New Age Islam Edit Bureau
19 September 2015
Al-Qaeda vs. ISIS: Will the West be the punching bag?
By Baker Atyani
What if the Arab Spring had never happened?
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
‘Don’t talk Zionism!’
By Uri Avnery
Don’t Take Your Innovative Science Project To School If You Are Muslim!
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
A for Ahmed, B for bomb, C for clock
No, woman, no cry
By Aasha Mehreen Amin
Al-Qaeda vs. ISIS: Will the West be the punching bag?
By Baker Atyani
18 September 2015
The latest audio message by Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, which appeared on 10 September, can be best described as raising the battle flag against ISIS.
Zawahiri's exasperation over the so-called Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was quite evident in his audio message.
“We do not see Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi worthy of the Caliphate,” he said in the 45-minute audio message. Baghdadi came “by force and with explosions and car bombs,” rather than “the choice of the people,” Zawahiri added.
This message was Zawahiri’s first episode in what he called “The Islamic Spring” series, which the As-Sahab Foundation – Al-Qaeda’s media wing – has started broadcasting.
The message was probably recorded before June 2015, after Baghdadi refused to heed the advice of the chief of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – Nasir Abdel Karim al-Wuhayshi, alias Abu Basir, who was killed on June 16 – who was also Zawahiri’s deputy.
Abu Basir had urged Baghdadi and Syrian militant factions – in a public letter published on 27 Feb., 2015 – to stop fighting and unite against the Assad regime.
9/11 is missing!
Zawahiri’s audio message, which came a day before the 14th anniversary of the deadly New York and Washington attacks, did not address 9/11. The Al-Qaeda chief’s prime concerns expressed in his audio message were very clear: ISIS and Baghdadi.
Zawahiri tried to reach out to global Al-Qaeda branches. He paid greeting to them all by name, and summarized what happened in the first half of 2015. He wanted to appear as a leader who exercised complete control over all the branches of Al-Qaeda, despite the fact that even when Osama Bin Laden was alive, it was difficult to control Al-Qaeda franchise branches as they expanded over the world. This was abundantly clear in the Abbottabad letters.
AQIS was the first move
Before Zawahiri’s public declaration of war against ISIS, he took a counter-step in South Asia by establishing Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS).
AQIS was a natural consequence of the death and outflow of senior Arab members of the organization. The vacuum was filled by South Asians. Al-Qaeda was trying to close the door on ISIS, and recruit from South Asia.
AQIS claimed responsibility for attacking a Pakistan Navy dockyard in Karachi in September 2014, and the killing of several Bangladeshi bloggers.
The Bin Laden legacy
In another Zawahiri audio message dated August 14, he introduced Bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Osama Bin Laden, who must be in his mid-twenties now. In his first ever audio message – ‘Greetings of Peace to the People of Islam’ – Hamza sent his greetings and praises to Al-Qaeda branches across the world. The undated message was recorded before the death of AQAP’s Abu Basir.
Bringing in Bin Laden’s son to speak to Al-Qaeda branches is a clear indication of the internal and external crisis faced by Al-Qaeda. The Bin Laden legacy was used to give legitimacy to Zawahiri among both his own ranks and with ISIS.
“I greet with reverence the friend of my father, may Allah have mercy on him, and his companion on the path, the honorable … the Sheikh Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri,” Hamza Bin Laden was heard saying.
“On this occasion, following my father... I want to renew my [loyalty] to Emir al-Mumineen (leader of the Muslims) Mullah Mohammad Omar,” he continued, in reference to the late Taliban leader.
The message was recorded before the news of Mullah Omar’s death was announced in July 2015 (although he died earlier, in 2013). This signifies that the “Emir al-Mumineen” – which is equal to the Caliph – is not ISIS’ Baghdadi in the eyes of the younger Bin Laden, and suggests he does not recognize Baghdadi or his ‘state’.
Later on, after the news of Mullah Omar’s death was announced, Zawahiri swore allegiance to the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, describing him as “Emir al-Mumineen”.
Not good news!
Al-Qaeda confronting ISIS is seen as good news by those who think the groups will weaken each other, such as former CIA Director General David Petraeus. He has urged U.S. officials to use members of Al-Qaeda in Syria to combat ISIS.
But this declaration of war between Al-Qaeda and ISIS will work contrary to this popular presumption. For Al-Qaeda to come back as the world’s leading ‘militant group’, the easiest way is to target its traditional enemies: the U.S. and the West.
It is clear that Al-Qaeda is desperately trying to win in this competition with ISIS. And despite its current weakness, it will keep trying.
Baker Atyani is the Al Arabiya News Channel’s Senior International Correspondent. He is a veteran journalist covering conflict zones in Asia over the past 16 years, and is an expert on militant groups in the region. He has produced numerous documentaries, articles, and investigative stories – and was the last journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden before 9/11. He has been honored by the U.N. for his work, and by MCF and the Al Arabiya News Channel “Exceptional Courage in Journalism” awards.
What if the Arab Spring had never happened?
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
18 September 2015
What if the Arab Spring had never happened? This is a recurring question asked by many people in Arab countries affected by the revolutions or observing them. As hopelessness mounts and suffering worsens, people wonder if it was worth it. There were those who believed freedom and liberty should be sought at any cost, but even they could not imagine the human cost that would be paid.
As reality hits harder against their revolutionary fervor, they too are now in doubt. Three years ago, every Syrian I met supported the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Today, I hear more and more Syrians whispering things such as “at least we were safe,” and “unless you were in politics your livelihood was protected.” Some even say: “Change would have come had we waited.”
‘What if’ questions are not easy to answer - history is neat but reality is complex and unpredictable - but it is important to ask such questions, especially about the Arab Spring. The purpose is not to imagine an alternative history, but to discuss other means of bringing change and reform.
When the Arab Spring started, those of us who supported it did so from a moral perspective. We believed people should resist oppression, and in the process tolerate the human cost. However, there was another underlying belief that led many of us to encourage change by whatever means. Many assumed it was enough for people to want change and to topple opposing regimes.
They thought the social and institutional structures of Arab communities could absorb the shockwaves and continue to function. They are realizing they were wrong. More and more are waking up to the fact that the human cost has gone beyond what is justifiable, and that Arab social and institutional structures are more likely to accommodate religious fundamentalists than civil and democratic activists.
Many thought it was all about the people. Very few thought of the fragile social and institutional structures that would fall apart amid chaos and unpredictability. Had the Arab Spring not happened, we would still have had disruptions here and there as the situation was reaching boiling point. However, those disruptions would have most likely led to gradual reform rather than revolutions that wreaked havoc.
All Arab Spring countries were hit badly, but none more so than Syria and Libya. Before the uprising, Assad was already making steady reforms - not enough, but there was some progress. Had there been no revolution, Syria would have gradually improved, and in 10 or 15 years things would have been much better.
In the process of that gradual reform, there would have been oppression, disappearances and torture. However, there would not have been some 300,000 deaths, millions injured and half the population displaced. Had the Arab Spring not happened, Syria would not have been decimated. I am not telling people to lie down and die while dictators do as they please, but to consider whether there is any chance of reasoning with the dictator in question.
Arabs wanted hasty change, and were overconfident with the power of the people, paying no attention to the power of structures. We realized that ‘the people’ was an empty phrase, that it is social and economic structures that matter. It should not be what the people want, but what the structure allows.
I am all for reform, but I am also for appreciating what we have, and for softly pushing for more. I am also for a deeper understanding of the structures within which we live, and for appreciating their value even if they are not perfect. Without them, we are left with chaos and misery.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1
‘Don’t talk Zionism!’
By Uri Avnery
19 September 2015
In the early 1950s, I published a story by my friend, Miko Almaz. At the time, the new State of Israel was in dire straits, its leaders did not know how to pay for next month’s food.
Someone remembered that in a remote part of Africa there was a small community of Jews, who owned all the diamond mines and were immensely rich. The government chose their most effective money-raiser and sent him there.
The man realized that the fate of the state was resting on his shoulders. He assembled the local Jews and gave them the speech. About the pioneers who left everything behind to go to Palestine and make the desert bloom, about their backbreaking labor, about their lofty socialist ideals.
When he was finished, there was not a dry eye in the room. Returning to his hotel, he knew that he had given the speech of his life.
And indeed, the next morning a delegation of the local Jews knocked on his door. “Your words made us feel that we are leading an unworthy life,” they said. “A life of luxury and exploitation. So we decided unanimously to present the mines as a gift to our workers, leave everything and return with you to Israel to become pioneers!”
David Ben-Gurion was a real Zionist. He believed that a Zionist was a Jew who went to live in Eretz Israel. Even a president of the World Zionist Organization was not a Zionist, if he lived in New York. He was adamant in his convictions.
When he traveled to the United States for the first time as prime minister of Israel, he was asked by his advisers what his message would be. “I shall tell them to leave everything and come to Israel!” he retorted.
The advisers were shocked to the core. “But Israel needs their money!” they exclaimed. “We can’t exist without it!”
A battle of consciences ensued. At long last Ben-Gurion was overcome. He went to America, told the Jews that they could be good Zionists if they donated generously to Israel and gave it their political support.
After that episode, Ben-Gurion was never the same again. His basic convictions had been destroyed.
The same happened to Zionism. It became a cynical slogan, to be used by anyone to push his or her agenda. Mainly it became an instrument of the Israeli leadership to subjugate world Jewry and mobilize it for their national, partisan or personal aims.
To come back to the story: there could be no greater catastrophe than for world Jewry to pack up and come to Israel. The immense power of organized US Jewry, the vast majority of which gets its orders from Jerusalem, is essential to the existence of the state.
I was thinking about all this when I read, over the weekend, a thought-provoking essay by the popular leftist Israeli writer, A. B. Yehoshua, who is almost alone among top Israeli writers in not being an Ashkenazi. His father belonged to an old Sephardic family in Jerusalem, his mother is Moroccan. This makes him, in today’s slang, a Mizrahi (‘Easterner’).
In his essay Yehoshua makes a distinction between nationalism and Zionism. According to him, these two are not melded into one, as people in Israel are led to believe, but two different entities “welded” together and in constant conflict with each other. “Zionism” plays a dubious role in this duality.
In today’s Israel, this is a daring theory, bordering on heresy. In ancient Rome, people were burned for less. But to my mind this is a construction of obsolete terms. By now, we can dare to think much further. Is Israeli nationalism really even welded to non-Israeli Zionism.
I must remind the reader again that to begin with, the great idea of Theodor Herzl had nothing to do with Zion, in the literal sense (a hill in Jerusalem).
Originally Herzl wanted a State-of-Jews (not “Jewish State”), in Patagonia, southern Argentina. The original population had just been eradicated, more or less, and Herzl thought that this empty country was fit for European Jewish mass settlement, after the remnants of the aborigines had been evicted (but only after they had killed off all wild animals).
When Herzl, a completely assimilated Viennese Jew, came into contact with real Jews, especially Russians, he realized reluctantly that nothing but Palestine would work. So his idea became Zionism. He never liked Palestine, never visited it, except once when he was practically ordered to do so by the romantic German Kaiser, who insisted on meeting him in Jerusalem. (The Kaiser remarked afterwards that Zionism was a great idea, but that “it can’t be carried out with Jews”.)
Herzl’s idea of Zionism was quite simple: all the Jews in the world will come to the new state and be the only ones called Jews from then on. Those who prefer to remain where they are will cease to be Jews and finally become ordinary Austrians, Germans, Americans etc. End of story. Well, it did not happen that way. Zionism was much too convenient an instrument for politicians — in Israel as abroad — to throw on the dung heap.
Everybody uses it. American politicians who lust after heaps of Jewish money. Israeli politicians who have nothing else to say. Israeli government officials of all stripes who openly discriminate against Israel’s Arab citizens. Coalition Knesset members against the opposition. Opposition Knesset members against the government.
Let Benjamin Netanyahu call Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the opposition, an “anti-Zionist”, and he will object more strongly than if he had been called a mere traitor. Anti-Zionist is awful. Unforgivable.
Yet if any one of these were asked what Zionism really is, he would stop dead in his tracks. Zionism — why, everybody knows what Zionism is. What a question! Zionism is er…er…er.
On the other side of the fence, the situation is much the same. Everybody accuses everybody of being a Zionist. You are for the two-state solution? A vicious Zionist plot! You don’t want Israel to disappear? So you are part of the worldwide Zionist conspiracy.
To call someone a Zionist is to end the discussion. Like saying that he is a Nazi. Only worse. Much worse.
And then there are the remnants of classical anti-Semitism. What remains of the once proud movement that started it all. The very people Herzl met in the streets of Vienna and Paris, when he came to the logical conclusion that Jews could not live in 19th century Europe any longer. That great anti-Semitic movement is gone. Only pathetic remnants survive. Just enough to provide Zionists with the fuel they need.
Zionism as such, the real honest-to-goodness one, died an honorable death in Tel Aviv, the moment the State of Israel was founded. (In those days “Zionism” was a kind of joke among young people. “Don’t talk Zionism!” meant “Don’t talk highfaluting nonsense!”)
What remains is the coexistence of two separate entities, not really welded to each other, that are bound to break apart some time in the future.
Neither of them has much to do with Zionism.
There is the Israeli entity – a normal nation (at least as normal as any nation is). It has a motherland, a collective mentality, a geographical and political reality, economic interests, a majority language, internal problems galore. 75% of its population are Jews, 20% Arabs. (The rest are Jews who are not recognized as Jews by the rabbis, who decide such things in Israel.)
And then there is world Jewry. Its homeland is the entire world. It belongs to many different nations, has some vague common interests (created by anti-Semites), a religion, many traditions. Large parts of it have a commitment to Israel, a vague one that can easily become more indistinct.
One of the main functions of “Zionism” is to keep this people totally subservient to the interests of Israel’s current (and changing) leadership. Without this connection, Israel would have to exist on its own political, economic and military resources, a vastly reduced existence.
The bonds that bound these two entities together (or “welded”, according to Yehoshua) are religion and tradition. These days, when Jews all over the world and in Israel are celebrating the same “high holidays”, this is very obvious.
The bonds are there, created over the centuries, but one may wonder how strong they really are today. How much stronger, if at all, than those between Irish-Americans and Ireland, or Singapore-Chinese and China? In a real test, how would they hold up?
Ironically enough, the most extreme faction of religious Jewry — both in Jerusalem and in Brooklyn — rejects Zionism as a sin against God.
The real damage caused by the Zionist mental stranglehold on Israel is that it falsifies Israel’s situation in the world.
The official designation of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” is an oxymoron. A Jewish state cannot really be democratic, since the definition denies equality to non-Jews, especially Arabs. For the same reason, a democratic state cannot be Jewish. It must belong to all its citizens.
But the problem is more profound. Israel’s bonds with world Jewry are infinitely closer than its bonds with its neighbors. One cannot fix one’s gaze on New York and also be profoundly interested in what people do in Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran.
Until Damascus and Tehran come so close that one cannot ignore them anymore. Ironically, people in Tehran shout “Death to the Zionist entity!” In the long run, what is happening there is a hundred times more important to our future than the Republican Party in San Francisco.
Let me be clear: I don’t preach Separation, as a small group nicknamed “Canaanites” once advocated. The natural bonds which are real and do not hurt the vital interest of either party — Israel or World Jewry — will survive.
But with one condition: that they will not hurt the future of Israel, a future which demands peace and friendship between its citizens and neighbors, or the future of the Jews throughout the world within their own nations.
How does that fit into the Zionist doctrine? Well, if it doesn’t, too bad.
Uri Avnery is an activist and an advocate of Palestinian rights. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t Take Your Innovative Science Project To School If You Are Muslim!
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
18 September, 2015
A 14-year old Muslim student takes his science project to school. Instead of appreciating his talent the school teachers call police. The teen ager is interrogated for one and a half hour. Taken to juvenile prison, fingerprinted and photographed like a criminal. During this ordeal he was not allowed to contact his parents.
What lesson the Muslim students will get from this episode and what advice I will give to Muslim students who often face bullying at school? Don’t take your innovative science project to school.
This is the horrifying story of Ahmed Mohamed of Irving High School in Texas.
Ironically, the mainstream media is now portraying him as hero of the Silicon Valley for his creative skill in making an electronic clock that was considered a bomb by teachers and police.
To borrow Zack Beauchamp of Think Progress, this is textbook racial and religious profiling: Mohamed looked like what the Irving police thought terrorists looked like, so they treated him differently.
Ahmed told NBC Dallas Fort Worth that his family surname repeatedly came up in police questioning. "I really don't think it's fair, because I brought something to school that wasn't a threat to anyone. I didn't do anything wrong. I just showed my teachers something and I end up being arrested later that day," he said.
The CNN reported this graphic account of Ahmed’s arrest of Monday Sept 14:
By Thursday, more details of the 14-year-old's arrest in Irving, Texas, came to light. In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Ahmed said he was pulled out of class at MacArthur High School by his principal and five police officers and taken to a room where he was questioned for about an hour and a half. He said he asked the adults if he could call his parents. "They told me 'No, you can't call your parents,'" Ahmed said. "'You're in the middle of an interrogation at the moment.' They asked me a couple of times, 'Is it a bomb?' and I answered a couple of times, 'It's a clock.'" "I felt like I was a criminal," the teenager said. "I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all the names I was called."
Hayes asked what he meant.
In middle school, Ahmed said, he had been called "bomb maker" and a "terrorist."
"Just because of my race and my religion," he said, adding that when he walked into the room where he was questioned, an officer reclined in a chair and remarked, "That's who I thought it was." "I took it to mean he was pointing at me for what I am, my race," the freshman explained.
Adding insult to injury, Ahmed suspended for three days from the school. The school defended its cruel action as reported by Max Fisher of Vox Media:
This arrest, clearly, should never have happened. But one would like to expect at least that the Irving school, … would realize its mistake. That the school would apologize to Mohamed for humiliating and terrorizing him, acknowledge its mistake, and use it as a teaching moment to discuss racism and profiling.That is not what has happened. Instead, even after learning that the clock was just a clock built as an educational project, the school suspended Mohamed for three days and sent out a letter, which acknowledges no mistake whatsoever on the school's part even though by then school officials knew the clock was harmless, is infuriating to read for its tone-deafness.
It seems to imply that Mohamed was at fault for violating the "Student Code of Conduct."The letter also asks students to "immediately report any suspicious items and / or suspicious behavior," in effect asking students and parents help to perpetuate the school's practice of racist profiling, even after that profiling had been clearly demonstrated as without merit. It is appalling that school officials would still think this way even after their arrest had been exposed as a horrible mistake, but it is especially telling that they would wish to announce this fact to students' parents as well.
Social Media drive
Nobody would have noticed Ahmed Mohamed’s ordeal but thanks to social media his arrest news went viral. His sisters, 18-year-old Eyman and 17-year-old Ayisha, set up a Twitter account for him, @IStandWithAhmed, and watched it balloon to thousands of followers within hours. His sisters also posted his picture in hand cuff.
Thousands of Twitter users praised the boy's initiative and questioned why he was detained including Nasa scientists, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and President Barrack Obama.
"Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great," President Obama wrote on Twitter.
“Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The future belongs to people like Ahmed.”
Josh Earnest, Obama's press secretary, said the case goes to show how stereotypes can cloud the judgment of even the most “good-hearted people.”
“It’s clear that at least some of Ahmed's teachers failed him,” Earnest said. “That’s too bad, but it’s not too late for all of us to use this as a teachable moment and to search our own conscience for biases in whatever form they take.”
The White House also extended the teen an invitation to speak with NASA scientists and astronauts at next month’s Astronomy Night.
Republican Presidential candidates not sympathetic
Not surprisingly, three Republican Presidential candidates - Bobby Jindal, Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Lindsey Graham – were not sympathetic to Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest on hoax bomb suspicion.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal lauded Irving school officials and police for erring on the side of caution when Ahmed took his device to MacArthur High School. “I’m glad they’re vigilant,” he told Jake Tapper who was moderating a four-GOP presidential debate at CNN.
“We’re at war, folks,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, another GOP presidential hopeful. “Young men from the Mideast are different from Kim Davis alluding to the Kentucky county clerk briefly jailed this month for defying court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples citing his religious beliefs. “We’ve got to understand that.”
Former New York Gov. George Pataki didn’t address Ahmed’s situation but said he would have fired Davis, adding that a Muslim county clerk who cited religious beliefs to refuse to exercise her public duty would never have generated such sympathy. [Dallas News - GOP candidates weigh in on Ahmed Mohamed arrest for ‘hoax bomb’]
Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne defends school action
Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne took to Facebook to defend the actions of the school district and police, saying their daily work helped make Irving “one of the safest cities in the country.”
“I do not fault the school or the police for looking into what they saw as a potential threat,” Van Duyne wrote. “We have all seen terrible and violent acts committed in schools. ... Perhaps some of those could have been prevented and lives could have been spared if people were more vigilant.”
The mayor later amended her post, acknowledging that she would be “very upset” had the same thing happened to her own child.
“It is my sincere desire that Irving ISD students are encouraged to use their creativity, develop innovations and explore their interests in a manner that fosters higher learning,” Van Duyne wrote.
“Hopefully, we can all learn from this week’s events and the student, who has obvious gifts, will not feel at all discouraged from pursuing his talent in electronics and engineering.”
Anti-Muslim bigotry in America is out of control
For Max Fisher, Foreign Editor at Vox.com, the arrest of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, was completely in line with a problem that has been growing over the past year: Islamophobia, which is the fear-based hatred of Muslims, is out of control in American society.
To understand why a Texas school would arrest a 14-year-old student for bringing in a homemade clock, it helps to understand what came before: the TV news hosts who declare Muslims "unusually barbaric," the politicians who gin up fear of Islam, the blockbuster film that depicts even Muslim children as dangerous threats, and the wave of hatred against Muslims that has culminated several times in violence so severe that what happened to Mohamed, while terrible, appears unsurprising and almost normal within the context of ever-worsening American Islamophobia.
Many Americans might be totally unaware this is happening, even though they are surrounded by Islamophobia: on TV, at airport security, in our pop culture and our politics, and inevitably in our schools. Perhaps, then, Mohamed's arrest will be a wake-up call.
American Islamophobia has grown so severe that, even looking just at the neighborhoods immediately surrounding Mohamed's Dallas suburb, one can see, in broad daylight, the climate of hostility and fear America's 2.6 million (read 7 million) Muslims have been made to live in.
Marcus Wohlsen of Wired.com wrote: What would happen if kids across the country decided to take their own homemade clocks to school that they made following those instructions? Who knows. Maybe if enough young people make clocks, teachers and police will at least learn what a clock looks like, even on the inside. Or, if that’s too much to ask, maybe they’ll just learn to trust their students when they describe what they’ve made. We get it: technology can be scary: after all, open up any computer or smart phone, and what’s inside? Circuits! Or should we say, a hoax bomb waiting to happen.
The ACLU of Texas, executive director Terri Burke said, "Ahmed Mohamed's avoidable ordeal raises serious concerns about racial profiling and the disciplinary system in Texas schools. Instead of encouraging his curiosity, intellect, and ability, the Irving ISD saw fit to throw handcuffs on a frightened 14 year-old Muslim boy wearing a NASA t-shirt and then remove him from school."
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com
A for Ahmed, B for bomb, C for clock
By Nizamuddin Ahmed
September 19, 2015
Not that I am very keen, except maybe for a selfie with the doorman to the envy of my Facebook friends, I have over the past week discovered a sure way to be invited to the White House; more so because of Mark Zuckerberg's interest in the most ridiculous of science-related stories.
Make an ordinary clock with the intelligence of an average Asian, take it to the school classroom, make sure beforehand that your teacher is an idiot (better still, also xenophobic), explain that clocks also go tick-tock, and with a name like Ahmed Mohamed, you are laughing all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Those of you who have starry-eyed ambitions to pursue engineering education in the States, it may help you to reconsider before filling up the visa form that the first tutor who got to see the gadget he made (it was a clock) was ninth grader Ahmed Mohamed's engineering teacher, who said it was nice (how sweet!) but then told him he should not show the invention to other teachers.Why? Maybe because it looked suspicious from an engineering point of view.
Ahmed is only 14-years old, an impressionable age when the best among them strive to make an impression. The large briefcase-size clock was a contraption of wires, screws, electrical bits and pieces, and had its circuit board and a digital display.
Alarm bells rang across Dallas' MacArthur High School on September 14, when Ahmed's device started beeping during his English class and the teacher, being no engineer (hah!), thought it was “possibly the infrastructure for a bomb”; the school notified the police, and the Muslim teenager was handcuffed, detained and interrogated by officers.
Further damage to America's efforts to play down Islamophobia was controlled by a spontaneous tweet from Barack Obama, “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.” The president's message was retweeted almost 400,000 times within the first 18 hours.
Now Ahmed will be at the South Lawn of the White House rubbing shoulders with scientists, engineers, astronauts, teachers (I hope not his English teacher) and other students on Astronomy Night on October 19, where he may hopefully continue to seek support for every other kid in the world who has a problem like this.
Ahmed was Ahmed at a news conference last Wednesday outside his home in Irving, and not bogged down by the fact that the police still had his clock, greeting a bevy of reporters with 'Aassalamulaiukum'. Traumatised as he is, Ahmed told a newspaper on video: “It made me feel like I wasn't human. It made me feel like I was a criminal.”
I am buoyed by social network comments from ordinary (yes non-Muslim) Americans, who simply abhorred the treatment meted out to Ahmed. From awful to devastating, from sad to abomination, from outrageous to insulting, from ignorant to stupidity.
Posted Jordan Bumgarneron on Facebook:“One of the greatest men I know is a Muslim, and I'm a Christian and we are very good friends. Ironic huh? Stereotypes are tearing this country apart.”
Says MzKim Melvin: “The paranoia in this country is sickening! What are they going to charge him with being too smart for his ignorant Teacher?”
Wrote Vanessa Jane Warren: “This country is full of idiots including this jealous teacher!!! Praying for this child.”
From Priscilla Chavarry: “He needs a job at NASA now. And Fire his racist *** teacher!!! … He's a kid!! He should have been able to trust his teacher. They're supposed to be mentors for our kids!! Not racist snitches going against them!!”
Danira Alihodzic posted: “The look on his face (while arrested) is breaking my heart! Is this how we reward a child who is advanced for his age?! Had he been white American, he would've made the town paper for a different reason entirely! It's nearly 2016 for the love of God!”
“Further evidence that racism and ignorance go hand in hand,” wrote M Catherine Hazelton.
Stephanie Thomas Lmt thinks, “This poor kid, he's probably a genius & he's being 'taught' by ass hats...”
Says Joy Mitchell: “The teacher needs to have his teaching certificate revoked and criminal charges levelled against him. The cop who arrested him should also be fired. I hope this young man knows not everyone feels like those two asses do. Sue the school, go to college on the money and live well. Oh, and I'm Jewish!”
As for me, a teacher who does not know a clock from a bomb, or more importantly his/her student from a terrorist, SHOULD NOT TEACH.
Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.
No, woman, no cry
By Aasha Mehreen Amin
September 19, 2015
Few women have dared to do what Rebecca Lolosoli, a Kenyan, has done. Rejecting the patriarchal Samburu tribe she came from, she has created the ideal village for women where chauvinism, gender violence, and discrimination just do not exist. In fact, men are not allowed to enter the village unless they get permission from the women. After experiencing violence and abuse herself and that inflicted on others, Rebecca decided that enough was enough. Braving the threats, insults and ostracism, she formed Umoja village 25 years ago, giving shelter to women and girls who had been victims of various kinds of violence such as rape, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
The women of the village are self-reliant, making jewellery or handicrafts for a living. Many of them suffered physical torture from their husbands; almost all had to go through genital circumcision as part of the Samburu tradition. Others had been abandoned by their husbands or families for the stigma attached to the abuse they had gone through.
Now, however, there is no shame, only pride that they can raise their children by themselves without the help or charity of any man. They have even set up their own school and community centre. Rebecca says in an interview (by Broadly, an online site), that the women of Umoja want their children, especially their daughters, to be educated.
This may be the ultimate feminist fantasy – in fact it echoes the ethos of Begum Rokeya's Sultana's Dream that describes a matriarchial society where women are in charge of everything from law and order to scientific research. But Rebecca's story is also one of great tragedy – it was because these women were subject to the worst kinds of torture and humiliation by men of their own community and outside it, that they were pushed to form their own little oasis. Undoubtedly the Samburu community, apart from the loss of face at this humiliating exodus, has also lost out economically and socially, in terms of the labour, skills, not to mention wisdom and nurturing, of these women.
Although it is plain common sense that when all members of the community are happy and productive, the economic returns will be huge, women are constantly being subject to violence and discrimination, thus depriving the community of its full economic potential. A recent World Bank research has found that countries that have discriminatory laws against women or do not promote gender parity also fare poorly in economic terms. The World Bank Group's Women, Business and the Law 2016 report has identified legal barriers to economic empowerment that keep women out of certain jobs, reduce access to credit and make them more vulnerable to violence.
Women for instance, says the report, are barred from working in certain factory jobs in 41 economies; in 29 economies, they are prohibited from working at night; and in 18 economies, they cannot get a job without permission from their husband. Only half of the economies covered have paternity leave, limiting men's ability to share childcare responsibilities. In 30 economies, married women cannot choose where to live and in 19 they are legally obligated to obey their husbands.
The result of this deliberate exclusion from economic activities, the research concludes, adversely affects not only the women but also their children, their communities and hence their countries.
In Bangladesh, as in most of South Asia, women are disempowered not so much by discriminatory laws but more because of the discrimination they face in getting justice through the legal system. We have anti-dowry laws, the Child Marriage Act, Prevention of Women and Child Repression Act 2000 and other laws that on paper cover most forms of violence and offer redress for the crimes. But in a society where cultural practices dominate, these laws can prove ineffectual for the victims. Money and influence are used by perpetrators - all male - to dupe the system and go scot free. Society, by and large, is unsympathetic to female victims. The low number of convictions of cases of violence against women results in an increase in the number of such incidents.
Statistics from Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK) gleaned mainly from newspaper reports depict a horrifying scenario. Between January and June this year, there were reports of 378 rapes with 29 deaths as a result of rape; 63 of the victims were children between 7 and 12. ASK's report has also found 87 cases of sexual harassment with 6 suicides as a result of this. 112 women were tortured and murdered by their husbands in that short period.
True, there are more women in the work force in Bangladesh than ever before, which is a sure parameter of progress. But women are still not paid equally as their male counterparts, especially in blue collar jobs, and their productivity is significantly impeded physically and mentally by violence.
The lack of security at home and outside it, therefore, is a huge impediment to women's empowerment and the empowerment of the nation as a whole.
Rebecca Lolosoli was sick and tired of seeing her fellow women folk being regularly abused by men in her tribe and the brutal traditions it imposed, making them weak and powerless. She chose to make a change – leading the women out of their prison into a sanctuary of peace and economic freedom. Meanwhile, other women, inspired by Rebecca, have left their repressive communities to form similar matriarchal villages where women and girls can work, study and live a life without humiliation. For the men of the Samburu tribe, the abandonment is an insult to their masculinity and their traditional role as the protectors of women. For the world, Rebecca's initiative is a form of protest against the injustice half of its population suffers as a result of debilitating patriarchal domination.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Op-ed, The Daily Star.