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Islamic World News ( 29 Apr 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Obama's new 'AfPak' strategy – the view from Pakistan

By Mustafa Qadri



Religious-secularist mix impacts women's rights in Turkey

By Sertaç Sehlikoğlu Karakaş


Perspectives: Morocco's family code, 5 years later

By  Hakima Fassi-Fihri and Zakia Tahiri


Obama's first 100 days

By Arsalan Iftikhar


Somali piracy and Muslim-Western relations

By  Hady Amr and Areej Noor

Source: Daily Star (Lebanon)


Distributed by Common Ground News Service

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Obama's new "AfPak" strategy – the view from Pakistan

Mustafa Qadri


Karachi, Pakistan - People with a hammer only see nails. This well-worn maxim aptly describes the United States' relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past several decades. As early as 1954, the United States identified the country as a bulwark against regional encroachment by the Soviet Union when Pakistan received its first substantial tranche of American military and economic aid.


When US President Barack Obama announced the new "AfPak" (Afghanistan-Pakistan) policy last month, there were hopes that the hammer-and-nails approach – which saw unaccounted billions in military aid showered on the Pakistan army with the assumption that it alone could bring stability – would be shelved. It will take time to fully assess if it has been.


The new AfPak policy promises a more focused approach in a number of ways.


The most obvious is the physical shift from Iraq to Afghanistan. Under George W. Bush the United States had an uncoordinated strategy in Afghanistan, enabling the Taliban, defeated in 2001 and again in 2002, to first recover and then re-emerge. From 2004 onwards the Taliban and two independent allied commanders – Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbaddin Hekmatyar – swept into large swathes of southern and eastern Afghanistan and parts of northern Afghanistan in a series of spring and summer offensives.


The idea of negotiating with less extremist elements in the Taliban in Afghanistan was based upon the experience of US and British forces in Iraq, where Sunni militias were paid and trained to fight their former Al Qaeda allies.


The aim of the new differentiation between Al Qaeda and the Taliban is to seek out what has been widely termed "moderate" Taliban. The earlier strategy of treating Al Qaeda and the Taliban as synonymous has brought these two diverse entities closer together, both ideologically and practically. Al Qaeda earned access to one of the most isolated regions on the planet – Waziristan in Pakistan – and the Taliban, who before 2002 had little or no experience in guerrilla warfare or suicide attacks, learnt insurgency techniques. These days Taliban suicide attacks are a weekly occurrence.


For the more extremist elements in the Taliban and for Al Qaeda, the new AfPak policy promises an escalation, rather than a major tactical shift by the United States. Missile strikes are expected to increase in scope and regularity within Pakistan, even though Obama promised that operations would only be conducted with Pakistan's permission.


The dilemma for Pakistan's army with the new policy is two-fold. First, it must cooperate with the United States in its pursuit of Taliban in tribal areas to root out extremism and the militant threat in the area. Military and non-military aid to Pakistan promises to be more intricately tied to such cooperation than ever before. Second, the army will either have to get hard on the Taliban that it nurtured for so long in the 1980s or risk Pakistan's international isolation.


While Pakistan's infrastructure will surely get a makeover, it will be challenging to develop institutional and social capacity in Pakistan.


Whether there will be a marked improvement in standards of living remains to be seen – the United Nations Human Development Report for 2007-08 conservatively estimates that almost 33 percent of Pakistanis live in poverty.


The most welcome aspect of the new policy is the emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan's civil institutions over individual leaders like Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf. In what many have described as a "civilian surge", both countries will receive massive injections of cash, projects and experts. Development aid for new schools, roads and clinics has been targeted for Pakistan's tribal areas, around 7.5 billion US dollars in non-military aid over five years if the Kerry-Lugar bill passes through US Congress.


"Reconstruction opportunity zones", aimed at facilitating development and foreign investment by offering reduced tariffs and other taxes, are also proposed for those areas along the Pak-Afghan border that are most afflicted by Talibanisation. The hope is that by creating a free trade and industry zone, employment opportunities will attract young men away from the Taliban.


The AfPak policy cannot succeed unless the poverty upon which the militants prey is addressed. No matter what promises Washington, Brussels or Islamabad makes, the simple things like poverty which continue to pose the greatest challenges for ordinary Pakistanis need to be overcome in order to instil faith in a better society based on pluralism, democracy and equal rights.




* Mustafa Qadri ( is Middle East and South Asia correspondent for The Diplomat magazine and This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 April 2009, <

Copyright permission is granted for publication.




Religious-secularist mix impacts women's rights in Turkey

Sertaç Sehlikoğlu Karakaş


Montréal, Canada - Turkey has strong ties both with its Muslim history and with secularism, understood as not mixing religion with politics. After decades of struggling between these two identities, this strategic NATO ally and EU contender has developed a hybrid identity that encompasses both. As a result, Turkey has been increasingly perceived as a liberal and progressive face of Islam on the global stage and, in congruence with the true spirit of the religion, it is demonstrating its commitment to the empowerment of women.


In order to positively affect women's daily lives, it will take engaged leadership by religious scholars and feminists in addition to government-initiated reforms.


The Presidency of Religious Affairs (PRA), the government institution overseeing religious matters since it was established in 1924, and the highest Islamic authority in Turkey, is at the centre of the debate on religion and women. The PRA – which currently employs approximately 83,000 clerics in local mosques – was originally limited to the administration of mosques, but now focuses more on developing new interpretations of Islam.


Recently, the PRA initiated a review of hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) which was well-received by Turkish society and reverberated beyond national borders.


According to the PRA's explanation, the project's aim is to raise awareness about the inaccuracy of apocryphal hadiths accumulated after the death of the Prophet Muhammad by re-emphasising the importance of morally credible and viable sources. For example, many cultural traditions that were considered unfair to women were wrongly attributed to the Prophet and were added to hadith collections even though their chains of transmission were flawed.


The project is expected to yield a collection of hadiths on women combined in a five-volume publication. Its aim is to support women's rights activists in their fight against "honour" killings, violence against women and misogyny in general.


In addition, since 2005, the PRA has also offered its female employees the opportunity to upgrade their educational and professional skills so that they become better qualified for higher-ranking positions.


According to Ali Bardakoğlu, president of the PRA, the institution has suffered from a lack of women's contributions for decades. The PRA's goal in recent years has been to promote women to the highest levels of the institution, which Bardakoğlu hopes to accomplish by gradually incorporating them into the PRA structure. Women will be promoted to positions of assistant cleric, cleric and mufti (an official scholar of Islamic law). Bardakoğlu does not deny that men have thus far been more influential within Islamic institutions, but states that the absence of women in such positions has been due to their lack of higher education – a reality that can be changed.


Despite the women-friendly attitude and speeches of Bardakoğlu, parts of the institution appear reluctant to change. Soon after the PRA's declaration in 2005, which announced its intent to hire 200 new female preachers and appoint women as muftis and vice-muftis, a member of the institution authored an article on how women should behave around men so as not to arouse men's sexual desire.


Thanks to a vigilant feminist response, the article was removed from the PRA's website and the institute issued an apology. Strong female criticism – both from those outside the institution and those within it – is essential to holding the PRA to its goal of empowering women. Feminists continue to push the PRA to implement and institutionalise initiatives that are more inclusive of women.


Over the last four years, the PRA has successfully implemented target quotas for women in higher level positions – seven women have already been appointed to the position of vice-mufti – and established bureaus in 21 cities across the country to address concerns of local women.


The drive towards greater empowerment of women in Turkey has affected not only women's representation in the PRA, but also society more broadly. The well-known religious leader Fethullah Gulen wrote an article in the Turkish newspaper, Zaman, in September 2008 on the topic of domestic violence. He stated that a woman should be brave enough to take legal action against her husband if she is beaten. Gulen referenced a newer interpretation of religious texts with a Sufi perspective to support his advice.


Gulen explained that in the case of domestic violence the husband should be perceived as zalim, meaning tyrannical, and judged guilty of exercising unjust power. Such interpretations can give women the legal backing to press criminal charges against their husbands, or to achieve monetary retribution for mistreatment. His comments provide invaluable scholarly justification for the many women who have long been advocating similar views.


Developing modern religious interpretations to address women's issues provides a rich and strong foundation for feminist discourses. The PRA has made significant progress in developing modern and accurate religious interpretations generally and specifically on the subject of women. Though Muslim women still have a long way to go to achieve the rights due to them in Islam, the PRA's reforms – including giving women access to clerical positions and the prevalence of new interpretations of religious sources – are slowly paving the road to empowerment.


Feminists are prompting many of these changes in religious interpretation. In turn, strengthening women's rights by referencing religion provides guidelines for women living in other Muslim countries, a project which is consistent with Turkey's mission to become a model of a modern Muslim country.




* Sertaç Sehlikoğlu Karakaş is a women's rights activist and member of the non-profit organisation Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML). She is currently pursuing graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Toronto. This article is part of a series on Muslim women and their religious rights written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 April 2009, <

Copyright permission is granted for publication.




Perspectives: Morocco's family code, 5 years later

Hakima Fassi-Fihri and Zakia Tahiri


It's time for additional reforms by Hakima Fassi-Fihri


Rabat - In February 2004, Morocco was praised for significant progress in the field of women's rights, particularly for revising its 1958 family code – the "Moudawana". This reform was the result of many years of work between academics, theologians, activists and legal experts.


Five years later, it's time to assess whether this praise was warranted.


The 2004 reform was made in a spirit of equity between men and women within the family unit, with the aim of protecting children's interests while respecting the balance between tradition and modernity in a country that is highly attached to its family-based identity.


For example, a young Moroccan woman can now marry freely without permission from her father. The family is also considered the joint responsibility of both spouses and not solely the husband's as before.


Additionally, polygamy – which was a husband's absolute right under the previous code – became subject to the judge's approval and, above all, is allowable only under strict legal conditions which make the practice almost impossible.


The growth in the number of female family judges, along with a clear rejuvenation of the magistracy, are also part of the noteworthy changes resulting from the 2004 reform.


However, additional change is still needed.


Indeed, if at its early stages the Moudawana had a dissuasive effect on polygamy and marriage involving minors, people quickly realised that it was not difficult to get dispensations from judges.


In fact, although the new code stipulates that the legal age for marriage is 18, today in Morocco 10 percent of marriages involve minors. There was a dramatic increase (over 50 percent between 2006 and 2007) in marriages involving youth, especially in rural areas.


In addition to the necessity to properly enforce 2004 reforms, notably by training judges to declare verdicts in line with the new laws, new reforms are still needed to close the gap in gender equity.


For example, when it comes to inheritance and succession, it is neither sensible nor appropriate in cases of female heirs to force them to share their portion with an uncle or male cousin.


Morocco would benefit from intensifying the debate, perhaps with a view to a new Moudawana reform.


Imagining a reversal of gender roles by Zakia Tahiri


Casablanca, Morocco - Five years after the 2004 family code reform, Moroccans are still debating the identity of the Moroccan family. "Nawal", a young Moroccan woman, is proud of these reforms. For her, like for many Moroccan women, it is a victory. But other Moroccan women, such as "Ilham", do not understand much about it. And "Najat" is opposed to it because she has been told it does not comply with God's will. Female opinion is divided.


"Rachid", a young Moroccan male, refuses to get married because he's heard that in the event of divorce he would have to divide his assets with his wife. And the "Mustafas" of Morocco feel they've lost their dignity since the family is now under the shared responsibility of both husband and wife.


These diverse opinions are reflected in the 2008 film, Number One, so named because its main character is a male manager – or the "Number One" – of a clothing factory operated by 50 female workers. The Moudawana is a recurring theme throughout the film, which portrays the discussion of gender equality in Morocco in a new light.


Thousands of women watched this film: among them, women who, for lack of means or interest, had never been to the cinema before. They came because other women told them that it was about them, about their everyday lives.


Many women identified with the situations pictured in the film. They recognised their husbands, their cousins, their bosses. Men's perspectives too were shattered. One man told me after watching: "I realised I was a male chauvinist too when I saw the film." Another said, "I want my daughters to see this film so that they will never accept what they think is their fate."


Five years after the Moudawana, Number One is using humour and entertainment to open discussions and challenge traditional views of male and female roles in Moroccan society.




* Zakia Tahiri writes and directs films with her husband, Ahmed Bouchaala. Hakima Fassi-Fihri is a research professor of business contract law in Rabat and an active member of the women's networks, Women's Tribune and Terrafemina. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 April 2009, <

Copyright permission is granted for publication.




Obama's first 100 days

Arsalan Iftikhar


Washington, DC - During his January 2009 presidential inaugural address, US President Barack Obama sent a clear message to the world's 1.3 billion Muslims when he said: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."


A few weeks ago in Ankara, fulfilling his promise to give a major foreign policy speech from a capital in a Muslim-majority country in the first 100 days of his presidency, Obama emphasised to members of the Turkish Parliament that, "the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam."


Thus far, Obama has done a remarkable job in his outreach to the greater Muslim world, where perceptions of the United States had suffered immensely from the garbled rhetoric and actions of the George W. Bush administration.


Many American leaders are also following suit in the quest to help bridge the public diplomacy gap with the greater Muslim world. For example, a bipartisan leadership group of 34 American political and civic leaders – including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Republican Congressman Vin Weber – recently published a report, Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World, which suggests concrete ways to improve US-Muslim relations in the future. Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar called the report "a most constructive blueprint for building relationships of cooperation between the United States and the Muslim world."


The report suggests that the United States partner with governments, multilateral institutions and philanthropic organisations to make education a more powerful engine for employment and entrepreneurship in the greater Muslim world. Thus, by investing in education reforms, both American and Muslim governments can "gain credibility and help transform a high-risk youth generation into a broad and deep pool of skilled workers", which can help advance their respective nations and economies.


During a recent dinner reception in April which was aimed at briefing Washington-based ambassadors and journalists on the Changing Course report recommendations, Albright addressed the audience of about 80 ambassadors, journalists and political leaders (some notable faces included Ambassador Mekouar, who hosted the event, former Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha and Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention) on the state of US-Muslim relations within the Obama administration.


"When I became Secretary of State, we did not have Muslims employed in the State Department", former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in her opening remarks that evening. "I went back to my notes when I was writing my book…and I had various notes which read, 'Learn more about Islam'."


In light of Obama's first 100 days in the oval office, Albright graded Obama an "A+" thus far in terms of his overall engagement with the Muslim world. She cited the president's use of diplomacy, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine, as a positive step in building a better connection with the Muslim world.


She concluded her remarks that evening by emphasising that this engagement "cannot be done without the people in this room…. We have our work cut out for us."


We do indeed, Madame Secretary.


Job creation and economic development are two key development areas where Obama can expand his reach in the coming years. As noted above, investing in these areas can actually help reduce the threat of extremism by providing youth with opportunities for employment. Supporting effective governments and civic participation, as the report states, will be critical in US engagement with the Muslim world as well.


As Obama continues as president, it becomes a political imperative for his administration to ensure that his wonderful words to the Muslim world turn into tangible and concrete policy changes on the ground. As we Americans consider the completion of the first 100 days of his presidency, let us all work together so that his words of change turn into a collective "audacity of hope" for every corner of the world for the next 100 days, months, years and beyond.




* Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of < and a contributing editor to Islamica Magazine. The report, Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World, can be found at < This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 April 2009, <

Copyright permission is granted for publication.


Sourced Articles



Somali piracy and Muslim-Western relations

Hady Amr and Areej Noor


Washington, DC and Doha - On the morning of 8 April, a US-flagged cargo ship – the Maersk Alabama – carrying US government food aid destined for Africa was hijacked by Somali pirates 300 miles off Somalia's coast. Eventually, the crew and the ship escaped to safety, while Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by the pirates who fled in a smaller boat. After a significant US naval deployment, the pirates were killed and the captain was rescued.


Story over? Not really.


This wasn't the first piracy case off the coast of Somalia and it won't be the last. This past December, a Saudi super tanker carrying 100 million US dollars worth of oil was hijacked, with the pirates eventually getting paid $3 million in ransom.


Piracy has risen dramatically in recent years, with over 100 incidents reported off the coast of Somalia in 2008. This year is set to be even more dangerous with the International Maritime Bureau citing about 70 attacks in the first few months of 2009, and with Somali pirates currently holding about 200 international crew members hostage – Asians, Arabs and Eastern Europeans.


Somali pirates actually seek to "justify" these attacks in their local society. They justify their attacks against international vessels on the grounds that the latter represent foreign incursions into Somali waters to engage in unlicenced fishing and to dump toxic waste.


The costs to the global economy from this piracy, particularly the economies of the Gulf States, the United States and Europe, are mounting.


Piracy off the coast of Somalia has amplified the price of vessel insurance and increased the price of goods transmitted through this prime trade route. Typically, at least 20,000 ships a year pass through these waters transporting goods, as well as seven percent of the world's oil.


Furthermore, many ships have rerouted travelling all the way around Africa to avoid the pirates and the higher insurance rates. Egypt's economy, in particular, is suffering from route diversions.


The United Nations Security Council forcefully responded to the piracy off Somalia by passing Resolution 1851 last December. The resolution permits member states to pursue and capture pirates with the permission of the transitional federal government of Somalia (as the United States Navy did to rescue Captain Phillips). In addition, NATO and other counter-piracy forces have been dispatched to Somali waters, an area spanning 6.6 million square kilometres – about 10 times the size of the state of Texas.


Also of major significance is that the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, issued an audiotape last month calling on fringe terror groups operating in the dark margins of Somali society to rise up against the new government. Notably, no strong organic linkage has been established between Somali pirates and global terror groups like Al Qaeda; nevertheless, potential collusion between pirates and terrorist networks in that volatile region of East Africa constitutes a valid security concern.


Piracy in the high seas is always a symptom of chronic issues on land.


Thus, in addition to bolstering maritime security, the international response to piracy off the coast of Somalia must focus on the core problems of the country, such as the lack of good governance and economic growth. Even in the context of Africa, Somalia has been among the poorest and most unruly countries of the past two decades, with a per capita GNP of a few hundred US dollars per year (so low, that it is hard to calculate) and a state of near-anarchy that has only just ended.


Earlier this month we had the opportunity to privately meet with Somalia's foreign minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar, after the Arab League summit in Doha. What we learned was that the international community – particularly the United States, the Arab world and Europe – now have an opportunity to remedy this plague of piracy by helping end the nearly two-decade-long state of conflict in Somalia.


The key ingredients are: first, political and financial support for the new government of Somalia and the inclusive peace process launched in Djibouti in January, including support for Somalia's security apparatus; second, dramatically increased aid to help raise living standards in Somalia and give young people a pathway out of poverty and piracy to prosperity; and third, the undercutting of any vestiges of pirate legitimacy in civil society, by ensuring an end to unlawful fishing and the dumping of toxic waste off Somalia's coastline. This must be pursued alongside multinational naval deployments already under way.


Thus far, the military option has not borne tangible success. A more comprehensive strategic framework is needed. The United States, the Arab world and Europe have a unique opportunity to cooperate on these common objectives, and implement a far-reaching strategy that empowers Somalia's new government and effectively ends the blight of piracy – and in so doing creates new models of international cooperation.



* Hady Amr is the founding director of the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Areej Noor is a research assistant at the Brookings Doha Center. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Daily Star.


Source: Daily Star, 24 April 2009,

Copyright permission is granted for publication.