New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 January 2016
• 2015: The Deadliest Year On Record For American Muslims
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
• The Amazing Survival of the Baltic Muslims
By Tharik Hussain
• Assessing the sincerity of Yemen peace talks
• 2015 winner in Middle East: U.S. arms exporters
• Turkey’s role in Syria essential
OSAMA AL SHARIF
2015: The Deadliest Year On Record For American Muslims
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
31 December, 2015
The year 2015 was perhaps the deadliest year on record for the seven-million strong American Muslim community, with 63 recorded attacks on mosques till the first week of December.
Tellingly, 17 of those attacks took place in November after the Paris terrorist attacks. At least six attacks and vandalism against the mosques were reported after the San Bernardino, CA terrorist attack on December 2nd when Syed Rizwan Farook killed 14 people and wounded 21 at a meeting of public health officials that doubled as a holiday party.
Anti-Muslim fever goes viral after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. To borrow Andrew O'hehir of Salon, Muslim fever has spread through our national bloodstream and replaced all thought. Many U.S. leaders have unleashed discriminatory rhetoric in the name of counterterrorism.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum argued that the U.S. Constitution does not protect Islam the way it does Christianity. Donald Trump said that he would “strongly consider” shutting down American mosques and that he wants “surveillance of certain mosques if that’s okay.” Thirty-one governors said that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states. Jeb Bush suggested that refugees should be allowed into the United States if “you can prove you’re a Christian.”
The president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr, urged his student body to start carrying concealed weapons with their books in case Muslim terrorists target their Virginia campus. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” President Jerry Falwell Jr. declared at a Friday, Dec. 4, convocation before 10,000 people at the Christian college. Not surprisingly, Falwell was carrying a legal, licensed .25 caliber pistol in his back pants pocket as he spoke to loud cheers.
Andrew O'hehir recalls that there was a deeply unfortunate period of national debate just before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that was summed up in a memorable New York Times headline: “What shall we do with the Negro?” But in 2015, we are faced with a different question: “What shall we do with the Muslim?” There is endless iterations of this question all day long, on every news site and every cable TV talk show.
O'hehir pointed out that even before the mass shooting in San Bernardino had any clear link to Islamic extremism – which is not to say the nature of that link is clear now – we heard Sean Hannity darkly murmuring that the suspects did not have “normal-sounding” names.
If the San Bernardino shootings had been carried out by a white man named John Smith, he would be considered a lone nut even if he were a whacked-out evangelical Christian who thought he was doing the Lord’s work, O'hehir said adding: But if Syed Farook is a crazy Muslim dude who looked at crazy Muslim websites, then he winds up on the front page of the New York Post as a “MUSLIM KILLER” who represents the tip of a deadly iceberg of terror, and cannot possibly be a lone nut.
House Democrats introduce resolution condemning anti-Muslim bigotry
Following weeks of anti-Muslim bigotry and acts of hatred, over 70 Democrat members of the House of Representatives have introduced a resolution condemning anti-Muslim hatred, violence, and bigotry. This resolution was assigned to congressional committee on Judiciary on December 17, 2015, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House. Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Mike Honda (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and André Carson (D-IN), along with 63 original cosponsors, introduced the resolution.
The resolution in part says:
Whereas the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes and rhetoric have faced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse because they were Muslim or believed to be Muslim; Whereas the constitutional right to freedom of religious practice is a cherished American value and violence or hate speech towards any American community based on their faith is in contravention of our founding principles; Whereas hateful and intolerant acts against Muslims are contrary to the American values of acceptance, welcoming, and fellowship with those of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures;
Whereas these acts affect not only the individual victims but also their families, communities, and the entire group whose faith or beliefs were the motivation for the act; Whereas Muslim women who wear hijabs, headscarves, or other religious articles of clothing have been disproportionately targeted because of their religious clothing, articles, or observances; Whereas the rise of hateful and anti-Muslim speech, violence, and cultural ignorance plays into the false narrative spread by terrorist groups of Western hatred of Islam, and can encourage certain individuals to react in extreme and violent ways;
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) Expresses its condolences for the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes; (2) Steadfastly confirms its dedication to the rights and dignity of all its citizens of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures; (3) Denounces in the strongest terms the increase of intimidation, violence, vandalism, arson, and other hate crimes targeted against mosques, Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim; (4) Recognizes that the Muslim community in the United States has made countless positive contributions to our society; (5) Declares that the civil rights and civil liberties of all United States citizens, including Muslims in the United States, should be protected and preserved; (6) Urges local and Federal law enforcement authorities to work to prevent hate crimes; and to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those perpetrators of hate crimes; and (7) Reaffirms the inalienable right of every citizen to live without fear and intimidation, and to practice their freedom of faith.
American Muslim leaders announce campaigns to address rising Islamophobia
On December 21, 2015, the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, announced major educational, outreach and civic empowerment initiatives to address growing Islamophobia in America and to enhance national security through the promotion of freedom and justice.
Proposed USCMO initiatives include a drive to register one million voters prior to the 2016 presidential election, a "One America" campaign to enhance understanding of American Muslims and Islam and a "National Open Mosque Day" designed to help increase interactions between American Muslims and citizens of other faiths and backgrounds.
The USCMO are: American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim American Society (MAS), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), The Mosque Cares (Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed).
Denise Oliver Velez, featured writer of Daily Kos, argues that more and more Muslims will have to deal with hate crimes until we who are not Muslim stand up and fight back against the hate. With Western countries on high alert for terror attacks, nativist sentiment is increasing, in America, some politicians are stoking it for their own benefit, Velez said.
Ben Norton staff writer at Salon concurs with Denise Oliver Velez. He says hate attacks on American Muslims are spiking — and where’s the outrage? Ben Norton went on to say:
"Far-right “patriot” groups have organized several hate demonstrations in which dozens of heavily armed white men stand outside of Islamic community centers with anti-Muslim paraphernalia. Photos have circulated widely online of muscular rifle-clad white men following around Muslim women outside of local mosques.
"At what other place of worship would this be tolerated? If people with assault rifles stood outside of a Christian church or Jewish synagogue, Americans would explode in fury. Those with the assault rifles might be arrested for threatening worshipers; they might even be shot. When it is Muslims that are threatened, dare I say terrorized, by heavily armed Islamophobes, on the other hand, suddenly the problem is framed as a First Amendment issue.
"These constant attacks should have generated national outrage, but Americans have largely been quiet about the ever-growing violence against their Muslim compatriots."
Today the atmosphere of violent hatred is even worse than what the American Muslims experienced immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America
The Amazing Survival of the Baltic Muslims
By Tharik Hussain
It may not be the kind of place you would expect to stumble upon a mosque, but Muslims have lived among the forests and lakes of Lithuania for more than 600 years - showing that tolerance reigned here in the Middle Ages, even when religious strife was rampant in other parts of Europe.
At first glance, the square, wooden building looks like thousands seen in villages all over the Baltic. Neat timber slats, wood-framed windows, a tin roof.
But at the apex of the roof, instead of a point there is a small glass turret, topped with an onion dome of the kind you might see on a local church. Then, on top of the onion, stands a small crescent.
This is the most European looking mosque you will ever come across.
If it looks completely at home in this northern European setting, that's because a mosque has stood here, roughly 20 minutes' drive south-west of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, since 1558.
There is a clue in the name of the village, Keturiasdesimt Totoriu. It means Forty Tatars, and legend has it that this is the number of Tatar families that settled here more than 600 years ago, at the invitation of the Lithuanian Grand Duke, Vytautas.
The Grand Duchy, with its deep pagan roots, faced a constant threat from its aggressive Christian neighbours to the west, the Teutonic Knights.
So in 1398, returning from a military campaign near the Black Sea, Vytautas brought with him a large number of Muslim Crimean Tatars and a small group of Karaite Jews to help defend Lithuanian territory.
Sure enough, 12 years later the Teutonic Knights went to war with Poland and Lithuania and the Tatars and Karaites fought alongside Vytautas at the Battle of Grunwald (between Warsaw and Gdansk) in which the crusaders were resoundingly defeated.
As a reward for their support, Vytautas gave the Muslims land and complete religious freedom - and this was at a time when both the Sephardic Jews, and Europe's oldest Muslim community, the Moors, were being driven out of Spain.
Vytautas the Great, ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1392-1430)
"Vytautas is highly revered among us. He did not order us to forget the Prophet... We swore an oath upon our swords to love the Lithuanians when the fate and destiny of war brought us to their homeland and they said... 'This land, these waters... will be shared between us'"
Tatar petition sent in 1519 to Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, Sigismund I
Today about 120 people who live in Keturiasdesimt Totoriu are Tatars, with many claiming to be direct descendants of the founding Crimeans.
"It is because of Vytautas we are here, but we know we are Crimean Tatars," says Fatima Stantrukova, a 75-year-old former teacher of Russian literature.
The oldest identifiable grave in the mosque's cemetery belongs to a certain "Allahberdi" who was buried here in about 1621.
The Tatar population in Lithuania continued to grow and spread to the south and west. Once there were dozens, possibly hundreds of Tatar mosques in villages between Vilnius, the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and the Polish city of Bialystok.
There were still 25 in Lithuania on the eve of World War One. Now there are three - in Keturiasdesimt Totoriu and the nearby villages of Raiziai and Nemezis. Four others are split between the Polish settlements of Kruszyniani and Bohoniki and the Belarusian towns of Navahrudak and Iwie.
It was the Tatar language that disappeared first, apparently in the early part of the 18th Century.
"It came to pass that the 'spiders of forgetfulness' spread their webs over their customs and their tongues with the passing of the ages," wrote the Russian Tatar Orientalist Muhammad Murad al-Ramzi, in the 19th Century.
"Yet, despite that, they have never lost their faith in Islam, though they have no scholarly knowledge of the faith."
What little Islamic knowledge was left, took a further blow in the 20th Century.
"The Soviet period was the worst. All the religious leaders and people of any knowledge were either killed or sent into exile into the farthest reaches of Siberia. Books and archives were burnt. Mosques were closed and destroyed. Communities were closed. Islam was forbidden," says another descendant of the Crimeans who arrived with Vytautas, the Grand Mufti of Lithuania, Ramadan Yaqoob.
Yaqoob grew up knowing almost nothing about Islam, and was only exposed to it properly after the fall of the Soviet Union, when Muslim students began to arrive in the country. He felt an immediate connection with them, and was able with their help to study in Lebanon and Libya. The multicultural atmosphere of Lebanon was the perfect place to train to lead a European Muslim community, he says.
Despite a revival of interest in religion among some young Tatars, none of the mosques opens for the five daily prayers. Even in Keturiasdesimt Totoriu, where a third of the population is Muslim, the mosque only opens for special religious occasions.
But in addition to these seven surviving Baltic Tatar mosques, there is another many thousands of miles to the west - at 104 Powers Street in Brooklyn - which bears an uncanny resemblance.
"I used to go to the mosque, mainly with my family, for festivals like Eid," says Alyssa Ratkewitch, the mosque's vice-president, a third-generation Lipka Tatar - as Tatars from the Baltic are sometimes called - who traces her roots to the Belarusian town of Iwie.
"One of my earliest memories was the 'awful' wood panelling that decorates the interior of the mosque. So when I became vice-president, I planned to get rid of it, until an elder told me that the panels were there to remind them of the mosques they had left behind in the Baltic."
The Brooklyn mosque - which opened in 1927 and is believed to be the oldest in New York - also no longer opens for daily worship. But it is crucial to the identity of the tiny Tatar community, just like the seven Tatar mosques still standing in Lithuania, Belarus and Poland.
"We did not let our mosques fall! During the [Soviet] time, our mosque was used in secret," remembers Fatima in Keturiasdesimt Totoriu.
"The imam and the community of the 1940s kept the mosque alive for us children.
"The mosques are all we have left."
Assessing the sincerity of Yemen peace talks
Thursday, 31 December 2015
The best that the latest round of U.N.-sponsored Yemen peace talks - which took place in Switzerland between Dec. 15 and 20 - was able to produce was the promise of another round of talks on Jan. 14 in a location to be agreed. Although a meagre achievement, especially given the dire humanitarian situation, diplomacy still remains by far the best hope for an exit route from the current miserable state of affairs.
This latest round of talks was again marked by a failure to implement a ceasefire, from which other important measures would follow, such as a focus on much-needed delivery of humanitarian aid. Both sides agreed to “lift all forms of blockade and allow safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies to all affected governorates,” as part of confidence-building measures.
However, fierce fighting has continued in various locations, including the city of Taiz in the southwest, and the northern Jawaf and Marib provinces east of Sanaa. The initial ceasefire was still extended by one week on condition that the Houthis commit to the new truce, but the result seems to have been equally disappointing.
An important question that emerged out of the ongoing stalemate is whether any major change has taken place since the previous round of talks in June, which could indicate a greater chance for diplomatic success. Back then, negotiations were interrupted by insults, fist-fighting and shoe-throwing among the delegates, who failed to even agree on a humanitarian truce during Ramadan.
Beyond the root causes of the current crisis, the various competing political allegiances within Yemen, and the involvement of several external players, the conflict has two main drivers. One is the belief by the Houthi rebels’ radical leadership, which is backed by Iran and have close ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that a military option could be beneficial to the group.
The other is the refusal of the hugely rich and influential Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen, to accept the idea that his days as key player in the complex Yemeni political scene were numbered.
In 2014, these two visions converged. The support that the forces still loyal to the former president provided the Houthis, Saleh’s former foes against whom he fought six wars, proved decisive in the rebels’ military offensive that resulted in the takeover of the capital. Today, despite the participation of Houthi delegates in the peace talks - without which the talks would make little sense - it remains to be seen if the rebels are committed to negotiation.
In early October, the Houthi leadership wrote to the U.N. secretary-general to affirm its commitment to both the seven-point peace plan brokered by the United Nations in Oman, and to relevant Security Council resolutions.
However, just a day before this month’s peace negotiations were due to begin, and hours before the official start of the ceasefire, the Houthis inflicted one of the deadliest attacks on coalition forces, when a missile struck a military base of the Arab forces backing Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Soon after the conclusion of talks, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi made a defiant call to his supporters, which again showed little consideration for the diplomatic process: “Don’t bet on the United Nations, whose role conforms to American policy.”
The war’s cost
Within the factions of General People’s Congress (GPC) - the long-time ruling party - that still support Saleh, it is difficult to tell if there is a unified position regarding the settlement of the crisis through diplomacy. Previous diverging positions between him and his supporters could well be signs of cracks within the party, but it could also be part of stalling tactics.
In October, the GPC accepted the peace plan and relevant U.N. resolutions in an emailed statement. Yet Saleh refuses to talk with the internationally-recognized government, and calls instead for direct talks with Saudi Arabia. “If the war ends, we’ll hold talks with Saudi Arabia and not with the delegate of escapees,” he said this week.
There are indications that many of the forces involved in the fighting see little benefit in a peace agreement, at least before any major changes on the ground. Sadly, the hope is that as the human and material costs of the conflict increase, the perceived benefits of a negotiated solution will eventually outweigh the temptations of prolonging the conflict. Within the unlikely Houthi-Saleh alliance that has defined this war, at least one part has to be genuinely interested in a negotiated solution. Otherwise, the conflict will go on.
Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on
2015 winner in Middle East: U.S. arms exporters
Thursday, 31 December 2015
46.6 billion U.S. dollars is the average estimate for arms sales from the United States to the world in 2015. Big chunk of those receipts have gone to the Middle East where four wars are simultaneously being waged and military spending is at an all-time high.
2015 had many ups and downs, with no winner or loser on the regional battlefield. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) scored victories in Palmyra and Deir Zour in the first half of the year, but witnessed defeats in Ramadi and Houla in the second half. Those who bet against the Iran deal were also disappointed last July as a historic agreement was signed between Tehran and the West on the nuclear program.
But throughout 2015, and in the midst of ISIS expansion and Iran negotiations, the constant winner has been U.S. arms exporters feeding from the regional anxiety and selling more weaponry and defense shields to the Middle East.
Redefining U.S. role
If the final numbers hold at $46.6 billion in U.S. global arms sales in 2015 that would be a significant increase of $12.4 billion from 2014 and $18.8 billion from 2013.
The dramatic increase in arms sales cannot be seen, however, in isolation from the U.S. policy pivot in the Middle East. If anything, the two biggest milestones in 2015 namely the war on ISIS and the Iran deal rebranded Washington's role in the region, from a perceived caretaker into an unenthusiastic spectator. In both tasks of fighting ISIS and assuring the regional skeptics about the Iran deal, the Obama administration chose to use military sales and not hands on regional diplomacy as a way to comfort its allies.
In the case of ISIS, the fact that the Iraqi government is the largest weapons buyer in the region today with $7.3 billion in the tunnel this year speaks volumes to this new dynamic. Baghdad’s surging defense market is also in response to the U.S. approach, withdrawing from Iraq by the end of 2011, and assigning the ground war against ISIS to Iraqi troops while avoiding combat missions. The war against ISIS also involves 17 regional partners whose military capability and air force is being improved as a result.
With Iran, the Obama administration chose to play the military sales card at the Camp David summit last May to assure its GCC allies with new border and maritime defenses, as well as deterrence against Iran. This was translated in more F-15 sales and missile shield to GCC states.
Whether it's confronting ISIS or assuring its allies on Iran, the Obama administration is weighing heavily on military sales, little diplomacy and lighter footprint in the region. Washington appears to have given up on easing Iran-GCC tension or using its leverage to seek to change the trajectory of conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Syria.
Trend to continue in 2016
While U.S. arms exporters are signaling concerns that their sales will dip in the Middle East in 2016 due to the fall in oil prices and slow economic growth in the region, conflict indicators and new threats predict a continued high demand for arms supplies.
Whether its Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, ISIS threat in GCC countries and Sinai, or active Iran proxies, there are no signs that these conflicts will be permanently dissipate in 2016. Most indications are to the contrary in the coming year, and predict a U.S-Russian rivalry in flooding the defense market in Iraq, Egypt and GCC countries. The rise of the militias in Syria and Libya and Yemen, point to a prolonged war where arms will be flowing in different directions.
On the States level, there is an increased tendency towards boosting state military institutions to counter ISIS threat and internal opposition or what is perceived as elements of instability. This has played out in Egypt and Lebanon, where the role of the army saw a major boost in the last three years. Uncertainty and unclarity surrounding the U.S. role in the region is also feeding this rush to militarization, as confidence drops in Washington's commitment to its presence in the Middle East.
The 2015 landscape has been the worst in decades for conflict areas in the Middle East but is ideal for global arms exporters. As ISIS threat looms, and regional proxy wars heat up, calls for peace from Washington will be ironically accompanied with unprecedented stockpile of U.S. made weaponry and fighter jets in the region.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam
Turkey’s role in Syria essential
OSAMA AL SHARIF
Friday 1 January 2016
One of the regional countries that needs to be reengaged into efforts to find and implement a political solution in Syria is Turkey. Ankara has been a key supporter of the Syrian revolution and a major critic of the Syrian despot, Bashar Assad. It received the largest number of Syrian refugees during the last five years.
Until today, Turkey hosts the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and most of the anti-Damascus opposition groups. Its influence over the Syrian opposition cannot be underestimated and its relations with rebel groups are vital if a final deal is to be accepted. Turkey has offered its main air base to the US-led anti-Daesh coalition out of Incirlik.
Since the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey on Nov. 24, Moscow has stepped up its diplomatic quarrel with Ankara accusing it of buying oil from Daesh. Turkey responded by claiming that it is the Assad regime which is receiving oil shipments from Daesh.
Since the downing of the Russian jet, Ankara has stopped all military flights in Syria for fear of a Russian reprisal. As relations between Turkey and Russia soured, cooperation between them over finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis has also waned.
But Turkey’s role in Syria is of paramount importance. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a major foe of the Assad regime. The collapse of a peace deal between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) last August has changed Erdogan’s priorities, as he waged open war against the movement. Turkey also fears that Syria’s Kurds, who are backed by the US in their fight against Daesh, will attempt to carve out their own autonomous enclave in the future, thus reviving Kurdish calls for independence from Turkey.
To complicate things further, Turkey is under pressure to respond to repeated Syrian regime and Russian raids against Turkmen minority in northwestern Syria. The Turkmen rebels have been instrumental in their fight against the Assad regime. For Turkey attacking Syria’s Turkmen is a red line.
Furthermore, recent Russian-Turkish tensions have derailed Erdogan’s plans to establish a safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. Moscow has voiced opposition to such plans and Erdogan never got the US backing he was seeking. In fact, some believe that NATO’s lip service in support of Ankara’s position following the Nov. 24 incident had angered Turkey.
The ongoing tensions between Ankara and Moscow could thwart political efforts in Syria. Turkey has warned of closing its straits for Russian ships if it sees any threat to its national security. A couple of maritime incidents in the Mediterranean and in the straits recently could have developed into possible confrontations.
Until November, Russia and Turkey had a good working relationship. But President Vladimir Putin had always expressed concern over the role played by regional powers in Syria. Moscow fails to understand that the anti-Assad coalition is against Iran’s hegemony in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish-Saudi alliance is seen as a proper response to Iran’s regional agenda and its interference in the affairs of Arab countries.
Likewise, Turkey was suspicious of Russia’s direct involvement in Syria last September. Moscow has created its own coalition comprising Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran, further raising fears in Ankara. Russia’s military intervention in Syria has undercut Ankara’s leverage and ability to maneuver. And as Washington and Moscow developed a common outlook on Syria, Turkey and its allies felt the Americans were abandoning them. Certainly as the US and Russia decided to leave the future of Assad hanging in the balance, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar renewed their commitment to supporting Syrian rebel groups.
It would be wrong to keep Turkey isolated. Ankara’s weight and role in Syria are fundamental to securing a future political settlement. Its interests as a neighbor of Syria cannot be underestimated. It must be drawn back into the political process as a key player. It is seen as a counterbalance to Iran’s military involvement in Syria and Iraq. Without Turkey there can never be a political solution in Syria.
The Russian position toward Turkey is not based entirely on the downing of its fighter jet. Putin believes that isolating Turkey will help the military campaign that he is leading to defend Assad. But that is both shortsighted and wrong. The Syrian conflict has turned into a proxy war with many players and stakeholders. No genuine settlement to the five-year conflict will come out if major players are excluded.
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