Looking To Escape the Bone Chilling Freeze? Head To Alaska

By Laura Fawaz, Contributing Reporter

The National Weather Service, once again, is warning that brutally cold weather is going to be spreading across much of the nation.

From the upper Midwest, down South, and up through the mid-Atlantic, but doesn’t stop there as it continues Northeast and New England.

Among the places where things are particularly miserable if you don’t like extremely cold temperatures: Minnesota.  And the latest incident is helping the matter, which a Canadian natural gas pipeline explosion.  This affects the supply of natural gas supplies to parts of the region.  Consequently, emergency officials are asking residents the affected area to keep their thermostats at 60 to conserve fuel.  And homeowners across the lower 49 are facing the problem of the propane price hike, as well as higher heat and energy bills. 

All the while, in Alaska, on several dates in the month of January, temperatures have been warmer in Alaska than they have been in Texas, Louisiana and much of the Atlantic coast, even Florida.  And forecasters believe that this pattern, consisting of a jet stream, is pushing this bone chilling cold across much of the continental U.S. is the reason there’s relatively warm weather up in parts of Alaska.  Though they think it will not shift until sometime next month.


Not Your Everyday Volunteer

By Laura Fawaz, Contributing Reporter

drismailmehrHornell, New York–By the blessings of Allah (SWT), our American Muslim community has many members that we can be proud to represent the American Muslim identity. 

Dr. Ismail Mehr is one of those individuals. IMANA (the Islamic Medical Association of North America), which has been around since 1968; it is an organization mentioned often in reference to medical relief efforts and volunteerism.  Dr. Mehr is the chairman and president of this organization.  This is the same non-profit where many great professionals devote their time and resources, spending their own money to travel to aid those in need in places such as Haiti and the Philippines.

Dr. Mehr is an anesthesiologist by profession, but that wasn’t always his first choice.  Medicine in general wasn’t what he was interested in—becoming a pilot was his high school dream.  Then in his junior year, Dr. Mehr tore his ACL during a basketball game and had to have surgery.  Allah (swt) is the Best of Planners, because this surgery made him change his mind to become a surgeon instead. 

Growing up in upstate New York, Dr. Mehr completed his undergraduate degree from Syracuse University, then transferred to the University of Buffalo the following year to play for their football team.  Medical school, he felt, was calling his name, so after his sophomore year he went to the Dominican Republic for medical school.  Anesthesiology was his second choice, so when a spot didn’t open up in pursuit of becoming a surgeon, Dr. Mehr went to the University of Rochester in 2002 where he completed his degree in anesthesiology.  “Hindsight is 20/20 because it’s the best thing that ever happened,” said Dr. Mehr.  “Being an anesthesiologist goes back to why I wanted to be a pilot, the necessary stress management skills, and the amount of multitasking that a pilot has to do is the same as with an anesthesiologist,” Dr. Mehr continued.

“With anesthesiology there’s a common misconception that we just come into a room and put people to sleep,” Dr. Mehr added.

12 years later, he is the Chairman for the Department of Anesthesiology at St. James Mercy Health System in New York, and is taking advantage of any and every type of volunteerism and community activism he can.  “After I graduated and moved back to my hometown, the first thing I did was volunteer when I was asked by my formal football coach to be the assistant coach,” explained Dr. Mehr.

He has been coaching his high school alumni team for the last 12 years; he sat on the YMCA board in his town, he’s in and out of the country on relief missions, as well as coaches his kids sports teams, “It’s a small town and I’m very active in it, described Dr. Mehr. 

As a volunteer relief surgeon, Dr. Mehr has been in a few not-so-safe locations, such as Somalia.  Though he would never say that he felt endangered in any of them, he put it as feeling the “most concerned” in Modasuite, Africa.  This doctor took this relief trip on his own, and admits now that he probably should not have gone.  Another trip that affected him was Gaza in 2009.  Even though this was during wartime, the doctors and volunteers were not scared or worried, but were impacted by this situation.  “Every place we’ve gone has been an area hit by natural disasters.  But the problem here is very surreal, the violence is man-made, killing over wanting more land … They [the Palestinians] are prisoners in their own land,” illustrated Dr. Mehr.  

“Unfortunately in our community, volunteerism is not something that we rush to do.  We have to understand as Muslims that volunteerism is required of us, that is how our religion spreads,” said Dr. Mehr when he explained that 20% of IMAMA’s volunteers are non-Muslim.  He continued, “We’re not there to preach or do du’a, but these people just see us and want to learn more, so when we come back home they later ask for a copy of the Qur`an.”

Dr. Mehr is married to a pediatrician who is a fellow IMANA volunteer, and they are the parents of a son and a daughter.  “Volunteerism is a very important aspect of our deen (faith), not only in our Islamic community, but also in our cities.  I coach my kids’ sports teams because I prefer to be the one with them, it shows family support,” Dr. Mehr concluded.


Community News (V16-I6)

Farah Pandit leaves state department for Harvard

Farah Pandith, the first-ever US special representative to Muslim communities, is leaving her position at the State Department to join the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

Appointed to the position in June 2009 by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pandith “always places people above politics, and she has performed groundbreaking work,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement on Thursday.

Originally from Srinagar, Ms Pandith will be joining the Institute of Politics as a resident fellow for the spring semester. She will lead weekly study groups on a range of topics.

Ms Pandith has a master’s degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an AB from Smith College. Ms Pandith’s deputy, Adnan Kifayat, will serve as the acting special representative until a permanent replacement is named.

Describing Ms Pandith as a “trailblazer and a visionary,” Mr Kerry said “Farah’s legacy is an extraordinary record of thoughtfulness, balance, and sheer guts and determination.”

“For Farah, this isn’t just a career. It’s her life’s passion,” he said.

“It’s in her DNA as a first-generation immigrant who achieved historic firsts for America, from changing the way our Embassies engage with Muslim communities in Europe to getting a Quran placed in the White House Library.”

Zarin Ibnat Rahman among Intel Talent Search finalists

The Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) is the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science competition. Intel STS alumni have made extraordinary contributions to science and hold more than 100 of the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science. Students are selected based upon their scientific research and also on their overall potential as future leaders of the scientific community. Intel STS recognizes and rewards 300 students, as well as their schools, as semifinalists each year. From that select pool, 40 finalists are then invited to Washington, DC in March to undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for $630,000 in awards, including the top award of $100,000.

Among this year’s finalists is  Zarin Ibnat Rahman from  Brookings High School, Brookings, South Dakota. Her project is titled, ‘The At-Risk Maturing Brain: Effects of Stress Paradigms on Mood, Memory and Cognition in Adolescents and the Role of the Prefrontal Cortex.’

Muslims and Jewish unite to help tornado victims

OKLAHOMA CITY–Muslim and Jewish students from across the country are joining together to help in the recovery of Oklahoma’s tornado victim.  “Bridges,” an interfaith dialogue and action arm of the Jewish Disaster Response Corps, is coordinating the effort and has so far rebuilt several homes in Moore, Shawnee, Newalla and Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Watchdog reported.

Adina Remz, executive director for JDRC, said the Bridges program “is based around the idea that our communities are stronger when they work together and coexist. Thus, we participate in community service projects, social gatherings, and religious discussions throughout the year.”

“Some of the bigger events include an annual Jummuah/Shabbat dinner and an alternative breaks trip,” Remz said. “Each year, they spend a week helping with disaster relief. In the past, we joined the JDRC Birmingham, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. By doing these sorts of activities, we hope to promote unity between these faiths.”

Yousuf Khan named CIO of Qualys

Security software maker Qualys Inc. has hired Yousuf Khan, formerly CIO of Hult International Business School, as its first CIO, according to media reports. Qualys CEO Philippe Courtot said Mr. Khan will help support the company’s global expansion into threat prevention.

Founded in 1999, Qualys makes cloud software that scans computer networks for malware and tracks lapses in corporate security compliance. Over 6,000 customers use the company’s software to collectively run more than one billion Internet address scans and audits per year.


Beautiful Miladun Nabi (s) at Tawheed Center, Farmington

By Adil James, TMO


Farmington–January 26–The Tawheed Center hosted a beautiful Miladun Nabi (s) program this past Sunday.

About 200 people celebrated the month of the holy birth of the best person in creation from beginning to end, Prophet Muhammad (s).

Mostly the event was composed of people singing praises of Prophet (s) in Urdu, but  there was one speech in English, by Dr. Nakadar of the Muslim Observer, and another speech in Urdu by Shaykh Muniruddin of Minhajul Qur`an in India. 

Many in the audience cried tears of devout love for the Holy Prophet (s) on hearing the beautiful qasidas sung with heart-felt emotion by many men and women with angelic and beautiful voices.

Dr. Nakadar began by saying that we celebrate the birth of Prophet (s) during the month of Rabiul Awwal, which means the “first spring.”  He spoke of Prophet’s (s) greatness, saying that he is Rahmatan lil aalameen, the Mercy for all the worlds, and mentioning the hadith that all of creation was created from the light of Prophet (s). 

Dr. Nakadar said that throughout the year we reflect on the teachings of Islam, but especially this month.

The doctor mentioned several verses of Qur`an indicating Prophet’s (s) extreme greatness, including “Innal Laha wal malaikatahu yusalloona ‘alan Nabi Ya Ayyuhal ladheena amanu sallu ‘aleihi wa sallimu tasleema” and “khuluqin ‘adheem” and reciting the hadith from Sayyida A’isha (ra) that Prophet’s (s) character was Qur`an.

He said that the path to God is kindness, that paradise lies at the feet of the mother, and emphasized that Prophet (s) never sought revenge despite the many attempts against his holy life.

He emphasized the importance of cultivating the internal qualities of Prophet (s)–who never grew angry with people on his own behalf and was always incredibly patient–this patience attracted people to Islam.

Dr. Nakadar said that he had once given medical treatment to a virulently anti-Muslim Hindu who had come at an inopportune time to ask for help.  After Dr. Nakadar helped the man he ceased his anti-Muslim activities and did his best to be tolerant and helpful to Muslims.

The shaykh from Minhajul Qur`an said that worship is necessary but that the prescribed acts of worship actually don’t take a very big portion of a person’s day.  Hajj, fasting, salat, zakat and shahada don’t take very much time and yet we should fill our days with worship–men and jinn were created for ‘ibadah.  And so the shaykh argued that continuous ‘ibada consists of the prescribed worship but also of acts of kindness and being of service to the community.  He specifically mentioned that an extremely important part of worship is looking at one’s father and mother with respect.


U.S. ‘Dismantling’ Rhetoric Ignores Iran’s Nuclear Proposals

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON – Iran’s pushback against statements by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House that Tehran must “dismantle” some of its nuclear program, and the resulting political uproar over it, indicates that tough US rhetoric may be adding new obstacles to the search for a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Wednesday, “We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching over 5%.”

When CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked President Hassan Rouhani, “So there would be no destruction of centrifuges?” Rouhani responded, “Not under any circumstances. Not under any circumstances.”

Those statements have been interpreted by US news media, unaware of the basic technical issues in the negotiations, as indicating that Iran is refusing to negotiate seriously. In fact, Zarif has put on the table proposals for resolving the remaining enrichment issues that the Barack Obama administration has recognized as serious and realistic.

The Obama administration evidently views the rhetorical demand for “dismantling” as a minimum necessary response to Israel’s position that the Iranian nuclear program should be shut down. But such rhetoric represents a serious provocation to a Tehran government facing accusations of surrender by its own domestic critics.

Zarif complained that the White House had been portraying the agreement “as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the word they use time and again.” Zarif observed that the actual agreement said nothing about “dismantling” any equipment.

The White House issued a “Fact Sheet” November 23 with the title, “First Step Understandings Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program” that asserted that Iran had agreed to “dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.”

That wording was not merely a slight overstatement of the text of the “Joint Plan of Action”. At the Fordow facility, which had been used exclusively for enrichment above 5%, Iran had operated four centrifuge cascades to enrich at above 5% alongside 12 cascades that had never been operational because they had never been connected after being installed, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had reported.

The text of the agreement was quite precise about what Iran would do: “At Fordow, no further enrichment over 5% at four cascades now enriching uranium, and not increase enrichment capacity. Not feed UF6 into the other 12 cascades, which would remain in a non-operative state. No interconnections between cascades.”

So Iran was not required by the interim agreement to “dismantle” anything. What Zarif and Rouhani were even more upset about, however, is the fact that Kerry and Obama administration spokespersons have repeated that Iran will be required to “dismantle” parts of its nuclear program in the comprehensive agreement to be negotiated beginning next month.

The use of the word “dismantle” in those statements appears to be largely rhetorical and aimed at fending off attacks by pro-Israel political figures characterizing the administration’s negotiating posture as soft. But the consequence is almost certain to be a narrowing of diplomatic flexibility in the coming negotiations.

Kerry appears to have concluded that the administration had to use the “dismantle” language after a November 24 encounter with George Stephanopoulos of NBC News.

Stephanopoulos pushed Kerry hard on the Congressional Israeli loyalist criticisms of the interim agreement. “Lindsey Graham says unless the deal requires dismantling centrifuges, we haven’t gained anything,” he said.

When Kerry boasted, “centrifuges will not be able to be installed in places that could otherwise be installed,” Stephanopoulos interjected, “But not dismantled.” Kerry responded, “That’s the next step.”

A moment later, Kerry declared, “And while we go through these next six months, we will be negotiating the dismantling, we will be negotiating the limitations.”

After that, Kerry made “dismantle” the objective in his prepared statement. In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee December 11, Kerry said the US had been imposing sanctions on Iran “because we knew that [the sanctions] would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear program.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed Zarif’s comment as “spin” on Iran’s commitments under the Joint Plan of Action “for their domestic political purposes”.

He refused to say whether that agreement involved any “dismantling” by Iran, but confirmed that, “as part of that comprehensive agreement, should it be reached, Iran will be required to agree to strict limits and constraints on all aspects of its nuclear program to include the dismantlement of significant portions of its nuclear infrastructure in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the future.”

But the State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, was much less categorical in a press briefing January 13: “We’ve said that in a comprehensive agreement, there will likely have to be some dismantling of some things.”

That remark suggests that the Kerry and Carney rhetoric of “dismantlement” serves to neutralize the Israel loyalists and secondarily to maximize US leverage in the approaching negotiations.

Kerry and other US officials involved in the negotiations know that Iran does not need to destroy any centrifuges in order to resolve the problem of “breakout” to weapons grade enrichment once the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium disappears under the terms of the interim agreement.

Zarif had proposed in his initial power point presentation in October a scheme under which Iran would convert its entire stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into an oxide form that could only be used for fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.

US officials who had previously been insistent that Iran would have to ship the stockpile out of the country were apparently convinced that there was another way to render it “unusable” for the higher-level enrichment necessary for nuclear weapons. That Iranian proposal became the central element in the interim agreement.

But there was another part of Zarif’s power point that is relevant to the remaining problem of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium: Iran’s planned conversion of that stockpile into the same oxide form for fuel rods for nuclear power plants as was used to solve the 20% stockpile problem.

And that plan was accepted by the United States as a way of dealing with additional low-enriched uranium that would be produced during the six-month period.

An element included in the Joint Plan of Action which has been ignored thus far states: “Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the six-month period, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.”

The same mechanism – the conversion of all enriched uranium to oxide on an agreed time frame – could also be used to ensure that the entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium could no longer be used for “breakout” to weapons-grade enrichment without the need to destroy a single centrifuge. In fact, it would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a low level for a nuclear power programme.

The Obama administration’s rhetoric of “dismantlement”, however, has created a new political reality: the US news media has accepted the idea that Iran must “dismantle” at least some of its nuclear programme to prove that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo was shocked by the effrontery of Zarif and Rouhani. “That’s supposed to be the whole underpinning of moving forward from the United States perspective,” Cuomo declared, “is that they scale back, they dismantle, all this stuff we’ve been hearing.”

Yet another CNN anchor, Wolf Blitzer, who was an official of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee before becoming a network journalist, called Zarif’s statements “stunning and truly provocative”, adding that they would “give ammunition” to those in Congress pushing for a new sanctions bill that is clearly aimed at sabotaging the negotiations.

The Obama administration may be planning to exercise more diplomatic flexibility to agree to solutions other than demanding that Iran “dismantle” large parts of its “nuclear infrastructure”.

But using such rhetoric, rather than acknowledging the technical and diplomatic realities surrounding the talks, threatens to create a political dynamic that discourages reaching a reasonable agreement and leaves them unresolved.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the US war in Afghanistan. His new book Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, will be published in February 2014.

Inter Press Service


Bringing Edward Snowden to Trial Could Be the Embarrassment of the Century

By Bill Blum

whatareyoulookingatThere’s little doubt that if the Obama administration ever managed to bring NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden before a jury on American soil, the unfolding drama would quickly become the trial of the new century.

But despite all of its bluster, is the administration really eager and ready for such an undertaking? The answer, surprisingly, may be “no,” and for one simple reason—the trial of the century could also quickly devolve into the embarrassment of the century.

To be sure, from a technical standpoint, the Justice Department has a very strong case. Snowden has been charged with three very serious federal felonies carrying a potential combined 30 year prison sentence: one count of theft of government property and two violations of the 1917 Espionage Act for transmitting classified defense and intelligence information about NSA spying to journalists Glenn Greenwald, then of The Guardian newspaper, Barton Gellman of The Washington Post and Laura Poitras.

According to many legal experts, including Greenwald, Snowden’s motives for leaking secret documents and computer files are legally irrelevant under the Espionage Act, to which formal whistle-blower protections don’t apply. As in the 2012 prosecution of former CIA analyst John Kiriakou for disclosing classified information to the press about the waterboarding of al-Qaida prisoners and last year’s Chelsea Manning court-martial, Snowden’s judge may exclude such evidence from his trial. As a result, Snowden’s jury may never get to consider what would otherwise be his central defense—that he acted not to aid the nation’s enemies but to expose government wrongs and protect our constitutional rights.

Ordinarily, when the odds are so strongly stacked in their favor, prosecutors smell blood in the water and aim for maximum punishment. But last week, Attorney General Eric Holder, the country’s top prosecutor, held out the possibility of engaging in plea negotiations with Snowden should the fugitive return, albeit still insisting that Snowden “broke the law … caused harm to our national security and has to be held accountable for his actions.”

Unlike the Manning trial, which took place in a cloistered military base, or the prosecution of Kiriakou and other Obama-era whistle-blowers, which received little day-to-day press attention, a Snowden trial would be a unique 24/7 news sensation, even if live cameras were barred from the courtroom and spectators were excluded from some hearings involving as-yet undisclosed classified material.

As the administration well knows, we live in a media-driven culture fascinated by the lurid details of big-stakes criminal prosecutions and political scandals—witness the sky-high TV ratings achieved by the HLN cable network for its broadcast of the Jodi Arias murder trial in Arizona and the current saturation coverage of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “bridge-gate” debacle. As a pure media circus, the prosecution of Snowden would far eclipse them all, attaining the status of a national obsession in the fashion of the O.J. Simpson case in the mid-’90s.

But it’s not just the circus atmosphere of a Snowden trial that the administration would want to avoid and that, I suspect, has Holder talking about plea negotiations. It’s what the trial and the circus would reveal about the overreach of the modern American surveillance state and the injustice of prosecuting the man credited by so many with bringing that overreach to light.

Even if Snowden’s judge excluded evidence of motive during the trial and Snowden chose not to take the stand, the Justice Department would still have to prove in open court exactly what NSA surveillance files and computer programs Snowden pilfered and disclosed. Commentators on all the major networks would wax late into the night parsing each day’s revelations, debating the lawfulness and necessity of the NSA’s operations as never before, invoking the negative findings of two executive-branch review panels and re-examining the legal opinion written in December by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, who concluded that the NSA’s dragnet collection of telephone metadata was tactically ineffective and almost certainly unconstitutional.

Every day the trial continued, the prosecution also would have to contend with the possibility Snowden supporters somewhere in the world would release new NSA documents, deploying a pressure tactic that some observers have dubbed “graymail.” And at sentencing, as he exercised his right of “allocution,” we finally would get to hear from Snowden himself, not on the issue of guilt or innocence but on the question of punishment to explain why he deserves leniency and should not be sent to prison for standing up to the surveillance state.

For the administration, this is a nightmare scenario. Rather than jailing Snowden, a far better resolution—one reportedly under review within the NSA and fully endorsed by the editorial board of The New York Times—would be some form of amnesty or clemency, consistent with the president’s pardon power under Article II, Section II of the Constitution.

To date, of course, the president has been extremely stingy with pardons, prompting some pundits to quip that a Thanksgiving turkey is more likely to receive forgiveness from Obama than a deserving criminal defendant. Since assuming office in 2008, Obama has granted a mere 61 acts of clemency and pardon, compared with 200 dispensed by George W. Bush and 450 issued by Bill Clinton.

But with the recent announcement that Russia intends to extend Snowden’s asylum status, the chances are good that come next Thanksgiving Snowden will still be in Moscow rather than on a plane back to Washington. Between now and then, Obama could spare himself the embarrassment of the century and simply do the right thing by taking the threat of prison for Snowden off the table. What happens thereafter—whether a full-blown amnesty or some kind of plea bargain is offered—should be the only remaining item on the legal agenda.


Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Survives Attempt On Life

By Ghaith Shennib


Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister and interim Interior Minister Sadiq Abdulkarim speaks during a news conference in Tripoli January 29, 2014. Abdulkarim survived unhurt after gunmen fired on his car in Tripoli on Wednesday in an attack reflecting the violent chaos plaguing the North African nation two years after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall.

REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s deputy prime minister survived unhurt after gunmen fired on his car in Tripoli on Wednesday in an attack reflecting the violent chaos plaguing the North African nation two years after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall.

The Libyan government is struggling to contain dozens of unruly militias, former rebel brigades and militants who kept their guns after the NATO-backed revolt against Gaddafi in 2011.

Deputy Prime Minister Sadiq Abdulkarim said he had been attacked on his way from the Interior Ministry to the General National Congress assembly. He is also interim Interior Minister since the previous minister quit several months ago.

“I tell those who did it that Libya is bigger than you and Libya’s men will not be threatened by bullets, guns or rockets,” Abdulkarim said a two-minute statement on television.

The state news agency said he had not been wounded in the attack. Abdulkarim, who appeared healthy in his television appearance, said he had returned to work afterwards.
The identity of the attackers was unclear, an Interior Ministry official said.

Libya’s difficulties in asserting state authority worry Western powers which fear that violence in the OPEC country could spill over to its North African neighbors.
Parts of Libya are already effectively under the control of militias, armed tribesmen and Islamist militant groups.

Libya’s fledgling army and police, still in training, are no match for the militias that fought in the anti-Gaddafi uprising. The government has tried to co-opt them with state jobs but they often remain loyal to their commanders or local regions.

Security has deteriorated in recent months. More than 40 people were killed in fighting between rival groups and residents in Tripoli in October. Car bombs and assassinations have become part of daily life in the eastern city of Benghazi.

An armed blockade of three major eastern ports by a group demanding a greater share of oil wealth and more regional autonomy has choked off 600,000 barrels per day of oil exports.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government faces a budget crunch due to the blockade, now in its sixth month. Oil exports, Libya’s lifeline, have more than halved during the dispute.

(Additional reporting by Feras Bosalum and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alistair Lyon)


Gunmen kill Egyptian General; Mursi Defiant at Trial

By Michael Georgy

Egyptians watch television showing the trial of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, in Cairo January …

CAIRO (Reuters) – Gunmen on a motorbike killed a senior Egyptian Interior Ministry official outside his home in Cairo on Tuesday, putting pressure on the military-backed government as it struggles to contain an Islamist insurgency.

The death of General Mohamed Saeed, head of the technical office of the minister of interior, suggested militants were stepping up their campaign against the state at a delicate time in Egyptian politics.

Army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled president Mohamed Mursi in July, is expected to announce his candidacy for the same post in the coming days, a move that will anger the Muslim Brotherhood to which Mursi belonged.

Sisi unveiled a political roadmap meant to lead to free and fair elections and stability when he toppled Mursi following mass protests against his rule. Egypt has instead witnessed chaos and increasingly brazen Islamist militants.

The Brotherhood accuses Sisi of staging a coup that has undermined democratic gains made since an uprising ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Hundreds of its supporters were killed in clashes with security forces across Egypt in August.

In the violence since Mursi was toppled, hundreds of members of the security forces have also been killed.

Although authorities have managed to reduce the size of street protests, there is no quick solution for curbing militant violence, as the site of Saeed’s assassination suggests.

A bullet shattered the window of the car he was in during broad daylight – a reminder of the Islamist insurgency that raged for several years in the 1990s until Mubarak crushed it.

Saeed’s assassination came hours before Mursi appeared in court at a Cairo police academy to face charges of kidnapping and killing policemen after a jailbreak during the uprising.

Mursi, who faces charges in three other cases, was not allowed to freely scream slogans against Sisi and the army-backed government, as he did in previous court sessions.

This time he was held in a glass cage with a sound system controlled by the court, another example of the crackdown on dissent which has drawn criticism from human rights groups.

At one point Mursi said he was still the legitimate president of Egypt, and asked the judiciary not to engage in political revenge.

Screaming at the judge, he said: “Who are you? Don’t you know who I am?” “I am the chief of Egypt’s Criminal Court,” replied the judge. At other times Mursi, in a white training suit, paced in his cage.
Other Brotherhood leaders, held in a separate glass cage, waved to people in the courtroom.

A list of 132 defendants published by state media indicated some were Palestinians still on the run. Egyptian authorities accuse the Palestinian militant group Hamas of helping Brotherhood leaders escape from the jail.

They also say Hamas has provided funding for Egyptian militant groups based in Sinai who have claimed bombing and shooting attacks like the one on Tuesday.


The Egyptian state and militants are old enemies. Islamists in the army opposed to President Anwar al-Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel gunned him down in 1981.

Egypt is the birthplace to some of the world’s most notorious militants, including al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

Political violence has hit the economy hard in Egypt, which is of strategic importance because of its peace treaty with Israel and control of the Suez Canal.

Billions of dollars from Gulf Arab states which poured in after Mursi was toppled have kept the economy afloat in the face of street protests, even though tourism revenue, a main source of foreign currency, sank by 41 percent to $5.9 billion in 2013.

Frequent bombings by Islamists, which get widespread news coverage, could greatly cut the chances of an economic rebound.

“Political order and security are a pre-requisite for growth. Without it, there’s no prospect of a recovery in investment or pick up in the tourism industry and other risk-sensitive sectors of the economy,” said Simon Williams, chief Middle East economist at HSBC.

“If the next phase of the (political) transition is successful, confidence may turn in the latter half of this year. But for us, recovery is a 2015 story, not before.”

Militant groups based in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since Mursi’s downfall, but the Islamist insurgency appears to be taking root beyond the region that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian authorities make no distinction between the Brotherhood, which says it is a peaceful movement, and al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants in the Sinai.

Analysts say authorities still don’t have a full grasp of who may be behind the attacks.

“Knowing who is doing what, and who is cooperating with whom, is still a big question facing security authorities in Egypt,” said Gamal Soltan, who teaches political science at the American University in Cairo.

Last week, six people were killed in a wave of bomb attacks targeting policemen in Cairo. And a Sinai-based militant group brought down an army helicopter with a missile, killing five soldiers.

While Egyptians see Sisi as a strong leader who can crush militancy, his biggest challenge may be to support the economy.

Egypt’s central bank has burned through at least $20 billion – roughly half its reserves – supporting the local currency since the 2011 uprising.


Tunisia’s Islamists Cede Power To Caretaker Government

By Tarek Amara


Tunisia’s Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa (L) shakes hands with former Prime Minister Ali Larayedh during a handover ceremony in Tunis January 29, 2014. Tunisia adopted a new constitution on Monday, a big stride towards democracy in the country that began the Arab Spring revolutions and has largely avoided the chaos and violence now plaguing the neighbours it inspired.

REUTERS/Anis Milli

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s new caretaker government formally took office on Wednesday, replacing the Islamist party which came to power after a 2011 uprising but stepped down in a deal intended to help the country embrace democracy.

Three years after the uprising against autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali inspired revolts across the region, Tunisia on Monday adopted a new constitution, and a technocrat government has taken over until elections this year.

Compromise between Tunisia’s Islamist party and their secular opponents to end months of deadlock contrasts with the messy paths taken in neighboring Libya and Egypt, which are still struggling with turmoil and violence.

Former premier Ali Larayedh, an Islamist who spent years in prison under Ben Ali, formally handed over to Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, a technocrat who asked for support to bring stability to the country that started the Arab Spring.

In a transition widely praised as a model, the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its secular opposition set aside differences to allow Jomaa’s caretaker government to lead until the elections.

“It’s great to see power in Tunisia passed on in such a beautiful way and with sincere smile,” Jomaa said referring to Larayedh, an often serious-faced premier who smiled broadly at the moment he handed over the government.

Jomaa, who once ran an aerospace parts company in Paris, has named a non-political cabinet that must decide how to tackle a large budget deficit and the threat of Islamist militants whose presence has grown since the uprising.

Divisions over the role of Islam emerged after the revolution, but the assassination of two opposition leaders last year tipped the country into a crisis that eventually pushed Ennahda to compromise over its rule.

Political splits are still present, but Tunisia’s leaders, heavily reliant on tourism for its foreign income, and with no tradition of violence or military interventions, opted to battle at the ballot box, not on the street. No election date has been set.

“Ennahda handed over power for the benefit of our country, you cannot see this kind of thing every day in our region,” Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda, told Reuters. “We proved that we want consensus and democracy.”

(Editing by Patrick Markey and Toby Chopra)


NewGround: The Story of A Great Success

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

newground logoSouthern California is home to many organizations of faith and social activism. One of the most praiseworthy and effective is NewGround: a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. NewGround  was launched in 2006 as the product of a joint venture between the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and became an independent organization in 2011 under the leadership of Board Chair Edina Lekovic and Executive Director Sarah Bassin. The mission of NewGround was to bring Muslim and Jewish Angelenos together to form personal relationships that lead to understanding of the other.  Eventually both parties develop skills that are brought back to his or her community that lead to productive joint civic engagement.

In effect each party would discover what the two faiths had in common, and while they might have begun at opposite ends of a bridge, they soon met at the center to form a lasting partnership. Successful graduates of NewGround then serve as mentors. Later in this article we will learn about New Ground alumni.

Within a few years of its birth NewGround left the parent organizations to become an independent entity. At this time Rabbi Sarah Bassin, then a graduate of Hebrew Union College, was asked to be NewGround’s director. She accepted and has led the organization to great success, and its many achievements will be chronicled in this article.

NewGround was honored late last year by an invitation to the White House to celebrate Chanukah with President Barack Obama. This was attended by Rabbi Bassin and board member, David Weiner.This honor was due to their work with NewGround and brought honor and recognition to a group that has achieved what many people would have deemed impossible at its inception.


Rabbi Sarah Bassin

Among the activities of NewGround is a Fellowship Program which trains young professionals in their twenties and thirties in communication and conflict styles, intentional listening, the tenants of Islam and Judaism, the realities of Islamophobia and anti Semitism, and the shared faith value of social justice and action. Weekend retreats are held twice during the Fellowship to optimize personal relationships and morph these relationships into action programs.

Interfaith activities and presentations have abounded from NewGround. These activities include a jointly produced Muslim-Jewish Film Festival, the first of its kind; an annual evening of story telling and faith building titled: NewGround Spotlight, and a high school leadership council which was named Top Faith – based Organization in California by Governor Jerry Brown this past summer.

Other honors of note are: NewGround was invited to present best practices in interfaith at the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue and has been invited back for 2014. NewGround was named one of the 50 most innovative organizations in the Jewish North American Community by Slingshot magazine. Rabbi Bassin is the recipient of a Joshua Venture Group Fellowship – a fellowship for Jewish innovators and their projects that also granted NewGround $100,000 for two years.

At this point it is appropriate to include two success stories – out of many- with essays by two graduates of NewGround’s Fellowship Program: Sarah Kelman and Shukry Cattan.

Ms. Kelman: I joined NewGround in 2008 with my husband, who was my boyfriend (and then fiancé) at the time. Although it was his father, a rabbi who is active in the local Jewish community, who encouraged us to apply for the fellowship program, it seemed right away that this group of young professionals would be a great way to meet new people in Los Angeles. I had recently moved to the area from Washington, D.C., and I found it hard to meet new people.

I immediately felt a connection and a sense of acceptance from many members of the group from the first time that I met them – particularly the Muslim participants of NewGround. As I learned more about Islam through the perspectives and experiences of my friends in the group, I came to understand what Talal Asad (a famous scholar on religion) calls Islam’s “discursive tradition” – that is, Islam as a living, breathing, self-reflexive set of traditions and practices. Moreover, the joys and frustrations of living as Muslims in America that my NewGround cohort-mates expressed very much resonated with me, since I am Jewish but am of mixed racial heritage. I found that we shared the feelings of living as perpetual outsiders in a place that didn’t seem to know what to do with us. It was a very rare and precious thing for me to find a group of people who could not only identify with my own precarious experiences with religious and racial identity, but who also unquestioningly accepted me for who I am.

What I found more challenging, though, was finding a connection with the Jewish members of NewGround. It is much easier to judge others who we find to be “conservative” or “traditionalists” in our own communities than it is to find the commonalities that bind us together. I would get easily frustrated with those who didn’t share my own perspectives on Judaism, Israel, etc., and I had very little patience for the whiteness and privilege associated with living as a Jewish person in the United States – a privilege that people seemed hesitant to acknowledge or address. Despite these roadblocks, I found our discussions enjoyable and I learned much from both the Jewish and the Muslim participants of our group. We often spent time socializing on the weekends and getting to know one another outside of the structured group setting.

All of these emotions and experiences, for better or for worse, changed dramatically that summer while we were on a hiatus from our NewGround meetings. Joey Lutz, one of our cohort members, died tragically while on a trip overseas. We were all stunned by the news – Joey was one of the key participants of our group who smiled easily and trusted deeply in the goodness of humanity. He was brimming with love and hope, and losing him put us into a dark place. However, instead of ending our sessions and going our separate ways, our cohort came together in a way that I have never seen. We sat shiva with Joey’s family, attended his funeral, and met up for a memorial bonfire on the beach. We shared stories about Joey’s passion and generosity. We leaned on each other because we needed each other. When we met again officially for our NewGround meetings in the fall, it was as if we had all known each other forever – as a group, we had gone through a loss and grieving process that brought us incredibly close together. From then on, it was difficult to lose trust or doubt the motives of the people who had shared both tears and laughter as we remembered the life of Joey. All of the disagreements that I had with my fellow Jewish participants over the minutae of the kashrut (kosher) laws and the chasm between us on the Israel-Palestine issue were still important, but they no longer made me angry. They became a part of the experience of being in NewGround as a whole, which unfolded around the process of learning about myself as I learned about others. When my husband and I were married in 2009, it filled my heart with joy to see a table full of NewGrounders and their loved ones at our wedding – the only one who was missing was Joey, and we will always be missing him.

What I learned in NewGround has stuck with me as I moved to Northern California to pursue a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. I hope that these lessons have taught me to be curious and compassionate, unafraid and open-hearted. They have inspired the work that I do as an anthropologist-in-training, studying the religious and economic motivations of young entrepreneurs in urban Malaysia. Most of all, though, my experiences as a NewGround fellow have compelled me to never stop learning, and to never be satisfied with what I think I already know. In the end, my NewGround cohort-mates, both Muslim and Jewish, continually surprised me, but I had to let myself be surprised before I could fully appreciate their intellect and their friendship.

Mr. Cattan: I had given up on the idea of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis while visiting the West Bank and Jerusalem, for the first time, in 2010. The region seemed to be at a stalemate, with leaders unwilling to make concessions for the good of their people. I returned to the United States disillusioned and prepared to abandon this entire conflict. Growing up in a Muslim and Christian household, I saw religion as being used to divide people and the concept of universal love seemed to be lost on humanity. I was convinced that dialogue and peace in the Middle East would never happen in my lifetime.

I tried to explore my spirituality more in 2011 and became friends with progressive Muslims who had a desire to change the status quo. Tarek Shawky and Edina Lekovic, an amazing couple I met through my wife Meymuna Hussein, introduced me to the idea of engaging the Muslim and Jewish dialogue. It was through them that I learned about NewGround, an organization aimed at improving the relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities living in Los Angeles. I wasn’t interested in another round table discussion with both sides pointing fingers and more interested in speaking the loudest, rather than listening to each other. What grabbed my attention about NewGround was their goal of creating community service projects between Muslims and Jews to address important social justice issues. This seemed to be a constructive way of building bridges between the two communities with a tangible result. I signed up right away.

I knew this experience was going to be unique after meeting all the fellows in our cohort. It was a diverse group of individuals who all had unique perspectives and experiences to share, but with an openness to learn and change that I hadn’t seen in any other environment between Jews and Muslims. We began our journey with a series of trainings and two retreats that brought us closer together as human beings. We explored our spirituality, shared our experiences with racism and asked thoughtful questions about our identity. I was allowed to be Shukry Cattan first before a Palestinian or Muslim. This empowered me to feel unique and removed the stress of solving the Middle East conflict in one hour or less. It was an important process that allowed us to be leaders on a small scale by working with each other and learning to communicate without judgment or stereotypes. NewGround isn’t the final solution but a single step towards a new journey of understanding and healing.

At the end of the fellowship, we had come to the portion of the program that I was most interested in, developing a community project together. I chose to join the Muslim and Jewish Organized Relief (MAJOR) Fund, a project that had been developed by fellows from the prior year. Within a year of their creation, this group had successful completed a clean water project for an orphanage in Myanmar called Teikha Rama Nunnery. Teikha Rama Nunnery is in North Dagon with 100 orphan girls and boys and 200 day student boys and girls from the neighboring communities. This project will provide clean and safe drinking water to the orphanage and school. I was very impressed by the fact that the group had chosen to work to in a region that had nothing to do with Palestine or Israel and would improve the lives of youth at a Christian school. This work embodied the very vision of how coexistence between Muslims and Jews can be directed towards repairing the world, something that NewGround is making into a reality.

I currently serve on the board of the MAJOR Fund (themajorfund.org) and we are now partnering with an organization to bring clean and safe drinking water to Kawoko Primary & Secondary school in Uganda for over 500 children. My wife has also joined the board and together we are working with a wonderful team of Jews and Muslims who believe there is more that brings our two faiths together than divides us. I began to realize that the conflict between Palestine and Israel had narrowed my ability to see the larger picture of the world. The notion of justice and peace seemed to have no meaning when there are people living in conditions where clean water is a rare resource. The MAJOR Fund has humbled me and allowed me to see that I can never give up on humanity and to never allow the petty and selfish interests of a few people to cloud my intention of brining real peace to this world. Although I had closed my heart to the conflict in the Middle East before joining NewGround, I have graduated from this fellowship opening my heart to the world.

Rabbi Bassin and Edina Lekovic have consented to answer questions posed by The Muslim Observer.

The Muslim Observer: Rabbi Bassin and Ms Lekovic, on behalf of my newspaper, thank you for your time. Let me begin with Rabbi Bassin. What were your thoughts when you were approached to become the Executive Director of NewGround? (I believe you said that when you accepted the position, the group was already underway).

Rabbi Bassin: Interfaith work has always been central to my identity, since I came from a mixed religious background. When I started my rabbinic studies, I knew that I wanted to pursue a non-traditional rabbinate that put interfaith collaboration at the forefront of my work. So when I was offered the opportunity to head NewGround by the board, I had to say yes because the organization so deeply reflected my values. Here was a team of Jews and Muslims who, for four years until that point, shaped the vision of the program together at every step. It was not one community pushing its agenda on the other. It was a shared partnership committed to transforming the toxic history of relations among leaders that had come to define the two communities in Los Angeles over the last two and a half decades. What motivated the board, and me, was the recognition that in order to build the foundation for collaboration between our two religious minorities, we had to invest in the emerging generation of Muslim and Jewish leaders. I believed deeply in the potential for NewGround’s flagship program – our young professionals fellowship that equips emerging community leaders with the skills, resources and relationships to make positive relations the norm rather than the exception. Since 2006, we’ve trained over 100 young professionals who go back to work directly with their own communities eager to create authentic relationships between their communities.

TMO: Ms Lekovic, Would I be correct in assuming (since MPAC’s involvement predates Rabbi Bassin’s) that when the idea of a group such as NewGround was floated, there was a great deal of skepticism?

Ms Lekovic: Even among people who supported our initial vision, there were some who called us naïve and idealistic. Frankly, I don’t blame them. The history of Muslim-Jewish relations in Los Angeles was one defined by stops and starts. More than a dozen leaders met regularly to talk about their faith and communities and they deliberately avoided talk of the conflict, which meant tensions would mount any time conflict erupted between Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, some of the leaders engaged in dialogue would walk away because of their anger that the “other side” would not condemn the actions of “their own.” Coming off this shaky ground, we conducted research to understanding the existing landscape and also learn what was missing from all those who had been involved. Once we had the data, we designed a program to address the gaps and missteps. Central to doing it right was figuring out how we would engage directly and candidly on the toughest issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead of avoiding it in order to “preserve” relationships. We learned from the research that avoiding the topic is disastrous, as is making it the first issue on the agenda. So we designed a program that acknowledges conflict as a natural part of any relationship. What we have found is that once you acknowledge and respect disagreement and are able to see conflict through the other’s eyes without seeking agreement as an end goal, then you can identify your common values and interests and work together to better your shared city without the danger of the relationship falling apart at the first sign of trouble. In the past seven years, our skeptics have become some of our biggest supporters and champions because they’re seeing real results on the ground that benefits all of us together.

TMO: Rabbi Bassin and Ms Lekovic: Did you run into opposition from the Jewish and/or Muslim communities?

Rabbi Bassin: People from both communities have legitimate fears and questions about engaging with the other. And it behooves us and our mission to speak directly to those fears. So we do. I occasionally encounter opposition mainly from people who do not see how this work is in the self-interest of the Jewish community. I often share the statistic that the single greatest predictor for whether someone will hate Muslims is if they hate Jews. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, a person who is prejudiced against Jews is 32 times more like to be prejudiced against Muslims. Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred are two sides of the same coin and yet our communities are fighting these battles largely in isolation because we let our political disagreements overshadow our shared interests.

Ms Lekovic: The challenges in the Muslim community are part attention span and part fear of being asked to reach agreement rather than mutual understanding. Facing countless domestic and international challenges, American Muslims can be a hard sell on NewGround because they are already involved in other major issues and may not prioritize local action over international events. I point out that as American Muslims, we ought to define ourselves by the issues here in our own backyard more than by any conflict that is thousands of miles away. Secondly, I hear fear of a “kumbayah” attitude a great deal. Young leaders don’t want to be asked or pushed to come up with so-called unity statements that propose a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fortunately, our program goals are clear – we seek to build candid, authentic relationships which respect our different experiences and focus on our shared local interests. That has quelled anxieties and resulted this year in our largest pool of Muslim applicants to date!

TMO: These are questions for both of you. Given the success of NewGround, do you plan to expand it (or use it as a role model) beyond Southern California either throughout the state or to other states?

Rabbi Bassin and Ms Lekovic: NewGround already consults with grassroots groups and organizations across the country to help them learn from the research and experience we have from 7 years on the ground.  We help people think strategically about the process behind building their dialogue which is just as important as the dialogue itself.  We have also had inquiries from community leaders in other cities about replicating the Young Professionals’ Fellowship.  At this point, NewGround is focused on Los Angeles.  We want to be strategic in our growth when we do consider a more national presence.  Part of what makes NewGround so successful is the high level of quality-control around everything from the recruitment process and the facilitation of the program to the continued alumni engagement.  We are in the early stages of exploring what it would look like to successfully replicate the fellowship in other cities and how to tailor our model to the particular history and needs of each community.

TMO: Are there organizations or individuals that you liaise with on a regular basis?

Rabbi Bassin and Ms Lekovic: NewGround has collaborated with nearly 50 Jewish and Muslim organizations over the last three years in consulting or building public programs.  The Muslim Public Affairs Council continues to be an important partner and supporter, and we also  work with a whole breadth of groups like American Muslim Professionals, MECA SoCal, Young Muslim American Leaders Advisory Council, the IMAN Cultural Center, UMMA Community Clinic, Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, New Horizon Pasadena and others.  The list of organizations in the Jewish community is just as broad and diverse. 

TMO: What do you see as the future of NewGround five years hence? Ten years hence?

Rabbi Bassin and Ms Lekovic:Within five years, we hope that our expanding alumni network will be actively engaged in collaborative projects benefiting both our communities and the city of Los Angeles in visible and impactful ways.  We also hope that NewGround’s young professionals’ program will be implemented in other major cities creating a foundation for  transformation in Muslim-Jewish relations at a national level. 

In ten years, we envision that relations between our two communities will be viewed as healthy and productive by both of our communities and that partnership between our communal organizations will become commonplace, making it the norm rather than the exception. 

Congratulations to both of you for the fine work you have done. Again, on behalf of myself and my newspaper, thank you for your time and effort.


Water Contamination Worsens: Ongoing Struggle over Public Safety

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

“Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

– Cree proverb


It’s a lesson that can’t be learned too early if you ask me. Support for Elsipogtog and other groups as they fight the good fight!

After seven months of anti-fracking protests led by the native Elsipogog tribe, Southwestern Energy (SWN), a Houston based energy company, has pulled out of New Brunswick, Canada, for the time being.

“We can’t allow any drilling, we didn’t allow them to do the testing from the beginning,” said Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi.

The decision to delay further shale exploration in the area was the result of relentless and passionate demonstrators who blocked Hwy 11 with burning tires and with their own bodies, in order to prevent trucks from passing.

Levi said word that SWN is leaving is no cause for celebration just yet. SWN is ending its exploration work, but will return in 2015. This pause will at least give the exhausted protesters a break.

“We went through a lot,” he said. “We need some time for this to sink in and think about everything, think about what we went through…People did a lot of sacrificing.”

Despite this small victory, things continue to get worse. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that “according to figures from a National Energy Board (NEB) data set obtained under access-to-information by CBC, the rate of overall pipeline incidents has doubled since 2000. By 2011, safety-related incidents — covering everything from unintentional fires to spills — rose from one to two for every 1,000 kilometers of federally-regulated pipeline. That reflects an increase from 45 total incidents in 2000 to 142 in 2011.”

On January 26, a natural gas pipeline in Otterburne, Manitoba owned by TransCanada exploded at 1:05am into billowing flames which burned for twelve hours before it was finally extinguished.

A nearby resident, Paul Rawluklives told reporters, “As we got closer, we could see these massive 200 to 300 meter high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane… Massive, like absolutely massive… And bright, I mean it lit up the sky.”

“It was like the sun coming up,” said neighbor Tyler Holigroski.

There were no reported injuries, but 4,000 people had no heat for several days during the bitter -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) weather while the pipeline was being repaired. Several homes were evacuated as a result of the explosion and roads leading into the site were closed. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the National Energy Board are investigating.
The nearby Beaver Lake Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation tribes are currently in litigation with the Canadian federal and provincial governments to not only halt expansion of mining operations but to revisit the original permitting of the sites altogether, due to egregious violations of Treaties 6 and 8, to which these First Nations are signatories.

Meanwhile in Texas and Oklahoma, a grassroots environmental movement is also growing due to personal safety concerns about fracking and because the danger of transporting the oil and gas.

“This pipeline is a big accident waiting to happen, ” says East Texas landowner Mike Hathorn. “A spill is going to happen on this pipeline somewhere.”

He has good reason to worry. Methane gas has already leeched into the drinking water in North Texas. Scientist Geoffrey Thyne said the contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing continues to spread to more wells.

Energy company Range Resources claims there is no evidence the gas in the water and the gas it is producing is the same, using a common legal loophole that takes advantage of the fact that most homeowners do not test their well water until after they suspect a problem. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Duke University scientists have done detailed isotopic analyses that demonstrate that the chemical mixture found in local residents’ drinking water did indeed originate from Range Resources’ drilling.

Even without doing any testing, local residents say the water contamination is obvious.

Steve Lipsky, who lives in an upscale subdivision in Weatherford, Texas complained to the Railroad Commission that his water was bubbling. The agency found methane in Lipsky’s water. Lipsky showed news reporters how the well spigot – with water flowing – would ignite when exposed to flame!

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the EPA issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 demanding that Range Resources resolve the problem and supply Lipsky’s family with water. But in March 2011 the Railroad Commission ruled Range Resources was not to blame. Range thus refused to comply with the EPA’s order, which landed the company in court. Range settled in March 2012 and the EPA withdrew its order. The company agreed to conduct testing for a year.

A separate isotopic study of drinking water by the National Science Foundation showed five times the level of methane in some water wells than what Range Resources had admitted to.

“We’re seeing high methane concentrations and that result alone indicates to me that EPA closing the case was premature,” Rob Jackson told the AP.

Elizabeth Struhs, Lipsky’s neighbor, fears for her family. “We had good water before they came here,” she said, referring to Range Resources.

Finally, in Michigan, four activists from Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands will be going to trial on felony charges this week because they hindered the construction of an Enbridge pipeline by attaching themselves to construction equipment last July near Stockbridge, Michigan. That same pipeline ruptured in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River.

Lisa Leggio, one of the protesters facing trial, used to swim and go kayaking in the Kalamazoo River before the oil spill.

“People were made to leave their homes and the ones that couldn’t have become sick, have died, and are dying. The wildlife is sick and diminishing. Enbridge, the corporation responsible, is not being held accountable and is not even sure how and if it can properly clean it up. And the current dredging process currently active poses a GREAT threat to our drinking water and environment, so much so that some towns are fighting the dredging and winning,” she said.


Mubarak-Era Networks Return For New Military Man In Egypt

By Maggie Fick


Egypt’s Army Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a meeting with Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, November 14, 2013.

REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

SHEBIN EL KOM, Egypt (Reuters) – When an uprising toppled Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, men like Ahmed Saif who helped run his vast patronage network melted away.

Three years later, Saif and other former members of Mubarak’s party are back in action in the populous countryside, offering everything from refrigerators for newlyweds to welfare-like stipends to the poor in exchange for votes.

This time, the slick political machine is drumming up support for army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Egypt’s first freely-elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Mursi, and is expected to become president.

Their return casts fresh doubts about the stumbling political transition in the biggest Arab state.

Although Sisi is expected to win by a landslide, the backing these wealthy local kingpins are offering suggests he could entrench his rule much the same way Mubarak did.

The 2011 revolt was meant to rid the political landscape of operators like Saif, who served in parliament under Mubarak. His money and connections give him immense sway in rural Egypt, where people usually vote for whoever distributes jobs or funds.

Saif’s door is always open for anyone in the Nile Delta town of Shebin El Kom, a collection of cinderblock apartment buildings on a tributary of the Nile that winds through the country’s most productive farmland, north of Cairo.

“Sit down,” he said, twirling prayer beads as he sipped tea in his parlor above his nationwide tour company and greeted two men who wanted money to repair their mosque.

“If one is preparing himself to run for elections, he must give services to the people.”

In the West, politicians turn to sophisticated public relations companies during electoral campaigns. Here, they look to players like Saif, who sit in their offices listening to constituents and offer solutions by opening their wallets.

Analysts say the nature of Egyptian politics means that the influence of local notables over voting habits, especially in rural towns and villages, where most people live, is likely to remain widespread for years to come.

With many of Mursi’s followers in jail or driven underground, and liberal parties unable to challenge Sisi, there are few forces in a position to overhaul the system.

Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which was banned after the 2011 uprising, was never ideological, like the Communist parties in Eastern Europe. Instead the party was an efficient vehicle for distributing patronage.

Sisi, whose image hangs on posters across Shebin El Kom, may have to depend in the long-term on local politicians who can secure a level of consent from the population that cannot be achieved by force alone.

To keep his popularity intact, Sisi would have to work the strategic countryside, just like Mubarak did.

“Without the rural areas and the population outside the large cities, no government can hope to establish a political mass of support,” said H.A. Hellyer, an Egypt expert and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“If you only have Cairo, you can’t hope to hold on forever.”


Well before Saif was elected to parliament in 2005, he was doling out cash to residents of his hometown. The community service helped Saif establish his position as what Harvard University professor Tarek Masoud calls a “local notable”.

The term describes “someone with a ready-made vote bank: somebody with a non-negligible number of people who are going to vote for him no matter what,” Masoud said.

After Mubarak’s ouster, Saif took a backseat politically and watched Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood dominate elections.

Saif saw his opportunity to get back into the game last spring, as anger built over the Brotherhood’s rule.

First, he paid to have petitions printed locally for a signature campaign that called for early elections.

Anti-Brotherhood activists told Reuters that Saif began donating supplies to them for protests that they began ahead of June 30, the date set for nationwide demonstrations. He had a platform built, a sound system and tents installed and arranged for free meals to be delivered daily.

Days later, Sisi toppled Mursi and unveiled a political roadmap he promised would bring free and fair elections.

As the state began a security crackdown on the Brotherhood, Saif reprised a role he had honed during Mubarak’s rule.

He provided 10,000 meals during the holy month of Ramadan to anti-Brotherhood citizens and bought toys for children. He also kept in close touch with the new army-backed interim government.

After attending a meeting in December with interim President Adly Mansour on a new constitution, Saif held what he called “conferences” where he blared nationalistic songs, and provided people who showed up with drinks and food.

The approval of the constitution by 98 percent of voters this month paved the way for Sisi to declare his candidacy for president and Saif is ready to help.

“Sisi is a patriotic man. He saved the country,” he said.


The government in Cairo is eager to cast both the Brotherhood and Mubarak loyalists as enemies of the nation.

“There will be no return to the pre-January 25 practices because Egyptians will not allow the return of those who had a role in the arrival of things that led to (that) revolution,” said Mostafa Hegazy, adviser to interim president Adly Mansour.

Still, critics say that the resurgence of such a network of support under Sisi could limit the prospect of disentangling economic policy and state finances from the ruling political elite–features of Mubarak’s rule that critics say stifled Egypt’s economy.

The army-backed administration says the high support for the constitution will offer an opportunity to break with the past.

But the re-emergence of people dismissed by a liberal minority as “feloul” or “remnants” from the Mubarak era suggests to analysts that Sisi can count on a potentially long rule supported by many of the people who backed Mubarak.

In the province of Menoufia, home to Saif and the birthplace of Mubarak, some residents interviewed by Reuters were uneasy about the return of Mubarak-era politicians.

A 28-year-old woman who gave her name as Marwa said she had lost hope in politics since the 2011 uprising and didn’t plan to vote in the next elections.

“I don’t think it’d be a good thing if they came back into politics,” she said.

Still, many others are again gravitating to “feloul” like Saif — people who guarantee an economic lifeline to the central government in Cairo, or at the very least help in a pinch.


Just across town, there is further evidence that masters of the patronage system are again dominating local politics.

Back in 2010, Samer El-Tellawy, who inherited a factory that produces a tobacco brand used in water pipes around Egypt, won a seat in parliament in polls considered so widely rigged they brought on the 2011 revolt.

Involved early on as a youth leader in the local branch of Mubarak’s ruling party, Tellawy’s status as the wealthy scion of a well-connected family made him a natural candidate for office.

His cattle farm and the Arabian horses his brother raises at stables near the Pyramids of Giza speak volumes about the wealth amassed by Mubarak supporters.

Tellawy’s factory employs around 2,600 people, a reality that makes him popular in Egypt’s tough economic times.

Thousands of factories have shut since the 2011 uprising, swelling by hundreds of thousands the ranks of unemployed in a nation where two-fifths live on or around the poverty line.

When the Brotherhood came to power, a member of the Islamist group took Tellawy’s seat in the 2011 elections.

“They targeted me, they attacked me,” Tellawy, 36, said. “They had a problem with my popularity.”

Yet his political star is rising once more. Like Saif, he sees Sisi as the answer to Egypt’s myriad problems.

“June 30 was a popular revolution and the people made Sisi the leader of it. So for that reason it was successful,” said Tellawy, referring to the protests which prompted the army chief to oust Mursi.

The well-dressed businessman provides services to poor citizens through his family-run charity which gives out monthly stipends to some 350 families, helps the blind, and also provides newlyweds with appliances like washing machines.

Although Tellawy would not divulge his political plans, many expect him to run for office.

“He has a big chance of winning,” said high school student Mostafa Ashraf of Tellawy, reflecting the local mood.

Perhaps sensitive to the stigma against members of his former party, Tellawy has for the past three years focused on running his factory and his charity – activities, nevertheless, that boost his local cache among voters.

Masoud of Harvard University said the return of “local kingpins” to elected office would raise questions about Egyptian democracy, adding the patronage system is “not ideal.”

“Now in Egypt you are a long way from the ideal anyway, so what you want is some regular electoral process in which people who want to have power accept the legitimacy of elections as a means to getting power,” Masoud said.

“If we can just have a few free and fair elections that are not abrogated … maybe that’s the best you can hope for in Egypt right now.”

(Additional reporting by Marwa Fadel; Editing by Michael Georgy and Anna Willard)


Clash of Titans

By Uri Avnery


U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy at Costco Wholesale in Woodmore Towne Centre in Lanham, Maryland January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

This is not merely a fight between Israel and the US. Nor is it only a fight between the White House and Congress. It is also a battle between intellectual titans.

On the one side there are the two renowned professors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. On the other, the towering international intellectual, Noam Chomsky.

It’s all about whether the dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog.

Six years ago the two professors shocked the US (and Israel) when they published a book, “The Israel lobby and US Foreign Policy,” in which they asserted that the foreign policy of the United States, at least in the Middle East, is practically controlled by the State of Israel.

To paraphrase their analysis, Washington, D.C. is in effect an Israeli colony. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are Israeli occupied territories, much like Ramallah and Nablus.

This is diametrically opposed to the assertion of Noam Chomsky that Israel is a US pawn, used by American imperialism as an instrument to promote its interests.

(I commented at the time that both sides were right, and that this is a unique dog-tail relationship. I even quoted the old Jewish joke about the rabbi who tells a plaintiff that he is right, and then says the same to the defendant. “But they can’t both be right!” remonstrates his wife. “You are right, too!” he answers.)

Intellectual theories can seldom be put to a laboratory test. But this one can. It is happening now. Between Israel and the US a crisis has developed, and it has come into the open. It’s about the putative Iranian nuclear bomb. President Barack Obama is determined to avert a military showdown. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is determined to prevent a compromise.

For Netanyahu, the Iranian nuclear effort has become a defining issue, even an obsession. He talks about it incessantly. He has declared that it is an “existential” threat to Israel, that it poses the possibility of a second Holocaust. Last year he made an exhibition of himself at the UN General Assembly meeting with his childish drawing of the bomb.

Cynics say that this is only a trick, a successful gimmick to divert the world’s attention away from the Palestinian issue. And indeed, for years now the Israeli policy of occupation and settlements has been advancing quietly, away from the limelight.

But in politics, one gimmick can serve several purposes at once. Netanyahu is serious about the Iranian bomb. The proof: On this issue he is ready to do something that no Israeli prime minister has ever dared to do before: Endanger Israeli-US relations.

This is a momentous decision. Israel is dependent on the US in almost every respect. The US pays Israel a yearly tribute of at least $3 billion, and in fact much more. It gives us modern military equipment. Its veto protects us from UN Security Council censure, whatever we do.

We have no other unconditional friend in the world, except, perhaps, the Fiji Islands.

If there is one thing on which practically all Israelis agree, it is this subject. A break with the US is unthinkable. The US-Israeli relationship is, to use a Hebrew expression much loved by Netanyahu, “the rock of our existence.” So what does he think he is doing?

Netanyahu was brought up in the US. There he attended high school and university. There he started his career. He does not need advisers on US affairs. He considers himself the smartest expert of all. He is no fool. Neither is he an adventurer. He bases himself on solid assessments. He believes that he is able to win this fight.

You could say that he is an adherent of the Walt-Mearsheimer doctrine.

His present moves are based on the assessment that in a straight confrontation between Congress and the White House, Congress will win. Obama, already blooded by other issues, will be beaten, even destroyed.

True, Netanyahu was proved wrong the last time he tried something like this. During the last presidential elections, he openly supported Mitt Romney. The idea was that the Republicans were bound to win. The Jewish casino baron, Sheldon Adelson, poured money into their campaign, while at the same time maintaining an Israeli mass-circulation daily for the sole purpose of supporting Netanyahu.

Romney “couldn’t lose” — but he did. This should have been a lesson for Netanyahu, but he didn’t absorb it. He is now playing the same game, but for vastly higher stakes.

We are now in the middle of the fight, and it is still too early to predict the outcome. The Jewish pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, supported by other Jewish and Evangelical organizations, is marshalling its forces on Capitol Hill. It’s an impressive show.

Senator after senator, congressman after congressman comes forward to support the Israeli government against their own president. The same people who jumped up and down like string puppets when Netanyahu made his last speech before both houses of Congress, try to outdo each other in assertions of their undying loyalty to Israel.

This is now done in the open, in an exhibition of shamelessness. Several senators and congressmen declare publicly that they have been briefed by the Israeli intelligence services, and they trust them more than the intelligence agencies of the US. Not one of them said the opposite. This would have been unthinkable if any other country was involved, say Ireland or Italy, from which many Americans are descended. The “Jewish State” stands unique, a kind of inverse anti-Semitism.

Indeed, some Israeli commentators have joked that Netanyahu believes in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the famous — and infamous — tract fabricated by the secret police of the Czar. It purported to expose a sinister conspiracy of the Jews to rule the world. A hundred years later, controlling the US comes near to that.

The senators and representatives are no fools (not all of them, in any case). They have a clear purpose: To be re-elected. They know on which side their bread is buttered. AIPAC has demonstrated, in several test cases, that it can unseat any senator or congressman who does not toe the straight Israeli line. One sentence of implied criticism of Israeli policies suffices to doom a candidate.

Politicians prefer open shame and ridicule to political suicide. No kamikaze pilots in Congress.

This is not a new situation. It is at least several decades old. What is new is that it is now out in the open, without embellishment.

It is difficult to know, as of now, how much the White House is cowed by this development.

Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry know that the US public opinion is dead set against any new war in the Middle East. Compromise with Iran is in the air. This is supported by almost all the world’s powers. Even the French tantrums, which have no clear purpose but to throw their supposed weight around, are not serious.

President Francois Hollande was received in Israel this week like the harbinger of the Messiah. If one closed one’s eyes, one could imagine that the happy old pre-de Gaulle days were back again, when France armed Israel, supplied it with its military atomic reactor and the two countries went on escapades together (the ill-fated 1956 Suez adventure.)

But if Obama and Kerry hold fast and stay their course on Iran, can Congress impose the opposite course? Could this turn into the most serious constitutional crisis in US history?

As a sideshow, Kerry is going on with his effort to impose on Netanyahu a peace he does not want. Kerry did succeed in pushing Netanyahu into “final status negotiations” (nobody dared to utter the word peace, God forbid), but nobody in Israel or Palestine believes that anything will come out of this. Unless, of course, the White House puts the whole might of the US behind the effort — and that seems more than unlikely.

Kerry has allotted nine months to the endeavor, as if it were a normal pregnancy. But the chances of a baby emerging at the end of it are practically zero. During the first three months, the sides have not progressed a single step. So who will win? Obama or Netanyahu? Chomsky or Walt/Mearsheimer?

As commentators love to say: Time will tell. In the meantime, place your bets.

Arab news


Brahimi Says No Substantive Progress On Syria But Hopeful

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Mariam Karouny


U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi smiles during a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) – International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday that he does not expect to achieve anything substantive in the first round of Syria talks ending on Friday, but hoped for a more productive second round starting about a week later.

His somber assessment came as the two sides took a first tentative step forward by agreeing to use the same 2012 roadmap as the basis of discussions to end the three-year civil war, though they disagreed about how talks should proceed.

“We talked about the TGB (Transitional Governing Body), but of course it is a very, very preliminary discussion and more generally of what each side expects,” Brahimi told reporters.

Asked his expectations for the first week-long round expected to end on Friday, he said: “To be blunt, I do not expect that we will achieve anything substantive.

“I am very happy that we are still talking, but the ice is breaking slowly. But it is breaking,” he said, adding that he was not disappointed.

Opposition and government sides said they agreed to use the “Geneva communiqué”, a document endorsed by world powers at a conference in June 2012, and which sets out the stages needed to end the fighting and agree on a political transition.

“We have agreed that Geneva 1 is the basis of the talks,” opposition spokesman Louay al-Safi told reporters.

The Syrian government delegation, which had earlier submitted its own document that it wanted the talks to focus on, said it would use the Geneva communiqué, with reservations. Syrian state television said the government wanted to discuss the text of Geneva 1 “paragraph by paragraph”.

While the opposition wants to start by addressing the question of the transitional governing body that the talks aim to create, the government says the first step is to discuss “terrorism”.

There was still no sign of a breakthrough in attempts to relieve the suffering of thousands of besieged residents of the rebel-held Old City of Homs, an issue that had been put forward to break the ice and build confidence at the start of the talks.

“We also tried to see what is happening over the humanitarian issues, in particular about Homs. Negotiations between the United Nations and the Syrian authorities are still ongoing,” Brahimi said of the stalled U.N. aid convoy.


“Mr Brahimi said tomorrow they are going to discuss terrorism because stopping terrorism is the first issue that should be handled,” said Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Geneva communiqué refers to the government and “armed opposition groups”, but there is no mention of “terrorism” or “terrorists”, terms used by the Syrian government to describe those fighting to overthrow Assad.

The opposition delegation wants discussion of the transitional governing body to come first, including its size and responsibilities, Safi said.

“They seem to be more ready to discuss that issue, but still they are trying to push it to the back of the discussion. We told them this has to come first, because nothing else can be achieved unless we can form the transitional governing body.”

The opposition says transitional arrangements must include the removal of Assad, which the government rejects.

Despite contradictory interpretations of Geneva 1 by the two sides, organizers of the talks at United Nations headquarters in Geneva have made it a priority to keep the process going and dissuade either side from walking out.

The absence from the talks of powerful Islamist groups opposed to Assad, and of Iran, Assad’s main regional ally, has put a major question mark over what can be achieved.

The United States and Russia, the joint sponsors of the conference, agreed on Wednesday to increase pressure on the two sides to reach a compromise, Russia’s state-run RIA news agency reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Brahimi said he was in touch with both powers and hoped that they would exert greater influence in the future.

A Western diplomat said it was positive that the parties were still at the table.

“We don’t think this is a process that should last years, but it’s clear that after three years of civil war, a week isn’t going to resolve it,” the diplomat said.

“What we hope is that by the end of the week there will be sufficient common ground so that they agree to meet again and hopefully something tangible comes out on the humanitarian side.”

The opposition wants the government to allow in a U.N. aid convoy for 2,500 people under siege in the Old City of Homs, but the government has said it needs to be sure the food and medicine will not go to armed groups or terrorists.

“It is still stalled, as far as I know,” said Patrick McCormick, spokesman of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

A spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Programme, which is waiting to deliver a month’s rations to the Old City, devastated by shelling and fighting, also said there was no movement.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay has previously said international law requires all sides to permit free passage of food and medicines, and starvation of civilians as a method of combat may amount to a war crime.

Access to Homs and other besieged areas holding an estimated 250,000 people is seen as a proving ground for the peace talks.

The government has encircled hundreds of thousands of people across Syria, blocking off food and medicine. Rebels have also besieged 45,000 people in two Shi’ite Muslim towns in the north.

The Syrian opposition is willing to lift a siege on three pro-government villages as part of a wider deal, its spokesman said on Tuesday.

Damascus has said women and children may leave the Old City of Homs but that it wants the opposition to provide a list of men seeking to do so, before they may leave, Brahimi said this week.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles in Geneva, John Irish in Paris and Stephen Kalin and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; editing by Giles Elgood and Will Waterman)


New Evangelical Movement Splits From Pro-Israel Line

By McKay Coppins


WASHINGTON — Figures with deep roots in America’s religious right have launched a quiet effort aimed at pushing evangelical Christians away from decades of growing loyalty to Israel and toward increased solidarity with the Palestinians.

The campaign by a coalition of religious leaders, international nonprofits, and activists has taken place in recent years largely behind the scenes and away from the prying eyes of the political press — and it’s being driven by a generation of Evangelicals alienated by the way their faith was yoked to Republican foreign policy during the Bush years. Now, organizations like the Telos Group and the large Christian nonprofit World Vision have joined a small army of ministers and Christian opinion-makers working to reorient Evangelicals’ stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — producing documentaries about the plight of Palestinian Christians, providing theological rationale for a more “balanced” view of the issue, and taking Evangelicals on trips to the Middle East.

The goal is to soften the bulletproof political alliance between American Evangelicals and Israel — forged over decades of successful courtship by Israeli governments and pro-Israel forces in the U.S. — and to make room on the religious right for Palestinian sympathies. If the movement is successful, it would represent a move toward mainline, politically liberal Christian denominations that have long been aligned with the Palestinian cause. The Presbyterian Church USA, for instance, briefly adopted a policy of divesting from some companies doing business in Israel.

The campaign has alarmed America’s most committed Christian supporters of Israel, who acknowledge their rivals’ message is gaining momentum within the church.

“This effort is being led by Palestinian Christians who, while not always Evangelicals, are quite adept at using evangelical language and imagery in their effort to blame Israel and Israel alone for Palestinian suffering,” said David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel, a key group in rallying American Christians to the Jewish state. “The movement has gotten louder because they have more money to spend. So we’re seeing more anti-Israel Christian films, speakers, and conferences. It’s very much grasstops, not grassroots.”

Brog said his rivals’ fledgling success should push Zionists to engage more actively in the evangelical debate over Israel.

“We’re also seeing some signs that this message is resonating with the rising generation of Evangelicals — the millennial Evangelicals,” Brog added. “So we can’t afford to wait. We must speak out and correct the record before more of our young people are led astray.”

One of the evangelical leaders calling for a more “nuanced” view of the conflict is Todd Deatherage, who spent five years in the Bush State Department before co-founding the Telos Group to expose Evangelicals to the complexities of the issue. He said their purpose is not to persuade Christians to turn against Israel, but rather “to affirm and support the dignity of all the people of the Holy Land, to be truly pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian at the same time.”

To achieve this, his group organizes about 15 trips to Israel every year, where American participants — mostly Evangelicals determined to be open-minded and influential in their respective communities — meet with peace activists, victims of violence on both sides of the conflict, and members of the Bethlehem Bible College, which trains Arab Christian pastors. The objective, Deatherage says, is to “change the conversation” among conservative Christians in the U.S.

“We want people to go on these trips and then go back and change others’ minds by talking about their own experience, taking the things they’ve learned and using them to help others understand what it means to be global citizens,” he said.

Lynne Hybels, an evangelical writer and minister heavily engaged in what she calls the “pro-peace” movement in Israel, was even more blunt about their intentions. She said they hope to “build a political constituency that supports peace and supports policymakers with the courage and commitment to work for peace.” As Hybels sees it, that means occasionally standing up for Palestinians — and not allowing Christian critics to get away with accusing them of “abandoning God’s chosen people.”

There has always been a small vocal minority of American evangelical provocateurs who rail against modern-day Israel at progressive political rallies and in the pages of Sojourners magazine. But the current campaign is attracting attention in large part because its leaders boast the kind of conservative Christian credentials even Mike Huckabee could appreciate.

For example, a 2010 documentary questioning the wisdom of Evangelicals’ unwavering commitment to Israel was endorsed by a top official at World Vision, one of the largest Christian humanitarian organizations in the world. The film has since been screened several times at World Vision events, and it received a favorable review in America’s leading evangelical magazine,Christianity Today, which declared, “Christian Zionism is officially on notice.”

Meanwhile, Gabe Lyons — a young evangelical organizer and graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University — has put on series of Christian conferences aimed, in part, at promoting an “open, honest discussion” on the Middle East conflict. Like many of his peers, he believes the evangelical conversation on this topic has been hijacked by political activists — and he wants to reclaim it.

“The evangelical community has only heard one narrative on this issue. Part of the responsibility we have is to make sure they hear the rest of it,” said Lyons, who believes he’s witnessing a shift in opinion among “younger Evangelicals who are just getting full exposure to what’s really happening in the region.”

The foreign policy of the conservative Christian movement has long been defined by a fervent, often biblically inspired, devotion to Israel, with top Republican leaders frequently citing their faith as a driving force in their commitment to protecting the “Promised Land.” This dynamic was most visible during the presidency of George W. Bush, a political icon of Christian conservatism who often framed his agenda for the Middle East — which included an unwavering alliance with Israel — in terms of divine destiny. In the 2012 Republican primaries, Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared, “As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel.”

The case for Israel in American politics is hardly based solely on faith. Evangelicals, like other Americans, hear arguments about Israel’s place as a free-market democracy in a region that’s broadly hostile to American interests. But for many believers, the widespread evangelical view that modern-day Israel represents the fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Jewish people is rooted in the “dispensationalist” theories of 19th-century theologian John Nelson Darby. The idea was popularized among U.S. Christians over several decades, with books like the 1970 best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth — a sort of end-times catalog of world events that supposedly proved Armageddon was only a decade away — and the massively popular Left Behind series. For the vast majority of conservative Evangelicals, it has become an article of faith that Israel deserves the absolute support of America’s diplomatic efforts and military might.

If Evangelicals’ minds are beginning to change — as advocates on both sides of the church’s Israel divide contend — the trend has yet to be borne out in public polling. A Pew survey last year found that a staggering 82% of white Evangelicals believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people — more than twice the proportion of American Jews, and up 10 points from a similar poll in 2005.

Still, Deatherage says Evangelicals don’t need to abandon their theological beliefs about Israel in order to feel Christian sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians. In fact, Deatherage said the most eye-opening experience for many of the people he takes on Telos trips is interacting with the Palestinian Christian community.

“The fact is that there is a church on the ground,” Deatherage said. “We imagine this conflict to be between Jews and Muslims, and so when people see that there are Christians there, and even Palestinian Evangelicals, they didn’t know that. I mean, there’s a Bible college in Bethlehem, where people talk about their faith the very same way they do, they read the same books, many of them studied in the same universities in the U.S.”

And as several advocates pointed out, even a minor retreat from the religious right’s current hard-line position on Israel would give Republicans substantially more flexibility in their foreign policy. Already, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — whose frequent dustups with Israel hawks in his party have been well-documented — is emerging as a legitimate contender for the 2016 GOP nomination. What’s more, Rex Elsass, a Paul adviser with close ties to the conservative Christian movement, said the senator has managed make inroads with conservative Christian voters despite his mixed record on Israel.

“I love Israel. It’s a place I have a lot of passion for, and a lot of interest in personally,” said Elsass, who is making his third trip to the Holy Land, with Huckabee, later this year. “But obviously, Palestinian Christians need to be treated with respect, and their rights need to be respected… We always prefer that the weapons of war be beaten into ploughshares. And that is certainly something the Judeo-Christian faith is ultimately called to.”


Statement by Secretary John Kerry on the Departure of Special Representative Farah Pandith

Statement by John Kerry

Farah always places people above politics, and she has performed groundbreaking work since her appointment in June 2009 as the first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities by my predecessor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Farah’s legacy is an extraordinary record of thoughtfulness, balance, and sheer guts and determination. Anyone who’s work with Farah will note her uncommon ability to bring people of different backgrounds together. I’ve seen that commitment firsthand in her pioneering work to reach out to countries with both Muslim majorities and minorities.

For Farah, this isn’t just a career. It’s her life’s passion. It’s in her DNA as a first-generation immigrant who achieved historic firsts for America, from changing the way our Embassies engage with Muslim communities in Europe to getting a Quran placed in the White House Library. 

On so many issues, Farah Pandith has been a trailblazer and a visionary. She traveled to more than 80 countries and launched critically important youth programs, including Generation Change, Viral Peace, and the Hours Against Hate campaign. 

Farah’s career in public service has taken her from Chief of Staff of the Bureau for Asia and the Near East at USAID to Director for Middle East Regional Initiatives at the National Security Council to Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Throughout her time in government, and in every position she’s held, Farah has left an indelible mark on the issues that mattered most to her.

I am deeply grateful for Farah’s invaluable contributions as our Special Representative to Muslim Communities and wish her and her family well as she pursues an exciting new opportunity at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.  After Farah’s departure, her deputy, Adnan Kifayat, will serve as the acting Special Representative until a permanent replacement is named.


The Nervous System


As the most complex system, the nervous system serves as the body control center and communications electrical-chemical wiring network. As a key homeostatic regulatory and coordinating system, it detects, interprets, and responds to changes in internal and external conditions. The nervous system integrates countless bits of information and generates appropriate reactions by sending electrochemical impulses through nerves to effector organs such as muscles and glands. The brain and spinal cord are the central nervous system (CNS); the connecting nerve processes to effectors and receptors serve as the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Special sense receptors provide for taste, smell, sight, hearing, and balance. Nerves carry all messages exchanged between the CNS and the rest of the body.

The neuron transmits electric signals like an electric wire. The perikaryon (cell body) is the neuron central part. Dendrites, short branches, extend from the neuron. These input channels receive information from other neurons or sensory cells (cells that receive information from the environment). A long branch, the axon, extends from the neuron as its output channel. The neuron sends messages along the axon to other neurons or directly to muscles or glands.

Neurons must be linked to each other in order to transmit signals. The connection between two neurons is a synapse. When a nerve impulse (electrical signal) travels across a neuron to the synapse, it causes the release of neurotransmitters. These chemicals carry the nerve signal across the synapse to another neuron.

Nerve impulses are propagated (transmitted) along the entire length of an axon in a process called continuous conduction. To transmit nerve impulses faster, some axons are partially coated with myelin sheaths. These sheaths are composed of cell membranes from Schwann cells, a type of supporting cell outside the CNS. Nodes of Ranvier (short intervals of exposed axon) occur between myelin sheaths. Impulses moving along myelinated axons jump from node to node. This method of nerve impulse transmission is saltatory conduction.

The brain has billions of neurons that receive, analyze, and store information about internal and external conditions. It is also the source of conscious and unconscious thoughts, moods, and emotions. Four major brain divisions govern its main functions: the cerebrum, the diencephalon, the cerebellum, and the brain stem.

The cerebrum is the large rounded area that divides into left and right hemispheres (halves) at a fissure (deep groove). The hemispheres communicate with each other through the corpus callosum (bundle of fibers between the hemispheres). Surprisingly, each hemisphere controls muscles and glands on the opposite side of the body. Comprising 85 percent of total brain weight, the cerebrum controls language, conscious thought, hearing, somatosensory functions (sense of touch), memory, personality development, and vision.


Historic Test Chase Total for Pakistan

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

512px-PakistancricketBoard-logo.svgThe Pakistani national cricket team reaching their second highest chase target run total in a test match, as they achieved the target of 302 runs to win in 59 overs over Sri Lanka. Their successful chase can largely be attributed to Azhar Ali’s fifth Test century (103) as he and Misbah-ul-Haq shared a 109-run stand for the fifth wicket. Misbah himself finished with 68 not out, hitting the winning single with just nine balls to spare. This was the third test match in the series with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had won the second Test in Dubai by nine wickets while the first Test ended in a draw in Abu Dhabi.

Things were looking grim for Pakistan with the score 107-3 at tea. They ended needing 195 runs in the last 35 overs. Ali was actually kept on the bench for the first two test matches. He was able to reach his hundred off of 133 balls, including six boundaries. He stepped up the pace during a rapid 89-run partnership in 14.5 overs with Sarfraz Ahmed (48) which left Sri Lanka on the defensive.

Even when Sarfraz was out, caught behind off paceman Shaminda Eranga, Pakistan needed 116. Sarfraz hit four boundaries and a six off 46 balls, with additional support from Misbah. Needing to score at a rate of more than five an over to win, Pakistan were given a rapid 35-run start by the sixth over but paceman Suranga Lakmal (3-79) halted that progress by dismissing openers Shehzad and Manzoor within 13 runs. Younis Khan tried to increase the pace before being caught off Angelo Mathews two overs before tea, but the scenario changed in the last session.

Pakistan’s highest chase total was the 314 they chased against Australia in Karachi in 1994. With this series tied, Pakistan also remained unbeaten in five series in the United Arab Emirates, which has become their home since security fears — sparked in the wake of attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009 — forced them to play at neutral venues. They twice drew series with South Africa (2010 and 2013) and beat Sri Lanka (2011) and England (2012).

Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews lamented his team’s batting failure. “We dominated for three-and-a-half days but unfortunately could not score big in the second innings and lost,” said Mathews, declared man-of-the-series for his 412 runs in three Tests.

Earlier, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 214 in their second innings, with left-arm spinner Abdul Rehman finishing with 4-56 and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal taking 3-53, but not before their batsmen had kept Pakistan at bay on the morning of the fifth and final day.

On an exciting day when both teams had a chance of victory, Mathews (31) and Prasanna Jayawardene (49) shared a 62-run stand for the sixth wicket and batted positively to add 56 in the first hour after the tourists resumed at 133-5. But Mohammad Talha gave Pakistan their much-needed breakthrough when he had Mathews caught off a miscued hook.

Rehman then grabbed two quick wickets to put the brakes on Sri Lanka, having Dilruwan Perera caught at short-leg for eight before removing Rangana Herath for a first-ball duck. Herath recorded a golden pair in the match as he was also dismissed first ball in the first innings. Prasanna hit six boundaries in his 88-ball knock before he was dismissed by Ajmal, who also removed Shaminda Eranga to wrap up the innings.

Misbah said Pakistan desperately wanted the win. “That was really a much wanted win. We wanted the win it for our coach Dav Whatmore and wanted to give him a winning farewell,” said Misbah of the team coach,  with this match officially marking the end of Whatmore’s two-year tenure as the team’s coach.


Amir Khan’s Wife Expecting

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



The wife of Pakistani-British boxing star Amir Khan, Faryal Khan, gave her first ever radio interview in England recently and announced that the couple is expecting a baby girl. She said, “I’m really excited, it’s amazing. A blessing. I have seen Amir change so much. He’s looking after me and being concerned. I can’t wait for the baby to come along.”

She also told the BBC Asian Network that she was originally drawn to her husband Amir because of how respectful and humble he was. “We met when he was doing a Prada shoot in New York City and I was around at the time. During that time we went for dinner with mutual friends and since then we kept in touch and became really good friends.” She added, “He says he believes in love at first sight but I don’t really believe in that. I really liked him as a person. I couldn’t imagine how humble he was. A respectful guy. It really made me fall in love with him.”

The pregnancy has resulted in Faryal having to put her career plans on hold. She had been working on her masters in political science and journalism with an eye toward becoming a corporate attorney. She also has plans to start her own line of cosmetic products. “I do want to start my own business with a few make-up products. I want to do it for all the Asian girls. Our skin tone is different. It would be nice to do something for them. “I still have my masters left to complete and I always said that I was going to go back. I always wanted to be a corporate lawyer but I can’t go back now I’m pregnant. My first priority is my child.”