Michiganders React to Turkey’s Kurdish Incursion

By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington—February 27—“Let it be over quickly”—that is the prayer of all concerned except perhaps the PKK themselves.

“This is the fourth day of this ground operation, and there have been some determined targets, and the operation is going as planned,” explained Mr. Fatih Yildiz of the Turkish Embassy in Washington. “Our sole target is the PKK terrorists—we are taking the utmost care so no civilians are hurt, we made it very sure from the very beginning.”

He explains the Turkish government’s perspective, that Turkey had made its will known very clearly but without results—“Had the Iraqi authorities taken the necessary measures against the PKK during the five years…[since the Iraq War began] there would be no need for these operations… We tried other ways, trilateral talks… Not only with the Americans, but bilaterally also.” Perhaps the Turkish government’s demands were beyond the willingness of the other parties to abide with—they demand, in Mr. Yildiz’s words, “the extradition of PKK leaders, whose names are on Interpol bulletins, the closure of PKK camps in the north of the country.”

In November of 2007, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan came to Washington, DC to meet with President Bush, and there was a general understanding that this was to lay the groundwork for a Turkish military response to PKK killings of many Turkish soldiers.

Turkey estimates that the PKK had about 3,000 fighters in northern Iraq at the beginning of the incursion. Turkish incursion forces, whose numbers are not published by the Turkish government, but are estimated at between 1,000 and 10,000 under air support, invaded the Kandil mountain range in northern Iraq, following five bombing campaigns. Since the incursion, the Turkish military has inflicted some losses on the PKK, which has in turn claimed to have killed Turkish soldiers as well.

The residents of Iraq, whether they be Arabs, Kurds, or Chaldeans, have grave concerns over the potential for disturbance of the peace that rested until now on the shoulders of the Kurds of northern Iraq. And this concern is reflected in the voices of those in Michigan who come from the affected areas.

The underlying grievances are long-standing, consisting of repression against Turkish Kurds and a long-standing military feud. “These people (the Kurds) asked for some freedom inside Turkey,” says Umid Gaff, an ethnic Kurd who now lives in Michigan. “They are not allowed to talk their own language,” and [the Turkish government] calls them ‘Mountain Turks’ rather than Kurds. You can’t speak your language, can’t do school by your language, can’t have a Kurdish [political] party.”

Mr. Yildiz, on the other hand, emphasizes that Kurds in Turkey do have rights, and are represented in the political process there, some of them reaching very high ranks in the government. “In fact Kurds can speak their language, first of all,” he says. And he explains that over the past half decade there have been a number of democratization programs aimed at gaining Turkish admission into the EU that have benefitted all Turks, including the Kurdish people of Turkey.

The view expressed by some Kurds is that an unwanted conflict between their wayward countrymen and the Turkish authorities is spinning out of control—and they fear the repercussions. Umid Gaff explains that “We are not responsible for what happens between [the Turks] and PKK. The PKK does not get approval. Inside Iraq they are without any power from us—we do not support them. The area they are in is mountains, not under Kurdish government control—between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, far from control.”

Mr. Gaff comes, as he explains, from the “Southeast of Kurdistan—Sulaymaniyya.” Sulaymaniyya is in a more developed region of Kurdistan than where the PKK is conducting its guerrilla war. Mr. Gaff’s perspective is perhaps more nuanced because of his experience of the Kandil Mountains—he explains that “Most of this area is mountains that don’t have any people—the problem to us,” he explains, is that the Turkish military is damaging the infrastructure by “attacking some villages and some bridges.”

“In 1993 we had a war with the PKK, supported by the Turkish government.” Despite looking in the Kandil mountains for the PKK, “we don’t do anything—lost a lot of peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

“Tomorrow the PKK goes to a different place—can’t find him.”

Another perspective is that of Iraqi bystanders, who seem universally startled and outraged by the Turkish attack. This is summed up in the words of Kamal Yaldo, who describes himself as an Iraqi activist. “When the Turkish military crossed the border, it was a violation of the mutual interests of both countries. Everyone is seeing what’s happening in Iraq now, now on top of this an intervention, an invasion from a foreign military—I mean how much Iraq can take? How much?”

Mr. Yaldo is a Chaldean, born in Baghdad but who has lived in the United States for long enough that only a moderate echo of his original accent lingers in his voice. He explains, “There are 150,000 to 180,000 Chaldeans in the metro Detroit area.” This small community is perhaps equal to the number of Chaldeans left in Iraq, as he explains that perhaps half of the original 800,000 Iraqi Chaldeans left Iraq as refugees in the wake of the war and the following instability—during which they and other non-Muslims are often targeted by extremists.

He explains that there is from Iraq also “a small Arabic community living mostly in Dearborn—they are mostly Shi’a, conservatively 15,000 to 20,000.”

Also hailing from Baghdad is Michigander Nabil Roumayah—he is the president of the Iraqi Democratic Union. He explains in impassioned terms that the conflict “will lead to further destabilization of the region and Iraq and the whole area. What’s happening, it should be resolved by political means—military solutions as we have seen do not produce results, only short-term results.”

Says Mr. Roumayah, “There is a genuine problem for Kurds in Turkey. They are discriminated against—this has to be solved politically. The problem of a Kurdish minority in four countries—has to be solved politically… Nobody is asking for a state, but they need an economy, like everyone else in the world.”

The ghost of reconciliation is the silver lining in this cloud of war. Says Mr. Gaff, “We don’t like to fix the problem by the gun. We don’t like the gun—don’t like to shoot, don’t like to kill anyone. We don’t have any problem with the PKK, but don’t support them in that.”

“We want good relations with the Turkey government, they help us after 1991,” explains Mr. Gaff, referring to Turkish government support for the Iraqi Kurds who suffered reprisal attacks from Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.

Gaff’s sincere appreciation of the support from Turkey for Iraqi Kurds is a reflection of Turkish feelings of support for the Kurds. “In the economic trade sense,” explains Mr. Yildiz, “Turkey is the primary counterpart of the recovery process in the north of the country. Most of the commodies transported there are from us. Turkish businessmen are quite active in the region in rebuilding that area. Any kind of instability in the region or in Iraq will not be in the interests of Turkey—it is fair to say that the presence of a terrorist organization in the north is a key element of instability.”

All of the voices of Iraq seem to resonate on one point, the desire for a quick end to the fighting. Fatih Yildiz, speaking for the Turkish Embassy in Washington, explained that “As soon as the planned objectives of the operation is achieved, our troops will be leaving northern Iraq.”

Mr. Gaff echoes in a few well-chosen words the underlying fear of all of the others—“That’s the point, we are scared, don’t want these people [the Turkish military] to stay a long time. We are scared they may pass these people [the PKK] and attack the villages.”

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Community News (V10-I10)

Funeral held for Muslim pilot killed in training exercise

TAMPA FL– A funeral was held last Friday for an Air Force pilot killed during a training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico.

The Tampa Bay Muslim community in cooperation with the American Legionheld the services for Air Force Pilot 1st Lt. Ali Jivanjee.

He was a young American Muslim and Tampa resident killed in a mid-air collision while conducting training exercises outside Eglin Air Force Base.

The service was held at Sunset Memory Gardens in Thonotosassa.

Harvard accomodates Muslim women students for gym use

CAMBRIDGE,MA– In an effort to accomodate Muslim female students Harvard University has begun instituting women only access times six hours a week at the Quadrangle Recerational Athletic Center. The move came after the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women’s Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women.

Harvard Islamic Society’s Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she told the Daily Free Press.

Aljawhary said that she does not believe that the women-only gym hours discriminate against men.

“These hours are necessary because there is a segment of the Harvard female population that is not found in gyms not because they don’t want to work out, but because for them working out in a co-ed gym is uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way,” she said.

Though the policy was in part initiated by the school’s Islamic group, Aljawhary said women-only hours are not a case of “minority rights trumping majority preference” and said women of different faiths have showed interest in the hours.

“We live together in one community, it only makes sense for everyone to compromise slightly in order for everyone to live happily,” she said. “This matter is simple: Can’t we just display basic decency and show tolerance and inclusion for people not a part of the mainstream majority?”

Teacher Samina Khan finalist for Golden Apple Awards

CHICAGO,IL– Grade school science teacher Samina Khan has been nominated to the Golden Apple Award. She is one of 31 finalists who were selected out of 850 teachers from Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Will counties. Khan teaches science (6-8 grades) at the Clark Magnet School.

The Golden Apple Awards, instituted in 1986, are given for excellence in teaching for teachers from grades 4 through 8.

Rochester Mosque Open House

ROCHESTER,MN– The Masjid Abu Bakar in Rochester, Minnesotta, holds an open house on the last Saturday of every month. Questions related to Islamic beliefs and Muslim culture are answered. No appointments are required. For information, call 529-1478 or e-mail Rochester.Mosque@gmail.com.

Imam Paul Hasan tackles violence in Lorain

LORAIN, OH–Imam Paul Hasan is waging a war against violence in Lorain, Ohio. He recently organized a vigil for a a slain grocer who was killed in a robbery. Imam Hasan, one of the organizers of the vigil sponsored by the Interfaith Against Violence, Task Force for Community Mobilization and Gentlemen of the Same Mind, prayed for the quick healing of the Gonzalez and Rodrigues families. Good people in Lorain outnumber evil people, he said.

Hasan read a red poster created by young children given to the Gonzalez family.

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Pew Poll on Religion in America

Pew Forum

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Releases Results from a Landmark Survey on Religion in the U.S.

Study shows most detailed estimates to date of the size and demographic characteristics of religious groups in the U.S. and finds that religious affiliation is both very diverse and extremely fluid

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Feb. 25, 2008—The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life today released the first report of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which finds that a remarkably high number of people have changed their religious affiliation since childhood. The report details the religious affiliation of the American public and explores the remarkable dynamism taking place in the U.S. religious marketplace.

“People will be surprised by the amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another – or to no religion at all,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. “They’ll also be surprised by the extent to which immigration is helping to reshape the U.S. religious landscape.”

Based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a nationally representative sample of over 35,000 adults, the survey provides estimates of the size of religious groups that are as small as three-tenths of 1 percent of the adult population. The report also describes changes in religious affiliation and analyzes the relationship between religious affiliation and various demographic factors, including age, ethnicity, nativity, educational and income levels, gender, family composition and regional distribution (including state breakdowns).

“We hope that the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey will contribute to a better understanding of the important role that religion plays in the personal and public lives of most Americans,” Lugo added.

The first report of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that:

o More than a quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, roughly 44% of American adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

o The number of adults who say they are not affiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with a particular religion as children. Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with a particular religion. At the same time, the majority of people who were not affiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group.

o The U.S. is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country. The number of Americans who are affiliated with Protestant denominations now stands at barely over 51%; as recently as the mid-1980s, in contrast, surveys found that approximately two-thirds of the population was Protestant.

o The Catholic share of the U.S. adult population has held fairly steady in recent decades. What this apparent stability obscures, however, is the large number of people who have left the Catholic Church. Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic; this means roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. These losses, however, have been offset partly by the number of people joining the Catholic Church but mostly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S. The result is that the total percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic (roughly one-in-four) has remained fairly stable.

o Latinos currently account for nearly one-in-three adult Catholics in the U.S. and may account for an even larger share of U.S. Catholics in the future. Although Latinos represent just one-in-eight U.S. Catholics age 70 and older (12%), they account for nearly half of all Catholics ages 18-29 (45%). Immigrants also are disproportionately represented among several world religions in the U.S., including Islam and Hinduism.

o The Midwest most closely resembles the religious makeup of the overall adult population of the U.S. The South, by a wide margin, has the heaviest concentration of members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Northeast has the greatest concentration of Catholics, and the West has the largest proportion of unaffiliated people, including the largest proportion of atheists and agnostics.

o Among people who are married, nearly four-in-ten (37%) are married to a spouse with a different religious affiliation. This figure includes Protestants who are married to another Protestant from a different denominational family, such as a Baptist who is married to a Methodist.

o Hindus and Mormons are the most likely to be married (78% and 71%, respectively) and to be married to someone of the same religion (90% and 83%, respectively). Mormons and Muslims are the groups with the largest families; more than one-in-five Mormon and 15% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have three or more children living at home.

o Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are also much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

o In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the United States is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, and three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.

In conjunction with the release of this report, the Pew Forum is introducing new features on its website at religions.pewforum.org. The online presentation of the findings includes interactive mapping, dynamic charts and a variety of other tools that are designed to help users delve deeper into the material.

Subsequent releases will include analyses of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey’s findings on Americans’ religious beliefs and practices as well as their social and political views.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life delivers timely, impartial information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. The Forum is a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization and does not take positions on policy debates. Based in Washington, D.C., the Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Returned From Historic 2008 Pakistani Parliamentary Elections

“The Pakistani People Have Spoken: Political Parties Begin To Participate In Newly Formed Government”: These were the words of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Co- Chair of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, as she returned to Houston, Texas on February 20th to give a detailed report of her trip to the region as an official observer of Pakistan’s historic February 18th parliamentary elections. Congresswoman Jackson Lee lead a Congressional Delegation to the region from February 17th to February 20th, where she met with President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, election commission advisors and key officials in opposition parties including the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari. Congresswoman Jackson Lee gave a first hand account of the Pakistani elections, and provided an analysis as to how the outcome of these elections will directly affect the United States and the citizens of Houston.

“These historic elections will forever be marked as the day that the citizens of Pakistan united to participate in the process of democracy, giving a profound tribute to one of the world greatest fighters for freedom and justice, the late Benazir Bhutto. My hope is that this newly elected government, decided by the people of Pakistan, will redefine the struggle against terrorism, unify a non-transparent government and become a key resource and asset to the rest of the world. We must understand that the future of Pakistan’s elections directly affect the security of the United States as well as the rest of the global community,”: Stated Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Aid to be given not through Government but via NGOs

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee mentioned about the report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (www.CSIS.Org) titled: “A Perilous Course: U.S. Strategy and Assistance to Pakistan” By Project Directors Frederick Barton and Karin von Hippel and Author Craig Cohen. According to this report, for U.S. assistance to be effective in a state such as Pakistan, aid must go in areas like education, health care, economic development (job creation), etc., which are the main causes of conflict, instability, and extremism. Despite more than $10 billion in assistance since 9/11, distrust, dissatisfaction, and unrealistic expectations continue to undermine the U.S. goal of developing a strong, strategic, and enduring partnership with Pakistan. Congresswoman said that in light of this report, most of the future aid to Pakistan should not be given directly to the Government of Pakistan, but should be channeled through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

Paying Respect to Benazir Bhutto

Earlier upon her arrival in Pakistan, Congresswoman Jackson Lee paid her respects to the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She later met with Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto as well as other members to the Pakistan’s People’s Party.

“While many cast their ballots with a heavy heart and the remnants of the Dec. 27th assassination of this great leader (former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto), the Pakistani people have decided to press forward in hopes of a more stable future for their country,”: Said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “The Pakistani people have spoken and now this election will either decide for the continuation of the Musharraf government or a consensus government.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also met with President Pervez Musharraf, where he assured her and the rest of the world that he plans to work with all newly elected members of Parliament once the election results are in and he will resort to reconciliation rather than confrontation with the new Government, which ever is elected.

Later on Congresswoman Jackson Lee met with Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner Retired Justice Qazi Mohammad Farooq. He assured the Congresswoman that he was working to ensure that the elections were fair, transparent, democratic and secure. As an official observer of the elections, Congresswoman Jackson Lee was given election credentials and observed the voting process. The Congresswoman was also shown the election count system, making sure that no fraud was taken place.

“While this is a good day for Pakistan, we must not forget the many civilians and leaders who risked and lost their lives just to see this day come to fruition. Let us not let their deaths go in vain but valiantly step up to the challenge as a global community to aid Pakistan in reporting the final and most accurate count of the elections, helping Pakistan to begin to establish a new government that will hopefully start to bring peace to this great nation”: Concluded Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Port Qasim to be used for Pakistan-USA Trade

During her visit to Pakistan, Congresswoman Jackson Lee also had a chance to visit the International Container Security Project at Port Qasim in Karachi. On return at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston, Congresswoman Lee said: “Port Qasim represents a vibrant and prosperous facet the great nation of Pakistan has to offer to the world. It is a shining beacon of light and a focal point fro trade and commerce in the region. As Chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Sub-Committee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, I view the establishment of the International Container Security Project at Port Qasim as an initiative that makes shipping goods in and out of the country safer and more efficient. This initiative is a U.S. and Pakistan collaboration that is working to strengthen homeland security around the world, where good coming into USA from any port of the world will have to be first checked 100% for security at the origin point and that is why each port vying to export goods to USA needs to get equipped by 2009 just like Port Qasim of Pakistan.”

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McCain, 71, Faces Age Questions in White House Bid

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – At 71, leading Republican presidential contender John McCain must convince voters that despite his age he is up to the rigors of what is often called the world’s toughest job.

“I’m not the youngest candidate but I am the most experienced,” says the white-haired senator from Arizona, first elected to Congress in 1982 after a 22-year career in the Navy.

The pressures of the presidency weigh heavily on those who have occupied the Oval Office. George W. Bush was boyish-looking when he took power in January 2001 at the age of 54. He now has gray hair and crinkles around his eyes.

If he prevails, McCain, who turns 72 in August, next January would be the oldest person ever sworn in as a first-term U.S. president. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he took office in 1981.

McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years who later survived skin cancer, maintains a rigorous campaign schedule, often holding three or more events in a day, exhausting younger aides.

He often campaigns with his mother and quickly points out that for anyone worried about his age, they need look no further than the feisty 96-year-old Roberta McCain.

While McCain is older than his Democratic opponents Sen. Barack Obama, 46, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, 60, he looks in fairly good shape and has a quick wit.

A 72-year-old white man in the United States can expect to live, on average, for another 12.5 years, according to figures extrapolated from a recent federal report on U.S. health statistics.

About half those men will likely die sooner, about half later. If McCain wins two terms as president, he could spend up to eight years in the White House, leaving at age 80, which would make him the oldest U.S. president ever.

Less than 1 percent of those questioned in a New York Times/CBS Poll at the start of the campaign said people in their 70s were best suited to be president; 52 percent picked those in their 50s.

Tough to judge by age

Experts say people of McCain’s age are subject to possible increased memory loss, lower energy and a greater vulnerability to aches, pains and a host of illnesses.

Yet as David Ekerdt, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas, puts it: “It’s tough to use age to judge functional health. Some people in later life can be very capable and others have great limitations.”

McCain’s age is one reason his selection of a vice presidential running mate will be highly scrutinized. If McCain were to die in office, his vice president would take over.

“People are confident he’s in good health, but age is a factor,” said a Republican Party leadership aide. “Whoever he picks as his running mate, the lead of the story is going to be that this guy could become president.”

Americans have been living and working longer in recent years — thanks largely to improved health care. This has triggered such claims as “60 is the new 50.”

Still, employers shy away from older workers, fearing they will cost them plenty of sick days and often lack high-tech skills. Yet these workers can also provide experience, maturity and, like McCain, confidence touched with humor.

McCain acknowledges he must keep up.

“I’ve got to show the energy and the vitality and strength that is necessary to convince people that I’m ready to go, that I’m ready to serve,” he has said.

A big test could come at the presidential debates in the general elections, particularly if McCain gets matched up against Obama, who turns 47 in August.

Obama, who would be the first black president and one of the youngest presidents, likes to subtly remind people how long McCain has been around, saying, “I respect John McCain for his half-century of service to this country.”

By the same token, McCain has vowed to repeat Reagan’s admonishment of younger Walter Mondale in 1984, when he said he would not hold Mondale’s youth and inexperience against him.

If voters embrace McCain as their next president, he would begin the new job in a period in life when most Americans are deep into retirement or at least semi-retired.

But 72 is not considered particularly old in Washington, at least not by those who hold power and want to keep it.

Thirty-five of the 100 U.S. senators are in their 60s, 20 are in their 70s, five are in their 80s, and one, Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, is 90.

Across the street from the Capitol, six of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court range in age from 68 to 87.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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Democrats Focus on War Costs to Defeat McCain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic grass roots organizations on Monday launched a $20 million campaign to defeat Republican John McCain in the 2008 U.S. presidential election by focusing their attention on rising costs of the Iraq war.

The campaign, supported by former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, aims to link war spending with the ailing U.S. economy.

“There’s a great concern and anxiety, angst out there among most Americans about their economic security,” Edwards said in a teleconference from North Carolina. “All these things are made much worse by concern about what’s happening in Iraq … People don’t understand why we’re spending $500 billion and counting in Iraq.”

Edwards added, “The American people are going to have a very clear choice this fall — a Democrat who will bring this thing to an end … and Senator John McCain who will continue the war.”

Jon Soltz, co-founder of anti-war veterans group VoteVets.org, said although the group appreciates the former Vietnam prisoner of war’s service, it would work hard to make sure McCain was not elected in the November election.

“When it comes to his policies on Iraq, he is no different than (President) George Bush,” Soltz said. “From now until the election, we are going to continue to hold him accountable.”

The groups plan to spend at least $20 million on advertisements and grass-roots efforts to work to defeat McCain and some key lawmakers who support the war and are up for reelection.

Groups taking part in the new campaign are the Center for American Progress, USAction, MoveOn.org, VoteVets.org, Service Employees International Union and Americans United for Change.

(Reporting by Deborah Charles, editing by Vicki Allen)

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Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA)

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

Group headed by Imam Siraj Wahaj kicks off SHARE Center concept in Detroit, Michigan

Imam Siraj Wahaj, imam of Masjid At Taqwa in Brooklyn New York, and amir of Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) recently sent Imam F.Qasim ibn Ali Khan to Detroit to lay the groundwork for a premier event on March 15, 2008 starting at 3:30 in the afternoon at the Muslim Center in Detroit. In addition to Imam Qasim speakers will be Imam Siraj Wahaj, Dr. Sherman Abdul Hakim Jackson, and Imam Dr. Ihsan Bagby.

Imam Qasim is Director of Events and Fundraising for MANA. Accompanied by his wife, Imam Qasim visited a great number of masajid and other Islamic organizations to pre-fundraise and market the upcoming event.

MANA is a coalition of Islamic leaders, scholars, and activists organized to fill a void left by major Islamic organizations in this country. It was noted that most Islamic organizations operated like the Red Cross, addressing major disasters like earthquakes and floods, while not responding to the needs of indigenous Muslims. There are special problems dominating our cities and towns in America. Poverty and illiteracy are major concerns even in this day and time in the richest country in the world and MANA plans to address these issues head-on.

MANA will also have an aggressive preventive agenda as well. Imam Qasim lists family counseling, marriage counseling, and the issue of single motherhood and formerly incarcerated people at the top the list. Also recognizing that youth are the future, Imam Siraj Wahaj has made leadership training for young imams a top priority.

Although MANA was formed by African-American Muslims and is geared toward them and their agenda, the organization is populated by and open to all Muslims of any ethnic or cultural group. “Imam Siraj is, and has been, a Muslim of universal mind who has done loads to enhance the entire community – and doesn’t plan to stop now,” says Imam Qasim.

Tickets for this event are only $15.00 per person to see Dr. Jackson and imam Siraj, two of this country’s most productive and exciting scholars on the same program. Tickets may be purchased and reserved by calling the Muslim Center, 313.883.3330.

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Saudi Scholars Back Women Drivers

Courtesy Roger Hardy, BBC Middle East analyst

Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic code still prevents women from driving.

Two Saudi scholars have said there is nothing in Islamic law to prevent women from driving.

The senior religious figures said the issue depended on the context.

They say women would need to be protected from harassment and that steps would have to be taken to ensure there was no mingling of the sexes.

An opinion poll published by a leading English-language Saudi newspaper suggests that this is a view supported by most Saudi men and women.

The two scholars are Abdel-Mohsin al-Obaikan – one of Saudi Arabia’s senior religious figures – and another well-known cleric, Mohsin Awaji.

Both say that, in principle, Islamic law does not prevent women driving.

Everything depends, they say, on the context.

There are road safety issues. Steps need to be taken to prevent harassment of women drivers.

‘Great fear’

And – the great fear of religious conservatives – having women at the wheel must not lead to mingling of the sexes.

Arab News – the newspaper that has publicised the views of the two scholars – follows up the story with an opinion poll.

This too suggests Saudi men and women see the issue in a practical light – the clear implication being that, if women are to drive, the government should do more to prepare the ground.

Conservatives continue to resist change and dispute the notion that public opinion is against them.

For the moment, the signs are that the authorities are content to watch the debate unfold – without taking sides.

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For Muslim Students, a Debate on Inclusion

By Neil MacFarquhar

SAN JOSE — Amir Mertaban vividly recalls sitting at his university’s recruitment table for the Muslim Students Association a few years ago when an attractive undergraduate flounced up in a decidedly un-Islamic miniskirt, saying “Salamu aleykum,” or “Peace be upon you,” a standard Arabic greeting, and asked to sign up.

Mr. Mertaban also recalls that his fellow recruiter surveyed the young woman with disdain, arguing later that she should not be admitted because her skirt clearly signaled that she would corrupt the Islamic values of the other members.

“I knew that brother, I knew him very well; he used to smoke weed on a regular basis,” said Mr. Mertaban, now 25, who was president of the Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2003 to 2005.

Pointing out the hypocrisy, Mr. Mertaban won the argument that the group could no longer reject potential members based on rigid standards of Islamic practice.

The intense debate over whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is playing out on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association chapters.

Gender issues, specifically the extent to which men and women should mingle, are the most fraught topic as Muslim students wrestle with the yawning gap between American college traditions and those of Islam.

“There is this constant tension between becoming a mainstream student organization versus appealing to students who have a more conservative or stricter interpretation of Islam,” said Hadia Mubarak, the first woman to serve as president of the national association, from 2004 to 2005.

Each chapter enjoys relative autonomy in setting its rules. Broadly, those at private colleges tend to be more liberal because they draw from a more geographically dispersed population, and the smaller numbers prompt Muslim students to play down their differences.

Chapters at state colleges, on the other hand, often pull from the community, attracting students from conservative families who do not want their children too far afield.

At Yale, for example, Sunnis and Shiites mix easily and male and female students shocked parents in the audience by kissing during the annual awards ceremony. Contrast that with the University of California, Irvine, which has the reputation for being the most conservative chapter in the country, its president saying that to an outsider its ranks of bearded young men and veiled women might come across as “way Muslim” or even extremist.

But arguments erupt virtually everywhere. At the University of California, Davis, last year, in their effort to make the Muslim association more “cool,” board members organized a large alcohol-free barbecue. Men and women ate separately, but mingled in a mock jail for a charity drive.

The next day the chapter president, Khalida Fazel, said she fielded complaints that unmarried men and women were physically bumping into one other. Ms. Fazel now calls the event a mistake.

At George Washington University, a dodge ball game pitting men against women after Friday prayers drew such protests from Muslim alumni and a few members that the board felt compelled to seek a religious ruling stating that Islamic traditions accept such an event.

Members acknowledge that the tone of the Muslim associations often drives away students. Several presidents said that if they thought members were being too lax, guest imams would deliver prayer sermons about the evils of alcohol or premarital sex.

Judgment can also come swiftly. Ghayth Adhami, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, recalled how a young student who showed up at a university recruitment meeting in a Budweiser T-shirt faced a few comments about un-Islamic dress. The student never came back.

Some members push against the rigidity. Fatima Hassan, 22, a senior at the Davis campus, organized a coed road trip to Reno, Nev., two hours away, to play the slot machines last Halloween. In Islam, Ms. Hassan concedes, gambling is “really bad,” but it was men and women sharing the same car that shocked some fellow association members.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. Hassan said. “I am chill about that whole coed thing. I understand that in a Muslim context we are not supposed to hang out with the opposite sex, but it just happens and there is nothing you can do.”

But as Saif Inam, the vice president of the chapter at George Washington put it, “At the end of the day, I don’t want God asking me, ‘O.K. Saif, why did you organize events in which people could do un-Islamic things in big numbers?’ ”

The debate boils down to whether upholding gender segregation is forcing something artificial and vaguely hypocritical in an American context.

“As American Islam gets its own identity, it is going to have to shed some of these notions that are distant from American culture,” said Rafia Zakaria, a student at Indiana University. “The tension is between what forms of tradition are essential and what forms are open to innovation.”

American law says men and women are equal, whereas Muslim religious texts say they “complement” each other, Ms. Zakaria said. “If the law says they are equal, it’s hard to see how in their spiritual lives they will accept a whole different identity.”

The entire shift of the association from a foreign-run organization to an American one took place over arguments like this.

The Americans won out partly because the number of Muslim American college students hit a critical mass in the late 1990s, and then, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, foreign students, fearful of their visas being revoked, started avoiding a group that was increasingly political.

Some critics view strict interpretation of the faith as part of the association’s DNA. Organized in the 1960s by foreign students who wanted collective prayers where there were no mosques, the associations were basically little slices of Saudi Arabia. Women were banned. Only Muslim men who prayed, fasted and avoided alcohol and dating were welcomed. Meetings, even idle conversations, were in Arabic.

Donations from Saudi Arabia largely financed the group, and its leaders pushed the kingdom’s puritan, Wahhabi strain of Islam. Prof. Hamid Algar of the University of California, Berkeley, said that in the 1960s and 1970s, chapters advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations and would brook no criticism of Saudi Arabia.

That past has given the associations a reputation in some official quarters as a possible font of extremism, but experts in American Islam believe college campuses have become too diverse and are under too much scrutiny for the groups to foster radicals.

Zareena Grewal, a professor of religion and American studies at Yale, pointed to several things that would repel extremists. Members are trying to become more involved in the American political system, Professor Grewal said, and the heavy presence of women in the leadership would also deter them. Members “are not sitting around reading ‘How to Bomb Your Campus for Dummies,’ ” she said.

Its leaders think the organization is gradually relaxing a bit as it seeks to maintain its status as the main player for Muslim students.

“There were drunkards in the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) community; there were fornicators and people who committed adultery in his community, and he didn’t reject them,” Mr. Mertaban said. “I think M.S.A.’s are beginning to understand this point that every person has ups and downs.”

10-10

Crescent Academy International Fundraising Event: New Leadership

By Masood Rab, MMNS

Gone are the old, I may add wrinkled, faces of yesteryears that were the center of fund raising events at the Crescent Academy International.

One of the pioneering Islamic schools in Canton, Michigan, albeit America, Crescent Academy International moved its operations to a newly constructed building next door to the old facility for 2007-2008 academic year. The new school building consists of almost 60,000 sq ft. space over three floors. The school offers instructions from Pre-K through 8th grade and started a new day care program from this year. The school operations are divided in three sections, i.e., daycare, elementary and middle school.

The first fundraising event for 2008 was conducted in a packed gymnasium decorated with winter theme. Sr. Sommieh Flowers greeted the parents, grand parents and ex-students of the school and conducted evening’s program consisting of anasheeds (religious songs) and skits from the school children. The choreography and the sound management were supervised by the internationally renowned anasheed artist, Br. Abu Ratib. He teaches and also coordinates Quran/Arabic program at the school.

The first fund raising event of year 2008 was conducted on Saturday February 23, 2008 by the new breed of school parents – the new young members of the Board of Directors of the school. The Board of Directors is an interesting mix of second generation Muslims, professional immigrants from various Muslim lands, led by a young indigenous revert to Islam. Brandon Metzger and Iltefat Hamzavi, president and treasurer of the Board, respectively, gave a power point presentation about Crescent Academy’s achievements in this academic year. Were they amazing! Minimum 94% to a maximum of 100% placement in MEAP results, wow! Tarbiah project – integrating Islamic values into the core curriculum, and so on. Then, an appeal was made to the parents, grandparents and the attendees of the event to sign up for a regular automatic monthly deduction for paying back the loans the school incurred towards new building construction costs.

When the evening program ended with resounding takbeerat, it was very evident that the transfer of the leadership of this Islamic school to the next generation is well on its way. This is a credit to the vision of old guard under the leadership of Abdul Hafeez, Mahmood Hai and relentless efforts of the school’s director Dawud Tauhidi, the mind behind the Tarbiah project.

10-10

The Pakistani Elections

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Although there were irregularities, overall the elections were fair. The proof of this is that the “King’s” Party (Musharraf’s) did not win the Parliamentary elections for good or ill.

Because of the threat of violence, the turn out was quite low – c. 20-40%(?) — for the excitement generated due to the threat of violence. The results, although they did proclaim a desire for change, was, also, askew. Many in the rural areas followed the wishes of their (feudal) landlords. South Asian feudalism has to be broken for true democracy to prevail in Pakistan.

The Musharraf Government was working toward a democracy but with a Constitutional place for the military much in the image of the Turkish form. The two opposition Parties — PPP (the Pakistan People’s Party) and the Pakistan’s Muslim League – although with grave differences, have decided to unite in a Coalition. The question is can they resolve their differences enough to rule?

The past history of the two historical democratic (victorious) parties in these Parliamentary contests record of governance has been horrible! During their four previous Governments (two each), Islamabad had been considered the second most corrupt public administration in the world. The General cleaned this up through his Accountability Courts. Thus, the Coalition has to reform itself from within to successfully rule, and with such leading but notorious figures as Sharif and Zadiri, there may be difficulty in creating sincere reform – besides the two personalities never got along in the past.

Also, it will be hard for Zidari and Sharif to work with President Musharraf, for Benezir’s husband was imprisoned for eleven years, and Sharif attempted to murder Musharraf along with a civilian plane full of passengers and potential victims on the ground. The two Coalition partners would both like to reinstate the judiciary to declare the President’s election null and void; and, consequently, impeach him. Yet it is doubtful that Pervez Musharraf will step down. These elections have weakened the Pak Executive and exalted the legislature! Succinctly, the Coalition Government will be unstable, though. Concisely, this poll was a referendum against the influence of the Army!

Yet, there is hope. A Pakistani Professor from the University of Texas stated, “The political parties will have to show a tremendous amount of maturity” which they have not shown in the past.

Strangely, the Islamic Parties, which had asserted themselves in the last Parliament, have been essentially eliminated from the current ruling Assemblage when Western Democracy was imposed upon Pakistan again.

Under the strong State, foreign investment was encouraged. With a perceived lack of security, Pakistan is not only at a political but also at an economic crossroads. Previously, they have especially benefited from Chinese investment and the American influx of military aid.

Inflation has begun to take hold, however. “There has been prosperity in Pakistan but only for certain people.” Neo-liberalization and privatization has taken hold during the Musharraf years, which has produced a “Free Market economy without a safety net.” The economic squeeze can only increase the dangerous disparities between classes until a strong Civil Society can take hold, but above all, the greatest problem is law and order, and the people are apprehensive. Education and welfare is what is on their mind, but without a secure environment the finances will still be diverted to defense!

“Pakistan is strongly linked to America,” and this election is catastrophic for U.S. interests. One of the central reasons that the President’s party’s lost was the populace’s alienation against Pakistan’s alliance with the District of Columbia’s in our War Against Terrorism, for the people feel it is the U.S.’ and not Pakistan’s battle. “The relationship between the United States and Pakistan” could shift drastically. This is something only time will tell.

10-10

Grass

Grass is a common word that generally describes a monocotyledonous green plant in the family Gramineae (Poaceae). True grasses include most plants grown as grains, for pasture, and for lawns (turf). They include some more specialised crops such as lemongrass, as well as many ornamental plants. They also include plants often not recognized to be grasses, such as bamboos or some species of weeds called crab grass.The term grass is often used to describe related plants in the rush (Juncaceae) and sedge (Cyperaceae) families, that somewhat resemble grass. It may also be used to describe completely unrelated plants, sometimes of similar appearances to grass, with leaves rising vertically from the ground, and sometimes of dissimilar appearance. The term came about in the early 15th century, from the Old English græs, derived from the same root as “grow”. A single piece of grass is called a blade of grass.

Grass-like plants are among the most versatile life forms. Plants having grass-like structures have existed for millions of years, providing fodder for Cretaceous dinosaurs, whose fossilized dung (coprolite) contains phytoliths of a variety of grasses that include the ancestors of rice and bamboo.[1] Grasses have adapted to conditions in lush rain forests, dry deserts, and cold mountain steppes, and are now the most widespread plant type.

Plants of this type were always important to humans. They were cultivated as food for domesticated animals for up to 10,000 years. (See grass fed beef.) They have been used for paper-making since at least 2400 BC. Now they provide the majority of food crops, and have many other uses, such as feeding animals, and for lawns. There are many minor uses, and grasses are familiar to most human cultures.

In some places, particularly in suburban areas in the United States, the maintenance of a grass lawn is a sign of a homeowner’s responsibility to the overall appearance of their neighborhood. Many municipalities and homeowner’s associations have rules about this. Some require lawns to be maintained to certain specifications, sanctioning those who allow the grass to grow too long. In communities with drought problems, watering of lawns may be restricted to certain times of day or days of the week.

10-10

Press Release from IRS re: Stimulus Payments

IRS Debunks Several Common Myths about 2008 Stimulus Payments

February 25, 2008

TMO Editor’s note: The stimulus payment will be paid to resident green card holders.

DETROIT — The Internal Revenue Service today moved to set the record straight on several issues surrounding administration of the 2008 Stimulus Payments. Approximately 130 million taxpayers will receive checks of at least $300 beginning in May 2008.

“The latest and most complete information is at IRS.gov,” said IRS Spokesperson Luis D. Garcia. “We are concerned that many important details are not being communicated clearly enough so we’d like all taxpayers to know the facts.”

MYTH – The Stimulus Payment will reduce a taxpayer’s 2008 refund.
FACT – The payment will NOT reduce refunds or increase the amount owed when a 2008 return is filed.

MYTH – The Stimulus Payment is taxable.
FACT – It is NOT taxable, but taxpayers are encouraged to keep a copy of the IRS notice they will receive later this year listing the amount of payment. In the event a taxpayer does not qualify to receive the full amount this year but does next year, the notice will be a record of the previous amount received.

MYTH – Taxpayers needn’t do anything in order to receive a Stimulus Payment.
FACT – Taxpayers must file a 2007 tax return in order to be eligible for a payment. After filing a 2007 return, however, the taxpayer is set and the IRS will do the rest.

MYTH – Everybody is eligible for a check.
FACT – At the minimum, a taxpayer must have at least $3,000 of “qualifying income” to receive either $300 (Single) or $600 (Married Filing Joint). Qualifying income includes Social Security benefits, certain Railroad Retirement benefits, certain veterans’ benefits and earned income, such as income from wages, salaries, tips and self-employment. For taxpayers filing joint tax returns, only a total of $3,000 of qualifying income from both spouses is required to be eligible. Also, for those who don’t normally file, a tax return (form 1040A) will be needed this year to get a check.

MYTH – Only paper checks will be issued.
FACT – Direct Deposit is the best way to receive the payment. Eligible taxpayers who choose direct deposit for their 2007 tax year refund will receive their Stimulus Payment the same way.

MYTH – The IRS will contact taxpayers either by phone or e-mail about their payments.
FACT – Watch for scams! IRS will not contact taxpayers by phone or e-mail about Stimulus Payments or refunds.

The IRS reminds those who don’t have any other requirement to file a tax return that submitting a tax return to qualify for the economic stimulus payments does not create any additional tax or trigger a tax bill. In addition, the stimulus payments will not have any effect on eligibility for federal benefits. Complete details are available at www.irs.gov.

Luis D. Garcia
IRS Media Relations

Direct 313.628.3900
There’s only one IRS online. www.irs.gov

Abdel Wahab song, on Oud

A lovely song of Mohammad Abdel Wahhab, Ya Msafir Wahdak (i.e., Travelling Alone..). I just love the melody and the harmonized transition between scales in that great song !

By the way, I’m playing this in a way very similar to that played by an oud guru Raed Koshab, a really great oud player and a fine musician.

Kosova is Free!

Kosovo Albanians wave Albanian and U.S. flags as they celebrate after the United States and a majority of European Union countries recognized the Republic of Kosovo a day after declaration of independence in Pristina February 18, 2008.    REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov  (KOSOVO)

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

I have been expecting to write this article for quite some time, but the news only came over the wires this morning — Sunday February 17th.

This has been a long-expected move by the (now) independent, tiny 90% Muslim nation of two million souls. Kosova, strangely enough, is also considered the historical birthplace of the Serb nation–to whom that enclave of Albanian Muslims belonged until last Saturday. Although Kosova is only 10% Serbian and 90% Albanian, yet it is such a sensitive issue with Belgrade, as shown by the spontaneous rioting by Serbs in surrounding regions and even inside Kosova.

15% of an already small nation’s territory has been sliced away–cutting deep into the heartland of the Southern (Former) Yugoslavian nation: A terrain considered the historical heart of Serbia, the central moral justification for Serbia’s atrocities and oppression, has been ripped away.

When the Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announced the decision of his legislature to finally proclaim their sovereignty, he declared that his nation would henceforth be known as Kosova — the name of the territory in Albanian and not the Serbian name of Kosovo.

Thaci declared that Kosova was “…an independent and democratic” State “From this day onwards…Proud [to be]…free.”

Further, he asserted a commitment to “multi-ethnicity.” The Parliamentary Speaker of their legislature further pronounced that the governmental form would be “an independent, democratic republic.”

Serbia, of course and her big sister Russia, fearing this would acerbate their own fissures, oppose a free Kosova. As do the Chinese. However, immediately after its independence Kosova was recognized by the United States as well as several other prominent Western powers, notably not including Spain–which in its own self-interest in relation to its own ethnic enclaves (chief among them the Basque Separatists) scare the Spanish. However, the overwhelming majority of European, North American and Muslim nations support Pristina’s action. Belgrade has pledged to use all diplomatic methods to oppose this move.

Monday, Britain, Italy France and the United States formally recognized the diminutive republic as well as their long time supporters the Turks and their neighboring Albania–in fact by ethnicity the Kosovars are related to the Albanians, although their nation is claimed by the Serbs.

There had been a fear of a Serbian attack before. NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) has a modest garrison to protect the U.N. administered district that would be overrun by a massive Serbian assault, but Belgrade’s desire to join the European Union will probably discourage a violent reaction against Kosova along with an unstated extensive retaliatory attack from NATO, for it was in this minuscule part of Yugoslavia that the genocides by the Serbs began — encouraging a mass NATO response – during the 1990s, and the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Besides the slaughters, hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes. Both the U.S. and the EU are committed to maintaining Balkan stability. Brussels decided in a meeting on the 18th that all Balkan countries will be part of their august Community in time. Because of the especial problems with Kosova, it will probably take more time there than in the rest of Southeastern Europe.

The Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunca was quoted as saying, however, “Citizens of Serbia, we have to come together [to] show that we do not acknowledge…a…state on our territory…As long as there are Serbian people, Kosovo is Serbian!”

The American President said from Ghana that he favors a limited Statehood under International Supervision, and “it’s in Serbia’s interest to be aligned with Europe…” Succinctly, though, Bush holds the opinion that Kosovo’s “status must be resolved before the Balkans [question] can become stable.”

Kosova’s liberty was stated as an “inevitable, forceful and unilateral declaration.”

The U.N. administration is to be replaced by the EU, and the NATO troops will have to remain there to guarantee the safety of the minority Serbs. So, their freedom is more of an autonomy to the International Community.

Belgrade and Moscow’s official complaint is that Kosova’s self-determination is, they say, not legitimate–violating International law–because it did not come through the U.N. brokered talks that they (the Russians and Serbs) obfuscated.

Therefore, Russia has demanded that the Security Council declare Kosova’s independence null and void. This has already been rejected by a majority of the permanent members before the Council has even met, but a veto from Saint Petersburg can hold Pristina’s international recognition up along with all the advantages of that. Although the majority of the permanent members of the Security Council support Self-rule, the Security Council is deeply divided because of the will of Russia and Beijing.

If any of you have been following my articles on Kosova and the South Balkans, you are aware of the challenges ahead for this the newest of nations and the revival of Islam in Europe. Kosova has been depending on vast amounts of aid from the West. To build a stable Kosova that aid and technical aid will need to continue its inflow from the West and its Muslim partners.

10-9

Body Parts For Sale

Courtesy Stephen Scharper, TheStar.com

Many faiths find the selling of body parts troublesome

In Bangladesh, an indigent Muslim man asks for forgiveness from Allah for selling his kidney. For him, he is profiting from a very special gift from the divine, his own body, and thus the sale involves a religious transgression demanding atonement.

Another kidney seller from Bangladesh, a Hindu, poses as a Muslim in order to sell his kidney to a Muslim buyer. In addition to acquiring a forged passport and identification papers, he undergoes a painful circumcision so as not to alert the surgeon that he is indeed a Hindu. For Muslims, unlike Hindus, circumcision is commonplace.

While certain legal and ethical issues of the international organ trade have recently received prominent media attention, particularly with the arrest of Brampton resident Dr. Amit Kumar, accused of masterminding a global marketing of human organs, the religious and cultural issues involved in these “adventures beneath the skin trade” have been less in the public eye.

One reason these issues have surfaced at all is owing to the intrepid fieldwork of Monir Moniruzzaman, a resourceful anthropology student at the University of Toronto. Moniruzzaman has been able to locate and interview more than 30 organ sellers in his native Bangladesh – no small feat given that such commerce slices jaggedly across both legal and religious precepts.

While the ethical concerns engendered by these transactions touch on foundational issues concerning the body, society, and issues of North-South disparity, many underlying questions are often religious and cosmological in nature.

To get a better sense of the more spiritual and cultural implications of the organ trade, I spoke with a variety of Canadian scholars of religion who helped place this emergence in a religious context.

While many religious communities have stories and practices involving altruistic giving of one’s self or parts of one’s body to assist others, not all traditions would support organ donation, not to mention organ selling.

According to Victor Hori, a scholar of Asian religions at McGill University, Confucianism, owing to the tradition of “filial piety,” requires that you take care of what your parents and ancestors have bequeathed you, “including your body,” which is to be kept intact and unblemished. This is why, Hori observes, there is, traditionally speaking, Confucian resistance to tattooing as well.

In Hinduism, according to U of T professor Arti Dhand, while there are stories of sacrificing body parts to help others, the sale and commodification of body parts, which involve “crude material motives,” would be “highly frowned upon.”

For Hindus, Dhand states, “the body is to be maintained in a healthy state; this is why yoga is practised. The body is your vessel, your vehicle, to a higher realization.”

From a Christian vantage, according to Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College, when organ donation is performed without coercion, “it is a noble thing and manifests love of neighbour. There is a Christian principle there.”

For McQueen, the notion of organ trade, however, even the name, suggests a contractual event of instrumental parts, which is problematic, since “our bodies are not commodifiable.”

“As soon as we use the words `price,’ `contracts,’ `settlements’ and `agreements,’ we are thinking in a utilitarian way. From the moral point of view, we are looking at each other as commodities to be used and exploited at someone else’s expense.”

As these sundry religious traditions suggest, selling a kidney is quite different than selling a car. The religious issues raised by the trading of organs begs the larger question raised by an increasingly consumerist culture: “What ultimately is not for sale – and why?”

10-9

On the Political Scene: Dr. Yahya M. Basha

Dr. Yahya M. Basha

By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington–February 19–Dr. Yahya Basha is an unassuming but very accomplished man who, behind the scenes, has done much to support Muslims while finding time to build himself a powerful resume.

The Syrian-born doctor and businessman has also operated as an entrepreneur of political influence and social organization among American Muslims.

Dr. Basha maintains a business Basha Diagnostics which he explains has “over 100 employees.” He started Basha Diagnostics almost 28 years ago, in 1980. Before starting that business he had a prominent career, working for several hospitals in Michigan.

He has had wide-ranging and high-level involvement in Muslim advocacy organizations, from the American Muslim Council (AMC) to MPAC, AAI, and CAIR.

Without doubt he has had a prominent career in his business and in working for Muslim organizations, but the focus of TMO’s interest in Dr. Basha during the exciting 2008 primary elections is politics. And perhaps his political philosophy could be boiled down to one theme: “If you are out you don’t count–your views will not be heard,” explains Dr. Basha.

This guiding principle has influenced Dr. Basha towards involvement with all sides of the American political landscape, including seeming opposites, from Bill Cliinton to Mitt Romney, from Democrat Jennifer Granholm to her Republican challenger Dick Devos. He previously worked for Michigan’s Republican Governor Engler. He has met with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and has travelled as a part of an official State Department delegation under the current Bush administration.

He tries to demonstrate to all those he meets the importance of the Muslim community to those people, rather than making demands of them. “Definitely the community has a lot of value,” he explains. In discussing the advantages of each party he explains that the Republicans value social morals and support small business, while the Democratic party tends to value diversity and welcome different ethnicities.

Some Muslims, he says, “feel closer to the left–some to the right. But definitely no one is 100%” aligned to the views of Muslims. “We have to navigate to bring our point of view.”

Dr. Basha’s philosophy seems to be a sound and wise one, that because neither party exactly represents the views and needs of Muslims, but each does to some extent, it is better to look for those positive areas in each party and maintain involvement with both.

“I try to give guidance instead of asking for favors. I want to show that the Muslim community is capable of helping, a partner.” In order for a community to get its rights, he argues, that community “has to earn it and work for it, you have to take it.” He looks to the Jewish community as a positive example, explaining that “Jews and others work very hard” and participate, and he explains that this is a good model to follow.

Speaking of the current political climate, he says, “It is definitely a very sensitive time.” He emphasizes that American Muslims have to work very hard in this time, and that our fortunes will not improve without our working very hard.

As far as the 2008 Presidential Elections, he says that “the momentum is definitely with Obama” right now. The final decision, however, he says, will rest in the hands of the hierarchy of the party (the superdelegates). Although he argues that the party superdelegates will likely fall with Obama, an open question is how reasonable the Clintons will be on this issue. He speaks of a potentially massive rift in the Democratic party if the hierarchy balks at Obama’s potential lead among delegates and instead chooses Clinton as a nominee–this would in his words “cause massive chaos–but I think they will manage it alright in the end.”

Advising American Muslims, he says that “instead of giving too many recommendations to Ron Paul, we have to look at the serious candidate who can help us in the long term, the nation and the community.” Speaking of Mr. Paul, he says, “sometimes I don’t feel his comments resonate with the larger society.” He argues that it is better not to endorse secondary or third-class candidates.

Rather, Dr. Basha wisely keeps his options open by working with all of those people who are involved with politics, trying to support those who are most positive and trying to emphasize those areas of potential positive cooperation with whoever wins in the end.

10-9

Russia Bans Muslim Books

Courtesy Islam Online

Russia’s ban of readable and reliable Islamic books has infuriated the Muslim minority who denounced the move as unjustifiable.

MOSCOW – Russia’s ban of a list of highly readable and reliable Islamic books on the claims of preaching extremism has infuriated the Muslim minority who denounced the move as unjustifiable and totalitarian, the Interfax news agency reported.

“They published a list of banned Muslim books that does not violate the law on extremism or religious supremacy in the least,” Russia’s Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, said in an interview with Islam in the Russian Federation website.

Authorities have included recently more Islamic books to the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

They included “The Personality of a Muslim” by Muhammad Ali al-Hashimi. The book is seen as a staple religious text for tens of thousands of Russian Muslims.

It emphasizes kindness and generosity toward people of other faiths.

Other banned books included the works of famed Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. (1878-1960).

Gainutdin said there is no excuse for the continuous banning of some of Islam’s treasure books.

“Why is there no specific answer? Why have they published a list of banned literature without specifying?” he wondered.

Under the Extremism Law, mass distribution, preparation or storage with the aim of mass distribution of any banned book carry a four-year prison term.

• Totalitarian

Gainutdin said the way Russian authorities have banned the books does not fit a democracy.

He said it is absurd and deplorable that no Muslim expert, no imam, no head of ecclesiastical department of Russian Muslims has been approached for counseling.

“Nobody requested a conclusion or an expert opinion from the Muslim clergy,” he said.

He said Islamic books are banned in farce court hearings.

“The court proceedings were held without our knowledge, secretly, nobody represented the defendant. We think it is inadmissible.”

The Mufti said he plans to lodge lawsuits with the Supreme Court and complaints with the Prosecutor General’s Office to stop the book banning drive.

There are some 23 million Muslims in the Russian Federation concentrated in the north of the Caucasus, representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million population.

Islam is Russia’s second-largest religion behind Russian Orthodoxy.

10-9

Amir Hamza: A Book Review

By Ayub Khan, MMNS

The Adventures of Amir Hamza: Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction.

Written by Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami, translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi. 948 pp. The Modern Library. $45.

Dastangoi, or story telling is one of those neglected and almost forgotten arts which once enthralled the masses as well the royalty of the Perso-Islamicate world. Story tellers traveled throughout the Persian speaking realm narrating fantastic tales of bravery, courage, faithfulness, betrayal, and cunning. These stories provided instant entertainment in an age when outlets for such indulgences were few. Among this oral tradition of the east, the Dastan-e Amir Hamza occupies a pride of place among such classics as The Arabian Nights and the Shanameh. In the Dastan, Amir Hamza is a composite character of righteousness and bravery loosely based on the personality of Prophet Muhammad’s (s) uncle by the same name.

His hair raising encounters with demons, warriors, tricksters, fairies, kings, and magical creatures would give tough competition to the characters of modern day genre of fantasy writing. Emperor Akbar, at the age of 16, was so taken by the charms of the Dastan that he ordered his artists to produce an illustrated version which would eventually fill 14 enormous volumes. Unfortunately, however, this monumental piece of work was lost and only parts of it survive. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that a compact one volume Urdu text of the Dastan was produced by Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami. This version has now been faithfully rendered into English by the Toronto based translator and author Musharraf Ali Farooqi.

Farooqi has succeeded in translating the epic in a highly readable manner while remaining faithful to the original Urdu. Sample this: “The gazetteers of miscellanies, tale-bearers of varied annals, the enlightened in the ethereal realms of legend writing, and recokeners of the subtle issues of eloquence thus gallop the noble steed of the pen through the field of composition, and spur on the delightful tale.”

The fantastic tales coupled with the textual deftness of the translator, The Adventures of the Amir Hamza, Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction, keeps the reader fixated from start to the finish. It was not without reason that Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi in his famous Baheshti Zewar had warned proper women from reading the Dastan. Musharraf Ali Farooqi, who is coincidentally the grand-nephew of Maulana Thanwi, takes it even further. He writes, “Taking modern-day sensibilities into account, I would just add that men, too, must not sit down with this book without a bottle of smelling salts close at hand.” The book’s lucidity and ornamentation is enough to transfer anyone into an enchanted world.

The Dastan provides an insight into the society of the Perso-Islamicate world complete with the courtly manners, dress, myths, and legends. In a world increasingly marked by rhetoric of clash of civilizations the appearance of this translation is a fitting reply to the likes of Bernard Lewis who mock the supposed lack of artistic excellence in the Islamic civilization. More importantly it reinforces the qualities that are common to all: courage, truthfulness, fidelity, and honor.

Coinciding with the publication of this translation, it is hopeful to note that there has been a revival of sorts in the Dastangoi tradition in India and Pakistan. While Mahmood Farooqi and Murtaza Danish Hussaini have kept the tradition alive in India, there is evidence that it is gaining currency in Pakistan as well. Karachi’s International Schools Educational Olympiad 2008 for the first time held a Dastangoi theater performance competition last month.

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Guantanamo Six: Justice or Show Trials?

Courtesy William Fisher

Zaynab Nawaz ,30, from Virginia with Amnesty International, marched in support of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, during a rally in Washington, D.C., Jan. 11. The group marched from the National Mall to the Supreme Court building.

As the United States moves toward the death sentence trials of six suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, legal scholars and human rights advocates are raising questions, not only about the process that led to the prosecutions, but also about the Bush administration’s motives in bringing the charges now and the credibility of the trials themselves.

The charges filed against the six, including alleged Sept. 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad, outline a litany of war crimes that include conspiracy, murder, attacking civilians, terrorism and supporting terrorism. All six suspects are being held at Guantanamo Bay, and the military plans to try the six together. If convicted, they would likely be executed at Guantanamo.

Before being shipped to Guantanamo, five of the defendants were held without charges or legal representation by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere and reportedly subjected to torture.

The administration of George W. Bush has acknowledged that at least one of the defendants, Muhammad, the reported “mastermind” of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, was subjected to “water boarding” while in custody.

Water boarding, a technique that simulates drowning, has been acknowledged as torture for hundreds of years. During World War Two, U.S. authorities prosecuted Japanese soldiers for using the practice against American prisoners of war. Newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, has declined to say whether water boarding is torture.

Vice President Dick Cheney has vigorously defended the use of water boarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, referring to them as “a tougher program for a very few tougher customers.”

Of the six charged, Muhammad and four others were held for as long as three years in secret CIA prisons that were part of what the agency calls its “high-value terrorist interrogation program.” The prisons were established in 2002, but the administration did not publicly reveal their existence until 2006.

Military authorities have declared that no evidence obtained through torture will be used at the trials.

But many legal experts, including Columbia law professor Scott Horton, are questioning whether the government can convict the six without using evidence obtained through torture.

Horton said he believes the process used to establish the Military Commissions – criminal courts run by the U.S. armed forces – is likely to result in what says will be “a series of show trials” timed to strengthen the Republican Party’s chances in the 2008 presidential election.

Horton is one of a large group of lawyers and legal scholars who are questioning the government’s motives and well as its timing in deciding to move ahead with the trials.

He added, “After being held for six years, there is a suspicion that the timing of trials is being ‘politically manipulated’ to coincide with the 2008 presidential election. He said he feared the result will be a case “bordering on a show trial.”

This viewed is shared by Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based legal advocacy group, which represents one of the defendants, Muhammad al-Qahtani, who has been held at Guantanamo for six years and claims to have been tortured during that time.

Ratner said that the Military Commission system “has none of the guarantees of regular trials. Coerced and hearsay evidence can be used. There is no jury, only a group of military officers, and the judge is appointed by the Bush administration. Much of the trial can be held in secret and the defendant does not get to see all of the evidence. After this sham process the defendant if convicted can receive the death penalty. There is a barbarity to the actions of the Bush administration that is without precedent.”

Many military lawyers have expressed similar views. For example, the head prosecutor at Guantanamo, Col. Morris Davis, resigned when he was placed directly under the command of the General Counsel of the DOD, a principal author of the military commissions system.

And lifelong Republican John Hutson, a retired judge advocate general, has expressed increasing frustration with the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Hutson has become a leading voice among former military officials opposing Bush policies on Guantanamo Bay and torture, worried about the precedent it would set for future conflicts.

But the Bush administration argues that ordinary courts are not equipped to handle the sensitive national security considerations involved in trying top terrorists.

A spokesman for the Pentagon, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, a Defense Department legal adviser, said the trials will be “as open as possible,” and the accused will have the right to call their own witnesses, cross-examine prosecution witnesses and see the evidence presented against them.

“There will be no secret trials,” he said. He added that the defendants will be tried by a 12-member military commission, which must reach a unanimous verdict. A decision to impose a capital sentence also must be unanimous, he said.

But Hartmann declined to answer questions about the admissibility of evidence obtained by water boarding, which the CIA has acknowledged using to extract information from one of those now being charged.

The procedures of the military commissions have been repeatedly challenged in US civilian courts, resulting in stinging defeats for the Bush administration and contributing to the delays in beginning prosecutions.

The legal saga began in 2001, when Bush issued an executive order establishing military commissions to try those captured in the “War on Terror.” But in 2004, a federal judge ruled that Salim Hamdan–accused of being a driver of Osama bin Laden–could not be tried by a commission established by an executive order. Only an act of Congress, the court suggested, could be legal.

So in December 2005, a Republican-controlled congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA). It stripped US courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of Guantanamo detainees challenging the reason for their detention and vested exclusive review of final decisions of military commissions in a single circuit court.

A year later, an appeals court overturned the Hamdan decision. And a year after that, the Supreme Court reversed the appeals court decision. The High Court ruled that military commissions, as defined under the president’s executive order, violated military law and the Geneva Conventions.

Congress then hurriedly enacted the Military Commissions Act of 2005, which Bush signed into law in early 2006. That law, which is still under challenge in the courts, became the basis of the current prosecutions.

The forthcoming trials have also generated considerable interest abroad. For example, the influential British newspaper, The Independent, wrote last month: “The decision to use Muhammad and the others as guinea pigs in a constitutionally dubious legal proceeding is likely to trigger a firestorm of anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world and spark a fractious domestic debate in an already highly charged presidential election year.”

Concern about the credibility of the US has also been voiced by many American legal scholars.

David Cole, one of America’s preeminent constitutional authorities was quoted as saying, “For better or worse, the U.S. is a world leader on matters of human rights. When the U.S. violates human rights in the fight against terrorism, it sends a message to autocrats and dictators worldwide that they, too, can deny human rights in the name of counterterrorism.”

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