unsealed today alleges that Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, one of the men charged, and others met at a Minneapolis mosque in the fall of 2007, to telephone co-conspirators in Somalia to discuss the need for Minnesota fighters to travel to the war-torn country to fight the Ethiopian military.

The affidavit also alleges that later that fall, Faarax attended a meeting with co-conspirators at a Minneapolis residence, where he encouraged others to travel to Somalia to fight and told them how he had experienced true brotherhood while fighting a jihad in Somalia, according to a statement released Monday by the Department of Justice.

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones

Faarax was interviewed three times by authorities, and denied fighting or knowing anyone who had fought in Somalia, according to the statement.

In Monday's press conference, officials from the U.S. Attorney's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to name the mosque where the alleged phone conversation took place.

The unsealed documents also name Abdiweli Yassin Isse. A criminal complaint alleges that Isse met with co-conspirators to discuss his own plans to fight jihad against the Ethiopian military. The complaint also alleges that Isse raised money to buy airplane tickets for others to travel to Somalia to engage in combat.

The complaint says that Isse allegedly misled community members, telling them they were contributing money to send young men to Saudi Arabia to study the Koran.

The Department of Justice says that Isse and Faarax are believed to be outside of the United States.

The five other men charged include: Ahmed Ali Omar, Khalid Mohamud Abshir, Zakaria Maruf, Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan and Mustafa Ali Salat. Authorities say they believe that all five men are not currently in the United States.

Friends of some of the missing men have said in interviews they believe some of the fighters were motivated by a nationalistic response following the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia that began in 2006. But other local Somali community members say religious extremism was clearly at play, evidenced by a suicide bombing carried out last fall in Somalia by Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis.

Since the first wave of men left Minnesota for Somalia in 2007, at least six have died in the embattled East African country, according to interviews with family and friends. Five were of Somali descent, and one was a Muslim convert.

Ralph S. Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis division, said he believes the case has "reached, and indeed passed, a tipping point of sorts in this matter."

"Let me be clear that the conduct of Somali American individuals charged in this case in no way, in my estimation, reflects the values or the beliefs of the greater Somali American community, which is comprised of law-abiding, hard-working Americans who want nothing more than to pursue their American dream and provide for the safety and well being of their families," Boelter added.

Developments in the case have trickled out over the past few months. Three men who were part of the initial wave of fighters to travel to Somalia -- Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, Salah Osman Ahmed and Kamal Said Hassan -- returned to Minnesota and have pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.

A fourth man has pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury, and a fifth has pleaded not guilty to lying to federal agents.

The U.S. government believes Somalia could become a haven for global terrorism if the threat of radical Islam in the traditionally moderate Muslim country goes unchecked.

Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups are trying to oust Somalia's weak government. Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991, following the ouster of a socialist dictator.

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/11/23/somali-update/

URL of this Page: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/india-is-indispensable-to-the-us--obama/d/2138

 




TOTAL COMMENTS:-    


Compose Your Comments here:
Name
Email (Not to be published)
Comments
Fill the text
 
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of NewAgeIslam.com.

Content