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A man holds a giant pencil as tribute in a solidarity march for Charlie Hebdo victims. Stephane Mahe/Reuters

A year after Charlie Hebdo, France is still searching for answers

A man holds a giant pencil as tribute in a solidarity march for Charlie Hebdo victims. Stephane Mahe/Reuters

A man holds a giant pencil as tribute in a solidarity march for Charlie Hebdo victims. Stephane Mahe/Reuters

France has had a tumultuous time in the year since two brothers opened fire in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 11, before going on to murder another five people in Paris. Just ten months later, the November 13 attacks showed that the threat of terrorism had not receded.

And just weeks after the second major attack, the far-right’s onward march in regional elections suggested that a significant proportion of the electorate had sought refuge in a language of fear and revenge after everything they had seen in 2015.

These growing anxieties were reflected at the highest level of the political system.

France’s leaders had been cautious in their response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Then, the focus during the aftermath was on freedom of speech and long-standing problems of social exclusion. The same caution was not applied in November. President François Hollande immediately implemented a state of emergency, which led to arbitrary arrests and vigorous counter-terrorism activities. He even endorsed a military response in the Middle East more reminiscent of America’s war on terror than the spirit of January 11.

In January 2015, the prime minister, Manuel Valls, had called for an end to France’s “social apartheid”. By November, bombs were raining down on Syria. The contrast could not be starker.

Stumped

Yet, despite the vigorous response to the November attacks, it is the inability to come up with any solutions that has characterised the past 12 months in France.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, the leader of the centre-right party, Nicolas Sarkozy, has found little better to do than argue that his party should be renamed “Les Républicains”. None of this has had any impact on the party’s composition or its ideas.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party has become increasingly torn between those committed to the tolerant, “republican” values of the French left and those who believe in the need for a more muscular response to the terrorist threat.

Only the far-right has stayed true to its message: that a decadent France needs to expel foreigners, withdraw from the euro and secure its borders in order to protect itself.

Not for the first time in recent years, the desperate inability of centrist parties to formulate positive platforms for change has been laid bare. And the most depressing thing is that the same questions are being asked now as ten years ago.

How can France retain its powerful attachment to a republican language of unity and acknowledge the realities of multi-culturalism? What is France’s global role now that its empire has gone and it is little more than a second-tier regional power? How should the French political system reform itself in order to be more representative and less corrupt?

It would be wrong to say that there has been no progress on these issues. In-depth statistical work has shown that France has become more tolerant of multi-culturalism in the past decade. It is also now a crucial player in Europe, having abandoned a past tendency to act unilaterally.

But symbolism matters and here the results are far less edifying. Social exclusion and unemployment continue to be endemic problems. Ideas that are central to the republican tradition – such as “laïcité” (secularism) – have been twisted out of all recognition by a far-right determined to stigmatise Muslims. And neo-colonial escapades in Libya, Mali and now Syria do not help either.

A rightward drift

The lack of progress on these issues has fuelled the rightward drift, as French politics has become dominated by issues of security and immigration.

Not surprisingly, this has benefited the far right. Party leader Marine Le Pen may have failed in her bid to become president of a French region in the local elections but her party secured 27.73% of the overall popular vote and she was assured media coverage commensurate with these strong results.

But the shift is visible elsewhere, too. Most recently, it has been encapsulated in the prickly debate over “déchéance de nationalité” – a proposal to strip dual nationals of their French citizenship if they commit acts of terrorism.

This has long been a signature policy of the far right but had always been resisted by the centre-left socialists on the grounds that it violates the fundamental constitutional right to citizenship by birth. The fact that a socialist president now backs déchéance de nationalité is both a cruel irony and a sign of how far political discourse has converged on issues that are the stock-in-trade of the far right.

As in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of the presidential elections, and in 2005, when France was torn apart by riots, 2015 shook French politics to the core. We are likely to see a recomposition of the political landscape in the coming year – and potentially a change of president in 2017 – but few of the fundamental problems of earlier years have been addressed.

The outpouring of genuine concern after the November attacks and the huge increase in turnout in the second round of the regional elections were reminders that the French know a crisis when they see one. They do not need to be told that things are not right. But they badly need leadership and new ideas – and there is precious little evidence that either of these things are on offer today.

Editor’s note: Emile Chabal is Chancellor’s Fellow in History, University of Edinburgh. This article originally appeared in The Conversation. The author’s views are his own.

 

Photo credit: photodune

Did you know the Statue of Liberty was originally a Muslim woman?

Photo credit: photodune

Photo credit: photodune

By Carissa D. Lamkahouan

The fate of Syrian refugees – most of them Muslim – traveling to America to escape their war torn homeland hangs in the balance as the U.S. Congress debates and votes on laws to pause their travel here. Yet now, amidst one of the largest refugee migrations of our time, various news outlets are reporting the Statue of Liberty, that iconic and grand symbol of welcome to the weary of the world, was originally based on a robed Muslim women.

Most Americans are familiar with the story of how the French gifted Lady Liberty to the United States to celebrate our centennial and to mark the friendship between France and America. The 151-foot statue now stands as an enduring symbol of American freedoms and of a nation of refuge for those who first settled the land, those who would follow and those to come. The copper statue, which was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886, evokes the image of Roman goddess Libertas.  She is depicted holding a torch and a tablet inscribed with the date July 4, 1776, our county’s Independence Day.

But according to recent reports by The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and confirmed by the Smithsonian Magazine, the original concept for the statue was to be modeled after a peasant Egyptian woman. The statue’s designer, Frenchman Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, first drew inspiration for Lady Liberty from Egypt following a visit there in 1855.

There, in the African nation, Bartholdi observed Abu Simbel’s Nubian monuments with their towering colossus figures standing guard over ancient tombs. It was these large and imposing pieces of art which first inspired the artist’s passion and interest in this type of architecture. That interest eventually led Bartholdi to propose the creation of a large-scale sculpture of a Muslim woman to stand at Port Said, the city which sits at the north end of the Suez Canal. He suggested the sculpture be erected in honor of the waterway’s inauguration. He even titled the statue “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.”

However, when the idea was presented to Isma’il Pasha, the Egyptian khedive at the time, he balked at the project’s cost and rejected the idea. After all, the country had just invested massive amounts of money into the canal’s creation and wasn’t eager to add to the project’s overall cost. The country eventually decided on a 180-foot tall lighthouse instead.

Of course, Bartholdi was not deterred from building his large statue and directed his passion to designing a gift for the United States. He eventually settled on the famous design that stands guard on Liberty Island situated in northern New York Bay just off the coast of Manhattan. The statue, which was built by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, bears the official name “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

With a name such as that, one can only hope the world will indeed be enlightened and we all can live a life of liberty and integrity no matter where we are from or, for that matter, where we are headed.

Hijab ban encourages bias: French Muslims

OnIslam & Newspapers

More than a decade after imposing hijab ban in France, Muslims in the European country complained that the ban has given “cover” to acts of discrimination against their community.
“What did we do wrong?” a Muslim child asked his mother after being barred from entering the inflatable toys on a temporary beach near Paris, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, May 27.

The mother of the 9-year-old child, Malek Layouni, was recounting how she felt humiliated when local officials blocked her path to the amusement site for wearing the Islamic head attire
Turned away in front of friends and neighbors, Layouni still has no answer for her son’s question.

In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress for Muslims, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example.

France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011.

Besides the current bans, several politicians have called for extending the prohibition of the Islamic veil to jobs, educational institutions and community life.

Debates surrounding the Islamic veil have resurfaces recently, backed by Paris attacks that left 17 killed, including two Muslims.

Critics of hijab ban argued that the calls for new anti-hijab measures would encourage more bias against Muslims in general and veiled women in particular.

They also claimed that further restrictions would foster radicalization and increasing the gap between Muslims & non-Muslims.

The situation for French Muslims has been deteriorating recently, especially after January’s Charlie Hebdo attack.

In April, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia warned of an unprecedented increase in Islamophobic attacks in France during the first three months of 2015, rising by six-fold than in 2014.

Islamophobic actions soared by 500% compared to the same period in 2011, according to the observatory.

The National Observatory Against Islamophobia said over 100 incidents have been reported to the police since the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 7-9.

The observatory also noted that more than 222 separate acts of anti-Muslim behavior were recorded in the first month after the January attacks.

Targeting women

As Islamophobia soars in France, Muslims women became the main target of anti-Muslim racial attacks, being easily recognized for their Islamic attire.

According to the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, 80% of Islamophobic attacks in 2013 and 2014 targeted Muslim women, mostly veiled.

“What is revolting is that such things take place in broad daylight and with the total indifference of the people around,” said Abdallah Zekri, the group’s president.

Since imposing a ban on the Islamic face-veil, niqab, in 2011, only about 1,000 fines have been issued.

While some fully veiled women defy the ban and pay the fine, other Muslim women felt under siege, afraid to leave home, researchers warned.

“It is the worst-case scenario,” said Naima Bouteldja, who wrote two reports on the subject for the nonprofit Open Society Foundations, which supports human rights.

“They are not liberated, they are imprisoned by this law.”

Many believe that the ban exposes the double standards of the European country, where fully veiled tourist from the Middle East can tour the Champs-Élysées freely without being “ticketed” or discriminated against.

France is home to a Muslim community of nearly six million, the largest in Europe.

17-23

French Muslims forgive man who threw grenades

A French man who threw grenades at a mosque in western Paris has been sentenced to three years in prison, as mosque leaders asserted they have pardoned him.

The Muslim community “condemned the anti-Islamic act” but forgave the man, mosque’s imam, Mohamed Lamaachi, told French newspaper Le Parisien, Local.fr reported on Thursday, February 26.

The imam explained their move as based on religious teachings of forgiveness and respect.

The attacker was jailed on Wednesday after carrying out an attack on the Le Mans mosque in western France in the middle of the night of January 7th/8th.

The man, 69, threw four grenades at the mosque and fired several rounds at the building. No one was injured in the attack.

He told the court that he carried out the attack at a time when he “doubted” anyone was inside the building, claiming he was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

He added that the act was “spur of the moment” and that he had stuck screws to the grenades to instill fear after Charlie Hebdo attacks that left 17 people killed, including two Muslims.

“I’m a Republican and an atheist, and what happened at Charlie Hebdo infuriated me,” he told the court.

“It’s putting a barrier in front of the freedom of the press in our country.”

Seeing the Charlie Hebdo attack as a betrayal of Islamic faith, leaders from Muslim countries and organizations have joined worldwide condemnation of the attack, saying the attackers should not be associated with Islam.

Yet, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said over one hundred incidents have been reported to the police since Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 7-9.

The rise in attacks over the last two weeks represents an increase of 110 percent over the whole of January 2014, the organization said.

Moreover, a Muslim father was stabbed to death in his own home in southern France this week by a neighbor who claimed to be avenging Charlie Hebdo.

The reprisals were a “predictable” response, according to Samy Debah, the president of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).

“The reality of discrimination is catching up with us,” he told The Local recently.

“Muslims are scared. I’m scared for my mother, my sister. I live in a working class neighborhood and I would have never imagined that such things could happen.”

17-10

Iranian Girls Soccer Team No Longer Banned

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

iran_1610091c It was a happy day for a gaggle of young girls in Iran who were finally being allowed to play ball. The Iranian girls soccer team, who had been banned last month from participating in August’s inaugural Youth Olympics, was now being allowed to compete in the six-nation tournament in Singapore. There was a disagreement between FIFA, the governing body of soccer, and the Iran Football Federation, over what headwear the Iranian girls could don. And on April 5th, FIFA took the step of banning the girls from the upcoming tournament. Thankfully, further discussion ensued, and an agreement was reached the first week of May. “We sent FIFA a sample of our new Islamic dress and fortunately they accepted it,” said Abbas Torabian, director of the International Relations Committee of Iran’s soccer federation. “They announced that there was no objection if the players covered their hair with hats,” he told the Tehran Times. Alas, an accord was reached, but the road traveled to reach the agreement speaks volumes about the state of Islamophobia in this world.

The Iranian National Olympic Committee had originally urged FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to review the ban on the hijab, worn by girls and women as part of Islamic dress code. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, rejected the request, saying FIFA had no other choice but the reject Iran’s requests. He cited FIFA’s rulebook of conduct, with Law 4 stating “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.” So, what this argument attempts to do is to reduce the wearing of the hijib to the level of a political or religious statement, rather than the measure of modesty that it is.

The hijab issue was first examined in 2007 after an 11-year-old girl in Canada was prevented from wearing one for safety reasons. FIFA’s rules-making arm, the International Football Association Board, declined to make an exception for religious clothing. The Quebec Soccer Association said the ban on the hijab is to protect children from being accidentally strangled. This mechanism of strangulation has never been documented in sports, nor has it even been properly explained. And if the covering of the back of the neck is such a violation of sporting principles, then should there not be restrictions also on hair length below the ears?

Faride Shojaee, the vice president of the women’s department of the Iranian Football Federation, said that FIFA officials had previously allowed Iranian athletes to participate in the Olympics with their hijab, “before denying them the right to do so in the letter they sent on Monday.” Several athletes, in fact, competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 wearing a hijab, including Bahrain sprinter Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, her country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies.
The hijab has made its way onto the most wanted list around the globe, but particularly in Europe. France, under Nicholas Sarkoczy, has been well publicized in its growing body of rules outlawing the hijab, particularly in school. Now there is a law on the table in Belgium banning the hijab, and a similar law is being considered in the Netherlands as well. With the growing numbers of Muslims in this world, and the corresponding rise in anti-Islamic sentiment, the hijab does seem to be looked upon as more of a symbol or statement. But that is in the eye of the beholder. An eye that is increasingly becoming jaundiced by Islamophobia.

So, finally, a compromise was reached on, ”… a cap that covers their heads to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Now the Iranian girls are back on track to compete from August 12-25 in Singapore, where about 3,600 athletes, ages 14 to 18, will compete in 26 sports. They will represent Asia against Turkey, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Papua New Guinea. They will have to wear caps instead of hijabs. But, in the end, a happy group of girls will be allowed to play ball. What kind of person would have wanted to prevent that?

12-20

Qaradawi Warns of Niqab Ban Discrimination

By Anwar ElShamy, Gulf Times

FILES-ALGERIA-EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-QARADAWI Qatar-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi urged those European countries which are considering outlawing the full veil (niqab) to review their plans, saying that a wider ban on niqab might prompt clerics to campaign for imposing a “modest dress code” on foreigners living in Muslim countries.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Qaradawi said the recent outlawing of the face-covering veil in public by Belgium along with a French draft law to make it illegal would be a violation of both religious and personal freedoms.

“I hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,” Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.

However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.

“Although I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,” he explained.

“I do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,” he maintained.

Quoting from a letter he had sent to former French president Jacques Chirac, the scholar said the ban imposed on hijab in schools would be a betrayal of the principles of the French Revolution, namely liberty, fraternity and equality.

“I told (president Chirac) that prohibiting women from wearing the hijab would be discrimination against them and make them hate France which is known to be a leading country for freedom,” he added.

In his letter, he had also dismissed the notion that hijab was a religious symbol for Muslims as “untrue”, saying that if it was a symbol, why they were allowed to take it off when they were in the presence of other women or male relatives.

“Wearing hijab for Muslims could not be dealt with as wearing a necklace with a cross pendant for Christians,” he said.

He indicated that the sentiments against niqab or hijab were a reflection of a desire by European countries to impose their culture on others.

“I have received a recent visit by French ambassador Gilles Bonnaud and I explained these things to him. I told him that Muslims believed in the unity of humanity but also believed that each nation should stick to its traits,” he added.

“When Muslims ruled India, they did not close down temples or impose a ban on cremation. It is the duty of each nation to respect the values of the other, but with the European case, we can make it difficult for French and Belgian women who stay in Muslim countries by asking them to stick to a modest dress,” he quoted from the conversation he had with the French ambassador to Qatar. 

12-20

The Legacy of Lunch

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

lunch%20tray For the past couple of months now I have been intrigued with an anonymous blog project based in America that has captured the imagination of countless Internet users. The topic of the blog is school lunches in America and the blogger is a schoolteacher that masks her identity for fear of losing her job. Every day, she shares the food that not only her students are eating but what she is eating herself in the school cafeteria. The blog, Fed Up With School Lunch, has ignited a rallying cry that stretches clean across the globe with teachers in countries like Korea and France chiming in to share their school lunch victories and disasters. Most notably, the blog highlights the poor quality of food served in most American schools and the lack of nutrition to sustain students.

What strikes me the most about the project is not the fact that American kids are eating a ton of processed foods intermingled with a mere sprinkling of fresh fruits and vegetables, but the fact that kids in the USA are actually served lunch every day whereas my own children in the Middle East are not offered any form of lunch in their schools whatsoever. In fact, the vast majority of schools in Kuwait don’t offer hot or even cold lunches. And vending machines are absolutely nowhere to be found on school campuses. Most parents send their kids a packed lunch, usually potato chips or chocolate and Pepsi. Some don’t even send lunch at all. And what’s worse is that there is not an allocated time slot for lunch in most schools in Kuwait, so many children bring their lunches back home with them or eat while they are studying.

Kuwait is not the only Gulf country lacking when it comes to school lunches. Even wealthy Arab neighbors like Dubai have a school system that rarely serves lunch. Parents are left to monitor their own children’s nutrition at lunchtime with zero support from the faculty at their school. The biggest problem for parents of school-aged children in the Gulf region is a lack of proper nutritional information. In a recent survey that I conducted in my own daughter’s 3rd grade class, a whopping 90% of children had been given junk food for their lunch with only a handful of children having a healthy lunch and an equal number having no lunch at all.

The price for the ‘rubbish’ lunches, as my hero/cooking guru Jamie Oliver would say, is more and more children in Kuwait are battling obesity before they even reach puberty. The Ministry of Health in Kuwait has recently projected that the rate of diabetes amongst children in Kuwait is set to double in the coming years. And, so far, no one is doing anything about it.

So no matter which way you, slice, dice or reheat it, the legacy of lunch is something that affects children from all walks of life and in every region of the world. It’s up to adults to make the right food decisions for the younger generations, and win the battle over lunch once and for all.

12-17

Middle-class Muslims Fuel French Halal Boom

french halal Retailers and restaurants cash in on rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks

Halal butchery and poultry shelves in a supermarket in Illzach, eastern France. Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

Few things define the traditional good life in France better than champagne and foie gras, but few would have thought them symbols of social integration – until now.

A boom in sales of halal products, including alcohol-free bubbly and goose liver paté approved by Islamic law, is being driven by the emergence of an affluent middle class of young Muslims.

Known as the beurgeois – a play on bourgeois and the word beur, slang for a French person of North African descent – these new consumers are behind a rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks.

With spending power worth an estimated €5.5bn a year, according to the opinion pollsters Solis, these under-40s are forcing international food suppliers to cater for their demands.

Yanis Bouarbi, 33, an IT specialist who started the website paris-hallal.com, which lists restaurants in France serving halal food, says young Muslims are at the heart of a mini social revolution.

“When our parents and grandparents came to France they did mostly manual work and the priority was having enough to feed the family,” said Bouarbi, who arrived from Algeria at the age of three.

“But second or third-generation people like me have studied, have good jobs and money and want to go out and profit from French culture without compromising our religious beliefs. We don’t just want cheap kebabs, we want Japanese, Thai, French food; we want to be like the rest of you.”

The demand for halal products, currently increasing by an estimated 15% a year, has captured the attention of food giants such as the supermarket group Casino, which has stocked an increasing variety of halal foods – mostly meat products – for the last three years.

The fast-food chain Quick has a number of halal-only burger bars; the opening of the most recent caused a political storm before the regional elections last month, but the row has since blown over. Muslim corner shops selling exclusively halal foods and drinks including eggs, turkey bacon and pork-free sausages as well as alcohol-free “champagne”, known as Cham’Alal, are also flourishing.

Halal foie gras, first introduced into supermarket chains across the country two years ago at the end of the Muslim feast of Ramadan, has proved an unexpected success. “It’s one of our best sellers; we have around 30 foie gras bought a day,” Cyril Malinet, manager of a major Carrefour supermarket, told Libération.

Annick Fettani, head of Bienfaits de France, which specialises in halal duck, said: “Until now we’ve had to fight to sell our foie gras but today everyone wants it.” Bouarbi believes the halal boom is taking place because young Muslims have more money. His website now lists more than 400 restaurants in Paris and its suburbs, and he plans to expand it to other French cities.

In Paris’s trendy 11th arrondissement, Les Enfants Terribles restaurant, run by brothers Kamel and Sosiane Saidi, serves halal French haute cuisine. “Before, Muslims wishing to eat halal would go to a restaurant and it was fish or nothing. Now we have a choice,” said Sosiane, 28, who worked in the property market before setting up the restaurant three years ago.

“Young Muslims have money and want to eat out like everyone else but according to their religion. The food doesn’t taste any different; we have many French customers who don’t even know we’re totally halal. To us, that is what integration is about.”

Like Yanis and Sosiane, younger members of France’s estimated 5 million-strong Muslim community – with whom relations have been strained by the recent debate on national identity and threats by Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-of-centre government to ban the burqa – are asserting their economic muscle. As one French website put it, halal is “very good business” for French companies.

“Supermarkets aren’t benevolent charities, they’re in it for the money,” said Bouarbi. “And they’ve discovered halal sells.”

12-15

OpEd–An Insulting Comment

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

I was very surprised to find a reference to my work while “googling” to see if a certain academic piece of mine was online, for I wished to make a reference to it, but I discovered, in the internet edition of Outlook India of August 27th 2007 (http://www. outlookindia/article.aspx?23514), I found an unflattering reference to myself.  In an interactive comment at the bottom of a travel article on Kashmir, “Eden’s Secret” by Parvaz Bukhavi, there was an attack not only on me,  but another American academic and three leading progressives in India.  To quote the comment by a Mr. Varun Shekkar of Toronto Ontario in Canada:

“Articles like this [it happened to be an apolitical travel piece] should give lie to Kashmiri separatists, but to their supporters across the border [i.e., Pakistan], and their vulgar sympathizers in the international media like Eric Margolis and Geoffrey Cook(!)..”  The interactive commentator goes on to say because of the comparative peacefulness of the region of Gurais in the (Indian, sic.[!]) State, “…the…Kashmiri movement is not a province-wide struggle against ‘Indian rule’…a strong rebuff to the likes of Arundhati Roy, Praful Bidwai and Nandita Haksar.”

Thank you, Mr. Shekkar, for including me in such a stellar array of fighters for human rights!  I am a great admirer of Mr. Margolis, but the Ms. and Mr. Roy, Bidwai and Haksar are, also, Indian citizens, and they are courageous individuals for speaking criticizing their own country’s policies when  those procedures are wrong!  I am afraid my name should not be listed with these brave and learned individuals, but I am glad at least someone is reading my works – even my critics!

For me this insult is praise!  From time to time I receive such “compliments” in the press and listservs.  That is one of the drawbacks for “opinion makers,” such as journalists politicians and other  individuals who expose their necks to the public.

Kashmir, after Palestine, is the most burning political issue within the Islamic world currently, for both sides of the argument are nuclear powers, and they almost came to explosive fisticuffs in 2001-2002 which would have killed and maimed hundreds of millions of human souls if not for the diplomatic skills of Perez Musharaf!
I do not wish to go over the recommendations that I made to the United States State Department through an elected Congressional official with whom I worked with on the conundrum and the United Nations — at their request. Because my scenario depends upon one step following after another, an order which is not the way how negotiations work – which are fraught with compromises, I shall not go into my suggestions as a whole.  Kashmir is a resolvable situation, though, but the problem lies within the Government buildings in New Delhi.

The Simla Agreement, where it was agreed that India and Pakistan would work out “outstanding differences bilaterally” without third party interference, has been unworkable!  Third parties (major extra-regional powers?) are needed – especially for shuttle diplomacy.

There is a fair enough chance that India’s right-wing political party, the BJP, who almost brought the region to catastrophe during the first year of this millennium, might be able to form a coalition after the next general election.

Kashmir can be settled, and it must be!  The sooner the better because of the  changing political landscape in South Asia  (Pakistan, too, is in danger that the struggle in the Northwest Frontier Provinces (N.W.P.)will descend into urban regions and their hinterlands there). 

The Arabian Sea area, which borders South Asia, portions of the Middle East and East Africa, does not only have a nuclear threat from Southern Asia but from the United States, France and Israel from  their nuclear missiles within their submarines which regularly prowl the vastness of that Sea.  The quandary lies not only with the Indo-Pak rivalry over Kashmir, but the other powers as well within that wide maritime territory.  The goal should be a nuclear-free zone in the expanse of that ocean and its surrounding nations!

The first step, though, is that Islamabad and New Delhi should begin consultations without preconditions!

12-14

M.K. Gandhi and the Birth of Israel

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Gandhi1 Oakland–My Pakistani friends have no great respect for the “great soul,” because they are of the opinion that his great political skills dominated his moral authority, but it must be remembered that, although a Hindu, he supported the Caliphate Movement (the Sultan of Turkey as the temporal leader of Islam) during the 1920s.  Further, he gained the ire of international Zionism’s claims to Palestine which was an exacerbating point to South Asian Islam, in addition.  Therefore, your essayist has decided to write about the ideas of this great man on Palestine.  It must be remembered that he spoke up for the welfare of Muslims as well as Hindus in India.  If many of his ideas had been incorporated at the birth of an independent South Asia, there may not have been a Partition, nor would we be staring down a nuclear “gun” in that region, too.

Your author starts his composition with a remembered reading of “The Jews in Palestine” (Harijan of November 26, 1938: Collected Works, Volume 74).   As remembered, it permitted some room for a one-State solution in Israel-Palestine, but reading it closely again, there is not; yet, in a comment to a reporter, shortly before his death the profound man gave a suggestion for a solution to resolve the conundrum.  If that proposal had been taken seriously, the crisis in the Middle East might not be before us today.

Gandhi’s mind was a curious mixture of the practical and impractical.  His ideas on the Abrahamic “Holy Land” bear this out.  “I cannot…say…I have made a…study of the…religion [Judaism], but I have studied as much as a layman can…” (Interview in The Jewish Chronicle, London, Oct. 2nd, 1931).  In fact, he makes no references of the traditional Indian Jewish communities — the Cochin, the Bombay and the Baghdadi.  He seems to have known little about them.  In fact, as he states in his article we shall be discussing, he knew “…the Jews…in South Africa…” (“The Jews in Palestine,” the Harijan Nov. 26th 1938).  Incidentally, South Africa was where he developed his methodologies on non-violence.

Although he states that he will be talking about the “Jewish Question” in relation to Palestine and Germany, he knows very little about European Jewry and Palestine itself.  He states in the same commentary as mentioned above:  “I should love to go… [to]…the Holy Land…”  Much of what he does know about contemporary European Jewry and Palestine comes from Central European (German) and Zionist itself propaganda.

The whole question of a one-State resolution of the Israeli issue, which I do not personally hold, came in a conversation I had with Richard Falk, the United Nations’ Human Rights Rapporteur to (Israel’s) Occupied territories (Palestine) [Muslim Observer, March 19, 2009].  The Legal Doctor stated “The two-State solution is being undermined…because of the expansion of the Settlements and house demolitions…” Although some Palestinian intellectuals themselves are beginning to come to this position, too, such as Ali Abunimah who founded and maintains the Electronic Infitada (see his One Country).  A one State solution would not work well in my opinion because the Israeli right would repress it due to the fact that Israel would cease to be a Jewish State.  Within Israel itself, it has support within their Left, though.

Curiously, Falk had not read Gandhi’s central essay which we shall look at, and he made a note to do so.  In other collections of what M.K. Gandhi said and in Zionist replies to the piece the subject is often called the “Jewish Problem.”  Most scholars who discuss it today note this is not how we speak of it today.  No way is Judaism a “problem,” but a perversion of it, Zionism, is.  Most politicized aspects of all religions do have a “perverted” wing, also.  Politics and religions make devious bedfellows.

First I shall go through an exegesis of his text “The Jews in Palestine.”  He refers to it as the “Arab-Jewish” question – not the Palestinian issue.  Moreover, in accord with my statement above, when Gandhi applies the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” etc., please mentally replace it with ”Zionist” or “Zionism” to avoid the sectarianism of the time.  The founding and maintaining of the State of Israel was a Zionist project that involved only a small part of the Jewish people.  Furthermore, the function of Christian Zionism cannot be ignored although it is not relevant to this paper; and, thus shall be ignored in this paper.

Mohandas Gandhi, ever the adroit politician, states, “My sympathies are…with the Jews,” Then, he switches his position “…my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice.”  He points out the “mythical” basis for the demand for homeland for the Jews in Palestine within the text of the Bible itself.  Clearly, he states his opposition to a Jewish State with these famous words, “Palestine belongs to the Arab…[as]…England belongs to the English or France to the French.  It is wrong and inhuman to…impose the Jews on the Arabs.”  Further, the Mahatma, as in his struggle in India, appeals to his readers’ ethical sensibility:  “What is going on…cannot  be justified by any code of conduct.”  It is quite apparent here that Gandhi’s perceptions are still relevant in this century.
More importantly, “It would be a crime against humanity to reduce the…Arabs…that Palestine can be restored to the Jews…”  This is a pretty strong attack upon the Zionists of the time since the principle of “crimes against humanity” had not been established in International Law.  Strangely, Gandhi had accused Zionists of collaboration with the Nazis as Lenni Brunner’s book (Zionism in the Age of Dictators), written in our generation, does.  Gandhi states in the essay under discussion, “…a cry for a national home affords a…justification for the German expulsion of the Jews…” to which, curiously, the archives of the Third Reich, that Brenner utilizes in his book, attest. 

M.K. Gandhi goes on to damn the National Socialist regime in Berlin.  He asks “Is England drifting towards armed dictatorship….?”  Here he is  equating his struggle in British India and the conflict in West Asia.  He makes assumptions that often are inaccurate because he cannot get away from his Indian environment.  He applies the Jewish concept of God with his Hindu perception of the Divine:  “…Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, Mussalmans [another word not used much anymore because it is in bad taste] or the Hindus.”  Gandhi’s theology is quite mistaken here.  Muslims and Christians look to a most personal God, too.  All three religious systems deriving from the Numen of Abraham share this principle.  Therefore, for Mohandas Gandhi “…the Jews ought not feel helpless.”  Further, “The same God rules the Jewish heart…[that]…rules the  Arab heart.” 

M.K. Gandhi felt that the Jews (Zionists] were going about it the wrong way.  He does not say that they cannot emigrate there, but they have to do so under Palestinian law. “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract.”  This is, also, true for non-indigenous Muslims and Christians — except for their sacred places.  Thus, it is mere a locality “…in their hearts.”

“…it is wrong [for the Zionists] to enter it under the shadow of the British bayonet…”  Here Gandhi is speaking in terms of the Indian reality again, and, I believe, does not fully understand the crisis in the Levant of his period in history!

“ They can settle in Palestine …by the goodwill of the Arabs.”  That is under their law and permission, and it follows that they can only buy the land that the Arabs may alienate – not grabbing it violently from the Palestinians as they have proceeded to do!  He advises them to “…seek to convert the Arab heart.”  Further, he emphasizes the commonality between the two peoples, “…there are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they [the Zionists] discard…the…British bayonet.”  (Again he is in looking at Palestine from the perspective of India once more, and considers the two resistances as one against the same Imperialism,) but the Mahatma accuses the Zionists that “…they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling…people who have done [them] no wrong…”  For the Mahatma his interest and attraction for Palestine is that they are both English “possessions,” which is only partly accurate.  For him what pushes this view askew is the Zionist factors that are actively plotting to steal the land when the Colonialist leaves.  Fortunately, this was not true in South Asia where the dominant demand was just as disrupting – a homeland for the Muslims.  Gandhi seems to have envisioned Palestine as a Muslim majority Mandate, which in actuality it was not so.  Although the United Kingdom invented the census for British India, they never had a chance to apply it to their Middle Eastern jurisdictions.  The best estimates are that before 1948, 45% of the population were native Christians; next the Muslims; then Palestinian Jews. 

It was a multi-sectarian State or Province that worked!  There was little tension between the three groups.  The establishment of the State of Israel lowered the Christian population to 7%; the Muslims now dominate the Occupied Territories, and the Arab Jews there were forced into Israel proper where they are treated rather shabbily for being “Oriental.”  Historically, the Jews were treated better in Islamic dominated areas than in Europe.  The Christian less so probably because of the mistrust generated from the Crusades.  After the establishment of Israel, unfortunately, Jews in other Islamic lands became highly resented.  Israel itself, also was perceived as a European neo-colony in the midst of Arab territory, and a threat to all of Islam.

Although Gandhi did not approve of the ferocity of the Arab defiance, for he wishes they had chosen non-violence, under the circumstances, “…nothing can be said against the Arab resistance…”

M.K. Gandhi concludes his important essay by urging the Jews to employ non-violence in Germany since it had been effective in India, but, realistically, would not in Germany.  Unfortunately, Zionism itself was entwined within the fascist goals by destabilizing the British Empire in the Middle East.  In his last paragraph Gandhi says “[The Jews] can command…[the] respect of the world by being [truly] the chosen creation of God instead of the brute beast…forsaken of God.”

Shortly before the end of his life, when it was likely that a State of Israel would be formed, a Doon Campbell of Reuters (the news gathering agency) asked our subject, “What is the solution of the Palestine problem?  Gandhi replied, It “… seems almost insoluble.  If I were a Jew, I would tell them:  Do not…resort to terrorism [in which the Zionists were engaged at the time].  The Jews should meet the Arabs, make friends with them, and not depend on British [non-players now]…or American aid.” (A.K. Ramakrishnan, The Wisdom).  How much different would the world be if we followed Mohandas Gandhi’s words, and that includes the Islamic world in the Middle East! 

M.K. Gandhi, a South Asian thinker has had a tremendous influence worldwide during the last century into this century.  Although his solutions were or seemed impractical, many of them can be re-examined now to see if we can extract anything practical for our times.  Though he had never been to West Asia, if his suggestions had been factored into the equation, the crisis that presently threatens a World War, which, most assuredly, would bring in the West, would never have unfolded in such a dangerous manner.  Still, what he replied to Doon Campbell’s question is even now applicable.  Washington should step aside from acerbating the conflict, and let the two parties negotiate amongst themselves.  At this point both sides should follow non-violence to allow the talks to proceed, and the West can enforce non-violence only if it has to do so.  M.K. Gandhi even at this time has much to say to our world.

12-13

Sukuk Market Starved of Benchmark Sovereign

By Carolyn Cohn and Shaheen Pasha

LONDON/DUBAI, March 23 (Reuters) – Sovereign borrowing still eludes the Islamic bond, or sukuk, market, leaving investors hungry for a benchmark issue to reinvigorate trading after the credit crunch and the Dubai World crisis.

Where issuance from euro zone and emerging market borrowers in 2010 has been fast and furious, with emerging market borrowers alone issuing over $50 billion, there have been no sovereign sukuk issues at all.

Only one international sukuk has been issued so far this year, a $450 million Islamic bond for Saudi property developer Dar al-Arkan.

A resolution of debt woes at state-owned Dubai World, the mounting of domestic regulatory hurdles for issuers and improved liquidity could bring sovereigns to the sukuk market from around the third quarter.

But for now borrowers have been deterred by thin trading, the extra premium which borrowers have to pay to attract investors into this relatively small and specialist market, question marks over sovereign guarantees and regulatory conundrums.

“There is genuine need for issuance,” said Muneer Khan, partner and head of Islamic finance at law firm Simmons & Simmons in Dubai.

“Government-related issuances and good credit corporate issuances can often open the gates for further corporates.”

A sukuk is similar to a bond but complies with Islamic law, which prohibits the charging or payment of interest.

The typical path for any debt market is that the initial borrowers are sovereigns, seen as relatively risk-free, followed by state-owned entities, and then by corporate borrowers who will offer a higher yield.

“If sovereigns get deals away at a certain level, corporates should trade 30-40-50 basis points above,” said a London-based Islamic finance specialist.

But without sovereign deals, it is hard for corporates to follow.

The Philippines last week shelved plans for a debut sukuk issue, citing legal hurdles.

Indonesia, which has previously issued in the sukuk market, has no plans to issue again before September.

Gulf borrowers such as Bahrain and Dubai have also previously issued sukuk. But trading is weak after the shock payment standstill on Dubai World debt, which includes Islamic debt, and other defaults in a market once boasting a zero default rate.

In addition, the lack of a government guarantee for some state-owned Dubai World debt came as a shock to many investors.

Sukuk prices are generally trading below par and the market is highly illiquid, market participants say, even as benchmark emerging sovereign debt spreads are trading at their tightest over U.S. Treasuries in nearly two years.

Global sukuk issuance is likely to range between $15-17 billion in 2010, down from $19 billion last year, a recent Reuters poll shows. Currently even those forecasts look ambitious — in 2009, nearly all sukuk issues were made by states and quasi-sovereign entities.

“The sukuk market has been doubly affected by the downturn and the situation in the Middle East, so people are not pushing ahead — it’s not an easy market for a first-time borrower,” said Farmida Bi, partner at law firm Norton Rose in London.

European sovereigns have failed to issue any sukuk at all.

The UK was at the forefront of plans for sukuk issuance, and has the legal framework in place. But its original plans coincided with the outbreak of the global financial crisis, and the country has since saddled itself with huge amounts of debt.

“The reality is that the UK government has to fund a 178 billion pound ($266 billion) deficit,” said the Islamic finance specialist.

“To come to the market with a $500 million to $1.0 billion sukuk is not the highest on their priority list.”

France was also hoping to issue a sukuk but has become bogged down in legal changes, and market participants say sukuk issuance in countries such as Turkey remains some way off.

However, there are a few signs of light.

Investors are awaiting a restructuring any day of $26 billion in Dubai World debt, which will draw a line under the four-month old problem.

“The more positive news that comes for resolutions, the better,” said Khan. “It can’t hinder further issuances, but it could help.”

Sovereigns such as Jordan and Kazakhstan have said they want to issue sukuk for the first time, although there is no set timing.

And as markets around the world recover, led by emerging debt which is seeing strong demand, sukuk could yet attract investors.

According to a Gulf regional banker at a major investment bank: “The sukuk market is a natural follower of the debt capital markets and we’re starting to see more activity there. There is liquidity in the bond market.”

12-13

France’s Burka Dilemma

Proposals to ban face veils provoked debate in France’s Muslim community

By Zubeida Malik

France could become the first country in Europe to ban the burka. A draft law submitted to the French parliament would make it illegal for a woman to cover her face in public spaces such as hospitals and trains. But the proposal has divided the country’s five million-strong Muslim community.

26 year-old Anisa wears a bright blue niqab, a piece of clothing that covers her completely except for her eyes and perfectly arched eyebrows.

You can’t miss her among the crowds: maybe it is because of the colour of the niqab or because there is no other woman around who is covered up to this extent.

She has been wearing it for a year-and-a-half. Anisa’s family, who are originally from Morocco, are against her wearing the niqab. But Anisa believes it is her religious duty.

According to official figures there are just 1900 women who wear the burka in France. Most of them are young and a quarter are converts.

But a report from the French intelligence services put this figure much lower at 367, out of an estimated population of five million Muslims, the largest in Europe.
When I met Anisa in the suburbs of Seine-Saint Denis, an area with the highest concentration of Muslims in France, she says that ever since she started wearing the niqab she has had unwelcome attention from the police, has been insulted in the street and is frequently stared at.

Women wearing the burka – a veil which covers the whole face – or the niqab in France are not as visible as those in Britain. But look hard enough in the suburbs and you can find them.

The mosque in the town of Drancy, on the outskirts of Paris, is currently the most controversial in France because the imam here has come out in support of the government’s decision to ban the burka.

Imam Hassan Chalghoumi is now facing death threats and has been given police protection. Ignoring the advice of his advisors he spoke to the Today programme.
He says the burka has nothing to do with religion but the wearing of it was down to tradition.

And the imam added that the burka debate was diverting attention from the real problems facing the Muslim community, including racism, integration and young people dropping out of school early. The imam, who is originally from Tunisia, has the support of the mayor of Drancy.

Tempers are running high at the mosque and there are some it is hard to tell how many want the imam to leave. And there is also a lot of anger and frustration with the media and the police.

Friday prayers when I was there were tense. There were policemen present, plain clothes officers filming and an ambulance on standby, in case anyone got hurt.
Multiculturalism in France is different to that in Britain and the United States. One of the core principles of the Fifth Republic is “laicite”, the separation of church and state.

Religion here is seen as a highly private matter, even more than in the US, where church and state are also constitutionally separated.

Pierre Rousselin from Le Figaro newspaper says that in France people still believe that ‘’foreigners can adapt to the French way of life’’

A commission has spent six months looking into the burka in a review which took evidence from more than 200 people. It recommended proposing a ban on women wearing either the burka or the niqab in hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport.

It is not the first time that the Muslim community in France feels that its been put under the spotlight. In 2004 a law was passed banning the hijab – or headscarf – and all other religious symbols, from state schools. Although the ban affects all religions, the Muslim community here feels that it was aimed at them.

Wider debate

The current controversy comes in the wake of months of debate and President Sarkozy’s speech last year where he said the veils were not welcome in France, but which stopped short of calling for an outright ban.

A draft law has been submitted to parliament but any further action has been put on the back-burner until after the regional elections in France this month.

Sihem Habchi, who describes herself as a Muslim feminist, is director of Ni Putes Ni Soumise – “Neither Whores Nor Submissives”, an influential feminist organisation. She says it is not a question of how many women wear the burka, but one of ‘’democratic principle’’. And she too wants the burka banned.

Ms Habchi says that a ban would ‘’liberate’’ the Muslim community from those who want to hold it back and ‘’use our religion’’.

Adding that her Algerian background allows her to understand this issue and the wider one of women’s rights as a whole, Ms Habchi says ‘’laicite’’ actually protects religion because it means all religions have an equal footing.

Catherine De Wenden, an expert in the history of immigration in France, believes the timing of the current debate is political and is tied in with the regional elections in France.

Although she is personally against banning the burka, she says there it is part of a wider debate in France about national identity, adding that there are many forms of multiculturalism and that France regards religion as a private matter.

Ms De Wenden is concerned that if the ban happens then France will not be seen as a country which practises toleration, a core value of the French Revolution.
But any legislation could have the reverse effect. The young women I spoke to in Drancy said that if the ban became law then they would start to wear the burka for the first time.

12-12

Sheikh Tantawi Passes Away

muhammad_sayyed_tantawi1 Egypt’s top cleric dies, aged 81

Egypt’s foremost Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, has died, aged 81, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Tantawi was the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque and head of the al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s centre of learning and scholarship.

He died of a heart attack in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where he was attending a prize-giving ceremony.

Sheikh Tantawi had infuriated radical Islamists with his moderate views on women wearing the veil.

His body will be taken to the Saudi city of Medina, the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad, for burial, Egyptian authorities said.

An adviser to the Sheikh told Egyptian television Sheikh Tantawi’s death was a shock, as before leaving for Saudi Arabia he had seemed in “excellent shape and health”.

A member of Sheikh Tantawi’s office, Ashraf Hassan, told news agency Reuters that Mohamed Wasel, Sheikh Tantawi’s deputy, was expected to temporarily take over leading the institution until the Egyptian president appointed a new head for the body.

Sheikh Tantawi was appointed to his position by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in 1996.

But as a government appointee, he was always forced to negotiate a careful path between his religious imperatives and his government position, the BBC’s Christian Fraser in Cairo says.

He was vocal in his opposition to female circumcision, which is common in Egypt, calling it “un-Islamic”.

Last year, Sheikh Tantawi barred female students at the university from wearing the full-face covering niqab veil.

He also caused upset other Muslim scholars by saying that French Muslims should obey any law that France might enact banning the veil.

His views on the veil prompted Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to accuse him of “harming the interests of Islam”.

He has also condemned suicide attacks, saying extremists had hijacked Islamic principles for their own ends.

“I do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations. People of different beliefs should co-operate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity,” he told a conference in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in 2003.

“Extremism is the enemy of Islam. Whereas, jihad is allowed in Islam to defend one’s land, to help the oppressed. The difference between jihad in Islam and extremism is like the earth and the sky,” Sheikh Tantawi said.    

12-11

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

kuwait28606_wideweb__470x311,0 The pages of history reveal the anguish, sweat and tears that women throughout the ages have suffered in winning suffrage rights from often male-dominated societies. Hard-fought, and eventually won, battles have been waged from the sunny coastlines of California all the way to the villages of France and back again. And, despite our extremely advanced technological age that has morphed the depths of our world into the palms of our hands, many women across the globe are still fighting for their rights.

One such country, where women have seen great progress in the area of women’s suffrage rights, is the tiny gulf State of Kuwait. Kuwaiti women won the right to vote and participate in parliamentary elections way back in 2005. However, it would take another 4 years for Kuwaiti women to circumvent political roadblocks intentionally put in their path and assert their right to participate in the inner workings of government. In 2009, Kuwaiti women cheered from their balconies and congregated in the streets to congratulate one another over no less than four Kuwaiti women being voted into the Kuwaiti parliament.

However, since that one sweet victory, women’s suffrage in Kuwait has come to a screeching halt. This past Monday, Kuwaiti women seized the opportunity of International Women’s Day to lodge a public complaint. The primary area of contention is the fact that Kuwaiti women are not allowed to become judges. And most are prevented from being promoted to higher positions in the government. Quite notably only 17 Kuwaiti women hold high-ranking government posts as opposed to 252 positions held by their male counterparts.

At a special symposium held to commemorate International Women’s Day in Kuwait, Kuwaiti women showed up in force to demand answers in an all too public forum. Kuwaiti women, ranging from lawyers to housewives, stood up to allow their voices to be heard. Gender discrimination was on the tip of all of the women’s tongues as the Kuwaiti government was branded too conservative and resistant to change. One speaker, a lawyer named Salwa al-Ajmi, told the symposium, “I have been working as a lawyer for the past 32 years but still I cannot become a judge. It is shameful that the government has accepted and signed international treaties banning discrimination against women and still bars females from becoming judges.”

The symposium also highlighted other areas where Kuwaiti females face gender discrimination and lack basic human rights which should be an embarrassment to a country that, at least on paper, purports to uphold the rights of women within its borders. For example, Kuwaiti women who choose to marry a non-Kuwaiti are legally barred from giving their children or even their husband the Kuwaiti nationality, which comes with countless financial perks and benefits from the government. Contrastingly, Kuwaiti males enjoy full nationality rights regardless of whom they marry. As a result, Kuwaiti women cannot receive a free home from the government or monthly social welfare payments for their children that, once again, Kuwaiti males benefit from.

All hope is not lost as a female member of parliament, MP Rula Dashti, used the symposium as an opportunity to announce her plans to draft a new gender equality bill that she will present at the next session of the Kuwaiti Parliament.  The timing could not be riper for Kuwaiti women to make headway with at least some of the rights they are after, as the Kuwaiti government is trying to amp up its global reputation as a beacon of human rights appreciation.

12-11

Banning the Burqa

By Reuven Firestone

While on sabbatical as a family in Egypt a couple of years ago, we quickly became accustomed to seeing women wearing head coverings on the street. Nearly every single Muslim woman over the age of 12 wore one. The general word for these is hijab, which is a quranic term meaning “barrier” or “screen.” In a famous verse (33:53) it refers to a partition in the home of the prophet Muhammad to separate the women of his family from the eyes of the many people who would come to Muhammad’s home seeking an audience with him. Its meaning is basically the same as the Hebrew word mechitzah, the barrier that separates the women’s section from the men’s section in traditional synagogues.

The intent of the Quranic verse was to protect the women of Muhammad’s family from the intrusion of strangers and the possible embarrassment that could result. Because of the egalitarian nature of Arabian society in general, religious interpreters applied the notion not only to the family of the prophet, but to all Muslim families, and soon the term was applied to a common form of modesty practiced also among Christian and Jewish and Zoroastrian women at the time — covering the hair. The purpose was to encourage modest dress and protect women from the prying eyes of men.

We found the issue of modest dress curious in Egypt. Modesty in Cairo today means covering every inch of skin aside from the face, hands and feet, and that includes covering the hair. But at the same time, teenage girls and young women often wear tight tops and jeans that reveal every bump and wrinkle of their bodies. It is rare to see a niqab in Egypt, the full-face covering or veil.

Burqa is an Arabic term that refers to any face covering with eye openings. It is common today to use burqa to refer to the Afghan garment that envelops a woman’s entire face and body except for a small square area around the eyes that is covered by a concealing net or grille. The more accurate term for that is actually chadri.

In any case, niqab or burqa refers to a piece of clothing that covers the entire face, or all the face except the eyes. The issue of covering has been a point of contention for Muslim religious scholars for many centuries. While all consider modest dress required, some scholars also consider covering the face obligatory. Others consider it highly recommended but not required. Still others actually consider it forbidden, and the issue continues to arouse debate in the Muslim world.

Surprising as it may seem, France has decided to weigh in on the issue and has begun the process to issue its own version of a fatwa on the matter. Already in 2004, Parliament passed a law banning the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in French government-operated schools. This outlawed not only the Muslim headscarf, but also kippot and outward wearing of the crucifix.

Last July, President Nicolas Sarkozy targeted the burqa as an affront to human and civil rights. “The burqa is not a religious problem,” he told the French Parliament. “It’s a problem of freedom and the dignity of women.” Later that same day, while visiting Muslim graves at a WWI cemetery, he said, “Islam is today the religion of many French people…. France can’t allow French Muslims to be stigmatized.”

Those are astonishing words. I don’t understand how banning religious expression is not a religious problem, and I cannot for the life of me understand how banning a garment indicative of Muslim modesty is not an act of stigmatization.

I do understand, however, why people might consider banning the burqa to be supportive of Muslim women’s dignity. We naturally want to help people who we imagine are being persecuted. But condemning the burqa is imposing one set of culturally and religiously defined values or an aesthetic standard onto people who may not agree. How do we know that wearing a burqa is a humiliation? How is it shameful? How do you or I know how a woman wearing a full-face veil feels about it? Personally, I find many outfits that are worn in Beverly Hills among a variety of men and women to be humiliating. Why not pass a law banning the wearing of miniskirts and low-cut tops among sagging, aging women? Or black toupees on graying old men?

Here’s an example closer to home. I personally find the practice of shaving a beautiful young woman’s head, even if intended for modesty, to be an act of chillul haShem. We were created in God’s image. We desecrate God’s image whenever we purposefully disfigure our bodies. And halachah does not require shaving married Jewish women’s heads. It is only custom, and only within some communities, yet it would be a terrible and unethical act of interference on the religious and cultural rights of Jews for any government to ban the practice.

Two weeks ago, a government commission in France recommended banning the burqa in public buildings such as schools and hospitals, but not on the streets. Jean-Francois Copé, leader of Sarkozy’s majority party in Parliament (the UMP) explained, “The two reasons why we have to implement legislation is to respect the rights of women and, second, it’s a question of security. Who can imagine that in a country like ours, people can walk everywhere in the country and also in our cities with a burqa, without the possibility to recognize their face?”

Banning someone from wearing a veil is not respecting a woman’s rights. It is exactly the opposite: It is a blatant act of disrespecting her right to choose what to wear. Security may be another matter, but if wearing a full-body burqa is forbidden in public buildings but allowed in the streets, how is that increasing security when a terrorist could walk anywhere on the streets of Paris wearing a burqa packed with explosives? I admit that I would make a terrible suicide bomber, but it seems to me that if I wanted to smuggle body explosives into a public place, I would wear a trench coat rather than traditional Islamic or Arab dress. Why invite scrutiny in the current climate?

These new developments in France remind me of a similar move almost exactly two centuries ago when Napoleon called a Grand Sanhedrin in 1807. That was when an assemblage of Jewish notables was put under intense government pressure to change thousands of years of Jewish tradition in order to conform to French sensibilities. The Jewish leaders were asked 12 questions that were intended to determine whether Jews were worthy of French citizenship. They included such questions as whether it was acceptable in Jewish law for Jews to marry Christians or whether Jews were allowed to be usurious toward non-Jews. The Jewish leaders fudged their answers, wrote in vague language and were not entirely forthcoming (to say the least). Their answers nevertheless passed muster, but “passing” required, among other stipulations, that the Jewish leaders condemn all “false interpretations of their religious laws.” How would that be determined? Who would rule on the so-called “false interpretations?” The trade-off for citizenship was the denial of the unique value of our religious culture and the vibrant nature of Jewish religious discourse. The result was, among other things, a huge wave of assimilation and loss of Jewish identity.

No, banning the burqa is not an attempt to protect the dignity of women or to increase security. It is an attempt to make “ethnics” conform to a flat and unimaginative sense of what it means to be French. It is legal enforcement of an outdated and oppressive ideology that does not respect the fundamental freedom to express one’s religious identity in public.

Reuven Firestone is a professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

12-10

Danish Newspaper Apologizes in Cartoons Row

A Danish newspaper apologised today to eight Muslim organisations for the offence it caused by reprinting controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in exchange for their dropping legal action against the newspaper.

Politiken reached a settlement with the groups, which represent 94,923 of Muhammad’s descendants, in which it agreed to print an apology for the affront the cartoons caused. The newspaper has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and has not apologised for having printed them as part of its news coverage.

In a joint statement, the two sides said they wanted to “express their satisfaction with this amicable understanding and settlement, and express the hope that it may in some degree contribute to defusing the present tense situation.”

The decision to issue an apology for the offence caused has been met, however, by widespread condemnation from the Danish media and political parties.

The editor of Jyllands-Posten, which originally printed the cartoons in 2005 and is published by the same media company as Politiken, said that its sister paper had failed in the fight for freedom of speech and called it a “sad day” for the Danish press.

Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, who earlier this year was the subject of an attempted attack at his home, said the newspaper had betrayed its duty to freedom of speech. “In Denmark we play by a set of rules, which we don’t deviate from, and that’s freedom of speech,” he told the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. “Politiken is afraid of terror. That’s unfortunate and I fully understand that.”

The leader of the rightwing Danish People’s party, Pia Kjærsgaard, called the situation absurd, and said that Politiken had sold out. She urged Danish newspapers to reprint the cartoons as a protest against Politiken’s settlement. “It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that [Politiken’s editor] Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the west’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sellout to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard said.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also criticised Politiken’s decision: “It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about.”

The prime minister and the newly appointed foreign secretary have not commented on the settlement.

Last year 11 Danish newspapers were contacted by the Saudi lawyer Faisal Yamani, who demanded that the Muhammad cartoons were removed from their websites, that the newspapers print an apology and that they promise not to use the cartoons again.

Seidenfaden initially refused Yamani’s request for an apology, saying it was the paper’s duty to print the cartoons as part of its news coverage after Westergaard became the subject of an alleged murder plot.

Yamani, the lawyer who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the descendants, said: “This is a good settlement. It would be wrong to speak of a victory. Both parties have reached the point where they understand the background to what has happened. Politiken is courageous in apologising, even though its was not their intention to offend anyone.”

In September 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons depicting Muhammad (s), in what it described as an attempt to promote freedom of expression. The cartoons initially had little impact, but when they were reprinted by Norwegian newspapers a storm erupted, with violent protests across the Middle East.

In February 2006 the violence escalated as newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy reprinted the caricatures. The offices of Jyllands-Posten had to be evacuated several times after security threats.

Protests spread to other Arab countries and Danish goods including Lego and Bang & Olufsen were boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria. The Danish embassy in Damascus was burned down in 2006, others were attacked and death threats forced Westergaard into hiding.

Westergaard’s caricature of a bearded man with a bomb in his turban became the most talked about of the cartoons, but he has said the man in the drawing didn’t “necessarily” depict Muhammad (s).

According to Islamic tradition, it is blasphemous to make or show an image of the Prophet (s).

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Iran, Syria Leaders Brush Aside US Call to Weaken Ties

Two countries scrap visa requirements

By Roueida Mabardi, Agence France Presse (AFP)

2010-02-25T152444Z_95987295_GM1E62P1T0201_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA-IRAN

DAMASCUS: The presidents of Syria and Iran signed a visa-scrapping accord on Thursday, signaling even closer ties and brushing aside United States efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.

“I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian president said.

Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day and later met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, both outspoken critics of US ally Israel, were as “solid” as ever. “Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

On the same day in occupied Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual “strategic dialogue” for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Assad said his country was always on the alert against Israel.

“We are always preparing ourselves for an Israeli aggression whether it is small or big scale,” he said.

Afterward, Ahmadinejad met Meshaal, Ahmed Jibril – leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and other Palestinian leaders critical of the peace process for talks focused on “the Israeli threats made against Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Lebanon,” a participant in the meeting said.

Ahmadinejad told the Palestinian leaders that “Iran places itself solidly beside the Palestinian people, until their land is liberated,” the participant said, and that resistance was the “likeliest path to liberation.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus to move away from Iran

Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.

“We met today to sign a ‘separation accord’ between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas,” he quipped.

Assad said the agreement would serve “to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels” between the two countries, which have been close allies for the past three decades.

In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program, he also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

“To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

The visit came after Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Western governments suspect that the program in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb.

Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Clinton was blunter than ever about the bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

Testifying in the Senate, she said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” last week on what was the highest-level US mission to the Syrian capital in five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” Clinton said.

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Masarrat Ali Runs as Texas Democrat

masarrat ali(1) Son of a poor tailor is Democratic candidate in Texas elections

An Indian-American is standing in American state-level elections. No big deal, it’s happened before. The elections are in Texas. Not much of a big deal either. Texas has politicians from immigrant families.

Now consider this: The Indian-American is Masarrat Ali, a biotechnologist-entrepreneur and a first-generation immigrant, son of a tailor from the village of Jhansi, UP, the eldest of nine siblings, all who got their first schooling in a run-down establishment that used to be part of Rani of Jhanshi’s kotwali. When you add to this the fact that Ali is the first Indian-American and the first Muslim to get a party ticket in Texan elections, then his case becomes special.

Masarrat Ali is the Democratic candidate for District No. 122 (in San Antonio) for the Texan House of Representatives (the lower house). San Antonio is no backwater—the second largest city in Texas and the seventh largest in the US. Ali’s rival for the Democratic ticket for District No. 122 was Art A. Hall. But on January 15, Hall dropped out and endorsed Ali’s candidature. The elections are in November and Ali has a tough job. District 122 in San Antonio, Texas has been held by Republicans for 18 years. Texas is a Republican-leaning state and Ali is a newcomer to politics. But, as Ali says, “If Obama could happen, why not Massarat? His (Obama’s) victory has given hope to all minorities.”

Win or lose, though, Ali’s is already a remarkable story.

It started in Jhansi, in the Bundelkhand region of UP, then as now, a place development has passed by. Ali was born to a tailor, Haji Maqbool Ali. Ali Senior says he used to stitch suits for “commissioners, collectors and ministers”. But the money wasn’t enough for his large family of nine children, of whom Masarrat was the eldest. They lived in a narrow lane crowded with old houses. The neighbourhood is called Gandhigarh Tapra. “It was a typical mohalla with little sense of education. It was full of eighth-class fails. The highest qualification there was high-school-fail,” Masarrat said.

The lane is still the same. But Ali’s house has changed — a well-constructed, three-storey building, marble floors, modular kitchen and modern furniture. “The house got renovated just a couple of months back,” said Ali’s mother Rasheedan Ali.

The school Masarrat attended—the Urdu-medium Wakf Board-run Islamia primary school —is just a stone’s throw from his house. “During my days, it had no chairs, no electricity, no bathrooms and just two-three teachers who never cared,” Ali recollects.

Today, it’s almost the same — a decrepit building whose plaster is peeling off and whose wall has ‘I love you’ scribbled on it at many places and posters of local politicians pasted on it. The school is on a single floor and the building that houses it was a kotwali during the time of Rani Laxmi Bai, according to Ali’s younger brother Zaheer , a local businessman. “When Masarrat was a kid, there was no power supply for homes in Jhansi,” the father recalled. “He would study with a lantern. Though he loved studying, he had no career ambition. When you are busy just trying to survive, there’s little time to think about lofty things such as ambition,” Ali recollects.

But the father—who also attended the Islamia school and didn’t study further —made sure that his children at least aspired to get an education that would make them fit for white-collar jobs. So, he didn’t let them mingle with other children in the neighbourhood; they had enough siblings to play with at home. “Without his efforts, I would have been lost in the galis of Jhansi today,” says Masarrat. But the father takes no credit. “Sab Allah Miyan ka diya hua hai. It’s god’s gift,” he said.

Ali’s education progressed from the Islamia school to the Hindi-medium Government Intermediate College and then Aligarh Muslim University. Everything Masarrat did after graduation, Masters in Biochemistry from Aligarh in 1977, PhD from the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, in 1981, post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Paris, France (where he was research assistant professor till 1984), the Louisiana State Medical University in New Orleans and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, (together, he spent 10 years there) was on scholarship.

The tailor’s eldest son set the example for his younger sons — one is an MBA, the other is an IT professional and a couple others are graduates and running local businesses in Jhansi such as a pharmaceutical distributorship and a ladies’ clothes store. His daughters are either high-schoolers or intermediate-pass, which according to Ali, is “a great achievement” as women in his family had previously never attended school.

Masarrat Ali traded academics for entrepreneurship after he moved to his current residence, San Antonio, in 1993. That year, while he was doing his research on breast cancer at the University of Texas Health Science Center, his thesis supervisor, also an Indian, told him that research published only in papers or journals was “meaninglss”. That prompted Ali to do a “crazy” thing. He quit his comfortable job as an assistant professor, and started the Alpha Diagnostics International (ADI). ADI sells biotechnology laboratory equipment. Ali says it’s a success. ADI has a centre in San Antonio and one in Shanghai. How much is he worth? Ali won’t get into specifics.

And how did politics happen? Always a Democrat voter, in 2004, Ali was among those who founded the Texas Muslim Democrat Caucus, a body that, Ali says, voices Muslim political concerns within the Democrat party and also works to get Texan Muslims to register as voters. Masarrat is currently the Caucus’s vice-president. His ambition is to convert the caucus into a national affair and it has now been rechristened as American Muslim Democrat Caucus. San Antonio has 30,000 Muslims and Texas, about 5 lakhs.

Convincing Muslims in Texas to be politically active is tough, Ali says. Muslims from India are more willing, he says. Those from the Middle-East are the most reluctant. Two years ago, Ali was elected Precinct Chair for District 122, which required grassroots working like getting in touch with the voters and organizing them. The candidacy followed from that. Ali’s father, who visits his son in Texas every year, doesn’t have any particular views about his son’s political goals. But Ali Senior says, he “likes the Americans he met”. “My beard, my kurta-pajama, my topi don’t seem to be a problem when I am there,” he says.

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French Fast Food Chain Quick Sparks Halal Burger Appeal

Quick-france A French council has lodged a complaint against a fast food chain that serves only meat that conforms with Islamic dietary laws at a local branch.

The mayor of Roubaix, in northern France, said the halal menu constituted “discrimination” against non-Muslims.

The Roubaix branch is one of several restaurants at which the chain, Quick, took non-halal products and pork off the menu in November.

The move has triggered the latest row over France’s Muslim minority.

Several deputies from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party have condemned the move, while Marine Le Pen, a vice-president of the far-right National Front, warned of “Islamisation”.

Their comments came ahead of regional elections in France next month, and against the backdrop of a debate over French national identity launched by Mr Sarkozy’s government.

‘Going too far’

In Roubaix, Mayor Rene Vandierendonck, a socialist, called for a boycott of the Quick branch, and the town council has filed a complaint for discrimination with a regional court in Lille.

“I’m not bothered by the fact that there is a halal menu,” Mr Vandierendonck said.

“But this is going too far because it is the only menu on offer and it has become discrimination.”

Quick decided to take a bacon hamburger off the menu at eight of its 350 branches, replacing it with a halal version that comes with smoked turkey.

It said the move was designed to test the “commercial interest and technical feasibility” of introducing halal menus.

The Quick manager responsible for the Roubaix branch said there had been a slight increase in business after the introduction of halal menus and that he had not received complaints from customers, AFP news agency reported.

France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, estimated at more than five million people.

Debate has recently focused on the Islamic veil, with a French parliamentary committee recommending a partial ban on women wearing Islamic face veils last month.

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Dubai Now Seeking 26 Suspects in Hamas Killing

By Raissa Kasolowsky and Cynthia Johnston

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai is hunting for at least 26 people over the killing of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel in a suspected Israeli operation that has caused a diplomatic furor.

Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in his hotel room in what Dubai police say they are near certain was a hit by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Dubai police added 15 new names on Wednesday to a list of suspects wanted over the killing. Six carried British passports, three held Irish documents, three were Australian, and three French, the Dubai government said in a statement.

Israeli media reported on Wednesday the new list could involve further cases of identity theft.

Dubai authorities had earlier named 11 suspects, who they said travelled on fraudulent British, Irish, French and German passports to kill Mabhouh. Six were Britons living in Israel who deny involvement and say their identities were stolen.

“Dubai investigators are not ruling out the possibility of involvement of other people in the murder,” the statement said.

The suspected killers’ use of passports from countries including Britain and France has drawn criticism from the European Union. Some of the governments involved have summoned their Israeli ambassadors.

“We will not be silent on this matter. It is a matter of deep concern. It really goes to the integrity and fabric of the use of state documents, which passports are, for other purposes,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, as his government summoned Israel’s ambassador.

The Dubai statement said: “Friendly governments (which) have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the police in Dubai that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner.”

It said pictures on the passports did not correspond to their original owners.

In a statement on Monday that European diplomats said was intended as a rebuke to Israel, EU foreign ministers said that the assassination was “profoundly disturbing.”

Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role but its foreign minister said there was nothing to link it to the killing. The United States, Israel’s main ally, has kept silent about the affair.

Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.

A Hamas official and Israel have also said he masterminded the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers during a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s.

Like last week, Dubai police released passport photos and closed-circuit television footage of the new suspects, who police said arrived from cities including Zurich, Paris, Rome, Milan and Hong Kong.

“This was to take the camouflage and deception to its utmost level and to guarantee the avoidance of any security supervision or observation of their movements,” the statement said.

Once their part in the operation was completed, the suspects again dispersed to different parts of the world, with two suspects leaving Dubai by boat for Iran, it said.

Dubai police also released credit card details of some of the suspects. At least 13 credit cards used to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel were issued by the same small U.S. lender, MetaBank. The bank declined comment.

“MetaBank is declining comment pending a factual review of this matter,” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Israel’s Ynet news website said it had tracked down a person with the same name as one of the suspects living in Tel Aviv.

“I am in shock from what I just heard. This is an identity theft. I cannot believe it,” Adam Marcus Korman, an Australian-born Israeli, told the website.

Several other names listed as suspects by Dubai police were similar to those of people listed in the Israeli telephone directory, including two named as British passport holders. Reuters was not immediately able to contact any of those people.

Two Palestinians suspected of providing logistical support were in detention and Dubai’s police chief has said he believes the operation could not have been carried out without information from inside Hamas on Mabhouh’s travel details.

An official from the movement was quoted as saying last week that Hamas had launched an investigation to try to discover “how the Mossad was able to carry out the operation.

Mossad is believed to have stepped up covert missions against Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Iran’s nuclear project.

Mabhouh’s killing was the third high profile murder in less than two years in trade and tourism hub Dubai, one of seven emirates in the UAE federation, where violent crime is rare.

(Additional reporting by Rania Oteify in Dubai, Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem, Daniel Wilchins in New York and Rob Taylor in Canberra, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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