I Have Muslims in My Family…

Courtesy Scott MacLeod, Cairo

A screen grab from the Al-Arabiya interview with President Obama.

President Obama is continuing what has become a dizzying reach-out to the Muslim world and the Middle East. Having used his inaugural speech to promise Muslims a “new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he gave his first television interview as president—on only his sixth full day in office—to an Arab channel, the Saudi-backed, Dubai-based al-Arabiya. The interview follows the appointment of an Arab-American, former Sen. George Mitchell, as the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy.

It’s important for Americans as well as the people of the Middle East to understand how very significant Obama’s early moves are. He’s now made it clear that he has every intention of  taking a new approach to the region. Here’s what we learned in the al-Arabiya interview, conducted by veteran journalist, Washington Bureau Chief Hisham Melhem:

Obama is critical of past U.S. Middle East policy, including insensitivity to the perspectives of the people in the region.

“All too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen….

What we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there’s a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs…

“We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.”

Obama is not kidding when he says he intends to plunge into peacemaking immediately.

“We cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.

“People are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration’s actions.

“We’re not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we’re going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we’re going to do it now.”

Obama seems to see the need to address the legitimate interests of Arabs in the Middle East conflict, but he’s going to judge their position based on their actions and not merely their words.

“I might not agree with every aspect of the [Arab peace plan sponsored by Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in 2002], but it took great courage to put forward something that is as significant as that.

“I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.

Obama seems intent on winning over the Arab world, to bolster U.S. credibility in pushing his Middle East policy, by leveraging his personal popularity on the Muslim street based largely on his Muslim roots and underdog image and by effectively campaigning for support among Muslims as he did for American voters. This could have a significant impact on his ability to win backing for compromises from the Arab world needed to achieve peace. The Arab street as well as Arab governments were skeptical even of Bush’s better Middle East initiatives simply because they didn’t trust him.

“My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.

“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.

“We’re going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital. We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening, as well as speaking to the Muslim world.

“To the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

As part of his endeavor to show respect, Obama seeks to assure Muslims and educate Americans about the distinction between Muslim extremists and Muslims who disagree with American policy. He’s saying that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam, that not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslims.

“My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives.

“What we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name…

And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it — and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful.


Muslim Converts in Wales Get Help Adapting


wales mosque
Artist’s rendering of Madina Mosque being built in Cardiff, Wales.

Deciding to change religion can be a daunting and confusing process; luckily for those in Wales that decide to convert to Islam there is something called the New Muslim Project Wales (NMPW)–an initiative set up to help new Muslims make the transition.

Whether it is dealing with negative family reactions or finding the nearest Halal meat shop, the project aims to welcome people to the faith and offers educational classes, social activities and a buddy system.

Abdul Rahman, a 57-year old previously called Richard Fairclough, set up the initiative with fellow “reverts” as they are known, basing it on the U.K.-wide New Muslim Project.

The group said it is compiling a register of new Muslims across Wales, and noted the number of people converting to Islam had rapidly grown in a short time frame.
“I don’t want to play the numbers game…but I was surprised when I was updating the database that we had such a large number in such a short time,” Abdul Rahman was quoted on the Welsh website, WalesOnline, as saying.

The report said Abdul Rahman was an active Christian for most of his life until he moved to South Africa, where he was intrigued by the call to prayer and felt compelled to learn more about the Prophet Muhammad (s).

“I went there [Capetown] in 1992, just post apartheid, when Muslims were put on a par with the main black group…I noticed that every Friday [Islam’s holy day] many of the shops that were run by Muslims shut and that there was something spiritual going on,” the website quoted him as saying.

“And in my neighborhood there were three or four mosques. I heard the call to prayer and it was lovely…Then I heard about the Prophet Muhammad (s) and wanted to find out more,” he added.

“I had belief and understanding as a Christian, but what I have found with Islam is so much more straightforward,” said Abdul Rahman.

Abdul Rahman—who converted to Islam in 2002 when he returned to Wales—said he was well equipped to help deal with the negative reactions some converts face from family and said most new Muslims may have to give up some of their old ways of life.

This includes drinking alcohol, which can mean changing social habits and even finding new friends.

“As a Muslim I don’t drink because Allah doesn’t want us to drink, it says so in the Quran, so that meant I had to part company with all the friends I used to go drinking with,” he said.

“As a revert to Islam, people may have to cope with negative reactions because of the way the media often portrays Muslims as terrorists [but] as with all belief systems, you will get fanatics who interpret things badly and perhaps use religion as justification for their actions, but that is simply not true with the vast majority of Muslims,” Abdul Rahman said.

Abdul Rahman stressed that the initiative was only for adults that had made the decision to convert by themselves and said the only purpose was to help people come to terms with Islam.

Members can gain access to a variety of services ranging from a pack that includes a copy of the Quran, a prayer mat and a biography of Prophet Muhammad (s). Although the website is still bare boned there is also a mailing list on offer that promises to connect converts to other members of the community.

“We are not converting people. These are adults who have already made that decision and just want to know where their nearest mosque is, where they can buy halal meat or if they have to wear funny clothes – which they don’t.” he said, adding “we don’t go around banging on doors. The only time a Muslim will knock on your door is to offer hospitality.”

According to Abdul Rahman many of the NMPW members are converts, but the organization is open to born Muslims who want to learn more about their religion or those who have strayed but have decided to return to the fold.


Ali Sahabi Receives Humanitarian Award

alisahabi RIVERSIDE, CA– Ali Sahabi, president of the Carona-based developer SE Corp., was honored on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a humanitarian award by the Riverside Clergy Association. Sahabi was chosen for the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award based on his long-standing efforts to give to the community and to help those in need.

“In everything he does, personally and professionally, he gives back to the community,” said Rev. Paul Munford, president of the Riverside Clergy Association.. “He conducts his business keeping in mind the positive impact it will have on the community. On a personal level, he sponsors scholarships awarded through our member churches.”

Sahabi is president of SE Corporation, a land-planning and entitlement firm that in 2007 won the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in Sustainable Communities for its mixed-use development of Dos Lagos in Corona. He is also the founding chairman of the Green Institute for Village Empowerment,  a nonprofit dedicated to the principles of sustainability. GIVE is the founding sponsor of the Green Valley Initiative, a nationally recognized regional economic development movement to promote clean and green technologies in inland Southern California.


Thailand Accused of Mistreating Muslim Refugees

Courtesy Simon Montlake, The Christian Science Monitor

The Rohingya Muslim people, subject to horrible state persecution  in Burma, have sought refuge in Bangladesh; recently hundreds were refused entry into Thailand.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – Hundreds of Muslim refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are feared missing or dead after Thai troops forced them onto boats without engines and cut them adrift in international waters, according to human rights activists and authorities in India who rescued survivors. The revelations have shone a spotlight on the Thai military’s expulsion policy toward Muslims it sees as a security threat.

Nearly 1,000 refugees were detained on a remote island in December before being towed out to sea in two batches and abandoned with little food or water, according to a tally by a migrant-rights group based on survivors’ accounts and media reports. The detainees, mostly members of Burma’s oppressed Rohingya minority, then drifted for weeks. One group was rescued by Indonesia’s Navy, and two others made landfall in India’s Andaman Islands.

Photos of refugees on a Thai island show rows of bedraggled men stripped to the waist as soldiers stand guard. In a separate incident, foreign tourists snapped pictures of detainees trussed on a beach. Thailand’s Andaman coastline, where the abuses took place, is a popular vacation spot.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has launched an investigation. Military officials have denied any ill treatment of refugees, while offering conflicting accounts of how they ended up lost at sea. The military has accused the Rohingya, who often travel via Thailand to Malaysia to work or seek asylum, of assisting a Muslim-led insurgency in southern Thailand.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is pressing Thailand for access to 126 Rohingya that it says are in Thai custody. These include 46 boat people reportedly detained on Jan. 16 and handed over to military custody. It said a second group of 80 Rohingya, which reportedly had previously been pushed out to sea and drifted back, had been transferred to the tiny detention island.

There was no sign Thursday of any detainees there, said a Western source in the area. Villagers said boat people had been held there by local guards under military command, before being towed out to sea by fishing vessels. Rickety vessels said to have carried the refugees were beached on the island, the source said.

Amid accusations of a military cover-up, the Thai government has promised a full accounting. “The military has agreed to a fact-finding investigation … [but] we’re not dependent on their input alone,” says Panitan Wattanyagorn, a spokesman.

That probe will expose Mr. Abhisit’s weak command of the military, which sees the Rohingya and other undocumented Muslims as a threat, says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok. He says there’s no evidence that the Rohingya, who speak a Bengali dialect, have joined insurgents in the Malay-speaking south, where more than 3,500 people have died since 2004.

“Abhisit is … beholden to the military for getting his job – and keeping his job,” he says.

Thailand has long been a magnet for millions of economic migrants as well as refugees escaping persecution in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Human traffickers often play a role moving both groups, exposing those on the run to egregious abuses. Thailand has a mixed record on hosting refugees.

Most Rohingya, who are denied legal rights in Burma, begin their journey in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 live in unofficial camps. A further 28,000 are registered with the UNHCR. From there, men pay smugglers for passage across the Indian Ocean to Thailand, usually as a transit stop to reach Malaysia, a Muslim country with a sizable Rohingya population. Some Bangladeshis also travel there.

In recent years, boats crossing during winter months have increased. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Rohingya detained by police rose to 4,866, up from 2,763, says Kraisak Choonhavan, a government lawmaker.

Some of these Rohingya have been repatriated to Burma. Others have paid smugglers to complete their journey to Malaysia, or become victims of traffickers, say rights activists. That appears to have changed as the military has got involved.

In security briefings, military officials repeatedly draw a link between Rohingya refugees and separatist violence in the south, says Sunai Pasuk, with Human Rights Watch, which has received reports of sea “pushbacks” since 2007. “This is not just an isolated incident. There must be a policy behind it,” he says.

Mr. Kraisak, a deputy leader of the ruling Democrat party, criticized the violation of human rights. But he said the outflow of refugees from Burma was a problem that Thailand can’t handle alone. “We have to confer on the international stage. Thais have been too tolerant,” he says.

In interviews with Indian security officials, survivors said uniformed Thai personnel shot four refugees and tossed another into the sea before forcing their group to board a wooden barge. Some 400 crowded onto the barge, which was towed to sea for about 18 hours with armed soldiers aboard. They shared two bags of rice and two gallons of water, according to a transcript in the South China Post.

The barge drifted for more than a week. Of 300 people who tried to swim to shore, only 11 survived. An additional 88 were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The Rohingya people are very oppressed in Burma.  The people, from western Burma’s Arakan State, are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property.

Not only that but even though groups of them have been living in Burma for hundreds of years, they are also denied citizenship by the country’s military government.

For decades this Muslim group of ethnic-Indo origins have been considered the lowest of the low in this mainly Buddhist country. In 1992, 250,000 Rohingyas, a third of their population, fled over Burma’s border into Bangladesh to escape the persecution. Years later more than 20,000 of them are still in the same refugee camps and around 100,000 more are living illegally in the surrounding area.


“Hello Sir! This Is a Wake Up Call”

By Dr. Ashraf Ali, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

With an artificial smile on his face, the heavy hearted Alamzeb Mujahid, announced his ‘pre-mature retirement’ from the ‘world of art’ at a hurriedly arranged press conference in Peshawar’s Press Club immediately after the popular comic figure got released from his captors.  “Today I say good bye to the world of art and I will no more be appearing on the television screen in future”, remarked Alamzeb Mujahid, adding ‘I will soon join Tablighi Jamaat to find salvation in the world hereafter”.

Mujahid 39, the evergreen drama artist himself became a drama when he was picked up by unknown armed men for ransom a few days ago from the posh area of Peshawar. Mujahid’s abduction proved as a blessing in disguise. The actor’s release from his abductees also secured him a release from the artificial life he has been leading as an actor for the last more than a decade. The famous comedian once said, “I regret being raised as an actor. I gave the precious moments of my life to an actor but in return the actor could give me nothing”.

Media reports said the actor had sensed the situation after he received threatening calls from unknown quarters. His relatives said he was all set to shift his family to Nowshera,  another locality – some thirty kilometers east of Peshawar but the kidnappers didn’t allow him and he was picked up before the idea could be materialized.

Though Mujahid is back home but the message from the Jihadis is clear. “Artists are no acceptation”.

The news of Mujahid’s abduction fell more heavy on the artists’  community which had not yet recovered from the shock of their fellow colleague, Arshad Hussain who went missing a couple of months ago and got recovered only after his family struck a deal with his captors. The mental trauma Hussain went through all this while, has badly affected his health. Hussain says he has lost almost eight kgs of his weight and partly his mental balance. The young and educated actor from Mardan who is roaming around office to office now seems to be tired. “I don’t think, this country has now any accommodation for artists”. “We have to make our way somewhere else”. But where and how – the disappointed Hussain is working on, knowingly how difficult the task is.

Haroon Bacha was lucky to make his way. Bacha, whose popular album “Awal ba kala kala Gham woo” – which earned him a worldwide fame, finally came to his rescue.  Finding the situation stifling, the famous folk singer, got settled in the United States of America before this melodious voice could be silenced.  Gulzar Alam moved the other way. Alam who rose to prominence for his famous revolutionary songs, sought to take refuge behind the beard, but it didn’t work.  The continuous threatening calls from unknown quarters made the versatile singer silently kept all the “symbols of revolution” back into the corner and parted ways with his profession. Like his senior fellow Gulzar Alam, the new arrival in the field, Sardar Yousufzai was also lucky to escape assassination bid on his life, however the young singer could not help his bleeding four fellows who met their deaths after the militants showered bullets on their vain on the main Mingora road leading to Mardan.

The phenomenon of targeting singers, artists and musicians is not new. North West Frontier Province started shrinking on them during the last government of the Muttahida Majlas-e-Amal (MMA) when it launched a campaign against ‘Anti-Islamic’ activities in Peshawar’s Dabgari garden, a hub of musical activities. Following a ban on cultural activities and especially musical concerts by the government of the MMA – a conglomerate of six religio-political parties, the musicians were left with no other option but to flee the city and settle in other parts of the country for their livelihood. The entertainment-starved Peshawarites were deprived of the only recreational opportunity when the lone Nishtar hall was closed for hosting stage dramas, musical concerts and other cultural activities. Some of the artists and musicians said good bye to the profession and opted for alternative businesses while the rest got involved in the Cd drama production. However the rising attacks on CD and video shops made the shopkeepers down their shutters causing a great blow to the business. A considerable decline in the production made the artists leave the field open for the militants to flood the market with their own brand of Jihadi CDs offering more attraction for its target audience and specially young lot. “Why not one watch the top ten suicides bomb attacks of the year instead of the top ten bollywood and lollywood songs”, replied Ghulam Ahmad 17, at a shop in Karkhano Market, who was here to buy a Jihadi CD.

Cinema houses throughout the province are already giving a deserted look. So is the case with wedding halls and community centers where no one could dare to host a musical concert. In a latest move, the bus drivers have started removing audio and video players from their vehicles after the militants threatened of committing suicide attacks on those passenger carriers which would play music or movies for the passengers. In a letter addressed to the transport workers in Mardan, the NWFP Chief Minister’s home town, the Taliban complained that buses offering such kind of entertainment were responsible for spreading ‘vulgarity and obscenity” and that it was a ‘source of mental agony for pious people’.

This warning should not be taken for granted. This is a wake up call.


Gates Says Missile Attacks in Pakistan Will Continue

2009-01-27T193542Z_01_WAS312_RTRMDNP_3_GATES WASHINGTON (CNN) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said missile strikes in Pakistan will continue in an effort to root out al Qaeda members.

Gates spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee in his first comments to Congress as President Obama’s defense secretary.

In response to a question from committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, Gates said the strikes will continue to target terrorists who have based themselves across the border from Afghanistan.

“Let me just say, both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is. And we will continue to pursue this,” Gates said.

Asked by Levin whether Pakistan is aware of this continued pursuit, Gates replied simply, “Yes, sir.”

Seventeen people were killed Friday in two missile strikes in the ungoverned tribal area of Pakistan. A government official and two military officials said they were U.S. attacks. They were the first such strikes since Obama took office Tuesday.

The tribal region of Pakistan has seen a sharp spike in the number of aerial attacks carried out by unmanned drones.

The United States has the only military with drones operating in the area.

In 2008, there were 30 suspected U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan, based on a count by CNN in Islamabad.

Gates opened his comments with a clear message that Afghanistan is at the top of his to-do list.

In one of the clearest indications of the military planning for adding troops, Gates outlined a deployment of two brigades by spring and the third by late summer.

Additional troops, even if available to deploy, could not be added until later this year because it would take that much time to build out the required infrastructure in Afghanistan to support the troops, Gates explained.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who was instrumental in pushing for a troop surge in Iraq, warned that a troop increase in Afghanistan may not achieve the same results.

Gates himself noted that increased military presence must be accompanied by non-military solutions if progress is to be made in the war.

When Gates arrived for his testimony Tuesday, he wore bandages on his left arm and had his suit jacket draped over his left shoulder. He had surgery Friday after tearing his biceps tendon while trying to attach a snow plow blade to his tractor.

Regarding withdrawal from Iraq, Gates said the military is planning various options, with the quickest withdrawal being the 16-month period — ending in May 2010 — outlined by Obama when he was running for president.

“We are working on a range of options for the president,” he said. Among them is “essentially a completion of the work of the brigade combat teams and a transition to an assist-and-advisory role beginning at 16 months and proceeding further forward.”

Under a recently approved agreement with Iraq, the United States is required to have all troops out by the end of 2011. Even after that, however, Gates indicated that a continued role of some kind is likely.

“As our military presence decreases over time, we should still expect to be involved in Iraq on some level for many years to come, assuming a sovereign Iraq continues to seek our partnership,” he said. “The stability of Iraq remains critical to the future of the Middle East, a region that multiple presidents of both political parties have considered vital to the national security of the United States.”

Gates also acknowledged that some decisions he had decided to put off when he was Bush’s defense secretary are now back on his plate, especially the budget.
“As I focused on the wars these past two years, I ended up punting a number of procurement decisions that I believed would be more appropriately handled by my successor and a new administration. Well, as luck would have it, I am now the receiver of those punts, and in this game there are no fair catches,” Gates noted.

“While this will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight, we can attain what I believe should be among our strategic objectives: an Afghan people who do not provide a safe haven for al Qaeda, reject the rule of the Taliban, and support the legitimate government that they elected and in which they have a stake,” Gates said.


For Sale: The Kuwaiti Dream

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

q8pride With America facing the worse economic crisis it has ever seen, the so-called ‘American Dream’ is a rapidly fading illusion that has already turned into a nightmare for those Americans who bought into it in the first place. Things are only set to get worse as America, today, faces a depression that will take years rebound from.

Things are, however, a bit rosier across the Mediterranean in many Middle Eastern countries courtesy of surplus oil revenues and a booming construction industry. In Kuwait, specifically, things always seem to be looking up for the Kuwaiti nationals who are seemingly ensconced in a bubble that neither recession nor inflation can burst. In Kuwait, it’s not only the wealthy that benefit from the free-flowing ‘black gold’ that drenches the land beneath this tiny Gulf state. Ever since oil was first discovered in Kuwait in 1938, the ruling family has ensured that its citizens are well taken care of straight from the cradle to the grave.

From the moment a Kuwaiti child is born, they have a golden spoon in their mouths regardless of what their parent’s socioeconomic status. The government of Kuwait provides free health care for life and free education, from elementary school all the way to college, for all Kuwaiti Citizens. Families also receive a monthly social allowance, which is based upon the number of children there are in the family. So, having more children is not a burden, but rather a viable way to receive more money. Each Kuwaiti child receives approximately $275 a month, every month, until they turn 18. The allowance is not a welfare system, as even children from wealthy Kuwaiti families receive it. Rather it is a way for the government of Kuwait to extend a helping hand to its own people. And as if all of those benefits of being a Kuwaiti were not enough, citizens also get a lump sum of cash in the amount of $12,000 when they get married and a free house is thrown in too!

Most Kuwaiti citizens live a life of shopping in the priciest boutiques, dining on the finest meals available in the country and traveling around the globe whenever the mood strikes. However, things are not the same for the expatriate community, which comprises a whopping 65% of the population of Kuwait. Many expatriates often lead a hand to mouth existence as the rate of inflation continuously soars while salaries remain the same. There are no governmental perks for expatriates. Quite the contrary, expatriates are financially harassed around the clock as fees for rent, health care and private education rises every year. Expatriates in Kuwait live a life as a traveler with their suitcase always ready to go back ‘home’ even if they were born in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti nationality is based upon bloodlines and has nothing to do with being born in the country. All expatriates must register their children born in Kuwait as ‘births abroad’ at their own embassies. Since non-Kuwaitis are forbidden from buying land in the country, expatriates have difficulty establishing roots in Kuwait even if they have spent their entire lives here.

However, for a sparse few expatriates, attaining the Kuwaiti citizenship is possible due to a recent article in the nationality law that states anyone who entered the country prior to 1955 can apply for the Kuwaiti nationality. However, the process is long and hard with many applicants expecting to wait years before their own ‘Kuwait Dream’ can begin. Their impatience has resulted in a new business opportunity for a few clever Kuwaiti citizens who are selling spots on the nationality lists for hundred of thousands of dollars. “I was minding my own business when a Kuwaiti citizen came into my shop,” says Mohamed Atif, “He said that he could get me on the list if I paid the equivalent of $30,000, which I do not have.” The Kuwaiti government has been vigilant in rooting out those citizens who would attempt to profit from the nationality law and prosecuting them to the full letter of the law.

While the American Dream may be harder and harder for most to accomplish, it is still attainable for anyone who works hard to make it into the ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’ unlike in Kuwait where either blood or cold-hard cash are the determining factors of any dream worth dreaming.


Once Bitter Rivals, Mulayam & Kalyan Patch Up

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent


NEW DELHI:  Kalyan Singh, once the Hindutva mascot of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was the Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister when the Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. He has now joined hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), the very party that had earlier strongly criticized Kalyan for demolition of the mosque. Taking a U-turn on his earlier stand against Kalyan, Yadav said the former was not responsible for the mosque’s demolition. “He (Kalyan) did not do that. The mosque was demolished by Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” Yadav said within a few days of Kalyan quitting BJP to move closer to SP. Acknowledging that mosque’s demolition was Kalyan’s “moral” responsibility as he was the then UP chief minister, Yadav said: “Kalyan now represents the downtrodden and working-class and he has always been a supporter of their issues. We cannot call him extremist now.” On their being bitter political rivals earlier, Yadav said: “We were never enemies but opposed each other, as we have always been in opposite parties” (January 25).

On his part, suggesting a negotiated settlement on the disputed Ayodhya-issue, Kalyan said: “All concerned parties, including prominent Muslim clerics, saints and sadhus, intellectuals, historians and archaeologists, should sit together and find out an amicable solution to the dispute keeping in mind that the sentiments of no group or community are hurt.”

Ayodhya-issue is not responsible for Kalyan’s decision to resign from BJP. Announcing his decision to resign from all party posts in BJP, Kalyan said: “I am feeling suffocated in the party and it is impossible and humiliating to continue” (January 20). Clarifying that he had never asked for party ticket for his son or his supporters, Kalyan said that the BJP had ignored him while preparing candidates’ list from UP for Lok Sabha elections. “No one consulted me while preparing a poll candidates’ list for 80 constituencies. I just wanted Bulandshahr seat but they offered me ticket from Etah, which I have returned to party president Rajnath Singh,” he said.

Kalyan is angry with the BJP for nominating Ashok Pradhan from Bulandshahr. He holds Pradhan as responsible for sabotaging his son Rajveer Singh’s chances in assembly elections two years ago from Diboi seat in Aligarh. The preceding day, Yadav had said that Kalyan’s son was welcome to fight on a ticket from SP. When asked to comment on this, Kalyan said: “I would like to thank him for that. We will see.” Rajveer was inducted into SP and appointed its national general secretary, the following day.

Yadav is hopeful that alliance with Kalyan will swing the Dalit-vote in their favor and create a dent in the support enjoyed by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which at present heads the UP government under Chief Minister Mayawati.

The U-turn in Yadav’s attitude towards Kalyan has angered quite a few Muslim leaders within SP. Azam Khan, known as an important Muslim leader of SP, has strongly opposed Yadav’s decision to join hands with Kalyan. “This is just not acceptable to me. Kalyan Singh is a hardcore RSS man who was directly responsible for the demolition of the Babari Masjid. How can I brush shoulders with a man like him? What has led Mulayam Singhji to go for such an alignment?”

Saleem Sherwani, who has been elected to Lok Sabha five times, voiced his opposition to the “Kalyan deal” by expressing his decision to contest the Budaun seat as an independent candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Sherwani is disillusioned with Yadav at his decision to hand over Budaun seat to his nephew Dharmendra Yadav. Though his nephew won the last election from Mainpuri, he earned a bad name there for ignoring the constituency and only allegedly furthering his personal interests. SP chief apparently decided to hand Budaun to his nephew as the constituency has 316,000 Yadav votes and around 290,000 Muslim votes. Sherwani’s confidence on winning the seat as an independent rests on his being favored by both the sections.

Muslim leaders within BSP have criticized Yadav’s tie-up with Kalyan to win the Muslim-vote. “We have always been calling bluff the Mulayam Singh Yadav’s claims of secularism. By joining hands with Kalyan Singh, he has shown his true colors,” BSP national general secretary and senior member of UP cabinet Nasimuddin Siddiqui said while addressing a party meeting in Allahabad (January 24). “Muslims must not forget that Kalyan Singh was the very person during whose chief ministership Babari mosque was demolished. Besides, although he has resigned from the BJP he has never ever expressed regret over the incident of December 6, 1992,” Siddiqui said.

Congress has no problems with the SP forging an alliance with Kalyan. “Though it’s a historical fact that the Babari Masjid was demolished in his (Kalyan Singh) time, now if the Samajwadi Party gives ticket to him or his son (Rajvir Singh), it is between them. We don’t have any problem with the alliance,” senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh said.

With the SP-Kalyan deal, according to BJP, the Congress can no longer call itself “secular” and cannot absolve itself from joining hands with those who were involved in the Ayodhya movement. One of the accused in the Babari Masjid demolition-case, Brij Bhushan Sharan, a former BJP member was already given a Lok Sabha ticket by the SP.

Irrespective of whatever political calculations may be responsible for the SP-Kalyan deal, Muslim leaders of UP have strongly criticized it. Describing it as an ill advised move, Zafaryaab Jilani, legal advisor to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and also convener of the Babari Masjid Action Committee, said: “Let us see what explanation the SP chief will offer to the Muslims during Lok Sabha elections.” The SP will pay heavily by losing Muslim votes in Lok Sabha polls is the opinion voiced by most Muslim leaders in UP.


DIY Investing

By Bob Wood, MMNS

As we look back on how stock markets around the world have fared, 2008 was a pretty dismal year. Investors suffered the worst round of losses on record since the 1930s. Traditional investing principles did little to mitigate the damage, yet those theories, still considered the best available, are used by most professional advisors, possibly even those who manage your portfolio. Are there better alternatives to consider?

The debate rages on about which investing methods work best over long time periods. Discussions tend to focus on the differences between active portfolio management and passive investing, which uses index funds. John Bogle, founder of the fund firm Vanguard, was heartened to see again in 2008 that index funds outperformed the majority of those with active managers.His victory was tempered, though, since index funds simply lost less money than actively managed funds.

Over longer time periods, index funds do hold advantages for investors; they have lower costs from management fees, lower tax costs from less buying and selling and, frankly, fewer manager mistakes. How many active managers chased financial stocks lower during 2008, only to watch them go much lower, as in shares of Citigroup, AIG, Bank of America and others?

I won’t discuss here the massive accidents endured by investors in hedge funds that cratered, such as Bernard Madoff’s fund that proved nothing more than a scam. Other highly acclaimed active managers like Bill Miller and Ken Heebner also experienced very bad years, with Miller’s performance erasing years of prior gains in just a few short months.

In addition, many other professional fund managers, those advisors who sell their asset allocation expertise, also suffered nasty falls in the past year. With the S&P 500 now sitting about where it was in mid-1997, what can we assume about their performance over that time, given the dearth of those professionals who beat the market in any one year — or even any 10-year period?

What have investors gained by paying fees and commissions for performance they could have matched or beaten themselves, using a passive approach? Is there another way for investors like you to manage their life savings?

Considering the poor performance records over time of most active managers and those who espouse asset allocation, perhaps you should just fire those “professionals” and do the job yourself! If that sounds like a daunting task and one you’d rather not take on, consider these facts. Plenty of tools are available, and — here’s the best part — they cost little, if anything, to use.

Better yet, this investment stuff is easier to understand than you might think. Nothing is so esoteric, complex or mystical about asset allocation that it should scare you away. Your broker or advisor simply learns the theory and implementation of diversifying an investment portfolio, and so could you. And that’s all I’m suggesting.

Diversification lies at the heart of Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) and asset allocation. By spreading your risk among several different asset classes, you gain the same benefits planned by your professional advisor when he/she builds and manages your portfolio.

One of the worst aspects of hiring professional advisors lies in how they make diversifying sound much more complicated than it really is. But it is really nothing new, since asset allocation and MPT have been around since the 1950s. The methods are well understood, and you can learn as much about the subject as your professional advisor knows by reading just one book on the subject!

My personal favorite, logically enough, is Asset Allocation by Roger Gibson. Everything you need to know is there, and little, if anything, has been discovered to enhance the contents of this book, even though it’s almost 20 years old!

My main objection to using asset allocation and MPT, as described in this and many other books, is that, while these methods are fine for long-running bull markets, they fail badly during long-running bear markets such as the one now miring our advancement. But investors can rather easily work around that disadvantage by adding bear market mutual funds to the list of ‘’core’’ funds normally used for dividing up investment capital.

Other resources are available to help you take control of your own investments. Virtually all of the no-load mutual fund companies offer advice, though it may not add anything to what you’d already know after reading a book on asset allocation. Nonetheless, all the help you need is available.

You can also visit the web sites of Fidelity, Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, Index Fund Advisors and others to see samples of model portfolios, which consider your tolerance for risk. These will look almost identical to those built by your professional advisor. Surely, most use computer software programs that arrive at similar conclusions after the user inputs basic parameters such as risk tolerance, age and the amount to be invested.

For a more personal approach, you could even call and speak with advisors at those fund firms, rather than going it alone. Doing your own investing need not involve sitting isolated and alone, wondering if you’re doing the right things while following directions on a computer screen.

Fund sellers like Fidelity also offer funds from other companies, so you are not limited to only in-house funds. And sticking with mutual funds is likely the best option to pursue. While so many individual stocks blew up on their way to single digit prices in 2008, very few mutual funds suffered similar losses.

Other resources include the ubiquitous chat rooms, found on many financial web sites. The Morningstar site offers several forums, including the “Vanguard Diehards,” who seem eager to offer advice on properly building a portfolio using low cost funds. And I think their acumen on asset allocation and diversification would match that of most investing professionals I have met.

However, if you currently work with a manager or a mutual fund whose performance merits your respect, don’t change what you’re doing. Today’s advice pertains only to those whose investing results have been underwhelming for too long and where the costs of professional advice have not been justified by the end results.

But if your current advisor has been disappointing, what good does it do to find another who is more than likely using the very same methods? If one is only as good as another and none have impressed you for this many years, your best option might be to assign the task of managing your savings to the one person whose self interest is most aligned with your own. you!

You can do this, and taking some time to research asset allocation theory and implementation will be worth the time, if only for the peace of mind you gain from knowing that you are not flying blindfolded – and without instruments.

Have a great week.

Bob Wood ChFC, CLU Yusuf Kadiwala. Registered Investment Advisors, KMA, Inc., invest@muslimobserver.com.

Bangladesh Students Association Helps Raise Funds for Gaza Victims Awaiting Aid*

By Nargis Hakim Rahman, MMNS

Detroit – – A community fundraising dinner was held by a Wayne State University student organization to help raise funds for Gaza victims, in Hamtramck last Saturday.

Sixty people sat around the elegantly dressed red and golden tables. Candles illuminated the room, giving a serious tone to the event.

Bangladesh Students Association held the fundraiser to raise awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After fresh air strikes in early January, the recent conflict ended in a cease-fire prior to President Obama’s swearing-in.

As of January 18, Islamic Relief reported 1,300 deaths and 5,300 injured. Nearly 33 percent of those are children. BBC reported 4,000 homes were destroyed.

BSA planned to have their annual formal dinner until the air strikes began, said BSA President Ismam Ahmed, senior and accounting major at Wayne State.

“We’re trying a different approach, a fundraiser that is fun but it helps victims,” he said.

Ahmed first learned about the 1948 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict when writing a research paper in a Near Eastern class, last semester.

“It is unfair for people to take their land,” Ahmed said, referring to Palestine’s deteriorating territories.

BSA Vice President, Nadia Chowdhury said she got her Gaza news from Facebook, a social networking website.

Both sides have stopped fighting for now, Chowdhury said. “There have been 10 times as many casualties in Gaza.”

Event Coordinator Nooshrath Farook-Chy, senior and management major at Wayne State, said knowing the event was for Gaza pushed BSA to do a better job. People are busy with school but we watch the news, Farook-Chy said.

“Why aren’t we preventing it when we’re so educated and modern,” she said.

Accountant for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Jiba Reza, said she attended the dinner to help out and for the sake of Allah.

“I’m obligated to my religion. As Muslims we’re obligated to help out whoever we can,” Reza said.

According to www.irg.org, IR has been established in Gaza since 1998. IR has responded to the crisis with $3 million in food, medical supplies and orphan care. IR provides aid with the United Nation’s World Health Organization, during designated times as humanitarian aid.

IR is one of the few humanitarian aids allowed into the Gaza Strip by the United Nations Security Council and Israeli government.

Ahmed said people can donate using IR’s website, on their own time.

BBC online diary writer and IR aid worker, Hatem Shurrab said kids in the Gaza Strip are returning to school but they remember the bombings.

IR will provide psychological support in the next two months. “It is only now that we can assess the real damage to Gaza, as all areas are now accessible. The UN has said it will cost billions to rebuild Gaza,” Shurrab said.

“When you know our own Muslim sisters and brothers are suffering, it hurts me,” Chowdhury said.

Guest speaker Hadil Katato, Wayne State alumnus said the more people know about the crisis, they are more inclined to help.

“Palestinians have been making a severe cry and plea for justice and freedom,” Katato said. “This is not an issue of religion, but an issue of humanity.”

As former president for the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine, she said there is a severe lack of basic needs and it is the “largest open-air prison,” with more than half the population under poverty.

The dinner was not only to raise money, but also to give people a basic understanding of the pressing issues, Ahmed said.

“If people’s minds can change by exposure, Inshallah they can raise a hand to help,” he said. “A lot of people want to donate but don’t know how.”

Wayne State junior Shehzeen Ahmed, psychology major, said BSA showed a good gesture by changing their plans for Gaza.

President Obama recently said he wants to create peace in the conflicting area and recognize the lives lost, Katato said.

“Let’s hope Obama brings the change he promises for the US and world, in international affairs,” she said.

BSA will have a boys’ basketball tournament this weekend to raise more money for the same cause. Farook-Chy said more people come when the tournament is for a fundraiser.

In the past, BSA has donated to Masjid Al-Falah when they bought the church complex across the street, in Detroit.

To donate to Islamic Relief, visit www.irw.org.


Fundraiser for Gaza at Bloomfield Unity Center

By Adil James, MMNS


Bloomfield–January 25–This past Sunday a fundraiser garnered $75,000 for relief of victims of the Israeli incursion into Gaza.

The event was very well-attended, with about 500 people paying approximately $12 per person just to attend, and with a spirited fundraiser by Dr. Ramzi Mohammad garnering many more thousands of dollars of support.

There were presentations by University of Michigan student Bana Sakr, Dr. Maher Kafri, Mr. Dawud Walid of CAIR Michigan, and Dr. Ramzi Mohammad. 

Bana Sakr is organizing an “Ann Arbor Palestinian Film Festival” to build knowledge of the Palestinian and Arab peoples among Americans.  The film festival will be performed in mainstream movie theaters in Ann Arbor and will feature Arab films.

Dr. Maher Kafri just returned from Gaza, where he risked his life to help people–mainly he helped people with medical rather than wound care, he explained.  He felt that he could not stay here anymore, under the barrage of news especially of children dying, and went directly to the airport with no notice, flew to Egypt, then waited all day at the Rafah crossing and finally was able to cross into Gaza, where he offered medical services to the people.

He said of the Palestinian people, “They are very good Muslims there.  Everybody prays, from the age of 13 up.  They are really good Muslims–they deserve evey penny we give to them,” he said.  He spoke of very difficult circumstances that he passed to go to Gaza, saying “That’s all it takes–determination and belief.”
There was also a few minutes from a movie, Occupation 101, detailing the apartheid-like conditions and deprivation that Gaza’s people suffer.


Community News (V11-I6)

Mohammed Grimeh appointed Standard Chartered Bank’s head of trading

NEW YORK, NY–Standard Chartered Bank appointed Mohammed Grimeh to the newly created position of head of trading and deputy head of global markets, America. He will be responsible for managing foreign exchange, interest rate, credit, and commodities trading across G10 countries and emerging markets.

Grimeh was most recently with Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc where he had been global head of emerging markets.

He started his career in 1990 as a Commodity Options trader at Societe Generale based in Paris. Mr. Grimeh graduated from Ecole Centrale de Paris with an Engineering Degree in Applied Mathematics.

Chicago street named after Benazir Bhutto

CHICAGO, IL–  portion of the famous Clark Street in Chicago’s Roger’s Park district has been named as “Benazir Bhutto Way” in recognition of her long struggle and services for promotion of democracy in Pakistan. The Pakistani-American community initiated the proposal and got it approved from the city through the support of Joe Moore, the local area alderman.

The unveiling ceremony of the plaque was jointly performed by Pakistan’s Consul-General in Chicago, Aman Rashid, Alderman Joe Moore and Senior Vice- President of Pakistan People’s Party (US) Ijaz Farrukh. A portion of the Devon Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare in the Chicago metropolitan area, is named after Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

San Joaquin Board approves Muslim prisoner settlement

The San Joaquin County Board approved  a $500 settlement to a state prison inmate who claimed that county jail personnel deprived him of his rights as a Muslim . Kifa Muhammad had claimed that Muslims at San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp were not allowed to keep a sack lunch in their cell during the holy Ramadan holiday in November 2001. Muslims fast during daylight hours during Ramadan.

Jail personnel at the time gave Muhammad and other Muslim inmates breakfast before dawn and dinner after sunset, according to Kristen Hegge, the county’s chief deputy county counsel.

Pakistani Americans ask Obama for an even handed policy

WASHINGTON D.C–The Pakistan American National Alliance (PANA), a US-wide coalition of Pakistani-American organizations,  held a press conference at National Press Club in DC on Monday, Jan 26 to urge the Obama Administration and the US Congress to shun the anti-Pakistan campaign  launched by Indian Task Force on Tuesday, Jan 27 to “demand” the US should “confront” Pakistan.

“We want to inform the Obama Administration that they should pursue US interest in the context of world peace and stability instead of lending credence to interests of any one community,” says PANA Chair Dr Muhammad Ashraf Toor.

By introducing an amendment to the Biden-Lugar Bill (S. 3263), the Indian Task Force is trying to acquire the capacity to micromanage Pakistan’s internal affairs.

PANA leadership contends that this anti-Pakistan campaign by the Indian Task Force will revive old hostilities, re-polarize Indian and Pakistani communities, jeopardize US interests, undermine prospects for peace in South Asia and weaken the centrist force while strengthening the extremists.

PANA has proposed a partnership for peace to eradicate violence and extremism by seeking to address their root causes.


Texas Could Receive $3.10-Billion In Infrastructure Funding

Although only the first step in a multi-phase process, the federal economic stimulus bill currently making its way through the U.S. House would send nearly $3.10 billion in federal funds to Texas to invest in the state’s infrastructure. Texas ranks third among the states in the amount of funding designated in the bill for highways, bridges, roads, wastewater treatment projects, public transit and other infrastructure projects.

California would be allocated the lion’s share of the funding, according to estimates determined through existing funding formulas used by staff of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The total estimate of funding for California is nearly $4.50 billion, or 10 percent of the more than $43 billion spending proposed. New York ranked second in front of Texas in funding estimates at just under $3.40 billion.

The Texas estimated funding includes more than $2.40 billion for highways and bridges, nearly $336 million for transit capital grants, $30.5 million for fixed guide-way modernization (generally heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, monorail, trolleybus, aerial tramway, inclined plane, cable car, automated guide-way transit, ferryboats, portions of motor bus service operated on exclusive or controlled rights-of-way and high-occupancy-vehicle lanes) and $265.3 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that provides funding and low-interest loans for water quality protection projects for wastewater treatment, nonpoint source pollution control and watershed and estuary management projects.

“Infrastructure investments will put construction workers back on the job and yield lasting benefits by improving our deteriorating infrastructure,” said U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

This initial House plan provides for approximately two-thirds of the money to go to the states for updating roads, highways and bridges and the remaining third to be allocated to local governments. The plan also will likely include some “use it or lose it” deadline as the intent of the funding is to get projects started quickly so they will have an almost immediate impact on job creation and thus the economy.

In December of last year, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conducted a survey, finding that there were 853 “ready to go” highway and bridge projects in Texas valued at nearly $6.1 billion. Many of these would likely be among the first projects funded.

The House plan is only in the formative stages and the estimates from congressional committee staff are simply a starting point. The Senate has yet to produce its plan. President Barack Obama is expected to meet with a congressional delegation today, Friday, to discuss the economic stimulus bill while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House bill should come to the floor for discussion sometime next week.

Earlier this week, Rep. Dave Obey of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said quick passage of a stimulus bill is necessary or local governments will face “major tax increases” or “devastating service cutbacks.” He said the stimulus package is “essential” and something lawmakers cannot afford to delay, as “every day that we delay, 10,000 more people lose their jobs.”


France: Muslims Quit Jewish/Muslim Friendship Group

Courtesy Nouvel Observateur

The Muslim members of the French Jewish-Muslim Friendship (AJMF) resigned this body, accusing their Jewish counterparts of the AJMF for their silence dealing with the Israeli ‘war crimes’ in Gaza,the co-president of the association, Djelloul Seddiki, announced Friday.

“All the Muslims left Thursday,” Djelloul Seddiki told AFP. Seddiki is also director of the Theological Institute of the Great Mosque of Paris, said that the honorary president of the AJMF, Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris and ex-president of the CFCM, also resigned.

“We couldn’t stay,” he explained, deploring the silence of his Jewish partners in the AJMF, despite the very heavy human toll of the Israeli operation among the population of Gaza.

“We don’t speak any more, They didn’t call me anymore after the start of the war,” he confirms, having received a call from the co-president of the AJMF, rabbi Michel Sefrati after the announcement of the resignation. “It’s too late,” Djelloul Seddiki says.

In a statement explaining the reasons for his decision, he said he was “shocked and dismayed at the magnitude of the unspeakable massacre, whose victims are the inhabitants of Gaza, for more than twenty days, by the Israeli occupation army.”

He deplored on behalf of the Jewish representatives of the AJMF “the total lack of condemnation which would imply the objectives of living together and the reconciliation between the communities which set by the founders of the AJMF close to five years ago.”

According to him, “this silence can be justified only by complicity regarding these war crimes and makes the ABCs of dialog and friendship counted as obsolete” and “lacking any credibility”.

Djelloul Seddiki’s letter is on the CFCM site (In French)

Finkelstein to Face More US Teaching Restrictions?

Courtesy PressTV

Outspoken academic Norman Finkelstein has stepped up his criticism of Israel in spite of being banned by the US freedom of speech system.

Finkelstein’s sharp criticism of the Zionist occupation of the native lands of the Palestinians has left him without tenure in the DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois despite his exemplary academic record.

Following the 27 December launch of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead on Gaza, universities across America have come under increasing pressure to cancel Finkelstein’s fiery lectures on Tel Aviv’s war on Gaza.

The outspoken academic nevertheless continues to speak his mind on the latest Israeli military action against the Gaza Strip — which has left some 1,340 people dead and thousands of others hospitalized.

In a Thursday speech at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the American-Jewish political scientist took his criticism of the Israeli war on Gaza to a new level.

“As Israel targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, UN sanctuaries, as it flattened entire neighborhoods, as it slaughtered and incinerated Gaza’s defenseless Gaza civilians, Israeli commentators gloated,” said Finkelstein.

“The IDF — Israeli Defense Forces –, which planned to attack buildings and sites, did not warn them in advance to leave,” he continued.

Finkelstein was denied entry into the Israel and was later whisked away to a prison to be deported earlier in May for his criticism.

A son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein describes Israel as a “terrorist state” that was the spawn of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948.

“When you attack schools, mosques, ambulances, hospitals, UN relief organizations, what is that? If this is not terrorism, then what is terrorism?” explained the American academic in a recent interview.

After accusing many Zionist leaders of abusing the victims of the Holocaust in his book The Holocaust Industry, Finkelstein was immediately declared persona non grata by the America’s influential Jewish lobby.


Israel’s Lies

Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further

Courtesy Henry Siegman

[Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.]

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israels actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDFs carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDFs Gaza Division. In an interview in Haaretz on 22 December, he accused Israels government of having made a central error during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip .?.?. When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, General Zakai said, it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire .?.?. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress theyre in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israels intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didnt even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israels leaders as a plucked chicken. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas brutally, to be sure pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israels civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatahs rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.

The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharons senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Haaretz in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns .?.?. The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bushs] authority and permission .?.?. and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians dont read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldnt figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

Israels government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a terror organisation (Israels preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Haaretz, that material released by Israels Ministry of Defence showed that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought .?.?. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves. In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Haaretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists.

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a terror organisation. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamass ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesnt determine Hamass actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatahs actions.

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharons national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change right under our very noses, Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future. It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how temporary those borders would be, they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals. In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida.

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashals declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaidas approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better.

Why then are Israels leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian state made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israels military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.

Middle East observers wonder whether Israels assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition.

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve? he asks. Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israels actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes. Cordesman concludes that any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.


Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Jamshid al-Kashi

By Syed Aslam, science@muslimobserver.com

Sci - al-kashi 1

Jamshid al-Kashi was born in Kashan, which lies in the eastern foot of the Central Iranian Range in 1380 CE.  When al-Kashi was growing up, Timur Leng was the ruler of that area, and he was not interested in science and education. Timur died in 1405 and his empire was divided between his two sons, one of whom was    Shah Rukh.

During Timur’s reign, conditions were difficult, with widespread poverty. Al-Kashi lived in poverty, but devoted himself to astronomy and mathematics while moving from town to town. Conditions improved when Shah Rukh became the ruler. He brought economic prosperity to the region, and strongly supported science and intellectual activity. With the change in economic conditions, al-Kashi’s life also improved markedly.

Samarkand Uzbekistan became the capital of the empire, and Shah Rukh made his son, Ulugh Beg, ruler of the city. Ulugh Beg, himself a great scientist, began to build the city into a great center of learning.  He invited al-Kashi  to Samarkand to work with him which he gladly accepted. He lived there and worked on many books till he died in 1429 CE.

Al Kashi was a great astronomer and mathematician who made original contributions in both field.  He wrote his first book on astronomy when he was very young, titled Sullam al-sama (The Stairway of Heaven) In this book he discussed how to determine altitude, size and distance of the heavenly bodies.  He   finished his second book on astronomy;  Mukhtasar dar ‘ilm-i hay’at (Compendium of the Science of Astronomy) and  dedicated it to  a Timurid ruler of Iran.  

Al-Kashi’s third book,  Khaqani Zij, was completed at Samarkand and dedicated to  his new patron Ulugh Beg, who was also known as Khaqani, or “Supreme Ruler”; zij was the Persian term for astronomical tables. Al-Kashi’s astronomical tables were based on an earlier work done by another Persian, Nasir al-Tusi. This book had a useful tool to calculate the coordinates  of the heavens, and helped astronomers measure distances, and predicted the motion of the sun, moon, and planets, as well as longitudinal and latitudinal parallaxes.

In 1416 CE al-Kashi completed two new works, Risala dar sharh-i alat-i rasd (Treatise on the Explanation of Observational Instruments) and Nuzha al-hadaiq fi kayfiyya san’a al-ala almusamma bi tabaq al-manatiq (The  Method of Construction of the Instrument Called Plate of Heavens). This book contains a description of his invention, a device to predict the positions of the planets.

Although al-Kashi had done fine work in mathematics before joining Ulugh Beg at Samarkand, his best work was done while he was in that city. In 1424 CE al-Kashi finished his most famous work, the Risala al-muhitiyya (Treatise on the Circumference). In it he calculated pi, (the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter) to sixteen decimal places. The last reliable pi figure  had been calculated by Chinese astronomers in the fifth century, but it was only good to six decimal places. It would be nearly two hundred years before European mathematicians found a more accurate calculation for pi,  which was accurate to 20 decimal places.

Al-Kashi’s most impressive mathematical work was the book he wrote titled;  The Key to Arithmetic, intended for those studying astronomy, accounting, trading, students of architecture, and land surveying. It was notable for its inclusion of decimal fractions. One of the most impressive sections of this book was al-Kashi’s formula for measuring a complex shape called a muqarna. The muqarna was a standard form used by Arabic world architects to hide edges and joints in mosques, palaces, and other large public buildings. It was a three-dimensional polygon or wedge form combined into honeycomb patterns. Al-Kashi’s muqarna measurement had a practical application in the field of civil and architectural engineering.  

Al-Kashi’s important and last work in the field of mathematics was his book titled;  The Treatise on the Chord and Sine, in this work al-Kashi computed sin 1° to the same accuracy as he had computed pi in his earlier work. In order to determine sin1 value he discovered a new trigonometric formula  sin 3 φ = 3 sin φ – 4 sin3 φ.     He also considered the equation associated with the problem of trisecting an angle, namely a cubic equation. He was not the first to look at approximate solutions to this equation since al-Birunid worked on it earlier. However, the iterative method proposed by al-Kashi was one of the best achievements in medieval algebra.

Al-Kashi was the first mathematician to discover the law of cosines in a form suitable of triangulation which was later called; the ‘Theorem of Al-Kashi’.

Al-Kashi wrote many letters to his father about his life in Samarkand, and some have survived–this provides an unusual glimpse into his contemporary scholars and scientists. He wrote about the observatory that Ulugh Beg had built at Samarkand in 1424 CE,  it featured an immense astrolabe with a precision-cut marble arc, 62 yards long.

Al-Kashi was a brilliant astronomer and mathematician.  After al-Kashi’s death, Ulugh Beg, the ruler, praised him as a remarkable scientist, one of the most famous in the area, who had a perfect command of the science of the ancients, who made original  contributions in the field astronomy and mathematics, and who could solve the most difficult problems.


Crisis in Gaza

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Jerusalem–January 16th–Your correspondent would like to bring his audience up to date on Gaza’s catastrophic episode, her  humanitarian calamity in Gaza.

Israel purposely pushed into highly concentrated centers of Gaza’s cities and towns, while Hamas’ soldiers stuck in the desert outskirts of that territory, which was the reason their rockets could not be stopped, and was the proof that the Israeli object was not to destroy Gaza’s military infrastructure, but  rather to punish civil society and break the will of the citizens they represented. 

At the same time, anti-Semitic violence has broken out all over Europe, from disgust with Zionism rather than Judaism.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (U.N.s) Ban Ki-moon has told the Arab (League) as a whole to “get it together,” but, after their (partial) meeting in Kuwait, they could not come to a consensus because of the opposition of the conservative Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Militarily, Hamas is a pyrrhic victor even though Israel signed a Security Treaty on the last day of the Bush fasces.  (The Senate and the current President has to agree to it, though.)  Yet, Israel (and Egypt for that matter) has not agreed to breach their boundaries, and the Gazan nationals were unlocked to permit humanitarian help that is one of the bases of their truce agreements, and in sharp violation of Security Council Resolution 1860!  Still, Hamas and Israel fired on each other as Israel retreated.  The ceasefire is fragile indeed!

Ban-Ki Moon, standing on the Gazan rubble called on the International Communities to restore the debris of the modern Philistia!  The human tragedy is inexpressible.  He and Donatella Rover, whom we talked to last week, on the BBC clearly stated that War crimes had been create once they could get into the territory and observe for themselves.

So, we must approach the Humanitarian crisis by enquiring what we can do.

I was on a press conference through the miracles of telephony from Jerusalem with Mercy Corps, which does not seem to be attached to a Christian denomination – or is concerned with conversion in the least, but seems to be influenced by the Christian ethos by the word Mercy.  I should think the Islamic charities could work well across our common beliefs, and I hope we can all do so.

The Director of the Committee, Roger Sherman, admitted the heaviest toll has been the human disaster.

A David Holbrook reported from the third Holiest City that the Corps has had a presence in the Middle East for some time.  Although up to the last month (January), “Gaza has been isolated from the [rest of] the Middle East, [‘she’] has resonation across the region.”

Our ethos is to help our partners from whatever side of a conflict.  “We have a belief that there will be a Renaissance” here.  Gaza can become a dynamo or can change into reaction.  Yet the situation has only become worse over the last three years.  Today, (I find the Gazans to be well educated — a great many have even gone to a College or a University.)

First, we have a staff in the area of about twenty-three –mostly within Gaza City itself.  They have been able to communicate with their workers through cell and landlines.   “We are ready for the ceasefire… so, we can bring our [loaded] trucks in.”

An unidentified woman stated that their organization would focus on displaced families.  Half of the family units are in U.N. shelters; another half has taken refuge with their kin.  Yet, when conveys are let in, they will not be sufficient to fulfill the requirements.  Twice the tonnage would not touch the requisite basics.  The focus has been on the Western media reports.  We as a relief association are connected to all other Global citizens (and their resources).  This would, especially, include the Red Crescent and other Islamic charities.

Stephen Schwartz, a regional Director of the Foundation, confirmed that trucks were immediately ready to cross the Rafah frontier (this transfer point was closed two weeks before the actual truce(s) to the slightest compassionate aid at all) as soon as the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) would stop firing upon them, and the truce has now commenced, and, hopefully the current peace will hold, allowing the passage(s) to remain an open boundary permanently by the time you read these words.  They look “forward” to traversing the Egyptian perimeter to the south and through Israel to the north having to navigate through intricate Hebrew checkpoints within the Mediterranean enclave.  Careful liaison had to be built with the Israeli Defense Force whom many of their Palestinian workers must hate.  There is an immense need for non-food items – notably being in this deadly winter, it has been exceptionally frigid, and there has been a necessity for blankets and tents, etc.  Consequently, of course, there has been an immense necessity for food and medicine, also.

What makes the situation worse (still) has been the total blockade for months before the attack.  The prerequisite necessities were already particularly low.  Now, there is no place for the inhabitants to flee but into their basements and cellars, for they are surrounded on three sides by the antagonistic Jewish State and by the fourth the hash “Pharaonical” nation. They are prisoners within their own land, and that is why a refugee problem has not developed as yet.  The rest had been relocated to the refugee camps in the dry landscape of Gaza many years ago previously from other parts of Palestine.  There is an overriding commonality of psychological problems children.  It has been the young offspring of the terrain who have borne the brunt of this struggle for freedom.  “We wish you to advocate for the humanitarian Corps” of this world!  In other words, support the charity of your preference who is working for Gaza at this moment.

Within the Gazan government, the Civil Service is still up and operating — most strikingly the Health Services, and the Police although the Administration’s leadership had been forced to hide.  Although the external media has been shrill, it is hard to understand the larger lack of external Arab aid to their ethnic “brothers.”  Before the truce, humanitarian aid has been held under lock and key.  Although a ceasefire has been announced by both sides, it is still no more than a trickle.  “Nor is Tel Aviv interested!”  Further, “We can’t buy aid within Gaza.  We have to truck it in little by little.”  Also, “It is too hard to get professionals [Doctors, etc.] into Gaza.  So, even volunteers [doctors, etc.] can’t get employed within” the Strip.

Your author concludes that Tel Aviv should pay Gaza City the reparations to totally repair the infrastructure of miniscule Republic. Israel is a rich country while Gaza is amongst the poorest due to the Army of West Jerusalem siege!  “Israel has to take its [moral] responsibility!”

There has been no shortage of International investments.  In fact, most of the infrastructure that was destroyed was paid for by Western European nations.  Europa should demand their money back by directly applying lucre to revitalization of the Gaza City nationette, and sending the bill to Tel Aviv!


Indian ‘Boy Genius’ Shares Skills

Courtesy Shalini Joshi, BBC News, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Aman Rehman


An eight-year-old boy in India who specialises in animation for films has begun teaching his skills to adults.

Aman Rehman, from Dehradun in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, is also seeking to win a Guinness Book of World Records “Young Achiever” award.

Aman learned computers while his friends played in the fields and has made more than 1,000 animated movies.

He is known as the “Little Bill Gates” – famous all over the state after learning his trade as a toddler.


Aman comes from a humble background. His father is an illiterate scooter mechanic and has to support four children – Aman being the youngest – along with his wife.

When one reaches the clock tower of Dehradun and asks for his address it seems everybody knows him as Computerwala Bachha.

Aman showed interest in computers at the tender age of three.

“His father bought a second-hand computer for our oldest son. We never imagined that it would be remotely interesting to our youngest son. But he was fascinated by it and watched his brother’s every move on the cursor,” Aman’s mother Shabnam Rehman remembers.

“After his brother went to college Aman used to work on the computer secretly. I was scared at that time but by Allah’s grace he has made all of us proud.”
Aman’s father, M Rehman, says that at first he never realised his son’s talent.

“My friends advised me to introduce him to some computer experts but they did not take him seriously,” he said.

But after a week of immense lobbying Mr Rehman convinced the authorities at Dehradun’s College of Interactive Arts to watch his son perform on the computers.


After seeing his skills, the college offered him a place. Within a month he had written his own program and had learnt the animation course in less than three months – it normally takes 15 months to complete.

Aman has now applied for an entry in the in the Young Achiever’s category of the Guinness Book of World Records.

“I am the youngest computer animator. No other child of my age can make animation movies,” he says proudly.

“I am sure that I will get an entry into the Guinness book and am waiting for that big day.”

His father claims that an Australian company has made approaches to his son, but both are adamant that they want to carry on working in India.

In recognizing his computer skills, the College of Interactive Arts has now provided him with a scholarship, the state government has given him a laptop and 100,000 rupees ($2,073).

“Such is the price of a child prodigy these days,” said one member of staff.