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Breaking the Gaza Siege

By Ramzi Kysia

2008-11-10T163944Z_01_JER25_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

An international activist waves a Palestinian flag as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

GAZA CITY, FREE PALESTINE (29 October 2008) – This morning I walked to the Indian Ocean and made salt in defiance of the British Occupation of India. This morning I marched in Selma, I stood down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and I helped tear down the Berlin Wall. This morning I became a Freedom Rider.

The Freedom Riders of the 21st Century are sailing small boats into the Gaza Strip in open defiance of the Israeli Occupation and blockade. This morning I arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity, part of a Free Gaza Movement delegation of twenty seven doctors, lawyers, teachers, and human rights activists from across the world, including Mairead Maguire – the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

When I close my eyes, I still hear the crash of ocean waves, I still feel the warm sun on my face, and I still taste salt from the sea spray. When I close my eyes, I can still see the Israeli warship that tried to intimidate us when we reached the twenty-mile line outside Gaza, and I can still see a thousand cheering people crowding around our ship when we refused to be intimidated and finally reached port in Gaza City. Today, the proudest boast in the free world is truly, “Nam,  Nehnu Nastatyeh!” – “Yes, We Can!”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sailed aboard the Dignity, along with six other Palestinians from the West Bank, from 1948/inside the Green Line, and from countries in Europe. What should have been a ninety-minute drive from Ramallah to Gaza City became a three day odyssey as he travelled from the West Bank to Jordan, then flew to Cyprus, before finally coming aboard the Dignity for the fifteen hour sea voyage to Gaza.

“We’re challenging Israel in a manner that is unprecedented, “said Dr. Barghouti. “Israel has prevented me from visiting Gaza for more than two years now. I am so pleased that we managed to defy Israel’s injustice so that I can see all the people I love and work with in Gaza. Israel’s measures are meant to divide us, but it is our defiance and resistance which unite us. “

Photos from Gaza:  Hamas sailors watch as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed. Other pictures of the boat, and of Palestinians in Gaza.

Reuters

This is a resistance which can and should light the fire of all our imaginations, and bring hope not just to Palestinians, but to peoples suffering the terrible tides of oppression and injustice the world around.

After watching the Dignity’s arrival, Fida Qishta, the local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, said “If Gaza is free then it’s our right to invite whomsoever we wish to visit us. It’s our land and it’s our sea. Now more groups must come, not only by sea but also the crossings at Erez and Rafah must be opened as well. This second breaking of the siege means a lot, actually. It’s the second time in two months that people have come to Gaza without Israel’s permission, and that tells us that Gaza will be free.”

For over forty years, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip. Despite the so-called “Disengagement “ in 2005, when they shut down their illegal settlements here, Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, severely limiting the free movement of goods, services, and travel. Israel is still an occupying power.

For over two years, Israel has maintained a brutal blockade of Gaza. Less than twenty percent of the supplies needed (as compared to 2005) are allowed in. This has forced ninety-five percent of local industries to shut down, resulting in massively increased unemployment and poverty rates. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed, and eighty percent of families are now dependent on international food aid just to be able to eat. An hour after we arrived, I watched a teenage boy digging through the garbage, looking for something he could use.

Israel’s siege isn’t simply illegal – it’s intolerable.

Renowned human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly also sailed aboard the Dignity, and will remain in Gaza for several weeks as Project Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. But, said Butterly, “My feelings are bittersweet. Although we’re overjoyed at reaching Gaza a second time, that joy is tempered by the fact that the conscience of the world has been reduced to a small boat and 27 seasick activists. This mission is a reminder of not only the efficacy of non-violent direct action, but also of the deafening silence of the international community.”

Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action.

Today, the Free Gaza Movement has a simple message for the rest of the world: What are you waiting for?

——-

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org <http://www.freegaza.org/>

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Middle East Hit by U.S. Financial Crisis

Courtesy New America Media, Shane Bauer

Editor’s Note: Even oil-rich Arab countries, which until recently were smug about being insulated from the financial debacle on Wall Street, are starting to worry. Analysts are predicting that they are sure to increase regulations and start pulling their economies away from the United States. NAM contributor Shane Bauer is a journalist and photographer based in the Middle East.

Stock traders in the Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen–While Washington was hashing out the terms of its largest financial bailout in history, Arab bankers were saying everything in the Middle East was as good as ever.

A full-page ad in one Middle Eastern magazine advertised a proposed business park called Falcon City, another fantasy land to add to the skyscrapers and glitter of oil-rich Dubai. Office buildings were shaped to resemble the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt, and the Taj Mahal.

“As a residential or business address, each wonder is a totally amazing investment,” the caption read.

A few days later, the same newsstands spelled dread. Images of fear-stricken men in white robes and kafiyyas, their eyes fixed on strings of red numbers, splashed the front pages. Headlines announced that the Middle East’s markets were crashing, and columnists spit fire, calling on the Arab world to free itself “from the shackles of American imperialism.”

The degree to which Arab investors, which have some $800 billion invested internationally, will rein in their international investments will likely depend on how heavily they are impacted by the crisis. But analysts say that at the very least, Arab countries are sure to increase regulations and start pulling their economies away from the United States.

“U.S. influence has long been waning, both in its capacity to inspire and to intimidate,” says David Levy, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Initiative at the Washington, D.C., think tank the New America Foundation. “The region has been increasingly looking elsewhere for investments and markets. The crisis on Wall Street will only hasten that process.”

2008-10-12T102958Z_01_DUB09_RTRMDNP_3_DFM-LIMITDOWN But Arab analysts say the United States was becoming increasingly unattractive for investment well before the financial crisis hit. Washington had rejected several investment attempts in recent years by Arab companies on the basis that they were, well, Arab.

The last rejection came when some Gulf companies showed interest in investing nearly $20 billion to help save Citi Group and Merrill Lynch when they were initially threatened with bankruptcy. The deal was stopped in Congress when opponents said an increase in Arab investment in the United States would present a national security problem.

As Arab stock markets fall for their third day since reopening after a one-week post-Ramadan holiday, one thing is clear: those with the most open markets and the strongest ties to the U.S. economy are being hit the hardest.

In the past three days alone, banks in the Persian Gulf have lost about $150 billion. On Tuesday, the Tadawul All-Shares Index, home to the Arab world’s biggest market, finished at its lowest close in four years.

Countries that last week were saying that their economies were “insulated” from international financial disasters are now bailing out their banks. The central bank of the United Arab Emirates pumped $17.5 billion into its banks this week and said it is ready to give more if needed.

Jan Randolph, an economic analyst at Global Insight, says that “Arab investors and banks are going to start looking locally for investments.”

The president of the Union of Arab Banks, Adnan Yusif, has announced that there needs to be an increase in regional investment, and economists have been calling for a meeting of financial ministers and policy makers to come up with a regionwide plan to deal with the crisis.

But inter-Arab economic cooperation might not be easy. The Middle East is home to some of the world’s most closed economies, like Syria, as well as countries whose names are virtually synonymous with unfettered growth, like the United Arab Emirates.

Antagonisms over competing economic ideologies run deep in the Arab world, and the current crisis seems to be reigniting debates about how much regional economies should be bound to the global economy.

“If this crisis does send real shockwaves through the region, and you start seeing that economies more closed to the world are more protected, people might start seeing open economies as a double-edged sword,” says David Levy.

Masa’ad al-Kurdi of the Saudi-owned Al-Majella magazine writes that neo-liberal globalization is to blame for the crisis. “The developing world’s economies are dependent on the U.S., the world’s largest importer, to buy their exports,” he argues. As the dollar weakens, “developing countries are going to pay the most,” writes Al-Kurdi, who concludes that “the United States of America is driving the world into the abyss.”

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No Longer a Day at the Beach

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

beach

Enjoying a day at the beach has always been something fun and affordable for families in Egypt. Who wouldn’t want to take a dip in the Red Sea or frolic in the sun soaked sand? But for many residents of Egypt a day at the beach, like so many other commodities in their life, is becoming unaffordable. Now anyone wanting to spend the day at the beach must pay to play.

The reason being is that wealthy developers and governorates of the coastal property are turning public beaches into private ones, excluding the general public from setting foot on the property. Egypt, with its stunning scenery, is fast becoming a playground for the elite. Chalets and 5-Star hotels are going up seemingly over night. And while the public does have limited access to the now private beaches, in the form of an entrance fee of about $18, it is still an unaffordable rate for many families in a country where 65% of the population can barely make ends meet.

More than 100 meters of the Egyptian coast from Alexandria to Marsa Matruh have now been cordoned off from the public. There is not a single public beach in the whole stretch of land. The beaches have also been renamed to further woo tourists. Names like Oxygen, Paradise and Bianki don the most exclusive beaches whom in turn shell out thousands of dollars to the governorates to rent the space. Then the costs are passed on to visitors in the form of high entrance, food and comfort fees. Most of the private beaches will give beach-goers a chair for free, but if they want a towel, sunglasses or even a glass of water they should be ready to pay through the nose.

The private beaches are popular for several reasons. The Red Sea is close to Cairo, which is one of the biggest cities in the World with high-flying executives and wealthy Egyptians seeking to shed the city for the weekend. Another attraction is women’s-only private beaches where women, who normally wear the face veil or burqa, can shed their everyday clothes in favor of a bikini so that they too can soak up the sun, sand and surf. And let’s not forget about global tourists who visit Egypt year round to tour the Pyramids and enjoy activities like desert safaris.

The facilities and leisure activities on offer at Egypt’s most prestigious private beaches are also a massive drawing point. Snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, windsailing and parasailing are just a few of the activities on offer. There are also several resorts and private villages like La Hacienda, Marabella and Marina that offer live concerts, 5-star restaurants, bars and dance clubs.

With a favorable climate, especially in the winter months which is notably warm, more and more of the Egyptian coastline will be developed not for locals to enjoy but rather to cater to those guests who have more disposable wealth to pay for even the simplest entertainment.

The days of the remaining public beaches are most definitely numbered, with newly categorized private beaches going directly under lock and key.

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Florida Stories Vol 8 Iss 18

Local Muslims Gather for Annual Celebrations of Prophet’s birth and life

At locations throughout South Florida this April, traditional Milad-un-Nabi programs were held to celebrate the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad. The events coincided with the Prophet’s birthday on the 12th day of Rabbi-ul-Awwal, third month on the lunar Muslim calendar, which this year fell on April 12.

In Muslim countries, the event is marked by numerous festivities, including devotional song, poetry reading, religious devotion, lectures and get-togethers and feature large scale TV and media coverage. In the states, though overseas TV coverage is now present thanks to satellite TV channels, broadcasting Milad-un-Nabi coverage from back home, events here tend to be more subdued, owing in part to the views of some communities and community members that such celebrations are unlawful innovations, religiously speaking.

Despite the misgivings by some, though, many—perhaps the majority—continue the colorful and joyous observances of what all in the community agree was one of the pinnacle moments in human history, the prophet’s birth.

One such program was held at the Miami Gardens Masjid in Miami-Dade County on Saturday evening, April 8, which annually marks the occasion with either lectures, traditional Urdu-poetry in praise of the prophet, or dinners.

Open to men and women, the program featured a lecture by visiting speaker Faisal Abdur Razzaq of Toronto, Canada. Hundreds of families and community members were in attendance for the annual event which included dinner after the sunset prayer of Salat-ul-Maghrib.

Abdur Razzaq received his Islamic studies at the Umm-Al-Qurra University in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah from 1977 to 1986. He is currently the President of the Islamic Forum of Canada, and the Vice-President of the Islamic Council of Imams of Canada. He served as Imam Khateeb of several mosques and Islamic Centers there including the Islamic society of Peel, the Islamic Centre of Brampton, and the Toronto and Region Islamic Center (TARIC).

Razzaq also conducted a workshop for Muslim Youth on Sunday April 9th at Miami Gardens entitled “Sacred Knowledge Training Program concentrating on Fiqh and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.”

The mosque has been hosting a number of guest lecturers since the departure of its regular imam Abdul-Hamid Samra in March.

Zaid Shakir Speaks in South Florida

Tall and soft-spoken with a slow, deep, and rhythmic speaking style, Zaid Shakir is an African American Muslim community leader perfectly at ease amongst the immigrant origin segments of the community. Over the years, on his journey from an urban northern California youth to Muslim convert and toward the highest rung of Muslim community speaker and leader, Shakir has continually earned respect though humility, hard work and community efforts around the country.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t get loud and passionate when he needs to. Now at the head of one of the most well-known Muslim educational groups in the country—the Zaytuna Institute in his native northern Cali—this past month, Shakir visited South Florida for a number of events.

On Thursday, April 6th at 7 pm Shakir spoke on the subject of “Muslims in America: Challenges and Opportunities,” at the University of Miami’s Learning Center building, co-sponsored by the school’s Department of Religious Studies and the Islamic Society at UM.

Then on Friday, April 7, the Madinah Foundation presented ‘A Night of Reflection; The Ethical Standard of the Prophet Muhammad; Controlling Anger, Promoting Understanding Through Wisdom,’ a lecture by Shakir. The free event was that time held at the Darul Uloom Institute in Pembroke Pines.

Both events were well-attended with positive reaction from attendees.

At UM, Religion 101 students received extra credit for attending the Shakir lecture thanks to longtime ISUM supporter and head of the school’s Religious studies department, Dr. Stephen Sapp.

ISUM president Sarah Uddin greeted the Shakir visit with excitement and praised the turnout.

“We had an awesome turnout! I’m really happy with the program last night. Imam Zaid’s speech was super engaging. He was able to reach so many non-Muslim students and ISUM alumni, in addition to the rest of the ISUM gang, who all came out,” she said.

A mainstay at such prominent national Musilm community events as the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America—where he often speaks at the main stage in front of tens of thousands—Shakir was born in Berkeley, California. He accepted Islam in 1977 while serving in the United States Air Force and obtained a BA with honors in International Relations at the American University in Washington D.C. and an MA in Political Science from Rutgers University.

Spending time overseas in Egypt, Syria, and Morocco, Shakir studied Arabic as well as the traditional Islamic sciences including Islamic law, Quran, and Islamic spirituality. Upon returning, he co-founded Masjid al-Islam in Connecticut and taught Political Science at the Southern Connecticut State University. He has translated several books from Arabic into English including “The Heirs of the Prophet.”

Since 2003, he has acted as a professor and scholar-in-residence at the Zaytuna Institute & Academy, alongside fellow well-known Muslim community speaker, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, also from Northern California.

The Madinah Foundation, which was largely responsible for Shakir’s visit, is the local Zaytuna Affiliate in South Florida, staffed by former community youth and college activists who grew up attending Islamic studies programs around the country and listening to speakers such as Shakir and Hanson as role-models, and also organizes annual Islamic study retreats in Zaytuna’s “Deen Intensive Style”—part nature retreat/camp, part traditional Islamic educational experience trying to recreate pre-Colonial modes of Islamic education—throughout the state.

CAIR-FLORIDA: ‘Urge Legislators to Oppose Bill’
‘BILL WOULD CUT FUNDING FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’

CAIR-FL, along with groups such as Florida Immigration Advocacy Center (FIAC) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa called for the withdrawal of proposed legislation that would prohibit state funds from being used to provide financial aid to university and college students on visas. The statement came on April 24.
Florida House Bill 205 and Senate Bill 458 target students that hold visas and receive financial support from Florida to attend state schools. A similar bill 2003 HB 31, introduced by Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville three years ago targeting some Muslim countries was defeated during the senate hearing.
FAU Students hold Annual ‘Scholar’s Night’
The Muslim Student Organization at Florida Atlantic University held it’s seventh Annual Scholar’s Night on Saturday, April 22nd, at the Life Long Center Auditorium on the FAU Campus in Boca Raton. Entitled: “Believe it or not, you were born Muslim!” and featuring a lecture by local speaker Fadi Kablawi, the event was of a preaching nature, its flier posing the question: “What do you call a religion whose beliefs, practices and followers are being bashed and bad-mouthed in practically every sphere of activity, in almost every corner of the globe, yet it attracts ever-increasing number of people? A Miracle? A Paradox? or simply THE TRUTH: ISLAM.” Such straightforward, declarative and reactionary themes have become more rare in Islamic events in the post-9/11 environment. The lecture featured free admission and dinner and was open to all interested. The FAU MSO has seen a resurgent past semester of activity.

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States found little support in the Arab world when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
In a military confrontation with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, it should not expect any more.
Some Arabs, mainly outside the Gulf, are positively enthusiastic about Iran’s program, even if it acquires nuclear weapons, if only because it would be a poke in the eye or a counterweight to Israel and the United States.
Others, especially in countries closest to Iran, are wary of any threat to the status quo and the instability it might bring.
Most in the Arab world see the U.S. and European campaign against Iran as hypocritical, while Israel refuses to allow international nuclear inspections and is thought to have some 200 nuclear warheads.
“I want the whole region free of all nuclear weapons but if the West continues its double-standard approach on this issue then Iran has the right (to have them),” said Abdel-Rahman Za’za’, a 29-year-old Lebanese engineer.
“This could provide some balance against Israel and help the Palestinians in their negotiations. We have to take our rights because they are not going to be given to us,” he added.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, said this week it saw no harm in Iran developing nuclear arms.
“That would create a kind of equilibrium between the two sides — the Arab and Islamic side on one side and Israel on the other,” said deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Tuesday policies toward nuclear programs in the region needed thorough review.
“These policies which are based on double standards will blow up and escalate this issue and this escalation will not include only Iran and Israel,” he said. The Arab League represents 22 Arab governments, from Morocco to the Gulf.
Iran says it has no intention of making nuclear bombs and wants enriched uranium only to generate electricity. The United States says it does not believe it.
Analysts said they detected a surprising level of sympathy and support for Iran in the region.
WOUNDED DIGNITY
“It’s amazing how encouraging people are of the whole thing. Some think the Iranians are on the way to acquiring it (nuclear weapons capability) and are quite excited,” said Hesham Kassem, editor of the independent Cairo newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“There doesn’t seem to be any awareness that it might be a calamity,” added Kassem, who said he personally was afraid of an arms race bringing in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank, said: “People are very very warm about it (Iran’s nuclear program).”
“Anyone who challenges the United States will find a great deal of support. That’s a very profitable enterprise in public opinion terms,” he added.
“Even if it takes an arms race, people don’t mind. What we have here is wounded dignity and revulsion about the lack of fairness and double standards.”
Most Arab governments have called for a peaceful solution to the confrontation with Iran, in the hope that diplomacy will enable it to develop nuclear energy under U.N. supervision.
If they speak about nuclear weapons, they say the whole Middle East should be nuclear-free, implicitly including Israel. U.S. officials say they can only deal with Israel’s nuclear activities after a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Analysts in the Gulf raised special concerns. “Gulf states are legitimately concerned about Iran joining the nuclear club,” said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates.
“The possibility of a fourth Gulf war is just beyond our ability to manage. We don’t want it. It will just make life miserable and hell,” he added.
Saudi analyst Dawoud al-Sharayan said an Iranian nuclear bomb could give the United States a pretext to maintain its military forces in the Gulf and add to the tension.
Saudi Arabia would then have the right to think about having its own nuclear weapon, he added. –
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in Cairo, Alaa Shahine in Beirut, Miral Fahmy in Dubai and Andrew Hammond in Saudi Arabia)

Adil James—Profile

justme

Adil James graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in American Literature in 1989 and from Columbia University School of Law in 1994.  His father was a career foreign service officer whose career culminated in being ambassador to the West African nation of Niger.  He is descended from Quaker families who emigrated to the American continent in the 1600s, including two of the founders of New Jersey.

He is the Managing Editor / General Manager of TMO, whose primary duties include managing the TMO office, its website, laying out the print newspaper, writing articles, and advising TMO’s CEO on content and strategic direction for TMO.

Adil has worked at The Muslim Observer since November of 2004.