Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau
Photo: Americans rise in rank inside Somalia Jihadi group
Americans Rise in Rank Inside Somalia Jihadi Group
NAIROBI, Kenya, January 14, 2012 -- The October Al Qaeda video shows a light-skinned man handing out food to families displaced by famine in Somalia. But the masked man is not Somali, or even African -- he's a Wisconsin native who grew up in San Diego.
A handful of young Muslims from the U.S. are taking high-visibility propaganda and operational roles inside an Al Qaeda-linked insurgent force in Somalia known as al-Shabab. While most are from Minnesota, which has the largest Somali population in the nation, al-Shabab members include a Californian and an Alabaman with no ancestral ties to Somalia.
"They are being deployed in roles that appear to be shrewdly calculated to raise al-Shabab's international profile and to recruit others, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries," said Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted suspected al-Shabab supporters in Minnesota.
Officials fear another terrorist attack in East Africa. Kenya announced on Jan. 7 that it had thwarted attempted al-Shabab attacks over the holidays. The same day, Britain's Foreign Office urged Britons in Kenya to be extra vigilant, warning that terrorists there may be "in the final stages of planning attacks."
More than 40 people have traveled from the U.S. to Somalia to join al-Shabab since 2007, and 15 of them have died, according to a report from the House Homeland Security Committee. Federal investigations into al-Shabab recruitment in the U.S. have centered on Minnesota, which has more than 32,000 Somalis.
At least 21 men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab in that same time. The FBI has confirmed that at least two of them died in Somalia as suicide bombers. A U.S. citizen is suspected in a third suicide bombing, and another is under investigation in connection with a fourth bombing on Oct. 29 that killed 15 people.
The star of the Al Qaeda video was Jehad Mostafa, 30, a Californian who handed out food using the name Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, according to the SITE Monitoring Service. The Washington Post reported last year that Mostafa served as top lieutenant to Saleh Nabhan, a senior Al Qaeda operative killed by Navy SEALs in a helicopter attack inside Somalia in 2010.
Mostafa and the Alabaman, Omar Hammami, 27, are among about a dozen men who have been charged in federal court in the U.S. and are believed to be in Somalia.
The Americans appear to have been motivated by the Ethiopian army's intervention in Somalia in 2006, which they saw as an invasion. However, many experts believe it's only a matter of time before al-Shabab turns its wrath on the U.S., which in February 2008 designated it as a terrorist organization. The group killed 76 people in terrorist bombings in Uganda in 2010 during the World Cup final.
U.S. military commanders fear that Americans inside al-Shabab could train as bombmakers and use their U.S. passports to carry out attacks in the United States.
E.K. Wilson, the agent overseeing the FBI's investigation in Minneapolis, said he cannot comment on whether there is an outstanding order to capture or kill Americans fighting for al-Shabab. The FBI has publicly said the Americans should return to the U.S.
It's a mystery what caused Mostafa, a young man whom many remember as mild and friendly, to join an extremist group.
Mostafa grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of California San Diego. Imam Abdeljalil Mezgouri of the Islamic Center of San Diego, the city's largest mosque, said Mostafa was a respectful teen and good student.
"He was a very quiet, very loving boy. He didn't talk too much but when he did talk, people liked him," said Mezgouri.
Mezgouri said Mostafa got married in his early 20s to a woman he believed was from Somalia.
Public records show Mostafa was the president of the now-defunct Muslim Youth Council of San Diego, or MYCSD. The former organization's Web site says the group was "dedicated to showing the world that Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims are a peaceful and productive part of society."
Mostafa's father, Halim Mostafa, a Kurdish Syrian, is a prominent figure in San Diego's Muslim community who has tried to build bridges with non-Muslims. He made a low-budget film released in 2008 called "Mozlym" to show how the true meaning of Islam is often lost amid the misconceptions of non-Muslims in America, according to the film's Web site.
Mostafa's father declined to talk.
"I just don't want to get involved. I'm really sorry I cannot say anything. God bless you," he said.
Edgar Hopida, a spokesman for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Halim Mostafa believes in the most liberal interpretation of Islam and noted that "it's ironic if his son is involved with al-Shabab."
Mostafa is believed to have met American militant Anwar al-Awlaki about a decade ago at a San Diego mosque, according to The Washington Post. He went to Somalia in 2005. Federal officials declined to comment.
Mostafa was indicted in August 2010 on terrorism charges for allegedly providing material support to al-Shabab. Mostafa has a leadership role inside al-Shabab and serves as a key liaison to Al Qaeda, said Evan Kohlmann, who has assisted government investigations into al-Shabab recruiting and financing.
AP could not reach Mostafa or Hammami for comment. A spokesman for al-Shabab said that the questions AP emailed were "of a personal nature relating to the roles and activities of certain individuals and for that reason they were left unanswered."
The spokesman also said al-Shabab and Al Qaeda were "brothers in Islam." He did not provide a name but emailed from an address used by al-Shabab's media outreach wing, which also recently launched a Twitter feed.
The Alabaman, Hammami, 27, has taken on the role of jihadi lecturer and Islamic scholar. After U.S. Navy SEALs killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan earlier this year, Hammami threatened to avenge the killing at a news conference near Mogadishu.
Al-Awlaki's death by a U.S. drone in Yemen in September left Hammami as the most influential U.S. English speaker in the jihadi propaganda sphere, said terrorism expert Ben Venzke. Hammami is also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki or "the American."
"His more accessible image and manner of speaking may prove a growing and significant threat to not just the region around Somalia but for future attacks on U.S. soil," said Venzke of the Washington-based IntelCenter.
Hammami grew up in Daphne, Ala., a bedroom community of 20,000 outside Mobile known for sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico, seafood and high school football. The phone directory lists 43 Christian churches and not a single Islamic congregation in Daphne.
The son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father, Hammami attended Daphne High School. Then-assistant principal Don Blanchard recalls Hammami as generally well liked.
"Omar I would not classify as a troubled kid," said Blanchard.
Hammami enrolled at the University of South Alabama, where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. Following the 2001 terror attacks, Hammami spoke to the student newspaper.
"Even now it's difficult to believe a Muslim could have done this," The Vanguard quoted Hammami as saying.
Hammami went to Somalia in 2006. He was indicted in 2007 on terrorism charges, and faced more charges in 2009 for providing material support to terrorists.
Hammami, who wears a long beard and often raps in al-Shabab videos, released a nearly 50-minute lecture in October to commemorate five years with the group. He spouts hatred for "Western oppression." In the video, provided to AP by the IntelCenter, he compares his upbringing in America with his life in Somalia, where he says a microwave -- "or even a normal oven" -- is a rarity.
The English speaker serves as a recruiter and fundraiser and is one of the top people in charge of al-Shabab's foreign fighters, Kohlmann said.
Hammami attends morning fighting drills and motivates new recruits, former al-Shabab fighter Abdi Hassan told AP. Hammami avoids mobile phones for fear intelligence agencies will trace him, and uses pseudonyms on the Internet.
"He sometimes cries with emotion, which makes others cry with him," said Hassan. He added, "Every new American is asked to convince his friends to come. The Americans' suicide attacks and speeches are meant to attract other Americans."
The Americans helped produce what Venzke calls one of the most sophisticated recruitment videos ever released, featuring Minneapolis men in a July 2008 ambush of Ethiopian troops along a road in Somalia. Another video features a Minneapolis man who appeals to others to join the cause in English.
Al-Shabab does not just recruit from the U.S. Three suspects accused of having ties to al-Shabab are now in prison in Australia and awaiting sentencing for allegedly planning an attack on an Australian military base.
Dozens of U.K. residents have also traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab, and the British government is concerned that Somalia shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan "a seedbed for terrorism."
Rick Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in even the possibility of military reprisal might not deter al-Shabab from carrying out an attack inside the United States.
"All the elements are there for it to happen," Nelson said.
Zardari, Gilani meet Kayani in patch-up bid
Shafqat Ali,Age Correspondent
Islamabad, Jan 15, 2012, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Saturday tried to make peace with powerful Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in two separate meetings here.
“The meetings were positive. The misunderstandings have gone down a bit,” a senior government official privy to the meetings told this newspaper.
Gen. Kayani is believed to have assured the President and the PM that there will be no military intervention and that the Army will support the democratic set-up. However, Gen. Kayani is also reported to have sought the withdrawal of Mr Gilani’s crticism of both himself and the ISI chief.
Gen. Kayani first met President Zardari in the presidency and the two discussed “the political and current security situations”. However, sour-ces said the two tried to iron out the differences that have shaken the four-year old PPP-led government. Sources said the Kayani-Zardari meeting was arranged by mutual friends of the Army chief and the President. The PPP-led government is engaged in a clash with the judiciary and the military.
The Army had this week asked the government to stop criticising its leadership while the Supreme Court feels the government is not implementing its decisions. Political and media circles in Pakistan have been abuzz with rumours of a possible coup. While another military takeover is unlikely, the open hostilities reinforce the view that Pakistan’s leaders are caught up in power struggles so often that they are incapable of running the country.
Later, addressing the Defence Committee of the Cabinet meeting attended, among others, by Gen. Kayani and the other service chiefs, Mr Gilani said all institutions need to work within their limits. Praising the “courage and resilience” of the armed forces, Mr Gilani said Pakistan’s honour, integrity and sovereignty are non-negotiable. He said there is harmony on all issues of national interest and that there could be no compromise on Pakistan’s defence.
26/11 probe: Bombay HC clears way for Pakistan panel’s February visit
NEW DELHI: Jan 14, 2012, The Bombay high court has cleared the way for a Pakistani judicial commission to visit Mumbai in connection with 26/11 terror strikes probe in first week of February.
The Court, which was requested by the home ministry for suggesting suitable dates when the Pakistani panel can visit, has informed the Centre that the in-principle approval for the Commission's trip has been given and they could come in the first week of February.
"India will in a day or two convey the High Court's view and availability of dates to Pakistan. The exact date will, however, be decided by Islamabad depending on convenience of the panel," said an official.
There is, however, some sort of skepticism here within the official circle over the Pakistani panel's visit during first week of February, considering the domestic situation in that country.
The Commission is supposed to take statements of officers linked to the 2611 probe, including additional chief metropolitan magistrate R V Sawant Waghule and investigating officer Ramesh Mahale, and also the doctors who carried out the post-mortem of the terrorists killed during the attack.
Pakistan has issued a gazette notification on the formation of the judicial commission and has listed the members who will represent Pakistani government.
The delegation will include Khalid Qureshi, the head of the Federal Investigation Agency's Special Investigation Group and two main prosecutors Muhammad Azhar Chaudhry and Chaudhry Zulifqar. Since representatives of the defence lawyers too would be part of the Commission, five counsel of seven Pakistani suspects charged with involvement in the 2611 attacks had informed the anti-terrorism court there that they were prepared to go to India.
As Islamists sweep elections, western media softens rhetoric
15/01/2012, US foreign policy toward Islamist parties in Egypt is shifting, and this shift has become visible in the US media's reporting on Islamists in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
Three weeks ahead of the first phase of Egypt's parliamentary elections, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed reports that the Obama administration would work with ascendant Islamist parties in the Muslim world.
“For years, dictators told their people they had to accept the autocrats they knew to avoid the extremists they feared. Too often we accepted the narrative ourselves,” Clinton told her audience.
Following the first round of People’s Assembly elections, when it became clear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is set to dominate the new parliament, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry met with Brotherhood members and reportedly told them he was not surprised by their sweeping electoral success.
Kerry's visit was praised by some in the US media, notably John Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer and senior investigator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who cited pragmatic factors justifying the Obama administration's recent rapprochement with Egypt's Islamists.
In December, Kiriakou wrote in the Huffington Post, “The bottom line is that the Brotherhood is going to lead Egypt in the very near future, and it's time we get to know each other.”
According to Kiriakou, the Brotherhood’s religious views are not a compelling reason for the US to remain distant from the group.
“For years, the term 'Muslim Brotherhood' has frightened Americans, especially in the US foreign policy establishment. It has conjured up images of Hamas, anti-American activism and veiled women. These images are accurate. The Brotherhood is Sunni fundamentalist. But so is Saudi Arabia, and we have a perfectly normal and beneficial relationship with the Saudis,” he wrote.
This new approach to US foreign policy is coupled with a significant shift in western media discourse on Islamism. Usual warnings over the “hijacking” of the youth's revolution by Muslim fundamentalists are giving way to an increased emphasis on the “moderation” of the Brotherhood. Centrist American papers publish coverage of Egyptian parliamentary elections, accompanied by long feature pieces about Egypt's Islamists, which tend emphasize the Brotherhood's disguised modernism and credit them for their competence and efficacy despite years of repression.
The overarching example in western media of the Brotherhood’s moderation is the anticipated future of Egypt's relations with the West and Israel. They find reasons for optimism. “Being a pious conservative Muslim does not mean that one is automatically at odds with the West,” wrote Catholic Online in December. The Brotherhood vows that it will uphold Egypt's international agreements, particularly its peace treaty with Israel.
The Economist in December thus cited several reasons for this changing perception of the Brotherhood, arguing that the organization is more tolerant and democratic than "we in the West" thought: “Most of the signs are that it is a long way from both its intolerant caricature and the tenets promoted by some of the Brothers' predecessors a generation ago [...] The Brothers have repeatedly insisted that they will uphold the rights of women and religious minorities and respect the verdict of the polls, even if it goes against them.”
There was also a marked shift in the way “Islamism” is defined. Several writers in highly-circulated American papers tried to convey a more complex image of Islamism, one that stresses diversity in the large spectrum of ideologies traditionally referred to as "Islamic fundamentalism." A distinction was made between “moderate Islamism” and “extremist Islamism,” and it was strongly suggested that the Arab Spring has tipped the balance in favor of the moderate Islamists.
“Moderate Islamists are now in the ascendancy within the Brotherhood. They vastly outnumber the extremists,” wrote Bobby Ghosh for Time Magazine on 14 July 2011. In December, the Economist reiterated the diagnosis of the “failure of violently radical Islam [...] Egypt looks set to join a broader regional trend that has seen a more pragmatic, tolerant form of Islamism rise to dominate the political scene, by way of the ballot box rather than the gun barrel.”
The Western press thus seemed to finally acknowledge that “political Islam comes in many shapes and guises,” as suggested by the Economist, telling readers that the Brotherhood may be the best option in the Islamist palette, given the religiosity of the Egyptian people, the weakness of Egypt's liberals, and the extremism of the Salafis. “Grit your teeth and cautiously welcome it — in the hope that the Arabs turn away from the more malignant variety,” the Economist wrote.
The Brotherhood's declaration that they do not plan to form an alliance with the Salafis is all the more reassuring. “The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis are archenemies — there's nothing like a fight within the faith — so who knows what coalitions will emerge,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in December.
Although a critical distinction is now drawn between the Brotherhood and the Salafis, rather than between obscurantist Islamists and progressive liberals, the hardline Salafis have also been the subject of more analytical, and somewhat sympathetic, pieces. In the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick wrote that “a closer examination of the Salafi campaigns suggests their appeal may have as much to do with anger at the Egyptian elite as with a specific religious agenda [...] Alone among the major parties here, the Salafi candidates have embraced the powerful strain of populism that helped rally the public against the crony capitalism of the Mubarak era.”
Some pieces have notably gone as far as to describe the Islamists as the real democrats and the most rational of the existing political forces in Egypt. A Time Magazine opinion piece by Bobby Ghosh titled “Why Islamists are Better Democrats” didn't leave room for misinterpretation: “The Islamists, it turns out, understand democracy much better than the liberals do.” According to Ghosh, the Islamists achieved the success they deserved for being better organized, for adopting a conciliatory approach with different political currents, for building on their efficacy in providing social services for decades in poor neighborhoods, and for knowing how to address the discontented masses; in short, for doing what the West had expected from Egypt's liberals, who failed. Ghosh ended his piece with the statement that “[the liberals] still have time to learn to be better democrats — like the Islamists.”
Perhaps the shift in the depiction of Islamists in the western press can be attributed to a fact so simply expressed by Eric Tager and Ira Weiner in Foreign Affairs Magazine: “Washington will have no choice but to work with whoever comes to power in Cairo”.
There is also a sense that Egypt will have to go through an Islamist stage before the following the path of Western democracies. Friedman wrote for the New York Times in December, “There is little chance of any Arab country going from Mubarak to Jefferson without going through some Khomeini.”
But US acceptance of the Brotherhood carries the expectation that the latter will reciprocate. It is believed that the Brotherhood is in dire need for western aid and foreign investment. “As much as they desire power, the Islamists don't want to inherit bankrupt states,” Time magazine wrote in July.
Friedman was also confident that the Brotherhood will be guided by necessity: “How will [the Brotherhood] be able to advance its fundamentalist religious/social mores when this could drive away Egypt's biggest source of income, not to mention foreign direct investment, not to mention foreign assistance from the European Union and the US?”
It is expected that the real test for the Brotherhood once in power will be their ability to deliver on their economic promises and meet the masses' economic demands. Nothing in their declarations imply that they will diverge from the path of neoliberalism.
“Egypt does not have [oil] resources. Its only hope for growth is still free-market capitalism [...] Whoever inherits power in Egypt will have to deliver a less corrupt form of capitalism, with more competition, more privatization and fewer government jobs, at a time when the Egyptian economy is sinking,” argued Friedman.
Perhaps this confidence that the Brotherhood will not pose any threat to the free market system is the basis for western acceptance of another Muslim fundamentalist ally.
Balochistan: Two bullet-riddled bodies were found in Chagai district on Friday.
BBC Urdu reported that bodies were found in Ameenabad and Yak Mach areas of Chagai and were shifted to Civil Hospital in Dalbandin to ascertain their identities.
According to a local journalist, Ali Dost, the bodies quite old. Both the victims has bullet wound in their chest and head which is why it was difficult to determine their identity.
According the Voice for Baloch Missing Person around 14000 Baloch have been abducted since Musharraf’s era and so far over 360 mutilated bodies have been recovered from deserted areas in Balochistan.
It must be noted that Supreme Court of Pakistan has constituted two commissions to bring abducted person to surface. But families of enforced-disappeared persons say that after the setting up of commissions the bullet-ridden and mutilated bodies of their loved ones have started to appear.
12 killed in Chehlum stampede near Indore
INDORE: Jan 15, 2012, Twelve people were trampled to death in a stampede in the wee hours of Saturday at the Hussain Tekdi Sharief in Jaora of Ratlam district, 170 kms from Indore. The dead include six women.
Every year, thousands come here for the Chehlum observed 40 days after Muharram, believing it can cure mental illnesses and exorcize evil spirits. The 19th century shrine complex was built by Jaora's then Nawab, Mohammad Iftikhar Ali Khan Bahadur.
More than 50,000 people, including a large number of non-Muslims, had gathered there on the eleventh day of the Chehlum, when the tragedy happened. The 12-day annual event, rounded off with a fair, is organized by the district administration.
International Seminar on Women Empowerment held in Calicut, India
15 January 2012
By Ramziya Ashraf,
Calicut: In today’s male-dominant society, a woman’s role as the iconic mother of mankind hardly gets the meaning and significance it requires. Religious ideologies and scriptures are misused and misinterpreted to oppress women, instead of empowering and emancipating them. “Social development can only be achieved by equal participation and involvement of both the male and female sections of the society. Discriminations continue against women, especially in North India, even though the government has provided them with equal rights,” said Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, chief economist, NCAER and Member Secretary, Sachar Committee, while inaugurating a national seminar on “Women Empowerment: Paradigms, Sources and Methodologies” conducted by the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS) in association with National Women’s Front (NWF), at Calicut town hall. The three day seminar was held from January 6-8 as a part of the silver jubilee celebrations of IOS.
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff advocated the use of religious and historical values to study the significance of women’s involvement for reforming the nation. The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Nazneen Begum, Bangalore Corporation Counselor, who emphasized empowerment of women at the family-level. She opined that women should be given a chance in the financial management of the family, and they should be aware of their responsibilities towards the society and the nation, which they can impart through their family. Dr. Yousuf Dadoo from Durban (South Africa) presented a paper on Gender Equity in Islam in the first session of the 3-day conference. IOS Chairman Dr. Manzoor Alam presided over the session.
The first session on the second day analyzed the role of women in religions and ideologies. Dr. Raziya Parveen, Assistant Professor of History, Qaaed-e-Millath College, Chennai and Shabana Ziyad, a journalist based in Kochi presented papers. Both of them pointed out how the Hindu scriptures, like Manusmrithi, chained women by their family bonds and saw her as a mere object for man’s wants and desires. Even Marxism, which allegedly rates both men and women on the same scale, does not object to the distinct wage system that exists in our country, and all over the world. Raziya Parveen stated that the Arab springs have proved the revolutionary role women can play in politically reforming a nation. This has given hope for the liberation of women, too.
In the second session of the day, renowned writer and Jamaat-e-Islami Media Secretary, C. Dawood presented an impressive paper on Muslim Personal Law Board. He alleged that the board is making use of outdated books to interpret Islamic laws and merely serves to guard the laws formed decades ago. No initiative is being taken to reform the laws according to the needs of the present era.
Distinguished personalities from India and abroad presented their papers on various topics, Shahrifa Shaidah, member of Malaysian Opposition Party, Kadilan and India’s Indonesian Embassy Member Counselor, Hendra Henny Andris among them. The role of women in the public space was examined and analyzed by scholars like Dr. Jadeeda, Kerala University, K K Raihanath and Shahida Aslam, Mangalore.
The third and final day of the international seminar started with a session on the representation of women. Papers were presented on various topics such as ‘representation of marginalised women’ by Rekha Raj, ‘role of women in the political change in Middle East’ by Zulaikha Rasheed and ‘redefining the role of women in contemporary society’ by Fareedha Hassan. Prof. A.A. Vahab, Secretary of the IOS, Calicut Chapter gave a sermon on how empowerment can be achieved through faith. The paper on ‘how women are seen as a commodity and how the media portray Muslim women’ by Seema Mohsin, a freelance journalist from Bangalore, was noteworthy and of substantial significance. She illustrated how the media often portray a Muslim woman as oppressed and subjugated to her male counterpart. The media compete to report domestic crimes and offenses against Muslim women in countries like Pakistan, as if the patriarchal crimes are accepted and approved by the religious scriptures, whereas the media fail to report the punishment imposed on men who mistreat their women in Muslim countries like Indonesia. She also pointed out that even though the socio-cultural status of the Muslim women has improved significantly in the last few years, it is still rather distressing in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Eminent personalities from various sectors were honored and awarded for their contributions to the society. Author Dr. Kamal Pasha, Dr. Fakhrudheen Ahmed, Prof. Nazneen Begum, writer Jamal Kochangadi, NWF Vice President A.S. Zainaba and JIH leader Sheikh Muhammad Karakkunnu were among the awardees. A few titles published by the IOS were released by Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, by handing over copies to Prof. Habeeba Pasha.
The seminar was a good initiative by the IOS and it included distinguished speakers and guests. The topics of presentation were significant and in terms with current issues. But the audience were a bit less enthusiastic and rather marginalized. About 90% of the women who participated were NWF members and normal housewives. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing at all had the presentations been in the regional language. Except for the papers on the third day, none of the English presentations on day one and two were translated into Malayalam. The Calicut Town Hall, where the seminar was held, was literally overflowing with participants on the first day; but there was a drastic decline in the number of audience on the second day. Most of the seats were empty and even the few people who were present didn’t seem genuinely interested in the topics that were being discussed. Whether the problem lies with the presentations or the selective audience is a matter of discussion.
Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women
By ETHAN BRONNER and ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM, January 14, 2012 — In the three months since the Israeli Health Ministry awarded a prize to a pediatrics professor for her book on hereditary diseases common to Jews, her experience at the awards ceremony has become a rallying cry.
The professor, Channa Maayan, knew that the acting health minister, who is ultra-Orthodox, and other religious people would be in attendance. So she wore a long-sleeve top and a long skirt. But that was hardly enough.
Not only did Dr. Maayan and her husband have to sit separately, as men and women were segregated at the event, but she was instructed that a male colleague would have to accept the award for her because women were not permitted on stage.
Though shocked that this was happening at a government ceremony, Dr. Maayan bit her tongue. But others have not, and her story is entering the pantheon of secular anger building as a battle rages in Israel for control of the public space between the strictly religious and everyone else.
At a time when there is no progress on the Palestinian dispute, Israelis are turning inward and discovering that an issue they had neglected — the place of the ultra-Orthodox Jews — has erupted into a crisis.
And it is centered on women.
“Just as secular nationalism and socialism posed challenges to the religious establishment a century ago, today the issue is feminism,” said Moshe Halbertal, a professor of Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University. “This is an immense ideological and moral challenge that touches at the core of life, and just as it is affecting the Islamic world, it is the main issue that the rabbis are losing sleep over.”
The list of controversies grows weekly: Organizers of a conference last week on women’s health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium, leading at least eight speakers to cancel; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; vandals blacked out women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards.
Public discourse in Israel is suddenly dominated by a new, high-toned Hebrew phrase, “hadarat nashim,” or the exclusion of women. The term is everywhere in recent weeks, rather like the way the phrase “male chauvinism” emerged decades ago in the United States.
All of this seems anomalous to most people in a country where five young women just graduated from the air force’s prestigious pilots course and a woman presides over the Supreme Court.
But each side in this dispute is waging a vigorous public campaign.
The New Israel Fund, which advocates for equality and democracy, organized singalongs and concerts featuring women in Jerusalem and put up posters of women’s faces under the slogan, “Women should be seen and heard.” The Israel Medical Association asserted last week that its members should boycott events that exclude women from speaking on stages.
Religious authorities said liberal groups were waging a war of hatred against a pious sector that wanted only to be left in peace.
That sector, the black-clad ultra-Orthodox, is known in Israel as Haredim, meaning those who tremble before God. It comprises many groups with distinct approaches to liturgy as well as to coat length, hat style, beard and side locks and different hair coverings for women. Among them are the Hasidim of European origin as well as those from Middle Eastern countries who are represented by the political party Shas.
As a group, the ultra-Orthodox are, at best, ambivalent about the Israeli state, which they consider insufficiently religious and premature in its founding because the Messiah has not yet arrived. Over the decades the Haredim angrily demonstrated against state practices like allowing buses to run on the Sabbath, and most believed the state would not survive.
The feeling was mutual. The original Haredi communities in Europe were decimated in the Holocaust, and when Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, offered subsidies and army exemptions to the few in Israel then, he thought he was providing the group with a dignified funeral.
“Most Israelis at the time assumed the Haredim would die off in one generation,” said Jonathan Rosenblum, a Haredi writer.
Instead, they have multiplied, joined government coalitions and won subsidies and exemptions for children, housing and Torah study. They now number a million, a mostly poor community in an otherwise fairly well-off country of 7.8 million.
Avoid division of votes: Indian Jamaat Islami appeals to Muslims
By TCN Staff Reporter,
New Delhi:14 January 2012, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has appealed to the voters of five states going to polls next month, to vote for candidates with good character. In the press conference held today, at its headquarters located at Jamia Nagar in New Delhi, President of Jamaat Maulana Jalaluddin Umari also expressed concern at India’s increasing relations with Israel.
Appealing to Muslims to avoid division of votes, Umari said: “They should avoid voting for different candidates in a constituency, which results in division of their votes. They should choose the best candidate and support him unitedly.”
Without naming the BJP, Umari also asked the electorate to “weaken the communal minded and fascist parties.”
Even though Jamaat welcomed government of Andhra Pradesh’s step for giving compensation to about 70 Muslim youths who were falsely arrested for being involved in terror cases, it demanded that justice should be done to them and proper compensation should be paid to those who were victims of torture and illegal detention but were later honorably acquitted by court of law.
Jamaat very strongly condemned Israel’s anti peace and expansionist activities and continued occupation of Palestine.
“Israel’s evil designs regarding Al-Aqsa mosque are a matter of grave concern for the entire world and especially for the Muslim Ummah. In this background, Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna’s recent tour of Israel is against the traditional stand of India and ignores the sentiments of 20 crore Indian Muslims,” said Er. Mohd. Saleem, national secretary of Jamaat.
Musharraf to stand by Army if it takes over in Pakistan
New Delhi, Jan 15 2012, Former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf says that he is "reasonably sure" that the military would not resort to a coup in his country but would support the Army if it takes over.
He also says he is open for an alliance with cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, but will not serve under him if elected to power.
"I don't think Army intends to take over. The environment is not at all conducive for the Army to take over. I think the Army understands that," he said in the Devil's Advocate programme.
Asked if he would back a coup, Musharraf said, "I am reasonably sure that army coup will not take place but my support always remains with the Army. I've been an armyman and I can never imagine to be against the Army... I am with the Army, I will stand by the Army."
On the possibility of an alliance with Imran Khan's party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, he said, "If they want an alliance, certainly I would like to have an alliance.
"We have to come with a third political option because the two political options presently and in the past have been tried and failed... there is a need of coalition of forces which can bring about that third political option which can deliver to Pakistan," Musharraf, who intends to return to Pakistan from self-exile later this month, said.
He said he was aware of people in Khan's party who keep saying that they will not get into an alliance with him.
"But they don't have a vision, they don't understand what they are talking. They go into the field and lose and then (people) choose same party then Pakistan suffers," he said.
He vehemently rejected suggestions of serving under Khan, if the alliance came to power.
"I cannot serve under him. I can be outside... I cannot be serving under anyone," the former military ruler said.
An Election in Kazakhstan Will Offer Something New: A Multiparty System
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
ASTANA, Kazakhstan, January 14, 2012 — This capital city has been abuzz for weeks with the latest political news: Soon there will be politics. After an election scheduled for Sunday, Kazakhstan’s Parliament will be guaranteed, under a new law, to consist of more than one political party.
That might not generate much interest elsewhere, but, for the past five years, every elected member of the Kazakh lower chamber was a member of the pro-government Nur Otan party, making for dull debates.
The government is praising the change to a multiparty system as a step toward liberalization in Kazakhstan, a United States ally considered important to world oil markets as a major producer outside of the Middle East. In comments reported by his press service when the election was announced in November, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said, “Society needs a multiparty system.”
Since the Arab uprising, speculation has swirled over whether similar protests could spread to the 50 million or so mostly Muslim residents of former Soviet Central Asia; in four of the five successor states — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan — ossified authoritarian leaders have ruled unchallenged for decades.
The elections here seem, in part, a pre-emptive response. But critics among Kazakh politicians and analysts of the region say that, while the baby step toward reform is good, little will actually change.
Of the seven parties running in Sunday’s election besides Nur Otan, six are closely affiliated with the government. The government has disqualified from the ballot the co-chairman of the only bona fide opposition party in the running. Two parties were not allowed to compete at all.
Whether the change will be sufficient to tamp down emerging signs of discontent remains to be seen; the country has a long history of reforms that turn out to be feints.
Five years ago, a nominally independent but, in fact, transparently pro-government party shared power in Parliament with the Nur Otan party. Then, the second party, Asar, was led by the president’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. Real opposition figures scoffed at any notion of its independence.
That system collapsed when Ms. Nazarbayeva withdrew from public life after her husband, Rakhat Aliyev, a once-powerful figure in Kazakhstan’s secret police, fell out with her father, the president. Mr. Aliyev was forced into exile.
The Asar party then merged with Nur Otan, forming the one-party system in place until Parliament was dissolved in November ahead of the elections.
In another sign of a thaw, however tepid, in Central Asian politics, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow in neighboring Turkmenistan said that he, too, would introduce a multiparty Parliament.
It is too early to tell whether the political systems in Central Asia are showing their natural obsolescence, or whether true change will come only after the death of the current, aging and baldly authoritarian Soviet-era leaders.
Even the modest change in Kazakhstan is remarkable because Mr. Nazarbayev, a former Soviet apparatchik, has presided for two decades over a well-established system of one-man, one-party rule.
As in Russia under Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Nazarbayev has blended deft economic policies that have drastically raised living standards with soft authoritarian methods like police repression of dissidents.
Mr. Nazarbayev has called this an Asian model of “economy first, politics second.” Even during the global recession, Kazakhstan’s economy grew 7 percent last year.
In foreign policy, according to critics of United States policy in the region, the so-called Southern Corridor of former Soviet nations, major American oil company contracts and aid in shipping supplies to Afghanistan greased a friendly diplomatic relationship with Washington, despite the democratic shortcomings.
Yet Kazakhstan has only the barest fig leaf of a democratic system; in presidential elections in April, Mr. Nazarbayev, who is 71, won 95.5 percent of the vote. His nearest competitor garnered 1.9 percent.
Emblematic of politics, Kazakh style, one ostensibly opposition candidate, Mels Yeleusizov, announced that he had voted for his competitor, Mr. Nazarbayev, in that election.
“I didn’t want to become president because that is not possible,” Mr. Yeleusizov, now a candidate in an opposition party in Sunday’s vote, said in a telephone interview.
But last year, Kazakhstan was shaken by unrest, including terrorist attacks and a labor dispute that unraveled into riots in the oil industry town of Zhanoazen in December, during which police officers shot into a crowd, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 80.
In late November, while the labor dispute was continuing but before the shootings, Mr. Nazarbayev dissolved the one-party Parliament and called early elections.
Those will be held under an electoral law changed in 2009 that guarantees seats to at least two parties, by removing the usual 7 percent threshold for the second-place finisher. The governing party regularly garners more than 80 percent of the vote.
More changes are coming, officials say. “You will see, over the next three years, very slow, very gradual liberalization,” Roman Vassilenko, the chief spokesman for Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview here. “The key reason is the president himself sees the need for a more balanced political system.”
But the party polling in second place for Sunday’s vote, Ak Zhol, has among its members businessmen and government officials who do not criticize the government.
Critics of the electoral overhaul say it allows the government to perpetuate the dominance of a single party while avoiding the embarrassment, and potential for domestic protests, of a patently rigged system. In this view, the modest political changes here will prolong the repressive government, not lead to its replacement.
“The multiparty nature of Parliament will be decorative, as it is in Russia,” Vladimir I. Kozlov, the chairman of the main liberal opposition party, Alga, which was denied registration for years, said in a phone interview.
He continued, “The other parties just create the illusion of differing opinions, not in fact having any influence on the dominant party or the president.”
Of the 107 seats in the country’s Parliament, known as the Mazhilis, 98 are elected and nine appointed by a council of ethnic minority leaders, which is loyal to the president.
In its 20 years since independence, Kazakhstan has yet to hold an election judged fair by Western observers.
Pakistan blast: Shias killed in Khanpur procession
15 January 2012
At least 16 people have been killed and some 20 wounded in a bomb attack on a Shia religious procession in the central Pakistani city of Khanpur.
Police initially thought the blast had been caused by an electrical fault, but later confirmed it was a bomb.
The attack targeted Shias marking the festival of Arbain, one of the main holy days of the Shia calendar.
There have been a number of attacks targeting the minority Shia community, carried out by Sunni militants.
The remote-controlled bomb was planted near an electric pole, Sohail Chattha, the area's police chief, told Reuters news agency.
He said it was set off as the procession approached.
"There was a loud explosion a few yards from the procession and we all scrambled to get away," Imran Iqbal, who was in the procession, told Reuters.
"Debris was everywhere, and a cloud of dust engulfed us. Many people died on the spot."
In recent decades, southern Punjab has emerged as a hotbed of sectarian and jihadi extremism in central Pakistan, the BBC's South Asia editor Shahzeb Jillani says.
In sharp contrast to upper Punjab - which is considered the richest and most prosperous part of Pakistan - this region has particularly suffered from poverty and lack of infrastructure development.
Over the years, it appears to have turned into an ideal recruiting for extremist groups.
Southern Punjab is home to a large network of radical madrassas and Islamic charities, funded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to spread their brand of strict Sunni Islam.
Kenya Islamic group claims ties to al-Shabab
January 15, 2012, An increasingly vocal Islamist group says its leader has been appointed to represent an al-Qaida-linked Somali militia in Kenya, a development that underscores the dangers Kenya faces from Somalia's insurgency.
The statement by the Kenya-based Muslim Youth Center came amid a flurry of warnings from embassies about planned terror attacks in Kenya. The Somali militant group al-Shabab has promised to attack Kenya for its decision to send troops to Somalia in October.
The Muslim Youth Center was named in a United Nations report last year for recruiting, fundraising, and running training and orientation events for al-Shabab. An official al-Shabab spokesman did not answer questions about whether the center now represents al-Shabab in Kenya, but a statement published on the center's blog on Wednesday was unequivocal.
"There can be no doubt that Amiir Ahmad Iman Ali's elevation to become the supreme Amiir of Kenya for al Shabaab is recognition from our Somali brothers who have fought tirelessly against the kuffar on the importance of the Kenyan mujahideen in Somalia," the statement said. The word kuffar appears to be an alternative spelling of kafir, an Arabic word meaning "unbeliever."
Ali was featured in combat fatigues giving a 50-minute lecture in a Jan. 6 video produced by al-Kataib, al-Shabab's media foundation. He referred to wars in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya. It was the first time an al-Kataib video was dedicated solely to his message, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors communications from jihadi groups.
"If you are unable to reach the land of jihad ... then raise your sword against the enemy that is closest to you," Ali said. "Jihad should be now be waged inside Kenya, which is legally a war zone."
"You don't have to get permission from your parents," he added.
Al-Shabab threatened huge terror attacks in Kenya in October after Kenyan troops entered Somalia over concerns that insecurity from Somalia's 21-year-old civil war was spilling over the border. The U.S. Embassy has put extra security measures into place and last week the British Embassy warned that a terror attack was being planned.
Ali, also known as Abdul Fatah of Kismayo, is a Kenyan who has been based in Somalia since 2009 and commands a force of 200 to 500 fighters, according to the July U.N. report. The report said that "he now intends to conduct large-scale attacks in Kenya, and possibly elsewhere in East Africa."
Ali speaks fluent Swahili, English, Arabic and some Somali, according to a security official in Kenya. He has also studied Islamic teachings extensively and has two degrees. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The official said that Ali wanted to be seen as Kenya's answer to Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American cleric killed in Yemen last year by a U.S. missile strike.
A post on the group's website purporting to be from Ali complained about impunity for Kenyan army officers who have killed Muslims, set up arbitrary police detentions and renditions _ complaints also voiced by Kenyan and international human rights groups.
But Ali also warned in a statement rife with spelling errors: "The Muslim lands will once again rule with Shari'ah and your kufr democracy will be dumped in the seewage."
Two other Kenyans in Somalia _ nicknamed "Taxi Driver" and "General" have more battlefield experience that Ali, said the official, but could not match his religious education. They all maintained strong ties to four religious leaders in Kenya that are linked to al-Qaida, said the same official as above.
So far the Muslim Youth Center is the best-known of the Kenyan jihadi groups, said another analyst, but it remained one of several. The groups were not very coordinated and it was unclear the extent to which they were directed by al-Shabab. The analyst asked not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Since its troops entered Somalia, Kenya has suffered more than a dozen grenade attacks. Four explosive devices targeting police have been planted in a northern refugee camp housing Somalis, and gunmen have also shot residents in northern Kenya towns. Somali fighters also raided a Kenyan police camp earlier this week, killing six people and kidnapping at least four.
But so far, there have not been any attacks causing major casualties _ a source of some annoyance to senior al-Shabab leaders. Last year, a senior al-Shabab official in Somalia urged sympathizers in Kenya to "stop throwing grenades at buses" and make a "huge blast".
The center's use of its blog, the release of the al-Kataib video and a Twitter feed to proclaim its allegiance to al-Shabab could mean it was preparing for a big attack, the analyst said.
But, he added, it might also mean it was being used to mask the activities of other, less visible groups.
Draft ASEAN Human Rights declaration to be discussed with Suhakam, NGOs
By SHAILA KOSHY
KUALA LUMPUR: January 9, 2012, Suhakam and non-governmental organisations (NGO) can look forward to consultations on the draft Asean Human Rights declaration this year.
“We received a working draft of the declaration today and I will be conducting active consultation from now on,” said Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is Malaysia's commissioner in Asean's Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) .
“I have so far only met with the NGO coalition Comango and the Bar Council,” he added yesterday.
He was asked to comment on a call by Amnesty International in the Jakarta Post on Saturday to make the draft public since human rights concerned every woman, man and child in the region.
Amnesty said it was “disappointed by the secrecy surrounding the drafting process so far”.
In the same report, Cambodian Human Rights Committee chairman Om Yin Tieng said Cambodia, which chairs Asean this year, aims to finalise the grouping's Human Rights declaration this year.
Muhammad Shafee, who is in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where the AICHR is meeting over two days immediately ahead of a meeting of Asean Foreign Ministers, said that he would be calling for consultations with Suhakam, Comango, the Bar Council, consumer groups, women's groups like Sisters In Islam, other interest groups and government representatives.
Asked why he had not met with the national human rights institution, he replied: “Suhakam invited me but I said I would do so after getting the working draft.”
Muhammad Shafee said the draft would not be made public but now that he had it, he would have “concepts” which he could raise with interested groups.
“For example, while Malaysia is a recipient country for labour, other members who are source countries might want to include the rights of migrant workers in the draft.” He added that if someone were to suggest “something extraordinary which I think is good, I would raise it at the next AICHR meeting.”
“But the final decision is by consensus and after us, it goes to the ministers.” He said groups or individuals could communicate with him directly or send their suggestions to the Asean desk at Wisma Putra.
Yemenis Return to Area Run by Islamic Militants
By AHMED AL-HAJ Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen January 14, 2012, At least 2,000 displaced Yemenis returned home Friday to a restive area in the country's south that has been under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants for more than seven months.
Their return to Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan province, provides some of the first civilian views of the Islamic rule the militants have begun to set up in the poorly governed hinterlands of the Arab world's poorest country: A zone where armed men from a various Arab countries move about in new Toyota trucks and vow to implement strict Islamic law.
The militants have taken advantage of the security collapse across Yemen during 11 months of mass protests calling for the ouster of longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A wily politician who has ruled for 33 years, Saleh is due to transfer power later this month to his vice president under a U.S.-backed deal brokered by Yemen's powerful Persian Gulf neighbors.
The U.S. has long considered Saleh a necessary ally in combatting Yemen's active al-Qaida branch, which has been linked to terror attacks on U.S. soil and is believed to be one of the international terror organization's most dangerous franchises.
Militants began seizing territory in Yemen's southern Abyan province last spring, solidifying their control over the town of Jaar in April before taking the provincial capital, Zinjibar, in May. They call their organization Ansar al-Shariah, or Partisans of Shariah, which is linked to al-Qaida.
Yemeni security forces have been trying unsuccessfully to push them out since then in fierce fighting that has caused regular casualties on both sides. The conflict has forced tens of thousands of civilians from Zinjibar and the surrounding area to flee, many to the port city of Aden.
Some made their first efforts to return last month, staging two marches from Aden. Both times, militants turned them back, saying the city wasn't safe.
But Saturday's return was coordinated with the militant group. More than 2,000 residents entered Zinjibar, where the militants welcomed them with carbonated drinks and cookies then slaughtered cows for dinner, said resident Abdel-Hakim al-Marqashi.
Before dinner, however, all gathered in the city center for an address by a man called "Abu Hamza," who was introduced as the prince of what the militants declared a new Islamic state.
Al-Marqashi said Abu Hamza told the crowd that they were now "safe and secure," and that the leaders of the Islamic emirate will work to restore services like water and electricity and impose justice according to Islamic Shariah law.
Abu Hamza said the group had set up an Islamic court to deal with crimes and problems between residents.
Residents were shocked by the destruction left by months of clashes between militants and the army.
"Zinjibar has been turned into a city of ghosts," said Mohammed al-Marfadi. He said the town, once home to more than 100,000 people, was virtually empty except for the armed men cruising the streets in pickup trucks and motorcycles with mounted machine guns.
Most of the city center is in ruins, he said, and all government offices have been destroyed or burned. Charred cars litter the streets, while some roads are pockmarked with craters from artillery strikes.
Militants manning anti-aircraft guns occupied military posts throughout the city, residents said.
Two Indians found dead in Bahrain
PTI | Dubai, Jan 15, 2012', Two Indian expatriates, working in local companies in Bahrain, were found dead in their respective homes, a media report said today.
Both the Indians were found hanging in their accomodations in unrelated cases.
Muthaiah Nyavanandi Chinna Pochaiah, who worked at a building maintenance company, was found hanging from a ceiling fan by his roommate on Friday, the Gulf Daily News reported.
Neighbours, who called the police, informed them that the 32-year-old allegedly had an argument with his wife before he was found hanging.
Pochaiah worked at the Almotamad Building Contracting Maintenance Establishment, said the report.
In a separate incident, another Indian worker was found dead in his house in the Hoora locality. Shanu Johnson, who worked at an air-conditioning company, was also found hanging from a ceiling fan.
The 28-year-old's body was discovered by his wife Nancy after she returned home from work. Johnson hailed from Thirubananthapuram in Kerala.
The bodies of the two were taken to Salmaniya Medical Complex morgue. However, police is still investigating both the deaths.
When Yahya gave inkling of his intention to attack India
New Delhi, Jan 15, 2012, Around 10 days before war broke out between India and Pakistan in 1971, the then President of Pakistan Yahya Khan had given an inkling of his intentions to attack this country after taking a few drinks with an American journalist.
Yahya had told the journalist on the day of their meeting that he would be ‘at the front within 10 days’ when the American talked about getting back to the General in ten days time on the issue of meeting the President again, according to recently declassified Ministry of External Affairs documents.
And Yahya's word, perhaps made unwittingly, came true when Pakistan launched air attacks on military targets in India's northwest on the evening of December 3, 1971.
Shortly afterwards, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said the air strikes was a declaration of war on this country. At midnight on the same day, India launched an integrated ground, sea and air strike of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Attacks were also launched against West Pakistan.
The next day, then US Ambassador to India Kenneth Barnard Keating called on Foreign Secretary T N Kaul in New Delhi to discuss the situation, during which he mentioned how Yahya Khan had told Bob Shapley, a correspondent of the New Yorker magazine when they met that Pakistan would be at war with India within the next 10 days, the MEA files showed.
"They (Shapley and Khan) were returning from a party and the President had taken a few drinks when Bob asked him that he would like to see him again.
President Yahya Khan said that he would be happy to see him, to which the correspondent replied that he would ring him up within 10 days. To this President Yahya Khan said that he may be at the front by that time so he had better make it very soon," Keating told Kaul.
Muslims sign off annual gathering with prayer for peace
Dhaka, Jan 15,2012, (PTI) Over a million people converged together in Bangladesh in what is the world's biggest annual Muslim congregation after the 'Hajj', with the mass gathering joining in to pray for global peace and fraternity. The first phase of the 'Biswa Ijtema', the three-day congregation of Tablighi Jamaat, ended today with a prominent scholar from India giving the final sermon. The annual congregation held under the auspices of New Delhi-headquartered Tablighi Jamaat has been hosted by Bangladesh since the early 1960s. Zobayerul Hasan, a prominent Islamic scholar from India, led the 20-minute 'akhreri munajat' or the concluding supplication at the Ijtema, marking the end of the congregation on the bank of the River Turag at suburban Tongi. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and leader of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party Khaleda Zia joined the prayers along with the devotees from Bangladesh and abroad to seek spiritual progress, exaltation and individual well being of the mankind. President Zillur Rahman also issued a statement seeking the success of the three-day long congregation. Different government agencies including the army, police, railways and the health department too extended support to the event, that also witnessed a dowry-free mass wedding. Health officials and police said at least eight people died at the congregation due to old-age ailments and other health-related complications. Thousands of policemen and pesonnel of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion were deployed for three days to ensure an incident-free event.
Fear of Civil War Mounts in Syria as Crisis Deepens
By ANTHONY SHADID
BEIRUT, Lebanon, January 14, 2012 — The failure of an Arab League mission to stanch violence in Syria, an international community with little leverage and a government as defiant as its opposition is in disarray have left Syria descending into a protracted, chaotic and perhaps unnegotiable conflict.
The opposition speaks less of prospects for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad and more about a civil war that some argue has already begun, with the government losing control over some regions and its authority ebbing in the suburbs of the capital and parts of major cities like Homs and Hama. Even the capital, Damascus, which had remained calm for months, has been carved up with checkpoints and its residents have been frightened by the sounds of gunfire.
The deepening stalemate underlines the extent to which events are slipping out of control. In a town about a half-hour drive from Damascus, the police station was recently burned down and in retaliation electricity and water were cut off, diplomats say. For a time, residents drew water in buckets from a well. Some people are too afraid to drive major highways at night.
In Homs, a city that a Lebanese politician called “the Stalingrad of the Syrian revolution,” reports have grown of sectarian cleansing of once-mixed neighborhoods, where some roads have become borders too dangerous for taxis to cross. In a suggestion that reflected the sense of desperation, the emir of Qatar said in an interview with CBS, an excerpt of which was released Saturday, that Arab troops should intervene in Syria to “stop the killing.”
“There’s absolutely no sign of light,” said a Western diplomat in Damascus, a city once so calm it was called Syria’s Green Zone. “If anything, it’s darker than ever. And I don’t know where it’s going to end. I can’t tell you. I don’t think anyone can.”
The forbidding tableau painted by diplomats, residents, opposition figures and even some government supporters suggests a far more complicated picture than that offered by Mr. Assad, who delivered a 15,000-word speech on Tuesday, declaring, “We will defeat this conspiracy without any doubt.” The next day, he appeared in public for the first time since the uprising began in a Syrian backwater last March.
More telling, perhaps, was the arrival of a Russian ship last week, said to be carrying ammunition and seeming to signal the determination of the government to fight to the end.
“Day by day, Syrians are closer to fighting each other,” said a 30-year-old activist in Arabeen, near the capital, who gave his name as Abdel-Rahman and joined a protest of about 1,000 people there on Friday. “Bashar has divided Syrians into two groups — one with him, one against him — and the coming days will bring more blood into the streets.”
In the other Arab revolts, diplomacy and, in Libya’s case, armed intervention proved crucial in the unfolding of events. Even Bahrain had an international commission whose report on the uprising there was viewed by the United States and some parties in that gulf state as a basis for reform. Syria has emerged as the country where the stalemate inside is mirrored by deadlock abroad.
Syria still counts on the support of Russia and China in the United Nations Security Council. In the Arab world, Syria has allies in Iraq and Algeria, whose foreign minister said Wednesday that Syria “is in the process of making more of an effort.”
But on Sunday, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, urged Mr. Assad to halt the violence against the protesters and said the time of dynasties and one-man rule in the Arab world were coming to an end.
“Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end,” news agencies quoted Mr. Ban as saying at a conference in Lebanon on political reform.
Another diplomat in Damascus was fatalistic. “There’s not much more that anyone, at the international level, can do,” he said. “There’s not much more the Arab League can, either.”
A great boost to China-Arab partnership in hard times
BEIJING, 2012-01-14 (Xinhua) -- After his ongoing Nepal trip, Premier Wen Jiabao will pay an official visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, a tour expected to set in motion an important diplomatic push in the Gulf region.
The visit, the first overseas trip by a top Chinese leader this year, comes at a time when the world is going through the most profound and complicated changes since the Cold War.
While the international community is still trying to digest the political turbulence in West Asia and North Africa, the world economy remains fragile in the aftermath of the devastating global financial crisis and the sovereign debt mess in Europe.
Against the grim political and economic backdrop of the international landscape, Wen's trip to the three Arab countries is of particularly great significance, as both China and the Arab world have the common task of warding off the negative impact of the global economic malaise and striving for development, stability and peace.
In the face of these strong challenges, it is desirable that China and Arab countries build upon their traditional ties, take full advantage of their respective strengths and jointly strive towards common development.
Political will for closer ties between China and the Arab world is evidently strong. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has announced that during Wen's visit, the China-Saudi and China-UAE relationships will be formally upgraded and further expansion of China-Qatar cooperation will be discussed.
Past interaction has also laid a solid foundation for further advancement. China has always regarded Arab countries as good friends, good partners and good brothers. Over the recent decades, China and Arab countries have seen their relations and cooperation grow steadily and have also maintained sound communication and collaboration on major regional and global affairs.
Therefore, just as Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said Wednesday, Wen's trip offers a valuable opportunity not only to deepen relations between China and the three Arab countries, but to promote cooperation between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council and facilitate the development of the overall ties between China and the Islamic world.
During his Middle East tour, Wen is also scheduled to address the opening ceremony of the Fifth World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi and reaffirm Beijing's commitment to exploring renewable energy and fostering global sustainable development.
Given China's enormous population and development needs, it is natural that China is a big energy consumer. But it would be ignorant to disregard the fact that China is also a staunch advocate for and leading investor in new, clean and renewable energy.
China has long been trying to overhaul its energy structure, and the progress it has achieved so far is exemplary and encouraging. And as always, China is ready to work together with other responsible members of the international community to seek ways to promote the world's development in a sustainable manner to create a brighter future for generations to come.
Iran says it has evidence US behind scientist's killing
Tehran, Sun Jan 15 2012, Iranian state television said that Tehran had evidence Washington was behind the latest assassination of one of its nuclear scientists.
In the fifth attack of its kind in two years, a magnetic bomb was attached to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's car during the Wednesday morning rush-hour in the capital. His driver was also killed.
The United States has denied involvement in the killing and condemned it. Israel has declined to comment.
We have reliable documents and evidence that this terrorist act was planned, guided and supported by the CIA, the Iranian foreign ministry said in a letter handed to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, state TV reported.
The documents clearly show that this terrorist act was carried out with the direct involvement of CIA-linked agents.
The Swiss Embassy has represented U.S. interests in Iran since Tehran and Washington cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
State TV said a letter of condemnation had also been sent to the British government, saying the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists had started exactly after the British official John Sawers declared the beginning of intelligence operations against Iran.
In 2010, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service Sawers said one of the agency's roles was to investigate efforts by states to build nuclear weapons in violation of their international legal obligations and identify ways to slow down their access to vital materials and technology.
Tehran has urged the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to condemn the latest killing, which Tehran says is aimed at undermining its nuclear work, which the West and Israel say is aimed at building bombs. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely civilian.
Tension has mounted between Iran and the West as the United States and European Union prepare measures aimed at imposing sanctions on the Iran's oil exports, its economic lifeblood.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute.
Pakistani civilian and military leadership to decide the future of U.S – Pakistan relationship
January 14th, 2012
By Hamza Jahangir
Pakistan’s foremost political and military leadership are set to decide on the future of the relationship between the South Asian nation and the United States of America. A set of rules is said to be prepared which will lay down
the law for the relationship between the two countries, a relationship which has been under duress since NATO airstrikes on a border post near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last year.
Pakistan acted to safeguard itself against such strikes and to show its displeasure by blocking all NATO supplies coming from Pakistani territory towards U.S soldiers in Afghanistan as a result of the exchange between the two countries. Furthermore, the Shamsi
airbase was also vacated by NATO forces as per the requirements of the government of Pakistan.
Latest news suggests that Saturday’s meeting was called to ponder over the conditions of the relationship between Pakistan and U.S.A. According to Khursheed Ahmed, member of the national security committee formed by the parliament,
the government of Pakistan is seeking guarantees from U.S.A regarding respect for its sovereignty and borders.
Nonetheless such a meeting can also act as a forum for reconciliation between the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan, as both the camps have been at odds with each other after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani removed
the Secretary of defence following his remarks that the Army Chief and the Director General ISI had acted unconstitutionally and given statements to the judicial inquiry committee on the memogate scandal without the consent of the government.
Furthermore, there are also rumours that the Prime Minister might remove both the Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Kayani as well as General Pasha, D.G ISI in the coming weeks by using his constitutional powers.
Pakistan-Russia Consultative Group meets in Moscow
ISLAMABAD, Jan 14 (APP): The 7th meeting of the Pakistan-Russia Consultative Group on Strategic Stability was held in Moscow, said a press release received here from Moscow on Saturday. The Pakistan delegation was led by Additional Secretary UN and EC, Munawar Saeed Bhatti and included Pakistan’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Zamir Akram.
Russian side was led by Sergey A. Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister.
The two sides discussed matters of mutual interest relating to topical international issues, including arms control, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and other matters of mutual interest.
The sides reaffirmed their commitment to deepen understanding, strengthen cooperation and increase consultations in these areas, and draw on these convergences in this regard.
Besides these consultations, Additional Secretary UN & EC and Pakistan’s Ambassador in Moscow, held a meeting with Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, Head of the Second Asia Department, and Special Representative of the President of Russia on Afghanistan.
In the meeting the two sides exchanged views on regional situation and bilateral cooperation.
In the meeting Ambassador Zamir Kabulov underlined that Russain Foreign Minister Lavrov was looking forward to the visit of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Russia for review and further strengthening of bilateral relations and exchange of views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Both sides agreed to convene the next meeting of the Group in Pakistan at mutually convenient dates.
UAE to fund building of crucial highway in Pakistan
Khalifa Bin Zayed Foundation gives $38m for Wana to Angoor Ada road
Islamabad:January 15, 2012, The construction of a strategic highway between Wana and Angoor Ada in South Waziristan, Pakistan, will be funded by the UAE through the Khalifa Bin Zayed Foundation.
The UAE Project to Assist Pakistan (UAE-PAP) announced the $38 million (Dh139 million) Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Wana-Angoor Ada Highway will be completed by the beginning of next year.
Abdullah Al Ghafli, director of the UAE-PAP, made the announcement in a speech at a ceremony in Islamabad to mark the signing of an agreement with the Pakistani authorities concerned.
The funding of the 50km road was instructed by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Major General Zahir Shah, of the Pakistani Armed Forces, UAE Ambassador to Pakistan Eisa Basha Al Nuaimi, senior officials and representatives of Pakistani and international humanitarian organisations were also present.
Ambassador Al Nuaimi said the new project reflects the deep-rooted and long standing relations between the UAE and Pakistan.
He reiterated the commitment of the UAE's leadership, namely, President Shaikh Khalifa, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to assisting reconstruction and development efforts in Pakistan.
In doing so, the UAE's leadership is following in the footsteps of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who laid the foundations for the strong bilateral relations between the two countries, according to the UAE diplomat.
In addition to infrastructure development, the UAE is currently constructing 51 projects comprising 41 schools and ten institutes and colleges.
Islamic Banking fast gaining ground in Pakistan
LAHORE: Takaful, the Islamic mode of insurance, for being very transparent, is emerging globally as a very viable model and being used successfully as engine of growth in a number of Muslim countries.
This was stated by Chief Executive Officer Pak-Qatar Takaful Pervaiz Ahmad while speaking at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Saturday. LCCI Vice President Saeeda Nazar presented Address of Welcome while former Vice President Shafqat Saeed Piracha also spoke on the occasion.
Pervaiz Ahmad said that Islamic mode of Banking and all its tools are fast gaining ground in Pakistan when compared to conventional mode of banking, though it is a highly untapped market as yet.
He said Islamic financing products such as Murabaha, Ijara, Musharaka and Islamic Export Refinance, etc., are catering to a diverse cross-section of the economy, including the Corporate, SME and Consumer sectors.
He informed the participants that Sudan was the first country which introduced Takaful in 1979 while in 1987 Malaysian government used Takaful as engine of growth by issuing First Takaful Act. He said that Takaful met such a big success in Malaysia that 60 per cent of the Takaful customers in that country are Chinese. Pervaiz Ahmad said that Takaful is emerging globally a very viable model as it remained unaffected by the economic meltdown witnessed by the Western world.
Speaking on the occasion the LCCI Vice President Saeeda Nazar said that today more than two hundred and fifty Islamic financial institutions are operating world-wide from China to USA. Western banks through their Islamic units in U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg etc. also practice Islamic banking.
She said that the basic principle of Islamic banking is the prohibition of Riba or interest, which has seldom been recognized as applicable beyond the Islamic world but many of its guiding principles have consciously or unconsciously been accepted. The majority of these principles are based on simple morality and common sense, which form the bases of many religions including Islam.
The LCCI Vice President said that Islamic finance was practiced mostly in the Muslim world throughout the Middle Ages facilitating trade and business activities. In Spain and Baltic States, Islamic merchants became indispensable middlemen for trading activities. It is claimed many concepts, techniques and instruments of Islamic finance were later adopted by European financers and businessmen.
She said that the Islamic financial system employs the concept of participation in the enterprise, utilizing the funds at risk on a profit-and-loss-sharing basis. This by no means implies that investments with financial institutions are necessarily speculative.
This can be excluded by careful investment policy, diversification of risk and prudent management by Islamic financial institutions. The LCCI Vice President suggested that the Islamic countries that had undergone the experience of Islamic banking should be consulted so that the existing level of services could be improved and more diversified products could be introduced.
LCCI Executive Committee Members sheikh Mohammad Ayub, Ilyas Majid Sheikh and Khawaja Khawar Rashid were prominent among the participants.
Kuwait ready to become hub for Islamic finance -- economist
By Nawab Khan
BRUSSELS,1/14/2012 (KUNA) -- There is currently a tremendous opportunity for Kuwait to profile itself as a hub for Islamic finance and Islamic banking, according to Belgian academic and economist Professor Laurent Marliere.
"The winners of the upcoming Kuwaiti elections could take a challenger's position in the region and benefit from the numerous advantages of the country to pioneer new ways of conceiving Islamic finance," he told the Kuwait news agency, KUNA, in an interview, on the occasion of the upcoming polls in the Gulf country.
Marliere, the CEO of the Brussels-based ISFIN, the world's leading network of Islamic Finance Lawyers, follows closely the developments of Islamic Finance in non-Muslim countries.
"Islamic finance itself is being challenged to redefine its model, not to mimick conventional finance. There are great expectations around the globe concerning Islamic finance and Islamic banking, which is discipline that does not belong to the Muslims exclusively but has turned into a global phenomenon, " stressed the professor who teaches marketing.
He noted that Islamic finance is in a riper state in Asian Muslim countries than in Arab Muslim countries. "Malaysia has been leading the way for a decade but other jurisdictions now have entered in a battle to challenge that leadership: Singapore, Hong-Kong, Indonesia." "The world expects Islamic financial institutions to take more leadership on global finance and one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is its lack of innovation and its poor marketing," said Marliere. He pointed out that historically, Kuwait is actually a pioneer in Islamic banking.
"The Islamic banking institutions in Kuwait are regulated by the Central Bank of Kuwait, established in 1968 under the Central Bank of Kuwait Law (CBK). CBK Law provides for the Islamic banking regulatory and supervisory framework and sets the requirement for the Shariah Governance framework," he said.
"Kuwait's Islamic banking industry is set to embark on the market without being hindered by substantial legislative formalities. A lot of time can be gained using pre-existing legislation," said the professor.
"Actually, one of the incentives owned by Kuwait, in the battle to develop a hub in Islamic banking, is the flexibility of its legislation. The text is very modern and should be dug out of the sand by the new government," he told KUNA.
The Belgian economist said that Islamic banking is one of the businesses that cannot suffer rigidity in its regulation and supervision. "It is a fast growing area of world's finance and competitive jurisdictions must react accordingly." "A Shari'ah compliant investment consists of a third of money, a third of religion and a third of law. The latter third is becoming more and more important as we live in an unsecure world and the legal framework is a guarantee to provide more security," he added. (end) nk.rk KUNA 141243 Jan 12NNNN
NYUAD Institute Features Lecture On Architecture And Design Of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
15 January 2012
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a landmark of modern mosque architecture, Robert Hillenbrand, Professor Emeritus of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, told a public audience at a New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Institute lecture Thursday.
Looking at the individual architectural features of the mosque, Hillenbrand spoke of the multiple elements in its design and ornament taken from across the Islamic world, which combine to make it a truly ecumenical building. He also emphasized the role of architectural devices in evoking spiritual contemplation.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque has both modern and traditional elements, paying homage to the diverse traditions of earlier Islamic architecture, while also implementing unique design features, he explained.
“It uses the past innovatively and respectfully, and the past is drawn from every area in the Arab world,” he said. “It looks critically and observantly at a number of different Islamic traditions and tries to bring them into a whole.”
At the same time, there are a number of design innovations which contribute to the overall spiritual nature of the mosque. The treatment of the Qiblah wall, the wall indicating the direction of prayer facing Mecca, is one example of a unique feature of the Grand Mosque.
“Here we have the 99 beautiful names of God and they are all easily visible - this is a first in Islamic architecture,” Hillenbrand said. “They are aids to religious contemplation.”
Typically, he explained, representations of the 99 names of God in mosques are not all equally readable.
Other unique design elements serve both practical and spiritual functions. The towering minarets of the mosque, for example, light up at night and are used as beacons for aircraft. Minarets, whose very name in Arabic means a place of light or fire, traditionally used to have lamps with burning lights so that caravans that travelled at night could use them as beacons – a guidance that can be seen as both practical and spiritual, Hillenbrand said.
Intentional spiritual meaning is weaved in throughout the mosque’s design, from the use of white, the spiritual color of Friday, to the intricate calligraphy used in inscriptions from the Quran that encourage a deeper contemplation of the inscription’s meaning.
“The Grand Mosque is a multi-functional place, it is eclectic, and it’s pan-Islamic,” he said. “It serves not just Abu Dhabi, but the Islamic world itself.”
Professor Hillenbrand’s book on the mosque is scheduled to be available at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair this March.
Indian Minister declines to comment on Pakistan situation
KOLKATA, January 14, 2012, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today described reports of the possibility of a military coup in Pakistan as “speculation” and declined to comment on the situation in that country.
“These are all speculations. As and when it happens you will come to know. As Finance Minister and as a minister of the Government of India, I cannot indulge in any type of speculation,” Mukherjee told reporters when asked to comment on reports of the possibility of an army takeover in Pakistan.
Addressing an interactive session here yesterday, Pakistan High Commissioner in India Shahid Malik had asserted that there is no political instability in his country.
Malik, who was addressing the interactive session on ’India-Pakistan Bilateral Trade,’ said his country’s trade with India was going on normally.