Saudi Crown Prince Says King Abdullah “Well and in Good Health”

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Crown Prince Salman said on Tuesday that King Abdullah was “well and in good health”, more than 10 days after the monarch underwent back surgery, a message likely to reassure many states keen on the stability of the world’s biggest oil exporter.

No photographs have been released of the monarch, believed to be in his late 80s, since the 11-hour operation on November 17 at the National Guard’s King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh.

“Brothers, I convey to you greetings of … King Abdullah and I convey to you good news that he is well and in good health,” Prince Salman, who is also the defense minister, told counterparts from the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council at a meeting in Riyadh, in comments aired on Saudi state television.

Saudi stability is of global concern. The pivotal U.S. ally in the Gulf holds more than a fifth of world petroleum reserves and is the birthplace of Islam, where millions of Muslims flock to perform the annual haj pilgrimage.

Top Saudi royals have repeatedly visited King Abdullah in hospital since the royal court announced the surgery to tighten a ligament in his upper back on November 18 a success, according to state media.

Saudi analysts said it was understandable that recovery would take time, given the king’s advanced age.

On Monday, Prince Salman “reassured” Saudis about the king’s health at a cabinet meeting, the state news agency SPA reported, but he gave no details on his condition or when he will be released from hospital.

The Saudi stock market index reversed a downward trend after the announcement on Monday, ending the day in positive territory. But on Tuesday, the index fell to a 10-month low to close 1.3 lower.
King Abdullah underwent a similar operation in October last year and had back surgery twice in the United States in 2010 for a herniated disc, after which he spent three months outside Saudi Arabia recuperating.

Two days after his back operation last year, Abdullah appeared on state television and was released from hospital within five days.

The crown has passed down a line of sons of the kingdom’s founder King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who died in 1953.

King Abdullah – who took power in 2005 – named his brother Prince Salman, 13 years his junior, heir apparent in June after the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.

Salman, who deputizes for the king, was shown on television last week meeting visiting U.S. officials. He had chaired two cabinet two weekly cabinet meetings since the surgery.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Review on the Show Satyamev Jayate

By Kulsum Nakadar

Kulsum Nakadar is a Freshman student of Journalism at Smt. M.M.K College, affiliated to Mumbai University in Mumbai India.

satyamev jayate tv show of aamir khan on starplus

There comes a time in our lives when the collective conscience of the nation is shaken. All it takes is a mirror for us to reflect on what we are and the society we live in. Satyamev Jayate hosted by Aamir Khan on Star Plus was one such weekly episode in the life of Indians that shook people up and put them face to face with issues they were in denial and did not want to confront.

It dealt with the socio-cultural problems prevalent in the Indian society. It has been a success in the eyes of majority of the audiences viewing the show and Aamir khan has turned from a celebrity Bollywood actor to a social activist. The show was dubbed in all major Indian languages including Malayalam, Tamil , Telugu, Bengali and Marathi, so as to reach as many Indians as it could.

Episodes ranged from female foeticide to intercaste marriages, dowry and domestic violence. All these issues and the relevant stories that were brought forward were definitely an eye opener to the young and old. Satyamev Jayate did not just throw light on the issue but also brought to our notice various people, whether individuals or organizations who are working towards positive social change among us.

The popularity of the show grew fast with the telecast of the very first episode. The last episode was a mix of different issues and it illustrated the common dream of our freedom fighters. Corruption, discrimination between different religious groups, caste discrimination, and gender biases all these have been a major obstacle in the path of achieving a better, brighter and a socially just and inclusive India.

Satyamev Jayate like every other show too had its share of controversies and loopholes. All these issues that were brought to the forefront were issues that were sensitive and very complex in nature. They could not be dealt in just an hour. All major points could not be discussed in such a short span of time. This show could have been more inclusive. It could have highlighted problems at all strata of our society, rather than just highlighting the urban Indian’s problems and the upper classes while the other part of India was left out.

Many of those who came on the show seemed empowered and aware of their constitutional rights. The episode on casteism did not generate as much interest as some of the earlier episodes. Part of it could be because the issue of casteism is not a topic unknown to most Indians. Some people alleged that the show generalised the entire Brahmin community of being casteist. Others felt the episode was long and dull.

This is just criticism of one show but there were many and they could be critiqued for what it brought out and what it left out. By and large the show maintained its popularity by bringing about a ray of hope in people for a better and brighter India. There is a ready audience that knows more and wants to bring change and Satyamev Jayate bares the nation’s soul and ensures we don’t get too comfortable in the new India. There is much work to be done and we need such constant reminders.

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Rebels Seizing Initiative in Long War for Syria

By Erika Solomon and Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Rebel strikes against military bases across Syria have exposed President Bashar al-Assad’s weakening grip in the north and east of the country and left his power base in Damascus vulnerable to the increasingly potent opposition forces.

Rebel fighters, who have taken at least five army and air installations in the last 10 days, are still waging an asymmetrical war against a powerful army backed by devastating air power, and predict months of conflict still lie ahead.

Their tactics are gradually choking off Assad’s forces in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, as well as the eastern oil region of Deir al-Zor, while in Damascus “there is a sense that the flames are licking at the door”, a diplomat in the capital said.

The steady capture of military installations and arsenals is sapping the morale of Assad’s forces and also ensuring a modest supply of new weapons to relatively ill-equipped rebels whose calls for a no-fly zone — which proved crucial in the Libyan uprising — have been ignored.

Although they have yet to seize control of a single city, or translate their dominance in swathes of rural Syria into “liberated” territory free of air and artillery strikes, rebels say that their increasing prowess on the battlefield and growing armories have finally allowed them to take the initiative.

“The difference is that we’ve gone from being on the defensive to thinking and acting on the offensive. We actually have the ability to work offensively now, since we have seized enough weapons,” said a fighter with Islamist battalions in Damascus province, who used the nom de guerre of Abu al-Yaman.

As Syria’s 20-month uprising to overthrow Assad has dragged on, killing 40,000 people, rebel strategy has evolved from quick opportunistic attacks to slow but carefully planned campaigns of siege and attrition.

Exploiting the military expertise of military officers who have defected from Assad’s army, rebels have achieved significant successes by focusing on strategic roads and supply routes as well as military bases.

Gun Ships

The slow progress of the fighting can conceal rebel gains, especially when fighters are forced to retreat in the face of withering retaliation from Assad’s MiG warplanes and helicopter gun ships.
Fighting in the cities, however, is still a challenge.

“We have rebel sieges and army defections, and then military air raids. Then sieges and defections and raids again, in a loop,” said a wearied commander from Ahrar al-Sham brigade in Aleppo, where rebels have been battling Assad’s forces since late July and control about half of Syria’s biggest city.

“The countryside is somewhere where we can advance more, but inside the cities I still see the battle as long and difficult. I think we need several more months.”

Another fighter, from the largely rebel-held province of Idlib on the Turkish border, said the battle to “liberate the northern frontier” was going well, while progress further south near the Jordanian border was more of a challenge.

“We still have a lot of work to do. We’re not about to take the country but yes, I see a lot of progress in the last month.”
Unlike the toppled leaders of North Africa who were dropped by their friends when trouble started, Assad still draws strength from Russia and China and from Iran, which is believed to be supporting him with arms and cash.

Divided by personal and ideological rivalries as well as geographical and military obstacles, the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have also struggled to show common cause since they took up arms against Assad, who is from an Alawite minority linked to Shi’ite Islam.

An opposition coalition was formed earlier this month, aiming to bridge the rifts and bring the rebels under a unified structure – a first step towards overcoming Western reluctance to arm a rebel movement which includes radical Islamists.

Ali al-Ali, a fighter in the Ahrar al-Jabal al-Wustany brigade, said the rebels were slowly overcoming their splits.

“Our attacks are getting more coordinated locally,” he told Reuters by Skype from Idlib province. “On the ground we have the advantage, (Assad’s) power has deteriorated on the ground.”

Rebel Gains

The cumulative effect of the rebel gains has left Assad’s power concentrated in the south around Damascus and in the Mediterranean provinces of Tartous and Latakia – the heartlands of Syria’s Alawites.

The capital and the coastal regions are linked by the city of Homs, which bore the brunt of fighting earlier this year as Assad’s forces bombarded rebel neighborhoods to keep their grip on Syria’s third-biggest city. Homs itself has now been divided between rebels and Assad’s forces.

“In the north and the east (of Syria) the tide has turned against the regime,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Where the game is much closer is along the coast, around Homs and Damascus.”

The two main rebel gains of the last fortnight were the huge 46th Division army base, which sprawls over several square miles west of Aleppo, and the Mayadeen base in Deir al-Zor, which left rebels controlling 120 km (75 miles) of the Euphrates river north of the Iraqi border.

Around the capital itself, rebels have captured an air defense installation in the south of Damascus and a helicopter base situated among the eastern farmlands and towns which have been an opposition stronghold for months.

To the south-west the army has been bombarding rebels in the suburb of Daraya, determined to prevent them from holding another gateway into the capital.

The Damascus-based diplomat said Assad still had 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers stationed around the city and its outskirts. There are no clear figures for the size of the rebel brigades but they say they number tens of thousands nationwide.

In his rare televised appearances, the 47-year-old president does not look like a leader under siege. He appeared calm and relaxed in his latest meeting on Friday with the parliamentary speaker of his strongest regional ally, Iran.

Syria experts say Tehran has sent Revolutionary Guards and weapons to help Assad’s military campaign and financial support to help prop up an economy reeling from a collapse in revenues and tens of billions of dollars of war damage.

They also say Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah has dispatched militants to fight alongside Assad’s forces – a charge Hezbollah has denied even though it has held several funerals for fighters killed performing “jihadi duties”.

Train Crash

“People I have spoken to who are in touch with very senior Syrian officials report a sense of calm among generals and senior officials,” the envoy in Damascus said. “I can’t understand that, unless they are simply putting on a brave face”.

“Every ordinary Syrian I speak to is worried. They see the train crash coming.”

How soon the train crash comes is a matter of conjecture among military and political analysts who follow Syria.

The rebels themselves say their real test will come when fighters move on the capital for that final reckoning, an operation they are already planning. Some observers say the opposition may already have sleeper cells in Damascus while it tries to prepare a launch pad for attacks from outside the city.

There is no sign that rebels have the sophisticated equipment, weaponry and intelligence which would enable sleeper cells to overpower Assad’s die-hard battalions, and which proved a game changer in Libya when the support of Western special forces helped topple Gaddafi after months of apparent stalemate.

But the rebels have struck deep in the capital – killing four close Assad aides in a devastating July 18 bombing.

One analyst, who asked not to be named because he remains in contact with Syrian officials, said the Syria conflict had undergone a “dramatic change in dynamics” in the last few weeks.

“If you look at the map, it hasn’t changed so much. But the psychological situation is different.”

“This is a regime engaged in a fighting retreat … The more the opposition wins over regime bases, the more they acquire weapons. I think it’s self-sustaining,” he said, predicting a showdown within weeks.

“All this could be brought to a close, or it could lead to a multiplication of conflicts,” he said voicing a widespread fear that Assad’s overthrow, if it were to happen, might only be the close of the first chapter in a far longer sectarian war.

A regional security source said rebels were getting a steady flow of shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles from Saudi Arabia via Jordan.

But anxious to avoid a buildup of sophisticated weapons among militants, as happened in the 1980s in Afghanistan, the Gulf state was monitoring their use and limiting supplies.

“It’s not like the rebels are being flooded with weapons,” said Michael Stephens of the RUSI think-tank in Doha. “There is a gradual increase in weapons and capacity, and they are getting smarter.”

(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Giles Elgood)

Mahomed Sanu Bursts Onto the Scene

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

sanu1Cincinnati Bengals rookie wide receiver has started to emerge within the Bengals potent offense, with two touchdowns in the first half Sunday against Oakland this past weekend, giving him four touchdowns over Cincinnati’s last three games. Not coincidentally, the Bengals scored 31 and 28 points in winning the first two of those games, and went into the half against Oakland with 24 points and a big lead.

It has been a reversal of fortune of late for the rookie receiver. He struggled throughout training camp and did not even make a single reception until Week 7 of the regular season. With fellow wide receiver Andrew Hawkins out of the lineup, however, Sanu has claimed a starting spot. He was on the field for 63 snaps in Week 11, a number equal to that of team-leading receiver A.J. Green, and earned another starting nod this past Sunday.

But Sanu’s performance is exactly what Cincinnati had in mind when it used a third-round pick to pluck him out of Rutgers University in this past April’s NFL Draft. Originally from Sayreville, New Jersey, Sanu also spent part of his childhood in his parents’ native Sierra Leone.  Sanu eventually returned to New Jersey, where he went on to star at South Brunswick High School as a triple option quarterback before enrolling at Rutgers in 2009.

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Fawad Ahmed Granted Permanent Aussie Residence

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

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Pakistani cricketer Fawad Ahmed Khan was recently granted permanent residence status in Australia. He signed a professional contract with the Melbourne Renegades as a bowler, in Australia’s Big Bash League. His initial application for permanent residence had been declined before being subsequently approved.

Ahmed was born in Marghuz, North-West Frontier Province,in Pakistan. He began playing cricket for Swabi District in local competitions. Playing as a right-arm leg spinner, he made his first-class debut for Abbottabad in 2005, playing two matches before being dropped from the side. Ahmed resumed playing first-class cricket in 2009, playing for Pakistan Customs in the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy and later that year also played three further matches for Abbottabad. His best bowling figures, 6/109, were taken for Pakistan Customs against the Karachi Whites in January 2009.

Ahmed left Pakistan in 2010, emigrating to Australia on a short-stay visa sponsored by the Yoogali Cricket Association. Soon after arrival, he applied for refugee status, claiming he was persecuted by religious extremists for playing and coaching cricket. He told Australia’s The Age, “I got death threats from them,’’ he says. ‘’They say I am promoting a Western culture and bringing kids out of their homes for recreational activity and if you continue this it might be really difficult for you. I quit coaching, but I got [picked] for [first-class] cricket and the matches were all around Pakistan. When I started performing, they said, ‘You are still involved with cricket and promoting Western culture. If you come back to home, or wherever you are, we will find you.’ I am happy that I am a good Muslim. I am doing nothing contrary to Islam. I am playing here the last two years and I am still praying and I never drank alcohol. There is nothing contradictory with Islam and playing cricket.”

Choosing to live in Melbourne, Victoria Ahmed took up playing with Hoppers Crossing in the Victorian Turf Cricket Association, and soon progressed to playing for Melbourne University in Victorian Premier Cricket, before signing with the Melbourne Renegades.

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Manchester United Eyeing Adel Taarabt

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

Adel Taarabt Queens Park Rangers v Ipswich HW58u42rseplEnglish soccer giants Manchester United are reportedly considering a 12 million pound bid for Queens Park Rangers midfielder Adel Taarabt in the January transfer window. Just last month Taarabt was rumored to be in the crosshairs of another Premiership giant, Arsenal. And only last year he was linked to French giants Paris Saint-German. So, clearly, the footballing world has taken notice of the talented Moroccan.

Adel Taarabt began his playing career in France at Lens before moving to England’s Tottenham Hotspur in 2007. He was unable to break into the first team at Spurs under either Juande Ramos or Harry Redknapp and moved to QPR, initially on loan, in July 2009 and then permanently in August 2010 for just pounds 1 million pounds. He represented France at the youth level but opted to play for his native Morocco at the senior level. He made his international debut for Morocco in February 2009, and scored his first international goal in his first start the very next month.

He soon became a key player in the club’s promotion season when he was given the captaincy by then manager Neil Warnock. It was then that United were first linked with a move for Taarabt with Warnock claiming Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had scouted the player.

In 2010, when he was Spurs manager, Redknapp sold Taarabt to QPR, famously calling him a “fruitcake”, and the midfielder remains an erratic, if hugely talented, player But when Redknapp joined Taarabt at QPR, he was quick to praise the midfielder, “I didn’t really want to get rid of him to be honest. I was scared to let him go because I always thought he would come back to haunt me,” he told the press.

Redknapp might be tempted to sell if the right offer comes in and he is given the funds to buy. It is understood that QPR would push for closer to 15 million pounds if possible. ManU have shown interest in the 23-year-old Moroccan in the past, and considered an offer when QPR were promoted from the Championship.

But even as manager of Tottenham Redknapp was keenly aware of the talent that resided in the young lad. “‘When he came here [Tottenham] they called him the next Zidane. He isn’t in the same league as Zidane yet because he was a genius, but one day he could be up there because he’s got that ability. He’s complex but a lot of the lads with that ability can be. Di Canio was a genius but Paolo was complex. He produced on the pitch every week at West Ham… Adel has to get that consistency in his game and if he does that, he could be a top player and I’d like to see him do it because I like him as a boy.”

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Health Exchange Decision Changed Again

By Ilyas Choudry, TMO

States now have until Dec. 14 to decide; Perry says Texas not setting up its own

Health TXLast Thursday was to have been the deadline for states to decide if they will set up health insurance exchanges as part of the Obama administration’s health reform law. However, the Obama administration, in response to a request in a letter from the Republican Governors Association (RGA), has once again extended the deadline. Now, according to the White House, that deadline will be Dec. 14.

The decision in Texas was made last June – and apparently hasn’t changed. The exchanges, which will offer more affordable health insurance plans for both individuals and small businesses as prescribed under the Affordable Care Act, are supposed to open for enrollment on Oct. 1, 2013. More than 20 million people are expected to use them.

Just days after President Barack Obama’s re-election, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notified states that they would have more time to file their health insurance exchange plans. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius originally set new deadlines for applications, saying states planning for a state-run exchange must send a letter of intent by today, Friday. Late Thursday that deadline was changed to Dec. 14.

Regardless of when the deadline is, don’t expect anyone from Gov. Rick Perry’s office to be rushing to the post office or clicking the “send” button on a computer at 11:59 p.m. on that date to beat a midnight deadline.

Perry sent a letter to Sebelius last July saying Texas would not create a state exchange. In the letter, the governor said that neither the proposed exchanges nor proposed Medicaid expansion “would result in better patient protection or in more affordable care.”

Sebelius got another letter from Perry yesterday before the second deadline extension, when the Texas governor told the HHS Secretary that the state of Texas would not participate. In his letter, Perry wrote that such an exchange would present “an unknown cost to Texas taxpayers.” He called the exchanges “a federally mandated exchange with rules dictated by Washington” and said it would not be “fiscally responsible to put hard-working Texans on the financial hook for an unknown amount of money to operate a system under rules that have not even been written.”

Several other Republican governors – from Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, South Carolina and Virginia – said they would not implement a state-based exchange either. Earlier this week deadlines were extended the first time by HHS. While Florida Gov. Rick Scott yesterday said he now wants to negotiate with the Obama administration over the law, Perry said of Texas’ refusal to set up an exchange, “Nothing changes from our perspective.”

The Republican Governor’s Association letter to President Barack Obama asked for a meeting to discuss his proposals for national health care. The letter, signed by RGA Chair Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, stated that the time frame and many of the provisions necessary to ensure a health care workforce and infrastructure “are simply unworkable.”

McDonnell also stated in the RGA letter to the President, “In the near term, we need to better understand how the federal government will implement a federal exchange as it is clear most states will not be ready on their own.” He also said there is concern about “future cost shifting to states.”

If Texas does not create its own exchange, the first exchange in the state will be a federal one. The state could, however, apply for its own exchange for up to two years after the deadline. Already, nearly three-dozen states and the District of Columbia have been awarded grants to help develop their exchanges – more than $2 billion over the last two years. Six states received more than $100 million each.

States that choose to participate in a state-federal partnership exchange have until Feb. 15 to submit their blueprints to the administration. Otherwise, states are opting for a federal-run exchange. Among the states that are creating their own exchanges are New York, Maryland and California. As late as yesterday, Texas was joined by Nebraska in refusing to set up an exchange, as Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said “no” to the proposal.

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Peters Joins with Community Leaders to Break Ground on New Troy Transit Center

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Troy, MI – Today U.S. Congressman Gary Peters joined with business and community leaders to break ground on the new Troy Transit Center. Today’s advancement marks the most important step in what was a four year effort to build this important hub connecting the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago high speed rail corridor with Amtrak rail, the SMART bus service and the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that’s moving ahead. In the future, the Troy Transit Center will play a critical role in our regional transit plan.

In 2009, Peters secured $1.3 million in federal funding for this project. In that same year, Peters also successfully urged Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to approve a $8.4 million TIGER grant to help fund the center. Despite resistance from former Mayor Janice Daniels, today’s ground breaking sends a clear message to investors and entrepreneurs that Troy is open for business.

“After years of working with business and community leaders to make this happen, I’m deeply honored to finally break ground on our Troy Transit Center,” said U.S. Congressman Gary Peters. “I want to thank everyone who worked to take this vital job-creating step because we never would have made it here without standing united. This important investment in our future will help attract new economic development funding to create more good paying jobs across our region and  make our community a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Peters has made regional transit a top priority for one simple reason: there’s almost nothing more effective in spurring new economic development and job creation. Take for example Cleveland’s Euclid Corridor BRT system. For just a $200 million investment, Cleveland has generated $5.8 billion in rehabilitation and new construction in over 110 projects, creating thousands of jobs. To keep our regional economy growing, we need to continue making investments to strengthen all of our communities such as this.

Background:

•    The Troy Transit Center is a $6.2 million project financed entirely with federal funds.

•    In August 2009, Congressman Peters wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary LaHood urging his support for a TIGER grant to help fund this project. In September 2009, USDOT responded by awarding a $8.4 million grant.

•    In December 2009, Congressman Peters successfully included $1.3 million in federal funding for this project in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.

•    When former Troy Mayor Janice Daniels and her allies on Troy City Council were considering rejecting this funding, Peters joined with more than 100 stakeholders from the business and government community to urge City Council not to reject these job creating funds.

•    The 28,000 square foot project sits on a 3-acre site, replacing the old Amtrak station. This includes a 2,000-square-foot building with a waiting area and public restrooms, a pedestrian bridge over the tracks to the Amtrak platform and extra parking.

For his work on this issue, Peters has earned praise from several important stakeholders.

“This was an effort led by Congressman Gary Peters. He submitted the request and basically convinced House leaders that our project deserves this significant investment – in these tough budget times no less.” – Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber President Carrie Zarotney (Observer & Eccentric, 7/21/09)

“We’re glad the federal government has recognized the importance of this project, not just for Birmingham and Troy, but the entire region. We are thankful to Congressman Peters for championing this project.” – Jana Ecker, City of Birmingham Planning Director (Oakland Press, 12/10/09).

“The City of Birmingham would like to thank Congressman Peters for his strong support and hard work to secure the initial $1.3 million in the House version of the FY 2010 Transportation bill, as well as Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow for supporting the Transit Center in the conference on the bill,” – Birmingham Mayor Rackeline Hoff (Observer & Eccentric, 12/13/09).

“This has been a collaboration between cities, to respond to a need for transportation in the region. This shows by working together we work better for our citizens than if we work separately.” – Troy Mayor Louise Schilling (Detroit News, 12/14/12).

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Hamtramck Celebrates Thanksgiving with Interfaith Clergy

By Lawrence M. Ventline

A police officer sounded his siren, magnified his speaker voice and pulled over a driver just minutes before a crowd talked “turkey” about reducing crime, building bridges and the commonly-held mandate of Jewish, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, among other faith traditions to “love God and neighbor.”

They came from West Bloomfield, Ferndale, Center Line and the entire Detroit area to give thanks and praise for “the first time in Hamtramck’s history when clergy  organized two years ago, called the Common Word Alliance,” according to leaders.

“What’s going on inside here?” asked a lad who stood by watching the patrol car across the street from a park where a handful of youngsters were playing before dark on the eve of Thanksgiving Day.
A healthy Hamtramck was on the minds of founder Arif Huskic, Dan and Sharon Buttry, Muhammed Razon, Imams Abdul Latif and Feljem Salkic, Jennifer Young, Sheikh Saleh al-Gahim and others in the crowd.

“The CWA anniversary celebration and Thanksgiving Day of prayer shows that the Hamtramck and surrounding communities can celebrate our commonalities, as well as our differences of diverse prayers for peace,” said Gail Katz of West Bloomfield.  “It is helping to turn hostility into hospitality.” Katz is chairperson of World Sabbath and co-founder of Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialog and Outreach in Metropolitan Detroit.

While giving thanks, original natives, colonists crime, the Civil War and other concerns surfaced Nov. 21 on the corner of Joseph Campau at Danforth.

Wampanoag Indians and Plymouth colonists were part of an autumn harvest feast in 1621. Two hundred years later, Thanksgiving was marked by singular colonies and states, but in 1863, an annual, national  celebration was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Michigan’s most internationally diverse city, with about 22,423, residents was originally settled by German farmers and Polish factory workers at the  Dodge Brothers facility in 1914.
Today, however, the faces and faiths of Hamtramck have changed. Immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia, among others, celebrated Thanksgiving Wednesday with clergy leaders of the ecumenical Common Word Alliance in the People’s Community Services.

“God Almighty knows about us on our second anniversary of founding and the world needs to know that leaders came together to pray for global peace,” added Huskic, from Bosnia.
“The police department has been enhanced,” said an excited Buttry. He told of a “love of God and neighbor” initiative similar to neighbors on each block taking time to know and trust who lives next door. The initiative is a major thrust of the ecumenical All Faiths Festival “that aims to foster dialog among all faith traditions, strengthen families and marriage and, to stop the conflicts that begin in people’s hearts,” added AFF leader John Domenick of Center Line.

Ferndale resident Jennifer Young ticked off a list of public events hosted by the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION) that is steered by Rabbi Dorit Edut of Huntington Woods.
Participants praised citizens for local and national reports that show that U.S. crime has consistently dropped over the last 20 years, while crime, guns and limiting assault weapons was not reflected in the polls of voter’s concern Nov. 6.

There were 351 violent crimes committed in Hamtramck in 2010. With 22,423 residents, the city’s population is similar to Harrison Township near Mt. Clemens, according to the latest statistics available. Only one crime of murder or (non-negligent) manslaughter was listed, amid 152 crimes of robbery, 186 crimes of aggravated assault, and 300 crimes of motor vehicle theft. Some categories were not reported, however, while  “crime is as commonly accepted as blowing one’s nose,” admitted a volunteer who was mopping the hallway floor.

Organizers praised a community garden that residents on Goodson Street  harvested with CWA this summer.

“We have to reduce crime in Hamtramck,” concluded Huskic. Buttry, however, a minister and a long-time leader in interfaith relations in Detroit, was optimistic and said “crime is down.”

Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski greeted the guests and gave “thanks to you for whom I’m grateful,” the long-time leader said while wiping away tears.

“Neighbors need to know God and one another,” said  Rev. Bogdan Milosz, a pastor at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church on Conant near Caniff in Hamtramck.

Reach Reach Rev. Lawrence M. Ventline, D.Min., a pastor, a board certified professional counselor and a former first executive director of the ecumenical Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, head of All Faiths Festival, at 313- 530-2777. Visit www.religionrootsrelationships.blogspot.com. He is a native of Detroit who resides in Harrison Township.

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Muharram 2012

By Laura Fawaz, Contributing Reporter

Worldwide–Muharram, which began on the evening of Wednesday, November 14th, 2012, is the first month of the Islamic calendar. 

Ashurra has been a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims since the days of the early Muslim community.  It marks two historical events: the day Prophet Noah left the Ark, and the day that Prophet Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.  Shi’a Muslims use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (S) that happened in 680 CE.  Shia Muslims from every part of the world observe it.  In places in India such as Lucknow, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and in France, grand scale processions are held where people make drum sounds by patting their chest in mourning to the tune of beating drums, as they chant “Ya Hussain.”  Some communities even host play re-enactments of the martyrdom. 

According to BBC news, every year in London, Shi’a Muslims gather for a mourning procession and speeches at Marble Arch.  Attracting up to 3,000 men, women and children from many different ethnic backgrounds, they all come together just to mourn Hussain, and his 72 companions who fought for the religion of Islam; as well as for the women of his family who were taken as prisoners of war after their sons, husbands, brothers and nephews were martyred.

The mourning starts from the eve of the 1st day of the month, lasting for 10 days.  The incident happened at a place called Karbala, which is in present day Iraq, in the 61st year after Prophet Muhammad’s (S) Hijra (migration from Mecca to Medina).  While on their way to help Muslims who were under an oppressive regime, Imam Hussain, his family members, and a number of his followers were surrounded by the army of Yazid, who was the Muslim ruler at that time.  During the 10-day siege, Imam Hussain and his family, the family of Prophet Muhammad (S), were deprived of food and water.

On the 18th of Dhu’l-Hijjah of the year 10 AH, after completing his last pilgrimage (Hajjatul-Wada’), the Prophet [S] was leaving Makkah toward Madinah.  He and the crowd of his people reached a place called Ghadir Khumm.  It was a place where people from different provinces used to greet each other before taking different routes for their homes.  On this day, the Prophet (S) gathered all the Muslims together, including Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and Ali.

In this place, the following verse of the Holy Qur’an was revealed:

“O Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and if you don’t do it, you have not delivered His message (at all); and Allah will protect you from the people …” (Qur’an 5:67)

This verse indicates that Allah was saying to Prophet (s) not to worry, for He will protect His Messenger.  Upon receiving the verse, the Prophet (s) stopped on the pond of Khumm, which was extremely hot.  Then he sent for all people who have been ahead in the way, to come back and waited until all pilgrims who fell behind, arrived and gathered.  He ordered his companion Salman to use rocks to make a pulpit (minbar) so the Prophet (s) could make a speech.  On this day, the Messenger of Allah (s) spent approximately five hours in this place; three hours of which he was on the pulpit.  He recited nearly one hundred verses from the Holy Qur`an, and reminded the people seventy three times of their deeds and their future, then began his speech.

The following is a part of the Prophet’s (s) speech that has been widely narrated by Sunni traditionalists, specifically from Sahe al Buharki (G 3 in tabat 67), and from Ahmed bin Hanbal’s book of translations (in his masnad), on page 370:

“It seems the time approached when I shall be called away (by Allah) and I shall answer that call.  I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere to them both, you will never go astray after me.  They are the Book of Allah and my Progeny, that is my Ahlul Bayt [my family].  The two shall never separate from each other until they come to me by the Pool (of Paradise).”

Then the Messenger of Allah continued: “Do I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves?”  People cried and answered: “Yes, O’ Messenger of God.”

Immediately after the Prophet (S) finished his speech, the following verse of the Qur’an was revealed: “Today I have perfected your religion and completed my favor upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion.” (Qur’an 5:3)

To commemorate the tragedy of Karbala, some sects of Muslims hold nightly gathers where speeches are made of the events of Karbala, and on the lives of the martyrs.  Assemblies (majalis) are held every night for all ten nights leading to the day of Ashurra where orators relate the incident of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his assembly in detail.  In some countries, such as Iraq, India, Iran, France, and the United Kingdom, on the 10th day of Muharram, large processions are formed where the followers march the streets holding banners and carrying models of the shrine of Imam Hussain and his people who fell at Karbala.  In this procession, there are heartening, yet energetic chants “Ya Hussain.”  Commonly, you may even see a white horse in the procession decorated for the remembrance of the martyrs, to mark the empty mount of Imam Hussain after his martyrdom.

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Cultural Empathy Exercise: From Gaza to the Hindu Kush

By Jason Hirthler

Jason Hirthler is a writer, strategist, and 15-year veteran of the corporate communications industry. He lives and works in New York City. He can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

Slip into their shoes for a minute. No, not into a traditional Iranian galesh or Pakistani khussa or Palestinian sheepskins. Step into the western sneakers they wear today: Nike and Adidas and Converse. Then run for cover as you hear the whistling warning of an incoming missile, drone, or helicopter.

First, you are a Gazan, wondering why your Mediterranean stretch of land hasn’t been turned into the seaside paradise it could be—with a vigorous fishing trade, sustainable agriculture, holiday tourists frolicking on the beautiful beaches, and a healthy Palestinian state partly funded by abundant natural gas supplies beneath the Gazan soil. Why instead it feels like a high-security prison camp, garroted by Arab-hating Israelis to the North and disinterested Egyptians to the South? Fulminant crews of IDF praetorians are prepared to confiscate your water and food and electricity at the slightest offense. Your people are a perpetual pariah on the global stage, like a troublesome relative at the holiday dinner, prone to revealing family secrets nobody wants to hear. And now this. The leader of Hamas, negotiating an extended ceasefire with Israel, is assassinated by…Israel. You find the level of hypocrisy staggering. Then you hear that supposed friend of the Middle East, Barack Obama, tell the world that he supports Israel’s right to defend itself. Evidently your people have no such right. Palestinians barely cross the President’s lips, except to imply that they should stop firing pointless rockets over the border.

Were you were a Gazan, would you abandon violence as a means of resistance? Would you renounce retaliatory attacks? Would you concede Israel’s illegal settlements are here to stay and forfeit your right to pre-1967 borders, despite your legal right to them? Would you simply bow your head and ask the fierce-eyed hawks atop Israel’s militarized state to show a little mercy?

Next, you are an Iranian, a member of the country’s expansive pro-Western middle class, once hopeful that Washington and Tehran might forge a bond of mutual understanding and shelve the animosity that has animated the relationship for years. After all, wasn’t it Iran that helped pave America’s path into Afghanistan by mediating with the Northern Alliance? Wasn’t it Iran who helped stabilize the Iraqi government on America’s behalf? Wasn’t it Iran who has been reasonably disposed to negotiating its nuclear goals with the West?

All of this despite the history of American aggression within your borders and on your doorstep. First there was the American-supported coup in Tehran in 1953, setting up a corrupt American puppet regime which plausibly led to the fanaticism of the Islamic revolution. Then U.S. support for Saddam Hussein’s brutal war with Iran in the eighties, followed by America’s own attacks on Iraq in 1991, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq again in 2003—wars that must have completely unnerved the mullahs. And now, here is America again, brandishing the leash that restrains a rabid Netanyahu while rattling its own saber at Tehran.

But all that is non-history. The historical plotline is clear: You must abandon nuclear power for the safety of the free world. Your Islamic leadership can’t be trusted with a bomb. They may be terrorists like other radicalized Muslims in the Middle East. They may be intent on global jihad and anxious for self-immolation (a certainty if they were to fire a nuke at the Holy Land). Each time you refuse to end your program of civilian nuclear power, you move further up that long list of rogue states.

You wish you could remind the West that Iran is fully within its Non-Proliferation Treaty rights. Within its IAEA rights. You would remind them there isn’t a shred of evidence that you are enriching uranium in an effort to confect a bomb. Despite having not attacked a country in decades, you are the unstable threat in the Middle East. Not hyper-aggressive Israel. Not India and Pakistan, whose Kashmir competition is an odds on favorite to spark the first nuclear war. No, the real threat sits, curiously, at the chokepoint of Middle Eastern oil. But, you ask, what makes a man like Netanyahu fit to oversee hundreds of nuclear weapons and an Iranian leader like Ahmadinejad not fit to oversee one? You stare in wonder at Americans on television reflexively defending Israel’s right to hold a monopoly of nuclear violence in the Middle East.

If you were Iranian, would you want a bomb? Would you be skittish at the prospect of an avaricious imperial superpower sitting on your doorstep—with a giant militarized fortress in Baghdad, destroyer patrols crisscrossing the Strait of Hormuz, and drones selectively zapping shadowy figures Obama picks from a PowerPoint show? You gaze up at the blue sky above you and wonder if this is what it’s really come to: your fate determined by a stiff in a suit in some distant corporate conference room.

Finally, you are a humble Pakistani living in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, on the edges of the now-infamous Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and the cloud-capped Hindu Kush mountains. When you read a dog-eared copy of George Orwell’s 1984 in your teens, you thought the story was a piece of clever fiction, a warning of the perils of propaganda. Now you feel like you are living it. The random bombs that blitzed the “proles” in 1984 are now reigned down on your village by American drones. You can hear them buzzing in the sky, heard but unseen, a kinetic threat that occasionally delivers a lethal payload against an unsuspecting neighbor. You understand your government’s hesitance to attack its own people at America’s behest. You understand the comic futility of trying to police the Afpak border, despite U.S. insistence that your country do so. And you wonder, now that they’ve got bin Laden, why don’t they just go away?

If you were a Pakistani, would you condone the drone? Would you support the War on Terror, that state-led violence against stateless actors hiding in remote hamlets? Shouldn’t this be police work, you wonder. Isn’t there a more effective means of capturing civilian criminals than aerial assaults managed remotely by brainwashed conscripts in air-conditioned bunkers deep in the American desert—the gamification of warfare has finally arrived. But you recognize the political dynamic in play: To the West, the lives of American soldiers have higher value than the lives of anonymous Arabs and Persians in some far-flung dystopia. The American President must limit American casualties even as he corrals the metastasizing army of madman in yet another failed state.

These questions are surprisingly easy to answer when you put yourself in their shoes. You discover that, quite possibly, these people are lot like like you. They want peace, they want prosperity, they want to feed their families and have weekends free. One characteristic of people everywhere is a desire not to be bombed. Another is and that, pushed into a corner, they will defend their own. Shouldn’t these basic observations be central to our understanding of the world, instead of the incessant drone of media punditry that tries to dehumanize the weak and poor and voiceless?

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Why the Palestinian UN bid Puts William Hague in a Tricky Position

By David Blair World

How often do the Palestinians get the chance to seize the diplomatic initiative and needle their adversaries? One of those rare moments will arrive on Thursday when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, will formally apply for the position of non-member “observer state” of the United Nations.

First, a word on what this means. The Palestinians already have “observer” status at the UN, but this gives them a delegation in New York and not much else. Upgrading this by one notch to “observer state” – the same status as the Vatican – would give them access to the UN’s agencies and, crucially, the right to apply for membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC). They could, in theory, use this position to get the ICC to investigate Israel for war crimes. In the words of one Israeli diplomat, the aim would be to open a “new arena against Israel in international fora”.

So this is not some technical or symbolic change: it is potentially a big deal. Abbas has been in deep political trouble more or less from the moment he succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2004. On his watch, the Palestinian national movement has broken in half, with Hamas seizing Gaza and Abbas reduced to administering enclaves of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, his Palestinian Authority lives a hand-to-mouth existence, permanently on the verge of bankruptcy. When the latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took place in Gaza, Abbas was nothing more than a bystander. So he badly needs to recapture the initiative – and the UN application is his chosen method.

To add to its attraction, this move also allows the Palestinians to create a big headache for other countries. When you have been the underdog of the international system for generations, it must be deeply satisfying to be able to run other people ragged for a change. To show what I mean by this, consider the contrasting cases of Britain and France. Both support the principle of Palestinian statehood. As such, they should have no problem with backing Abbas and voting to upgrade the Palestinian position at the UN. And Paris has no such difficulty: on Tuesday, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, duly announced that his government will vote in favour of the Palestinian application.

And Britain? Well, this is where things get complicated. On the one hand, Britain has the same position as France on Palestinian statehood, so in theory London should simply vote in favour. But America is adamantly opposed to Abbas’s move – and Britain is deeply unwilling to break with its closest ally. So the Palestinian application neatly impales London on the horns of a dilemma. Vote in favour and break with the Americans? Or vote against and ignore the logic of Britain’s own position on Palestinian statehood?

So what’s the answer? Diplomats are paid to get around conundrums of this kind and William Hague has duly come up with a classic formula. Yes, Britain will support the Palestinian application, but only under certain conditions. First and foremost, he has asked Abbas to refrain from trying to join the ICC. In other words, the Palestinians must not open the door that most worries Israel and the US.
Will Abbas meet London’s conditions? Britain’s support in the UN would certainly be a prize – particularly as it would have the effect of isolating the Americans – but dropping the idea of being able to join the ICC would be a big concession. One Israeli official told me he would be very surprised if Abbas made this move.

And that’s why Hague’s formula might just get him off the hook. By offering to support the Palestinian application, he abides by the logic of Britain’s policy. By setting tough conditions that Abbas is unlikely to meet, Hague might avoid following through and breaking with the Americans. If Abbas sticks to his guns and ignores Hague’s conditions, then Britain could decently abstain on Thursday. Such is the art of diplomacy.

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Ardeshir Cowasjee: Activist, Philanthropist and Columnist

By Almas Akhtar, TMO

Famous for his somewhat sarcastic writing style along with deep and clear perception of the social problems, Mr Cowasjee was one of the best known personalities of Pakistan. He was a widely recognized journalist.

Ardeshir Cowasjee died on November 24th, 2012 in Karachi, Pakistan. He was born in 1926 to a wealthy Parsi family, studied at BVS School and later DJ College, Karachi. He later joined his family business. He married Nancy Dinshaw and had two children Ava and Rustom.

Mr. Cowasjee created the Cowasjee Foundation which provided many scholarships to deserving students who wanted to pursue higher education.

Ardeshir Cowasjee was not only a journalist, he was an outspoken critic of injustice and corruption in Pakistan. He wrote articles for over two decades in the Daily Dawn the oldest newspaper in the country. He was rightfully regarded as the “Conscience of a Nation.” Mr. Cowasjee started with writing letters to the editor which later led to writing a regular column in the newspaper. He never hesitated to express his concerns about corruption or social injustice. Mr Cowasjee was a relentless social activist who said what was “right” not what was “politically correct.” He was a philanthropist who cared deeply for his country and specially his birth city of Karachi. His Sunday Dawn columns echoed the frustrations of an educated “baby boomer” generation watching their country’s decline at the hands of crooked politicians.

He helped build many educational and medical institutes through the Cowasjee Foundation. He was called the “old guardian” of the city of Karachi.

Karachi is going to miss its oldest and most recognized citizen. The TCF school in Lyari ( a suburb of Karachi) is named after him.

He did enjoy a friendly relationship up till some time with Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto who appointed him as the Managing Director of Pakistan Tourism and Development Corporation in the year 1973. Later on he was jailed by Bhutto after Mr Cowasjee became a harsh critic of his policies.

He tried his best in his long journalistic career to improve the socio-economic condition of his beloved country. He wrote a regular column in the Daily Dawn from 1988 to 2011.

“Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day,” he wrote in December 2011 for Dawn. He did write two more articles in the newspaper after that in the year 2012.

His vibrant personality and sharp wit will be greatly missed.

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University of Chicago Wins £52,247 Grant to Preserve Urdu Periodicals

urdu periodicals urdu periodicals2

Ṣalā’e ām, a highly influential periodical, was published from 1908 through 1929 from Delhi. It is held in the Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre.

Humāyūn was a prominent monthly literary magazine produced in Lahore from 1922 and continuing into the 1950s.

The University of Chicago has been awarded a £52,247 grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, funded by Arcadia, for the digitization and preservation of 60 rare and endangered Urdu language periodicals. With the grant, digital images of magazines and journals will be produced at the Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre in Karachi, Pakistan, and made available through the University of Chicago Library and the British Library, giving scholars access to a significant archive of the most important Urdu periodicals from the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Without a doubt, Urdu periodicals published between the 1870s and 1940s are of critical importance for anyone doing research in the humanities or social sciences concerning the Urdu-phone populations of India and Pakistan,” says Professor Emeritus C.M. Naim, who taught Urdu in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

Urdu was the lingua franca in much of the subcontinent during the 19th century and Urdu periodicals provide a broad spectrum of writings on a range of important issues in South Asia through the 19th and 20th centuries, making their preservation invaluable for scholars of the language and the region.

“Thanks to the easy technology and low cost of litho printing, the only accepted form for Urdu script texts across South Asia, Urdu weeklies and monthlies began to appear in the 1870s,” Naim explains. “It was in the periodicals that all major modern writers and political and social figures made their debuts and gained popularity. And it is only in the periodicals that we can discover the full extent of many literary and political controversies that are only now beginning to gain the attention of scholars.”

A panel of internationally recognized Urdu scholars, including Naim, will select the periodicals to be archived. The selected titles will be preserved by creating high-resolution digital page images.
The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre, which is owned and managed by the University of Chicago Library on behalf of a consortium of U.S. research libraries, houses one of the finest collections of Urdu periodicals in the world, making it an ideal location for the project. James Nye, University of Chicago Library Bibliographer for Southern Asia and Principal Investigator for the project, acquired the collection for the consortium. He noted that “this project is a testament to what is possible through the University’s collaboration with our colleagues in Pakistan and India. The teamwork will benefit scholars around the world through free access to invaluable primary research resources.”

Nasir Javaid, the Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre Executive Director, will lead digitization activities in Pakistan. As a byproduct of the project, best practices for conservation and digitization will be disseminated to collaborating institutions across Pakistan and India.

Digital images will be archived by the British Library and the University of Chicago Library, and disseminated via the Digital South Asia Library and the HathiTrust Digital Library. Digital and paper copies of the periodicals will be cataloged and made visible via OCLC’s WorldCat and the South Asia Union Catalogue.

For more information about the Endangered Archives Programme, visit http://eap.bl.uk/.

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Ellison Statement in Anticipation of UN Palestine Vote

240px-KeithellisonWASHINGTON- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement in anticipation of the United Nations General Assembly vote to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations to non-member observer state:

“This vote should be seen as an opportunity, not an obstacle, for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We have seen in just the last few weeks how the absence of a serious peace process continues to harm both sides. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and is pursuing statehood diplomatically. Opposing Fatah’s non-violent efforts to achieve statehood sends the wrong message to the Palestinian people.

“It would be a mistake for the United States to punish the Palestinian Authority. Punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority will strengthen extremists and diminish U.S. influence in the region. As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, ‘The Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it…It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians.’ This view is bolstered by people like former Israeli deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin.

“The United States should use this opportunity to begin a new negotiations process toward a two-state solution. Only good-faith negotiations with both Palestinians and Israelis at the table will stop theviolence and finally end this decades-old conflict. I hope all parties will use this opportunity to renew a quest for peace.”

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Catching Up with Enaam Arnaout of Benevolence International Foundation

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

pic-friedemannThere are many sad stories about Muslims who were sent to prison. Not all of them were misguided romantics framed by the FBI. Some earlier victims of the “War on Terror” were sincere followers of Islam, who went out of their way to serve the poor and hungry in war torn areas around the globe. Many of these people like Iraqi Dr. Rafil Dhafir, of Help the Needy and Palestinian Shukri Abu Baker of Holy Land Foundation, will likely die in prison due to their long sentences, for no crime besides raising money to feed Muslims living under US and Israeli military occupation.

Dr. Aafia Siddique, a child development researcher who became passionately obsessed with helping the Bosnians, started a collection of used boots while studying at at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She made a purchase in a military surplus outlet, possibly steel toed boots, sparking FBI interest. Dr. Siddique and her three children were kidnapped while awaiting a train in Pakistan in 2003. She and at least one son spent years being tortured in Bagram prison in Afghanistan until news of her existence was spread by prisoners who were released as a result of a bombing by the Taliban. Siddique was released to the US after inquiries from the UK as to her whereabouts following these reports. She remains imprisoned in a mental hospital in New York State despite repeated requests from the Pakistani government to have her repatriated.

Therefore, it is on a bright note that TMO reports that our dear Syrian brother Enaam Arnaout was released in July 2010. He is alive in Chicago and doing reasonably well after serving nine years in a CMU prison in Terre Haute, largely for his involvement in supplying the Bosnian army with steel toed boots in an effort to help prevent injuries from land mines. Prosecutors accused him of defrauding donors to Benevolence International Foundation, which was collecting money for humanitarian relief, in providing “military equipment.” However, this author clearly remembers that BIF fundraisers focused on the need for protective footwear. There was no fraud involved.

The whole case made very little sense to the public, since we thought the US was supposedly on Bosnia’s side in the war. Court documents imply that the charity was targeted by neocons in the Bush administration because international money exchanges made by Islamic charity organizations often use mechanisms outside of the western banking system.

Muslims sponsoring orphans in foreign lands were not considered the threat, per se, but the ability of Muslim organizations to move money around in order to perhaps influence the outcome of world events – keeping people alive  to fight another day – was seen as a threat to the world order.

Arnaout’s drama unfolded in 2002, when he was taken away from us, shortly after his charity office in Palos Hills, IL was raided by the FBI. Bush closed all the orphanages and clinics that American Muslims sponsored in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan and China; upon which thousands of children, including polio victims, were depending on for their survival.

The Chicago Tribune reports: “About a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration highlighted the charges against Arnaout, saying he had provided material support to al-Qaida. But on the day of his trial in 2003, the Syrian native pleaded guilty to diverting charity money to pay for boots, uniforms and other equipment for Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. The government dropped charges that he aided a terrorist group.

“According to his lawyers, Arnaout was released in July 2010 from federal prison to a halfway house, then placed on home detention so he could work as a used-car salesman. By February 2011, he began his three-year supervised release.”

That he received so light a sentence (nine years) is remarkable, especially after the publicizing of his old photos from LIFE magazine in the 80’s showing him walking next to Osama bin Laden, testifying to Arab News on Soviet napalm bombing, and US news reports that he had driven bin Laden’s wife to the airport.

While he was working on his masters degree in Pakistan, he met many public figures including Abdullah Azzam. Arnaout fought in the Battle of Jaji in 1987 against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and is regarded by many as a war hero.

Now 50 years old, Arnaout lives alone in Chicago and works long hours at a used car lot in order to support his six children, who live abroad. He has not seen them, nor their mothers, since his release from prison due to fears that he might be subject to arrest if he travels to those countries because of his history. Arnaout communicates by Skype with his family regularly.

Arnaout gained permission from a judge to travel to Saudi Arabia twice during his probation period in order to see his elderly mother, brother, and other family members. He was greeted with rose petals and great festivities, as he kissed his mother’s feet. His travel was delayed due to harassment by Turkish and Jordanian authorities at airports, despite being cleared for travel by US authorities. His probation period will end in February 2014.

Arnaout is the eighth of ten children, three of whom were murdered in their home in Hamah by a special force of the Syrian army in 1980, due to his brother Bassam Arnaout, a famous leader of an Islamic Brotherhood splinter group of front fighters in militant opposition to Hafez al Assad’s government.

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Egypt Seeks to Wrap Up Constitution

By Tamim Elyan and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) – The assembly writing Egypt’s constitution said it could wrap up a final draft later on Wednesday, a move the Muslim Brotherhood sees as a way out of a crisis over a decree by President Mohamed Mursi that protesters say gives him dictatorial powers.

But as Mursi’s opponents staged a sixth day of protests in Tahrir Square, critics said the Islamist-dominated assembly’s bid to finish the constitution quickly could make matters worse.

Two people have been killed and hundreds injured in countrywide protest set off by Mursi’s decree.

The Brotherhood hopes to end the crisis by replacing Mursi’s controversial decree with an entirely new constitution that would need to be approved in a popular referendum, a Brotherhood official told Reuters.

It is a gamble based on the Islamists’ belief that they can mobilize enough voters to win the referendum: they have won all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

But the move seemed likely to deepen divisions that are being exposed in the street.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies called for protests on Saturday in Tahrir Square, setting the stage for more confrontation with their opponents, who staged a mass rally there on Tuesday.
The constitution is one of the main reasons Mursi is at loggerheads with non-Islamist opponents. They are boycotting the 100-member constitutional assembly, saying the Islamists have tried to impose their vision for Egypt’s future.

The assembly’s legal legitimacy has been called into question by a series of court cases demanding its dissolution. Its popular legitimacy has been hit by the withdrawal of members including church representatives and liberals.

“We will start now and finish today, God willing,” Hossam el-Gheriyani, the assembly speaker, said at the start of its latest session in Cairo, saying Thursday would be “a great day”.
“If you are upset by the decree, nothing will stop it except a new constitution issued immediately,” he said. Three other members of the assembly told Reuters there were plans to put the document to a vote on Thursday.

ENTRENCHING AUTHORITARIANISM

Just down the road from the meeting convened at the Shura Council, protesters were again clashing with riot police in Tahrir Square. Members of the assembly watched on television as they waited to go into session.

“The constitution is in its last phases and will be put to a referendum soon and God willing it will solve a lot of the problems in the street,” said Talaat Marzouk, an assembly member from the Salafi Nour Party, as he watched the images.

But Wael Ghonim, a prominent activist whose online blogging helped ignite the anti-Mubarak uprising, said a constitution passed in such circumstances would “entrench authoritarianism”.
The constitution is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new, democratic Egypt following Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule. The assembly has been at work for six months. Mursi had extended its December 12 deadline by two months – extra time that Gheriyani said was not needed.

The constitution will determine the powers of the president and parliament and define the roles of the judiciary and a military establishment that had been at the heart of power for decades until Mubarak was toppled. It will also set out the role of Islamic law, or sharia.

The effort to conclude the text quickly marked an escalation, said Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University in the United States.

“It may be regarded with hostility by a lot of state actors too, including the judiciary,” he said.

Leading opposition and former Arab League chief figure Amr Moussa slammed the move. He walked out of the assembly earlier this month. “This is nonsensical and one of the steps that shouldn’t be taken, given the background of anger and resentment to the current constitutional assembly,” he told Reuters.

Once drafted, the constitution will go to Mursi for approval, and he must then put it to a referendum within 15 days, which could mean the vote would be held by mid-December.

COURTS DECLARE STRIKE

Deepening the crisis further on Wednesday, Egypt’s Cassation and Appeals courts said they would suspend their work until the constitutional court rules on the decree.

The judiciary, largely unreformed since the popular uprising that unseated Mubarak, was seen as a major target in the decree issued last Thursday, which extended his powers and put his decisions temporarily beyond legal challenge.

“The president wants to create a new dictatorship,” said 38-year-old Mohamed Sayyed Ahmed, an unemployed man, in Tahrir.

Showing the depth of distrust of Mursi in parts of the judiciary, a spokesman for the Supreme Constitutional Court, which earlier this year declared void the Islamist-led parliament, said it felt under attack by the president.

In a speech on Friday, Mursi praised the judiciary as a whole but referred to corrupt elements he aimed to weed out.

“The really sad thing that has pained the members of this court is when the president of the republic joined, in a painful surprise, the campaign of continuous attack on the Constitutional Court,” said the spokesman Maher Samy.

Senior judges have been negotiating with Mursi about how to restrict his new powers.

Mursi’s administration insists that his actions were aimed at breaking a political logjam to push Egypt more swiftly towards democracy, an assertion his opponents dismiss.

The West worries about turbulence in a nation that has a peace treaty with Israel and is now ruled by Islamists they long kept at arms length.

Trying to ease tensions with judges, Mursi said elements of his decree giving his decisions immunity applied only to matters of “sovereign” importance, a compromise suggested by the judges.

A constitution must be in place before a new parliament can be elected, and until that time Mursi holds both executive and legislative powers. An election could take place in early 2013.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Perry; Editing by Will Waterman and Giles Elgood)

Rebels: Sheikh Suleiman Army Base Soon to Fall

Khaleej Times

2012-11-26T141625Z_1405259395_GM1E8BQ1PPB01_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA-CRISIS

A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen in Daria near Damascus November 25, 2012. Picture taken November 25, 2012.

REUTERS/Fadi al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout

Rebels who have besieged Sheikh Suleiman army base for nearly two months are confident it will fall in days, giving them full control of a swathe of northwest Syria from Aleppo to the Turkish border.
Their optimism has been buoyed by a steady stream of defectors from the ranks of the several hundred troops defending the strategic base, the last major garrison still in army hands between the border and Syria’s northern metropolis.

“We have been besieging the base for nearly two months, the 300 or 400 soldiers entrenched inside are in a desperate situation,” rebel commander Sheikh Tawfik told AFP.

“Many have deserted. Just this morning five more escaped — they are with us now,” beams the bearded commander, whose authority is now unquestioned in the nearby town of Qabtan al-Jabal.
The base sprawls over nearly 200 hectares (nearly 500 acres) of rocky hills about 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Aleppo.

Sheikh Tawfiq says according to the deserters, morale among rank and file conscripts is at rock bottom and it is only the officers, mostly drawn from the same Alawite minority as President Bashar al-Assad, who prevent a full surrender.

“Every soldier in the base understands that the end of the regime is near. They are just waiting for an opportunity to lay down their arms, but their Alawite officers prevent them,” he said.

“The fall of the Sheikh Suleiman base is only a matter of days,” according to Sheikh Tawfik.

Earlier this week, insurgents took control of another military camp in the region, Base 46 nearer to Aleppo. Nearly 300 of the soldiers were killed, according to the rebels, and a large cache of arms and ammunition seized.

Now rebels are counting on the capture of Sheikh Suleiman to give them full control of the countryside west of Aleppo and boost to their forces inside the commercial capital where fighting has reached stalemate after five months of deadly urban combat.

“The day Sheikh Suleiman falls, all of western Aleppo will finally be liberated. Give it 45 days and Aleppo city will fall too,” said Sheikh Tawfik.

For now, the rebels are thwarted by the imposing defense system of the garrison, whose soldiers have weapons of every kind at their disposal. The base continues to be supplied by helicopter, while warplanes regularly bomb rebel positions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a key rights watchdog, reported 25 rebels killed earlier this week in an abortive attack on the base, most by anti-personnel mines and air strikes.

The attack was led by fighters from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, a rebel source told AFP, confirming the death of a dozen fighters.

As with Base 46, the gunners of Sheikh Suleiman have been bombarding the surrounding towns and villages to ward off any renewed assault. Twenty rockets struck nearby Atareb on Friday.

The tenacity of the defence has raised all kinds of speculation. A deserting conscript told AFP that it contained a clandestine scientific research whose purpose was unknown even to the rank and file.

The prize of the bases’ huge arsenal has stoked rivalries among the multiple rebel groups laying siege, some fighting under the banner of the mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) and others under the flag of Islam.

Sheikh Tawfik’s Noureddin Zinki battalion, and Bayt al-Ansar battalion, both fight under the the banner of the FSA but other groups, including the Al-Nusra Front, do not.

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‘Anti-Sharia’ Law Moves in Michigan House

Huffington Post

_Michigan_state_capitol_253832037Supporters of an “anti-sharia” bill that’s been sitting in Michigan’s State House Judiciary Committee for over a year are pushing state lawmakers to put the measure to a vote.

If adopted, the bill he introduced would “limit the application and enforcement by a court, arbitrator, or administrative body of foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights.”

House Bill 4769 was introduced by State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) in June of 2011. Agema, who was chosen to be Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman earlier this year, has a history of making controversial statements about Islam. He has gone on record claiming President Obama is a Muslim and has also linked the faith to violent behavior.

“I disagree that Islam is a religion of peace,” he told Michigan Radio. “Just about every terrorist is a Muslim.”

“I think that’s really undemocratic to bottle it up like that. One should put it on the floor. Let the legislators have a stand up Yes or No vote. And if it fails, it fails,” Irving Ginsburg, a supporter of the bill, told Michigan Radio.

The bill has been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Council on American-Islamic of Michigan (CAIR-MI).

“HB 4769 does nothing to protect our legal institutions but only contributes to the growing climate of fear-mongering against the American Muslim community which marginalizes and cast suspicion upon loyal Americans,” Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-MI said on his blog.

Sharia is a term meaning Islamic religious law. It’s a moral and legal code that governs things like marriage, business, eating habits and other aspects of life for a devout Muslim.
In the last several years, “anti-sharia” laws have been passed in Arizona, Kansas, Louisana, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma voters passed a state proposal a law similar to Michigan’s House Bill 4769 in 2010. However, that measure was struck down by a federal appeals court because it made a specific reference to sharia law — and would have violated the U.S. Constitution by targeting a particular religion.

Last year Tennessee passed an anti-terrorism law that made the “material support” of Islamic law a crime that could be punished by 15 years in prison. An amended version of the law later removed references to Islam.

In May of this year Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed a law that prevents state courts and agencies from applying foreign laws in their decision-making. That law makes no specific mention of sharia or Islamic law, USA Today reports.

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Hijab First in British Parliament

Muslim young girl Sumaiya Karim will be the first one to wear Hijab inside the British Parliament

picture

Sumaiya Karim is 16 years old and hails from Wokingham, West London. She is part of the democratically elected Youth Parliament. (Photo courtesy: www.activeyouth.co.uk)

A 16-year-old girl is thought to have become the first person to speak from the House of Commons despatch box in the British parliament while wearing a hijab, The Times newspaper reported Saturday.

Sumaiya Karim a biology, chemistry, history and maths student, was speaking as the Youth Parliament held its annual session in the lower house’s chamber, where Britain’s MPs gather.
Karim, from Wokingham, west of London, said: “Wearing the hijab was my own choice.”

British ministers and opposition shadow ministers stand at the despatch boxes when they address the Commons.

The democratically elected Youth Parliament members, aged 11 to 18, are elected to represent the views of young people in their area to government.

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