New Age Islam News Bureau
15 Jan 2014
Photo: Pakistan "Islamises" Women: Head and Face Covered In Obedience To Men
• Pakistan "Islamises" Women: Head and Face Covered In Obedience To Men
• Women's Rights Top Agenda as Egyptians Vote On Draft Constitution
• Meet UAE Scientist among 20 Most Influential Women in Science
• First Female Officer Appointed As District Police Chief in Kabul
• Anti-Islamic Group Patrols Clubs to 'Protect' Polish Women
• U.N. Calls for More Funding To Protect Syrian Women and Girls
• Libya’s Female PM Candidate Says Country Needs A ‘Woman’s Touch’
• Britons Cannot Sue Saudi Arabia in Abuse Case, Court Rules
• Gang rape of Mukhtar Mai inspires New York Opera
• Rightist Israelis Tour Aqusa, 4 Palestinian Women Denied Entry
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Illegal Abortion Used By Some UK Ethnic Groups to Avoid Daughters
January 15, 2014
The illegal abortion of female foetuses solely to ensure that families have sons is widely practised within some ethnic communities in Britain and has resulted in significant shortfalls in the proportion of girls, according to an investigation by The Independent.
The practice of sex-selective abortion is now so commonplace that it has affected the natural 50:50 balance of boys to girls within some immigrant groups and has led to the “disappearance” of between 1,400 and 4,700 females from the national census records of England and Wales, we can reveal.
A government investigation last year found no evidence that women living in the UK, but born abroad, were preferentially aborting girls. However, our deeper statistical analysis of data from the 2011 National Census has shown widespread discrepancies in the sex ratio of children in some immigrant families, which can only be easily explained by women choosing to abort female foetuses in the hope of becoming quickly pregnant again with a boy. The findings will reignite the debate over whether pregnant women should be legally allowed to know the sex of their babies following ultrasound scans at 13 weeks.
Some experts have argued that the baby’s sex should be withheld automatically until much later in pregnancy, when abortions are more difficult to obtain – as some NHS hospitals have already started to do.
About 10 per cent of the 190,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2011 took place after 13 weeks of pregnancy, when the sex organs of the foetus are clearly visible from ultrasound scans – which are available privately – and doctors can predict gender with an accuracy of more than 99 per cent.
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain and in many other countries, even those where the practice is widespread. In parts of India and China there are now as many as 120 or 140 boys for every 100 girls despite a ban on sex-selective abortion.
Amartya Sen, the Indian-born economist and Nobel laureate who warned 25 years ago about the tens of millions of “missing women” in the world, said gender-based abortions are a new form of sex discrimination. “Selective abortion of female foetuses – what can be called ‘natality discrimination’ – is a kind of high-tech manifestation of preference for boys,” Professor Sen said.
To see if the practice has reached Britain, The Independent commissioned a series of tables from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing the numbers of families with dependent children who were registered in the March 2011 census, broken down by country of birth of both the mother and father.
We concentrated on the numbers and genders of second-born children within these families to see whether families whose first child was a daughter were more likely to have a son as their second child.
Studies in other countries, notably Canada, have indicated that couples in some immigrant groups are willing to “accept” a daughter as their first child, but then abort girls in future pregnancies to ensure the second child is a boy.
We found that in two-child families of some first-generation immigrants, having elder daughters significantly increases the chances of the second child being male – an imbalance in the sex ratio that should not occur naturally.
To double-check our analysis, we asked professional statisticians to analyse the data in more detail. They confirmed that the effect is statistically significant and that there are only two plausible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive – either gender-based abortion or the practice of women continuing to have children until a son is born.
The latter phenomenon might explain most of the gender imbalances we observed in two-child families, said Christoforos Anagnostopoulos, a lecturer in statistics at Imperial College London. However, it could not explain some sex-ratio anomalies that persisted across families of all sizes, notably for mothers who were born in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
“The only readily available explanation that is consistent with a statistically significant gender shift of the sort observed in the census data is gender-selective abortion,” Dr Anagnostopoulos said. “In the absence of a better theory, these findings can be interpreted as evidence that gender-selective abortion is taking place.”
There is also some statistical evidence to suggest that gender-based abortions may also be occurring among women living in England and Wales who were born in India and Nepal – although there is insufficient data to confirm this effect, he said.
What the data does not show is whether couples are returning to their home countries to have sex-selective abortions, or getting them done illegally in the UK. Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, a Sri-Lankan born gynaecologist and past president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said he struggled to explain the findings as most abortions in the UK are undertaken prior to 13 weeks, when ultrasound scans to determine gender are unreliable.
“I am surprised actually, if that is what they have found… I cannot dispute the facts… but the question is: how did it happen?” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Abortion on the grounds of sex selection is against the law and completely unacceptable.”
Pakistan "Islamises" Women: Head and Face Covered In Obedience To Men
January 15, 2014
Faisalabad ( AsiaNews) - Activists , civil society, Christian and Muslim leaders have repeatedly denounced a gradual " Islamisation " of Pakistan in recent years, marked by terrorist attacks and attacks on schools, as well as threats against individuals involved in the struggle for human rights and civil liberties. A recent survey prepared by the Population Studies Centre of the University of Michigan (United States), and based on the answers given by the citizens of diverse Muslim countries in the field of women's clothing, seems to confirm this trend. Citizens of the Asian nation believe women must cover their faces (or at least the head ), wearing the Niqab or Abayas , and only 2% of respondents ( 51 % of whom are men) believe that women can be seen in public with their faces and hair uncovered.
The university scholars conducted their research between 2011 and 2013, examining the inhabitants of seven different Muslim majority nations: Tunisia, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Starting from the question of how women should appear "in public" to be morally "appropriate" and consistent. Respondents were shown six different images that depicted a Burqa, the Niqab, three different forms of the veil (more or less adherent), and finally an uncovered woman's face.
Of the more than 3 thousand respondents in Pakistan, 32% chose the Niqab; the Abayas was the second choice with 31 % of the vote; only 3 % want the Burqa; a meagre 2 % no covering . In general, in the seven Muslim states picture showing a woman wearing a veil that leaves only the face uncovered prevailed. Only in Lebanon, the majority (about 50%) opted for the woman with their hair and face uncovered.
In Pakistan, only 22 % believe that women can "dress as they see fit", while more than two thirds are in favour of precise directives in the field of clothing; finally, 92% of respondents felt that wives should "always" obey husbands and only 7 % believe that marriage should be based "on love".
The results have sparked criticism and comments from activists and members of civil society. Interviewed by AsiaNews, the leader of the Christian youth Aila Gil says that "women should be able to dress up as they wish. It’s their fundamental right, we are living in a society dominated by men where women lack the freedom to make small choices even they have their dress dictated by men". The young pacifist leader and human rights advocate Yousaf Benjamin says new generations must " bring a change in mentality ," hoping at the same time for "a future based on human dignity and freedom."
The Muslim political activist Iftikhar Ahmed has some doubts about the quality of the investigation, because it is a "cornucopia of conservative thinking. The veil system in Islam has no roots at all. Women have full right to wear whatever they want so I totally disagree these kind of surveys and conservative thinking". In contrast, the survey results are not surprising at all for feminist Nazia Sardar because they are a mirror "of the scenario that we have created over the past five decades." She hopes for the removal of all "discriminatory" laws and policies marking gender "differences" in society. "Such kind of study is the clear picture of the product which has been produced by the education where we feed the mind of a child from childhood that women are less than men and they must be controlled by men".
For Shazia George, on the other hand, people should cover their faces " only in places of worship", while the practice "should be discouraged in the open spaces and public places for security and anti- terrorism reasons". These fears are also shared by activist Amina Zaman , according to whom "you cannot know " who is behind a veil, it is "male or female" , and this practice would ultimately " encourage terrorism and provide a shield for supposed terrorists. "
Women's rights top agenda as Egyptians vote on draft constitution
January 15, 2014
CAIRO - Egyptians were voting in a referendum on the country’s draft constitution on Tuesday and Wednesday, a document that would enshrine unprecedented gender equality for women.
Since the so-called Arab Spring shook Egypt and the region to its foundations in 2010, the roles and rights of women in the Middle East’s most populous country have been under the spotlight.
Throughout the revolution that unseated the government of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak and led to the election of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi -- who was deposed in a military coup last year -- the country has debated rampant sexual harassment, and whether an Islamist government protects or endangers women.
The referendum, the military-backed government’s first electoral test since the Morsi’s ouster in July, has also come under fire for restricting personal freedoms of all Egyptians. For example, it states that citizens who have attacked the military in any way can be tried in military court, and would allow forced prison labor and require government permission for demonstrations.
A number of political parties, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, have called for a boycott of the referendum.
Artist Hanaa Safwat participated in demonstrations to overthrow Mubarak three years ago but told NBC News she is now disillusioned.
“I don’t think it’s worth my effort to drive and put any effort into voting ‘no,’ which would have been the other option,” the 26-year-old said.
“The referendum is stained in innocent people’s blood. It has been built on the dead bodies of 800 people in Rabaa al-Adawiya,” Safwat said, referring to last summer's crackdown on Morsi supporters that led to the deaths of hundreds of Islamist demonstrators.
The referendum and draft constitution do not echo the aims of those who unseated Mubarak in 2011, she said.
“People asked for economic equality, freedom, dignity [when they overthrew Mubarak]. I don’t think the constitution in the way it’s been written…guarantees any of that,” she said.
“It reflects the desires of the June 30 coup," Safwat said, referring to the military's ouster of Morsi.
In a case of unlikely bedfellows, a conservative housewife in her 50s is similarly fed-up. The older woman, who adheres to a strict interpretation Islam and dresses in all-enveloping black robes and scarves, agreed to speak but only on condition of anonymity because she fears retribution.
Asked if she was planning to vote, she replied: “Of course not! I don’t accept anything around this."
She also participated in the movement to overthrow Mubarak but has been disappointed by the turn of events.
“I am not asking for Morsi, I am asking for democracy. If you want to come, you have to come through elections,” she said.
As an Islamist, she feels maligned under the current regime.
“We have no place in this society really. If you give me the choice, I would want to leave Egypt. You don’t feel free here. If you say your opinion, you go to prison…. What is this?!”
On the other hand, Afaf Marie, the director of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, supports the referendum.
“I am definitely going to vote and I am going to vote ‘yes',” said Marie. “This is going to be the first constitution in Egypt’s history that is recognizing women’s rights.”
Marie praised the provisions in the proposed constitution that protect women.
“An article says the state should ensure protection of women from all violence. That means family violence, state violence, street violence, and protection from sexual harassment at home, in the street in public places and transportation.”
With two days of voting, and an estimated 160,000 soldiers and 200,000 policemen expected to deploy across the country to guard polling stations, according to The Associated Press, some allege a culture of intimidation will force a “yes” vote.
A “yes” vote would pave the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections.
Meet UAE scientist among 20 most influential women in science
January 15, 2014
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, and Honorary Chairman of UAE Genetic Diseases Association (UAEGDA), congratulated Dr Maryam Matar, Founder and Chairperson of UAEGDA, for being selected among the 20 Most Influential Women in Science in the Islamic World.
The UAE scientist has joined the list of amazing pioneers, shapers and emerging champions of science after a careful evaluation of her achievements.
Sheikh Nahyan lauded Dr Maryam's scientific contributions and achievements to the humanity.
Muslim-Science.Com, an online journal and portal dedicated to the revival of scientific, and science-based innovation and entrepreneurial culture in the Islamic World, presented the first List of ‘Top-20 Most Influential Women in Science in the Islamic World’.
It says: “These are truly the unsung and little known heroines of the Islamic World whose contribution to the development of science and innovation of the Islamic World is no less than any others.''
The list encompasses 20 Remarkable Women who have performed amazing feats during the course of their careers across at least six disciplines.
Commenting on the honour, Dr. Maryam said the scientific recognition was a fruit of the firm belief of the UAE wise leadership in the human being before the place in a state whose pillars were founded on the respect for women and their empowerment with education, knowledge and modern sciences.
Dr Maryam, also Deputy Chairperson of Dubai Cares, took the fourth place among the most active Arab researchers for two consecutive years.
UAEGDA is a non-profit organisation established with main aim to control and prevent population-specific genetic diseases prevalent in the UAE.
The activities of UAEGDA include promoting health education, screening for genetic disorders, pre-marital screening and genetic counseling.
The UAEGDA also facilitates communication and publication of scientific knowledge, to promote education and research in genetics, and encourages interaction between workers in genetics and those in related sciences.
First female officer appointed as district police chief in Kabul
Jan 15 2014
The Ministry of Interior of Afghanistan for the first appointed a female officer as the district police chief in capital Kabul on Tuesday.
Colonel Jamila Bayaz was appointed as police chief for the first district of Kabul city, which is considered to be among the vital districts in capital Kabul.
Col. Bayaz vowed to take all necessary actions and do her best in a bid to provide better security for the first district of Kabul city, which is the main commercial site for Kabul residents.
She told reporters that comprehensive security plans have been cosidered for the first district of Kabul city, which will be implemented in the near future.
Kabul security chief, Gen. Zahir also praised Col. Jamila Bayaz’s services while she was serving in the Criminal Investigation Department of Kabul security commandment.
Meanwhile, Interior Ministry spokesman, Sediq Sediq also insisted on the role and contribution of female police officers among the Afghan national police forces.
Anti-Islamic group patrols clubs to 'protect' Polish women
January 15, 2014
An anti-Islamic group has launched 'patriotic patrols' of Polish bars and nightclubs in a bid to 'protect' Polish women from Muslims.
The Polish Defence League, which describes itself as “showing the true face of Islam and acting against the Islamisation of Europe,” started the operation in December in cities including Warsaw, Poznan and Krakow.
“We are there to observe how Muslims behave, and to intervene,” the league stated on its official web site.
The patrols actions led by like-minded groups in other European cities.
“In the space of one evening, in hundreds of places across the country, incidents occur involving the seduction of our female compatriots,” the league claims.
“This is a fight for the future of our country and our women,” the league insists.
“Because one of these girls, unwittingly charmed by an exotic prince could, along with her offspring, end up very badly in the Islamic world, which is advancing on us with great strides.”
According to the league, which currently has 3600 fans on its Facebook page, Polish women are warned during the patrols about the “threats” of getting involved with Muslim men.
Poland has one of the smallest Muslim populations in Europe, with current estimates between 20,000 and 40,000. The oldest community is of about 3000 Tatars, mostly based in villages in north east Poland.
U.N. calls for more funding to protect Syrian women and girls
January 15, 2014
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Over 2 million Syrian women and girls of reproductive age need assistance, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said as it called this week for some $81 million in funding to provide them with access to health and protection from gender violence.
“Every Syrian woman must have access to affordable reproductive healthcare and be protected from gender-based violence,” said UNFPA’s Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.
Osotimehin added that the number of Syrian women and girls of reproductive age was estimated to reach five million by year end.
The UNFPA, which provides health services to reduce maternal deaths and the death of women and girls affected by the three-year-old conflict within Syria and in other countries affected by the crisis, said there are some 50,000 pregnant refugees who need care and about 21,000 newborns whose mothers are refugees.
Some 1.6 million Syrian women and girls of reproductive age are internally displaced while more than 500,000 are sheltering in neighbouring countries, according to the U.N. agency.
The UNFPA has distributed over half a million “dignity kits” with soap, sanitary pads and other basic hygiene items to help women affected by the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Syrian war, and has set up more than 20 reproductive health and mobile clinics in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt for the refugee population, as well as supporting 93 inside Syria.
Earlier this month, the UNFPA released figures showing that more than 38,000 people had appealed to the United Nations for help after facing sexual assault or other gender-based violence in Syria in 2013.
UNFPA Syria Regional Response Advisor Dan Baker told Reuters it was impossible to know how the numbers in Syria compared with the pre-conflict situation, and the figures did not prove that rape was being used as a systematic weapon of war.
Data is hard to collect because victims are often too scared or ashamed to seek help, so any figures are widely assumed to be a small sample of a bigger problem.
Thirty-one safe spaces for women were created in camps and host communities to respond to the emergency, the U.N. agency – which is also conducting awareness sessions for the prevention of gender-based violence – said.
WOMEN’S RIGHTS CURBED
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that extremists in some armed opposition groups were imposing restrictive and discriminatory rules on women and girls.
Syrian refugees in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan told HRW that extremists in northern and northeastern Syria were requiring women and girls to wear headscarves and full-length robes or incur punishment.
In certain areas extremists were going further, taking steps such as forbidding women and girls to move freely in public, work and attend school.
“Extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra are undermining the freedoms that Syria’s women and girls enjoyed, which were a longtime strength of Syrian society,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, the group’s women’s rights director.
“What kind of victory do these groups promise for women and girls who are watching their rights slip away?”
Libya’s female PM candidate says country needs a ‘woman’s touch’
January 15, 2014
Libyan political activist Amal al-Taher el-Haj has submitted her name to the General National Congress as a candidate to succeed Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, if he receives a vote of no confidence from parliament this week.
El-Haj, 45, was born in Tripoli, where she is commonly known as “Mimi.” In an interview with Al Arabiya News Channel, she expressed her hopes of being Libya’s new prime minister.
She believes that her chances of being appointed as the new Libyan prime minister are high, especially since there is an ongoing political conflict in the country.
On Wednesday, Zeidan announced that any Libyan citizen has the right to be prime minister, this encouraged el-Haj to submit her application, she said.
In the interview, el-Haj stated that current Prime Minister Ali Zeidan generated an unstable political climate in the country, pushing his opponents to call for his removal. She believes that the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Forces Alliance, led by Mahmoud Jibril, are ready to oust Zeidan in a vote of no confidence.
In the phone interview with Al Arabiya, el-Haj was asked how she would feel if she became a prime minister in an Arab world ruled by men. She replied: “Since Queen Dihya (the 7th century queen of the northwestern African region known as Numidia) until now, men have not allowed women to effectively participate in Libya’s governance, but it is now the adequate time for a woman’s touch and what confirms that is that my candidacy has been greatly welcomed.
“I will not meet with any prime minister alone,” she added, “and in all cases, I always get out of the house wearing hijab.”
El-Haj previously worked with the Libyan-Italian Advanced Technology Company, which assembles helicopters parts, but resigned three days before the Feb. 17 revolution that toppled former leader Muammar Qaddafi. She is currently the director of the Free Communications Charitable Association.
El-Haj opened up about her family and their income stream, saying: “I have five brothers, one of which is an immigrant in the United States. I have also two brothers working as engineers in Libya, another one working as an accountant and the last one as an auditor. I have also have a sister who works as an accountant as well. Moreover, we inherited from a property my father that also contributes to our income.”
Britons cannot sue Saudi Arabia in abuse case, court rules
January 15, 2014
London: Four Britons have been told by the European court of human rights they cannot sue Saudi Arabia in the UK courts for compensation over alleged torture.
The majority decision by judges in Strasbourg is a blow to the long-running campaign for justice brought by the four men, who claim they were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and rape, and forced to take mind-altering drugs during 2001.
By a majority of six to one, the judges declared: “The court is satisfied that the grant of immunity to the state officials in the present case reflected generally recognised rules of public international law.
“[Granting] immunity to the state officials in the applicants’ civil cases did not therefore amount to an unjustified restriction on the applicant’s access to a court. There has accordingly been no violation of article 6 of the convention [a right to a fair trial] in this case. However, in light of the developments currently under way in this area of public international law, this is a matter which needs to be kept under review.”
The case highlights the distinction between criminal cases of torture, which can be heard in UK courts even if such offences have been committed in other countries, and civil claims about torture committed abroad, which UK courts will not consider.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Redress, Justice and Interights, condemned the ruling for sending out a signal “to would-be torturers that international law condemns their behaviour but is not willing to police it effectively”.
The men, Ron Jones, Alexander Mitchell, William Sampson and Leslie Walker, had initially brought their claim for compensation before the UK courts in 2002 after being released from Saudi Arabia.
In 2003, the case was halted on the grounds that Saudi Arabia and its officials were entitled to state immunity. A separate claim by Mitchell, Sampson and Walker against four Saudi officials whom they considered to be responsible for the torture was struck out for the same reason in 2004.
The men were detained after an explosion in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, that officials blamed on the Britons. A Guardian investigation subsequently showed that Jones, who was injured in the attack, could not have carried out the bombing.
The Scottish tax adviser said his hands and feet were caned and beaten with a pickaxe handle. During a 67-day ordeal, he was also subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings and psychological duress, as well as being drugged.
Jones finally signed a statement admitting responsibility for the bombing, saying he had signed of his own free will, but he has always maintained that he was tortured.
He has spent years pursuing his alleged abusers through the courts, along with Mitchell, Sampson and Walker, who were detained and tortured in Saudi Arabia after a separate series of bombings.
In the sole dissenting judgment at the ECHR, a Bulgarian judge, Zdravka Kalaydjeiva, said: “I fear that the views expressed by the majority on a question examined by this court for the first time not only extend state immunity to named officials without proper distinction or justification, but give the impression of also being capable of extending impunity for acts of torture globally.”
Responding to the decision, Jones said: “I have had little support from the UK government. It has shown itself to be more interested in maintaining good trade relations with Saudi Arabia. I am angry that it has taken such a long time to receive a judgment.
“Only the dissenting judge seems to have understood the moral argument. The court is giving the green light to other countries, saying that it’s OK to commit torture. The whole point of the case was to provide redress through the courts to people who endured torture. That’s been blown away completely.
“I still suffer from flashbacks, panic attacks and memory problems. I can’t function as I used to. I can’t walk far and my hands are weak. I have to be careful handling things like boiling kettles.”
Gerard Cukier, of the law firm Kingsley Napley, who represented Jones, said: “The Saudi government has paid a small sum in compensation for his detention but has never given an apology. We are considering whether to appeal against this decision to the upper chamber at Strasbourg.”
The court acknowledged that medical examinations carried out after the men returned to the UK concluded that the applicants’ injuries were consistent with their allegations.
Tawanda Hondora, deputy director at Amnesty International, said: “This judgment has serious global repercussions. It means victims of torture will be denied access to justice where the torture was committed by a national of, or in a state that permits impunity for torture. This is a significant blow for the victims and for others who face similar ill-treatment.
“The UK should take the lead in the fight against impunity. It should change its laws so that victims of torture have redress.”
Carla Ferstman, director of Redress, called on the UK government to take up the men’s case directly with Saudi Arabia.
“The men have no prospects of justice in Saudi Arabia, and the court’s decision leaves them with no legal options outside of it. Their only option is for the UK government to take up the case with Saudi Arabia. Pursuing this claim on the men’s behalf, if that is what they wish, is now well overdue,” she said.
Angela Patrick, director of human rights policy at Justice, said: “By lending support to the UK strike-out the [ECHR] risks sending a misleading message that the universal international prohibition on the most heinous of crimes lacks teeth. The UK government and the international community must act. Uncertainty cannot mean impunity.”
Vesselina Vandova, legal director at Interights, said: “The UK government proclaims itself to be a leader in the fight against torture. If that is the case, it must ensure that it assists its own nationals to achieve redress when they have been tortured, by pursuing claims on their behalf against the states responsible.”
Gang rape of Mukhtar Mai inspires New York opera
January 15, 2014
NEW YORK: To those who complain that opera is an elitist indulgence served up to snobs in dinner jackets, New York’s latest world premiere may come as something of a shock.
Inspired by the horrific gang rape of illiterate Pakistani woman Mukhtar Mai on orders of a village council, “Thumbprint” is a $150,000 production currently having an eight-night run in a basement theater in Manhattan.
One of the most infamous sex crimes against women in South Asia, Mai’s 2002 rape, survival and metamorphosis into an international rights icon is as far removed from opera-house pomp as possible.
It may have earned a less-than-glowing review from The New York Times – “muted,” “not quite enough” – but the score is an alluring blend of South Asian and Western music, and the production starkly innovative.
With a simple backcloth doubling up as a film projection screen, a few chairs and charpoys, the simple but powerful staging evokes the heat, the dust and the traditions of a Pakistani village.
Mai, now in her 40s, was raped to avenge her 12-year-old brother’s alleged impropriety with a woman from a rival clan.
Six men were sentenced to death for her rape in a landmark ruling. But five were later acquitted and the main culprit had his sentence reduced to life imprisonment: facts the opera omits.
Mai’s story has fresh resonance since the brutal gang rape of a student on a New Delhi bus and her death a little over a year ago sparked international outrage about the levels of violence against women in India.
“It’s inspiring,” said the opera’s Indian-American composer Kamala Sankaram, who also sings the lead role.
“This is a person who was completely illiterate and knew nothing of her rights and the laws of her country and yet she had the courage to step out,” she told AFP.
There is no staged recreation of the rape, which is instead portrayed by muffled shrieks of terror interspersed with a knife slashing open bags of sand.
Sankaram worked to recreate Mai’s world by combining Hindustani music, Western composition, qawwali and Bollywood.
“I am a sitar player as well as being a Western musician so I wanted to bring in elements of traditional culture but still keep it something acceptable to Western listeners,” she said.
Pakistan may be thousands of miles from New York but playwright and novelist Susan Yankowitz, who wrote the libretto, says the opera is about courage and universal vulnerability of women.
“The main question that is repeated throughout the opera is where did you find your courage… In a dry season, someone must be the first drop of rain,” Yankowitz told AFP.
“The courage is to be the first drop of rain and that’s what I hope people will take away from it and inspire people to take some action they would otherwise not have the courage to do.”
Compared to the majesty of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House a couple of miles up the road, “Thumbprint” is a tiny production with a six-person chamber orchestra and cast of just six singers.
Shown as part of a small chamber music opera festival in its second year, tickets cost just $25 for the 90-minute production, which organisers hope will eventually tour India and Pakistan.
Unable to find a suitable sarangi player, Sankaram’s score has been written for flute, violin, viola, piano (with harmonium on the side), and a brilliant double bass and percussionist.
Most of the singers perform more than one part and the Baruch Performing Arts Center seats just 170 people.
The run ends Saturday, but it’s unclear what Mai makes of it all.
Since the attack, she has set up a school for girls and won prominence in the West for her outspoken stance on the oppression of women.
Manu Narayan, the Broadway star who has won rave reviews as an all-too-realistic unrepentant rapist, welcomed the opera and the Prototype opera festival as a vital platform for young composers.
Bankruptcy forced New York City Opera to close last year. Some artists and musicians complain that original culture in New York City is being priced out of the metropolis by big business.
“I think the music’s spectacular,” Narayan told AFP.
“This festival is so wonderful. It really creates a very focused platform for new works and great stories that need to be told, and the story of Mukhtar Mai is one of the prime examples.”
Rightist Israelis Tour Aqusa, 4 Palestinian Women Denied Entry
January 15, 2014
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- A group of right-wing Israelis led by US-born Jewish extremist Yehuda Glick toured the al-Aqsa compound on Tuesday, witnesses said.
The group consisted of around 25 people.
Meanwhile, Palestinian tour guide Ehab al-Jallad was detained by Israeli police while touring the compound with a group of students.
The reason behind his arrest is unclear.
Four Palestinian women were also denied entry to the mosque compound by Israeli forces, with no reason given.
An Israeli police spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.
The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.
It is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
According to mainstream Jewish religious leaders, Jews are forbidden from entering for fear they would profane the "Holy of Holies," or the inner sanctum of the Second Temple.
Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.