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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 12 Jan 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Bihar girl Asma Parween makes it to UN calendar

Alimony aid for Muslim women caught in divorce wrangles

Arab women Diaspora writers under study at the University of Manchester

America’s first Islamic-based sorority allows participation without abandoning faith and values

No veiled threat - France mulls fines for wearing a burqa in public

Women's role in Islam found in Quran

Should Muslim Women be Fined or Arrested for the Way They Dress?

Banning the burqa unveils some nasty traits in us

French PM Francois Fillon wants anti-burqa measures

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

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Bihar girl Asma Parween makes it to UN calendar

Sanjeev Kumar Verma

12 January 2010

PATNA: Her orthodox father wouldn’t let her go out of home — even to school. She defied him, joined an education-cum-vocational centre in her village and her impressed teachers prevailed upon her father to let her go out of village to complete another course. Today, a history honours student, Asma Parween is also a karate trainer whose success story will feature on this year’s United Nations Population Fund calendar.

A native of an obscure village, Sakri Saraiya in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, this 19-year-old blue belt holder has travelled to different parts of Bihar to train girls at camps organized by the government. She is also a member of Muzaffarpur’s district resource group which mobilizes children at block levels for admission to Navodaya Vidyalayas.

Her achievements have led to a perceptible change in her family’s outlook. “We’re proud of her,” her elder brother Shakeel Ahmed said. In between these engagements which “besides giving satisfaction to me, also fetches money for my family”, Asma continued to take karate lessons and is now set to get brown belt.

Asma’s journey to success began in mid-1990s when an NGO, Mahila Samakhya Kendra, set up the educational-cum-vocational centre for illiterate girls in her village. “Don’t dare go out of home,” her father Mohammad Yusuf, a petty utensil seller, fumed when Asma sought permission to join the centre. The gritty girl, however, stealthily completed the two-year course.


Alimony aid for Muslim women caught in divorce wrangles

January 12, 2010

PETALING JAYA: Vicknani Nora Giok was divorced 16 years ago and never received a single sen from her husband.

Left to support her two children by herself, Nora, whose Muslim name is Nurasyikin Abdullah, started singing in a pub.

Women in similar situation like hers no longer need to suffer. The Government will come to their aid with loans.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom announced yesterday that the Government had approved an allocation of RM15mil for Muslim women who are undergoing divorce and have not been paid maintenance (nafkah).

Non-governmental organisations have cautiously welcomed the move, saying they wanted it to be implemented efficiently and fairly.


Arab women Diaspora writers under study at the University of Manchester

By Susannah Tarbush

11 January 2010

The recent holding of a one-day interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Manchester on Arab women writers living in the West was a sure sign that the cohort of Arab women Diaspora writers is now so significant that it is a meaty subject for theses and scholarly discussion.

The interdisciplinary workshop, “Arab Women Writers in Diaspora: Horizons of Dialogue,” was sponsored by the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), Skills Awareness for Graduate Education (SAGE) and the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW).

Fiction by Arab women writers has attracted interest in the West ever since translations of their work into English started to become widely available from the late 1970s. But these were mostly works by authors still living in the Arab world. Now the discussion has broadened, with substantial numbers of Arab women writers living in the West, some of whom are of mixed Arab-Western parentage. Their writing is informed by these experiences, and is permeated by questions of identity, displacement, exile, memory and the relationship with the homeland.

The workshop attracted some 50 participants from Europe and the Arab world. Its organizer Yousef Awad, who is preparing a PhD thesis at Manchester on “Cartographies of Arab women identities: Resistance, Diaspora and Transnational Feminism,” said: “This is an interdisciplinary event that benefitted from the different academic backgrounds of the participants. The approaches employed by the speakers and presenters have enriched the discussion and testified to the complexity of the works of Arab women in the diaspora.”

The workshop was introduced by the novelist Professor Patricia Duncker, head of Manchester University’s English and American Studies Department, who hailed the interdisciplinary spirit of the event. Professor Hoda Elsadda, co-director of CASAW stressed the need for further workshops on works by Arab women writers.

The workshop began with a video recording of Laila Halaby, who was born in Lebanon to a Jordanian father and American mother and grew up in Arizona, reading her poem “The Journey.” Next came a voice recording of New York-born Jordanian-American novelist Diana Abu-Jaber reading from her novel “Crescent.”

The first keynote speaker was Jordanian novelist Fadia Faqir, who has lived in Britain for many years. In her presentation “Spinning a Self in the Language of the Other,” she recalled the contexts within which her three novels “Nisanit,” “Pillars of Salt” and “My Name is Salma” were written. Each novel is socio-political, but the tone, style and structure have evolved.

Her first novel was “a howl from the heart, raw, close to reality and unsophisticated perhaps.” In “Pillars of Salt” she moved on to explore imperialism and sexual politics, using the oral tradition and the tradition of travel writing. In “My Name is Salma,” on migration, racism and the constraints of the human condition, she began exploring “lyricism, pace, minute descriptions of daily life to construct a whole.”

Faqir is now at work on her fourth novel, “At the Midnight Kitchen,” set among a group of characters living in a block of flats in Hammersmith, West London. The novel’s prologue appeared in the fall 2008 issue of Weber Studies, the electronic cultural journal based at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. It won the Fiction Award for the best work published in the journal that year.

Weber Studies says of the novel: “There is violence, self-hate, guilt, pursuit of redemption, compassion, humor and forgiveness. But who stabbed to death the shady figure in flat number two?” The gripping prologue makes the reader anxious to read on.

In a session on issues of representation, Linda Maloul from the University of Manchester spoke on Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif. Maloul argued that in her first book, the collection of stories “Aisha” centered around an Egyptian girl growing up in Egypt and Britain, Soueif may have assumed the “perspective of an Orientalist” in choosing to highlight controversial aspects of Egyptian life.

This is in contrast to her second novel “The Map of Love” in which, according to some studies, Soueif deliberately uses Orientalist imagery in order to criticize Orientalism. This places the novel firmly within an anti-colonial political and cultural discourse.

Dr. Claire Chambers of Leeds Metropolitan University expressed interest in representations of British Muslim identity in the fiction of Sudanese-Egyptian Leila Aboulela, particularly her second novel “Minaret” which is set in Sudan and diasporic Britain.

Drawing on an interview she recently conducted with Aboulela, Chambers suggested that the author “writes back” to damaging fictions created about Muslim communities by earlier Orientalist writers and scholars. Aboulela is sometimes dubbed a “halal novliest” but Chambers maintained that “the portrayal of Islam in Aboulela’s three fictional works to date is neither monolithic nor simplistically idealist.”

The debut novel of Iraqi writer Betool Khedairi, born in Baghdad to an Iraqi father and Scottish mother, was the subject of a presentation by Jenny Chandler of Manchester University headed “The Inconstant Lover: Images of Masculinity in war and Diaspora in Betool Khedairi’s ‘A Sky so Close.’”

Dr. Sandya Mehta of Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, scrutinized Syrian-born Arab-American writer Mohja Kahf’s novel “The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf” in order to examine the projection of the homeland in the consciousness of the immigrant “other.”

Natasha Mansfield of the University of Essex analyzed the short story “Shakespeare in the Gaza Strip” by Arab-American Sahar Kayyal who lived in Palestine for five years during the first intifada and is now based in Chicago. The story is set in a girls’ school in Gaza and features an American teacher attempting in an arrogant fashion to teach her pupils literature.

The work of Diana Abu-Jaber and the Lebanese writer Hanan Al-Shaykh in relation to “Arab urban diasporas and transnational imaginaries” was discussed by Christiane Schlote of the University of Berne. She pointed to how their writing maps urban life in Los Angeles and London, representing “the possibilities and limits of various forms of cosmopolitanism with a particular focus on alliances across ethnic, class and religious barriers.” A non-fiction writer, the Palestinian medical doctor and political activist, Ghada Karmi, was the afternoon keynote speaker. She examined the question of writing in exile with reference to her memoir “In Search of Fatima” and her second book “Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine.”

The workshop was an excellent introduction to the creative output of the growing number of Arab women diaspora writers in the US and UK. It will be interesting to witness further developments in this young but fruitful field of study. - SG


America’s first Islamic-based sorority allows participation without abandoning faith and values

By Laura Diamond

January 11, 2010

Gamma Gamma Chi is first in country for followers of Islam. Members bond, hold fast to their beliefs.

The women who belong to Atlanta’s Gamma Gamma Chi sorority volunteer and participate in fund-raising activities across the metro area. They hang out and go to restaurants, movies, museums and cultural exhibits in town.

But the sisters won’t participate in some stereotypical components of Greek life — no drinking, partying or hooking up with men.

That’s because Gamma Gamma Chi Sorority Inc. is the country’s first Islamic-based sorority.

The sorority allows Muslim women to participate in a widespread college tradition without abandoning their faith and values. Many Muslim women do belong to sororities on college campuses across Georgia and the country, but leaders with Gamma Gamma Chi said it provides another option.

“As Muslims, certain things that go on in sororities and fraternities are not allowed,” said Wakilat Kasumu, president of the Atlanta chapter and a Spelman graduate. “We still do volunteer work and socialize with one another. Yes, we are Muslim, but we still have fun.”

The sorority started in 2005 and has five chapters in the areas surrounding Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, and the national headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Each chapter is regional rather than school-based and pulls from multiple colleges. Atlanta’s members have attended Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, Georgia Perimeter College and other institutions.

The Atlanta chapter has seven members — two are students at Clark Atlanta; the others are graduate students and professional adults.

College students have long found different ways to have a piece of Greek life. Fraternities and sororities have been formed around different groups, including students who are Hispanic, African-American or Jewish. Like most others, Gamma Gamma Chi is open to all women, including non-Muslims.

The sorority originated with a mother-daughter team after the daughter struggled to find a sorority where the practices didn’t go against her faith. They merged a sorority’s traditional values of volunteering, leadership and friendship with a way to promote and improve the image of Islam and Muslim women. They also wanted Muslim women to have the opportunity to build the lifelong bonds that develop among sorority sisters.

Chapters observe Islam’s holy days and other practices. The emphasis on volunteering and leadership makes Muslim women visible in the community, said Rasheeda Salaam, vice president of the Atlanta chapter and a board member for the national association.

“We want people to know who we are and that we are an active part of the Atlanta community,” Salaam said.

Photos from chapters show women wearing jeans and sweat shirts bearing the sorority’s Greek letters. Some women wear their hair loose; others wrap scarves around their heads. The group’s motto explains that members will honor Allah through “sisterhood, scholarship, leadership and community service.”

The sorority’s colors are lavender (meaning peace), green (Muhammad’s favorite color) and gold (representing true treasure), Kasumu said. Their flower is the lily because of its ability to grow and bloom no matter how challenging its surroundings, she said.

The sorority is working to increase public awareness and add chapters across the country. Salaam said people often stop her when they see her wearing a sweat shirt with the group’s Greek letters, wanting to get more information.

Kasumu, who is from Nigeria, said her family didn’t understand at first why she joined a sorority.

“I explained that I’m hanging out with people who allow me to be myself,” she said.

She remembered one night when they all went roller skating — something she had never tried before.

“I fell down, but they were there to pick me back up,” Kasumu said. “That’s what is so special. We support one another and have fun.”


No veiled threat - France mulls fines for wearing a burka in public

By Joe Ellingham

January 8th 2010

Ahh, France. Land of the baguette, Bordeaux and brie – but not burkas!

If a ruling party politician has his way, Muslim women would say au revoir to the tradtional veils, or be subject to a fine of more than $1,000 for wearing them in public, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

That amount could double for Muslim men who force their wives or other female family members to cover their faces.

Jean-Francois Cope, president of Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP Party in the French parliament, said the legislation’s intend was to protect the “dignity” and “security” of women. He is set to file the draft law in the National Assembly after Sarkozy said veils are “not welcome” as they intimidate and alienate non-Muslims, in a secular country like France, the Daily Mail said.

“We want a ban in public areas,” Cope said, meaning the veil would be banned in public buildings, and on French streets, as it encourages extremism. “The wearing of the burka will be subject to a fine, probably of the 4th class, which is to say 750 euros.”

He said the fine would apply to “all people on the public street whose face is entirely covered.”

France is home to more than 5 million Muslims, the largest population in Europe.

“Permanently masking one’s face in public spaces is not an expression of individual liberty. It’s a negation of oneself, a negation of others, a negation of social life,” Cope told the Daily Mail.

He added a complete ban would most likely face legal hurdles on the grounds that it limits religious freedom.

Sarkozy has called the veils “a sign of subservience and debasement that imprison women,” adding they are “not welcome in France.”

A recent police report revealed that only about 400 women in France wore the veils, the Daily Mail said.


Women's role of Islam found in Quran

By Marwa Elkelani


As I flip through CNN channels and watch different documentaries, I can’t help but cringe and become mortified by the sights of Muslim women in Afghanistan and other areas of the Middle East who are either sprawled on the floor begging for food and money, abused by their husbands, uneducated, illiterate, oppressed, and subjected to humiliation and degradation.

Islam, of course, is then blamed for all of this. The widespread misconception in the West is that women have no rights in Islam and are nothing but mere objects. Sadly, there is lack of awareness within some Muslim communities, as well.

Many Muslims themselves, men and women, are still bound by the confines of traditions, rather than Islamic values. This is evident in countries in which women aren’t allowed to receive an education, drive, work or voice their opinions. It is in these countries that traditional practices, instead of Islamic principles, continue to represent the model behavior.

This is abhorrent and can impose a heavy burden on women. It also, unfortunately, only perpetuates the inaccurate stereotypes and misconceptions. Thus, it is urgent to differentiate between traditional cultural practices and the religion of Islam.

What many people, even some Muslims, are unaware of is the considerable number of rights Islam has awarded women. It also may astonish people to learn that 14 centuries ago, Islam granted women all the rights that the West has only recently acknowledged. In order to thoroughly understand these teachings of Islam regarding women, one must turn to the words of God and the Muslim holy book, the Quran, which highly stresses the principle of equality between men and women.

God emphasizes that the only criterion for judging people is not their gender, race or color, but rather, only piety. He states: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has piety” (49:13).

There are numerous other Quranic verses proving that Islam treats males and females on the basis of equality regarding their religious duties, responsibilities and reward, such as: “If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them” (4:124).

In regards to specific rights for women mentioned in the Quran, I cannot even come close to covering them all in one article. However, there are some grave misconceptions that have always disturbed me, so I feel the immediate urge to cover those particular ones.

One common misconception is that Muslim women have no rights when it comes to marriage. In Islam, a Muslim woman has the full right to choose her husband. There is no such thing as an “arranged marriage” — her approval of the marriage and of the groom is a must. Her free, unforced consent, as a matter of fact, is an essential condition for the validity of the marriage contract.

Moreover, marriage in Islam is not the sale of a bride to her husband. On the contrary, in Islam, the bride is dignified and it is the groom who must present her with a dowry, as a sign of respect toward her. The payment of the dowry by the husband is an admission of his wife’s independence, for she becomes the owner of it immediately upon her marriage and retains this marriage gift even if she later becomes divorced.

Furthermore, contrary to common misconceptions, women in Islam are accorded full rights to knowledge and education just as men are. It is actually incumbent upon all Muslims, male and female, to seek knowledge. One of the aims of acquiring this knowledge is to be more God-conscious and to increase the welfare of the community.

Islam honors women and thus, they are encouraged to become educated in order to help them develop their character. Education is also significant because it helps women become more capable and efficient mothers who will accordingly be able to play their roles in raising strong, well-educated generations to come.

Islam additionally encourages women to pursue their own careers, if they so choose, as long as the woman’s integrity is safeguarded and she fulfills her primary obligations toward her husband and children (if married). Islam further dignifies a woman by arranging for her to be maintained always and financially supported by her closest male guardian (father, brother, husband, etc).

So, going out to work is a choice and not an obligation, as the man is the financial head of the household. This specifically means the man is responsible before God for the welfare and protection of his family. Therefore, even if the woman does work, her right to her own money, real estate or other properties is fully acknowledged.

As women, we have total economic independence and have the right to own, buy or sell property, and invest or donate our money without our husband’s approval or permission.

Lastly, Islam gives women many more rights, which are covered in the Quran. I truly feel honored, proud, and fortunate to be a Muslim woman and have the blessing of Islam in my life. I implore Muslims and non-Muslims alike to turn to the primary sources of Islam to learn the truth about the roles, duties and rights of women in Islam. Only then, will the ill-founded misconceptions, stereotypes and practices dissipate.

Marwa Elkelani, who has her Master’s Degree in TESL/Linguistics from Oklahoma State University and teaches at the Intensive English Institute at the University of Maine, resides in Brewer with her husband and three young children.


Should Muslim Women be Fined or Arrested for the Way They Dress?

By  Irish Swearingen

January 10, 2010

Muslim women dress the way they want to. They like their culture and their religion. Why would it be acceptable to force them to change their way of life so that they will look like everyone else when they walk down the street, or out in public? What is the real reason behind the discomfort of both conservative and liberal to this way of life?

The president of France, furious over schoolgirls wearing the hijab, got a law passed which makes it illegal. Why?

Women will be fined 700 Euros for wearing a burka if a new law is passed in France. Later this month a vote will be taken, which if passed, will make it illegal for people to cover their faces in public. Anyone not paying the fine would be subject to arrest and imprisonment.

Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? What are the odds that the majority of Muslim women in France are going to comply? When they don’t pay the fines? The Muslim world has not taken irreverence toward their faith well. They fight back. What would that mean in this case?

What about Lawrence? How many women have you saw wearing traditional dress? What was your reaction to them? Did it make you uncomfortable? Did you assume that if you would not want to dress like this, then no women would? Do men react to women based on the way they are dressed? Do they respect women based on this?

Source: Le Figaro Magazine


Banning the burqa unveils some nasty traits in us

January 10, 2010

France is considering passing a law that would mean women who wear the burqa or niqab in public would face a £700 fine. French MPs will vote on the proposal later this month; the fine would apply to anyone “whose face is fully covered in public”. Jean-François Copé, parliamentary leader of Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP group, told Le Figaro that the proposed law was based on sexual equality and public safety considerations, not on religious ones.

“We spoke to religious and secular figures, who all confirmed [the burqa] was not a religious prescription. Wearing the full body veil is about extremists who want to test the republic,” he said.

It is already illegal to wear a headscarf in French state schools (the law came into effect in 2004 — you’ll remember the furore); the French constitution specifically requires the separation of church and state. So even in a country that is nominally Catholic, there are no prayers at school, no crucifixes on state-school walls, no religious assemblies and so on.

This last bit seems perfectly sensible but the headscarf issue raised all sorts of questions — the law is opaquely worded and refers only to “ostentatious” religious symbols: would a Sikh boy in a French state school be required to remove his topknot and cut his hair, for instance? Would a Jewish child not be allowed his yarmulke? Would somebody who was vegetarian on religious grounds be offered no alternative to meaty school lunches? Or was the law just against Muslims, adherents to the second largest religion in France?

I find this whole subject uncomfortable because I don’t really know what I think; I change my mind constantly. I start off, as most people would, from the point of view that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, regardless of how peculiar it might strike others as being, without being dictated to.

The fact that I dislike being unable to see someone’s face is neither here nor there, really: it’s their face, to expose or conceal (or pierce, or tattoo, or smear in chocolate) as they wish. But the “without being dictated to” part cuts both ways: there is always the suspicion that women in burqas or niqabs may not be wearing them out of personal choice. And how do you tell? It’s hardly as if their appearance invites you to saunter up and say, “Excuse me, did you put that on of your own free will?”

Then I am made uncomfortable by the incredibly patronising assumptions that white western women make about brown women who are fully veiled, which is basically that they are all tragically mute victims of an especially monstrous patriarchy and are probably beaten or set fire to if they don’t cook supper nicely.

That may be true, and it may be true for vast numbers of women, but it simply isn’t true of every single one; besides, as we know, vast numbers of women are brutalised and abused by people known to them in all cultures and regardless of their clothing. So that whole “we must rescue the veiled women; they must be more like us; they must be free to weigh 20 stone and wear a miniskirt and get smashed on Alcopops and then post about it on Facebook” thing makes me uneasy. Spin “they must be more like us” round by only a few degrees and you have totalitarian regimes founded on intolerance.

Then of course there’s the idea that if a woman does wear a burqa of her own choice, that may be because she has been indoctrinated — or treated as a chattel — since birth. I get this and it’s not good. But surely a functioning society should be compassionate enough not to force her to do what must be a traumatic thing — stripping off the veil overnight and showing her face to strangers for perhaps the first time in decades — rather than call what might be an elderly grandmother “an extremist who wants to test the republic”.

My other concern is that burqas turn women into objects — creatures, if you like. You don’t think: “Oh, there’s Mrs So-and-so”; you think: “There goes one of those women peering out of a grille.” It’s as if there’s a bird in a cage and someone has thrown a sheet over it. With the best will in the world, it’s hard to see (literally) how the concepts of citizenship, freedom and democracy are working for the bird person.

As for the question of sexual equality that Copé refers to: sexual equality is marvellous and we’re all for it, but you can’t will it into being by banning an item of clothing. Riots in the banlieues and the burning of the tricolore, yes. Instant sexual equality, not so much.

The bottom line, I guess, is that you have to fall into line with the country you’re living in. I was in Marrakesh a couple of months ago and, as ever, was treated to the sight of idiot tourists wandering around the souks half-naked, complaining loudly about unwelcome attention and taking photographs of the picturesque natives without asking first. So you could argue that banning the burqa is a variant on the same thing: stopping people offending the social mores of the country they find themselves in. On paper that sounds reasonable. In reality and when the legislation appears to be aimed firmly at one — huge — section of society, based on one skin colour and one religious affiliation, it can’t help but leave a bad taste in the mouth.

The Muslim world was inventing mathematics and architecture when the French were practically still trolls, grunting away in the mire and not looking forward to the annual rinse of the armpits. There are many things wrong with the Muslim world but the idea that its ordinary, non-bonkers, non-extremist millions need to be “civilised” into knowing what’s what sticks in the craw.

Still, the law will probably be passed and the world will watch with interest — France has become a useful testing ground when it comes to these issues. I still go back and forth. If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to make a choice, I suppose I’d come down in favour of the ban on the basis that my instinct says — shouts — that no little girl comes into the world longing to be covered in a black tent when she grows up. Instincts don’t make laws, though. But there’s no gun and no one’s forcing me to do — or put on, or remove — anything, for which I am very grateful.


French PM Francois Fillon wants anti-burqa measures

January 12, 2010

FRENCH Prime Minister Francois Fillon has told MPs he's in favour of banning the full Islamic veil through a raft of legal and parliamentary measures.

Mr Fillon has  told a meeting of deputies from his governing right-wing UMP party that parliament should adopt a resolution outlining France's rejection of the burqa and that several "legislative texts and regulations'' should follow.

Her waded into a heated debate over whether to ban Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as the niqab or burqa, just weeks before a parliamentary panel was due to release a report on the issue.

Many politicians from the left and right have cautioned that a draconian law banning the head-to-toe veil would be difficult to enforce and probably face a challenge in the European rights court.

Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, France set up the special panel six months ago to consider whether a law should be enacted to ban the burqa.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that the burqa is not welcome in France but has not stated publicly whether legislation should be enacted.

France's political establishment is divided on whether to ban the burqa, with the opposition Socialists saying that they opposed a law even though they believed Muslim women should be discouraged from wearing the full veil.

A parliamentary resolution would provide the governing majority with political cover, by making a national statement, but there could also be amendments introduced to amend security laws, according to deputies.,1,26583286-5003402,00.html

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