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Islamic World News ( 11 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Voice of Reason from the Mount of Arafat: “The world must confront and criminalise terrorism”

Saudi King urges dialogue within Ummah

Taking up professions that serve guests of God by Galal Fakkar

A mosque is part of the community

Somalia: Islamists Destroy Graves, Kill Robbers

Porn, sharia and the ideology of convenience

Dutch politician presents Islam film

The World’s Unfinished Business: ban cluster bombs by Ramzy Baroud

Military option against Iran unnecessary: Shimon PeresSingh, Patil send greetings of Eid to people of Pakistan

Obama team: Mixed reactions in Muslim world by Osama Al Sharif

Mideast hopes on Obama: Arab News Editorial

Living for a cause by P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Voice of Reason from the Mount of Arafat: “The world must confront and criminalise terrorism”


Khaleej Times Online 

9 December 2008

 The message from the Mount of Arafat is loud and clear: “The world must confront and criminalise terrorism…we must be cautious of terrorism and fight hostile criminal gangs that destroy countries and people”.


Indeed, this is the essence of Islam, the religion of peace. As more than three million faithful, from around the world, performed the rituals of Haj, the Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh reminded the pilgrims and the world at large that terrorism is contrary to the teachings and tenets of Islam and shared values of humanity and civilization.


This year’s Haj sermon will be remembered for its extraordinary focus on the threat of extremism facing our world. By urging the faithful to purge their ranks of people who sow the seeds of conflict and hatred, the Grand Mufti sent out a message of love, tolerance and forbearance calling for dialogue between civilisations and followers of all faiths.


While this is not the first time that a call for peace, reason and tolerance has been given from the Holy City of Makkah, this voice of reason comes at a time when the Muslim world and the world at large are without doubt going through a difficult time in their collective history. More than any time in their history, this call for reason is relevant today. 


While the world at large battles violence and extremism of all sorts and kinds, the problem poses a clear and present danger to the Muslim world in particular. There are historical factors and reasons at work.


But this is no time to talk about them. What is important now is the fact that this war cannot be won by any one country or one community alone. The very future of the mankind is at stake. We are in this together.


King urges dialogue within Ummah

Hamid Al-Sulami | Arab News

 Wednesday 10 December 2008 (12 Dhul Hijjah 1429)                 


Pilgrims are overcome with emotion at fulfilling a lifetime mission after the second day of the stoning ritual at Jamrat.         


MINA: Pilgrims stoned the devil on the second consecutive day at the massive four-story Jamrat complex yesterday. Chanting “God is Great,” they threw seven small pebbles at each of the three thick walls in the last ritual of the Haj. The ritual, which symbolizes the rejection of evil, will be repeated today as the Haj winds down.


At a reception for the leading personalities of the Muslim world attending the Haj this year at the Mina Palace yesterday, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Abdullah stressed the need for internal dialogue within the Muslim community as a means to defend the society from the menace of disunity, ignorance and extremism.


“Today, we need a dialogue of the Ummah within itself. It is because sedition, ignorance and fanaticism are threatening the hopes of Muslims. The terrorism that threatens the entire world is attributed to Muslims alone because of the acts of a few extremists who represent none but themselves. Though they put on the guise of Islam, the religion has nothing to do with them. This is what makes the dialogue of the Ummah with itself imperative for achieving a unified stand, elimination of the causes of their disputes, strengthening their moderate middle path, and to stamp out extremism,” King Abdullah told his guests.


The guests included Sudanese President Omar Bashir, Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas, Chechen President Ramadan Kadirov and Secretary-General of the Muslim World League Abdullah Al-Turki.


“During the last Haj season, I spoke to you about the significance of interfaith dialogue. The Kingdom organized the Makkah conference for Muslim scholars and thinkers to discuss the idea of dialogue, and was welcomed by them... It was followed by the Madrid conference in which representatives of various religions and cultures endorsed the outcome of the Makkah conference. The high level meeting of the United Nations’ General Assembly on the interfaith dialogue, in which prominent international personalities participated, upheld the concept of dialogue,” King Abdullah said.


“The Kingdom with this program aims to uphold the glory of Islam and service to humanity,” the king added. King Abdullah left Mina yesterday evening and later arrived in Jeddah.


At the Jamrat complex, thousands of security forces were deployed in the area to control the crowd. The pilgrims began arriving in small groups before noon prayers. They were joined by packed crowds of the faithful following the prayers at Masjid Al-Khaif, which was the center of activity in Mina. It is a stone’s throw from the Jamrat complex. The faithful were relieved at having performed the religious duty in relative comfort. Though the stoning of the devil is largely symbolic, quite a few pilgrims were seen venting their fury while performing the ritual yesterday. “I stoned the devil with all my might today. On Monday, I was too weak having spent the previous day in standing at Arafat and sleeping out in the open in Muzdalifah ... I couldn’t really mete out justice to this Satan ... He needs to be stoned vigorously,” said Abdul Hamid Gergawi from Dubai.


Nesreen Abbas from Iran said the whole exercise required mental preparation. “Pilgrims should be encouraged to familiarize themselves with all aspects of Haj, memorizing and learning the meaning of the prayers involved, which are recited in Arabic,” he said. “The more you know about Haj and its obligations and prohibitions,” he felt, “the more comfortable and at peace you will feel during the whole process.”


Some pilgrims said they saw in the devil those who are persecuting Muslims all over the world. “This is nothing but an act of catharsis,” said Saqib Jallandhari of Pakistan.


“To me these pillars represent those world leaders who are either killing or are responsible for the genocide of my brethren in Kabul, Jerusalem and Baghdad,” he said.


“Though symbolic, this act should be perpetuated by the world against those ‘devils’ who are ruining the very fabric of coexistence and world peace. They should be stoned in the same way the devil is pelted with pebbles,” said Ahmed Abu Hidada from Egypt.


“The stoning of the devil symbolizes the triumph of good over evil,” Muhammad Nadeem of India said. “There is a fight going on between the good and the bad all over the world. For the moment, it looks as if the bad people with preconceived notions about Islam have an edge. But finally, peace will prevail and we will come out victorious. All the efforts of the ‘devil’ to put us down will go in vain, in the same way as the devil had failed to mislead Prophet Ibrahim,” said Nadeem.


The pilgrims will stream out of Mina today after performing what for many will be an once-in-a-lifetime journey of faith.


The Indian Haj mission comprising Consul General Sayeed Ahmed Baba, Consul (Haj) B.S. Mubarak and other officials of the mission camping at Mina said yesterday that the movement of pilgrims to Mina and then to Arafat has been smooth. Sixty-one Indian pilgrims admitted in various hospitals in Makkah were taken to Arafat by Moassasa-sponsored ambulances. Fourteen Indian pilgrims admitted in the 30-bed hospital run by the mission were taken to Arafat in its ambulances. More than 40 staff members of the mission are presently monitoring the movement of Indian pilgrims to perform the Jamrat ritual in cooperation with local authorities.


Taking up professions that serve guests of God

Galal Fakkar | Arab News

 Wednesday 10 December 2008 (12 Dhul Hijjah 1429)

MAKKAH: Haj sees voluntary work by many, but Makkans are heirs to this spirit of service. They also show enterprise by setting up professions that serve the guests of Allah.


The direct effect of Haj is that it allows people to serve the pilgrims directly. Over the years these services have become more specialized and systematic, as the number of people performing Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam, have increased enormously.


According to Abdul Jaleel Kaaki, president of the tourism committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, professions have been inherited from generation to generation — especially in the Tawafa, Zamazma (supplying Zamzam water), and guiding pilgrims. The same families have specialized in these areas of operation.


Kaaki said, “Some famous Makkah families concentrate exclusively on a single profession. In Tawafa, for example, there are families who specialize in specific nationalities and they have remained steadfast over generations.”


Some of the families teach their children the rudiments of these professions, especially during Ramadan and Haj when the whole families work together in serving pilgrims, he said, adding that some of these families have increased their range of service. “Some of these Makkah families who focus on these services have expanded to other fields such as pilgrim housing, transportation and food preparation.”


Some of the famous Makkah families are: Kaaki, a family that specializes in making cakes and bread; Halawani, a family that specializes in making sweets; Al-Saiegh, linked to gold production; and Al-Attar, a family associated with preparing perfumes.


Kaaki said that many who are involved in these season professions hold Ph.Ds and other degrees. But during Haj they take time out from their work to come and serve the pilgrims.


Talal Assad Mahdar, a teacher at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said that his father was a famous Mutawif. After receiving his Ph.D in another field, he did not want to leave the Haj job that he had inherited from his father. “The main purpose behind working in Haj is not the financial gain,” Mahdar said, adding, "I am preserving the job that I inherited from my father. I also inherited from him the love of this job and I will make sure that I pass this sentiment along with an inheritance to my sons.”


Khalil Bahader, a mutawif, said that his inheritance was passed down from his grandfather to his father and now to me. “I was pressed into this service when I was nine years old,” he said, adding, “After becoming a school principal, I quit my job because my love for this job was stronger. Now my work in Tawafa is a full-time job.”


Bahader has involved his sons and daughters to work during Haj and also to get on-the-job training so they can continue this service after him. He said his family history of Haj services goes back over 200 years.


New professions have now emerged to serve pilgrims. One of those professions is driving pilgrims around on a motorbike, a common sight during Haj nowadays. Hasan Al-Sharef, one of the motorbike pool operators, said that he entered this profession after the Makkah municipality assigned him to supervise 120 motorbike drivers during Haj seasons. He saw an opportunity to go into business on his own, and now operates this service.


Al-Sharef said, “This is a perfect opportunity to serve pilgrims. I allowed my two sons to work with me last Haj season. Despite the fact that this work is simple, it is profitable and it is of great service to the pilgrims.”


Women too have continued the professions they have inherited. Many women participate in providing Haj services to pilgrims. Khadija Yeslim is an example of a Makkah woman who inherited a catering service from her family. Her family was known for providing pilgrims with food. She was involved in the family venture from a very early age and she was sent to one of the specialized colleges to learn cooking.


She said, “My inheritance is enabling me to make a living, and every year it is expanding. It also helps in providing jobs to women who help in every aspect of catering — preparing food, cleaning the utensils we cook in and generally keeping the areas of operation spotlessly clean.”


A mosque is part of the community

Ghulam Shabar, December 10, 2008

Issues relating to citizenship classes for mosques and madrassas

Sir, we are writing in response to the Communities and Local Government’s announcement about citizenship classes for mosques and madrassas.

Meaningful discussion with mosques is long overdue and the focus on the faith dimension, particularly the Koran and the Hadiths (stories based around the Prophet Muhammad and how he conducted his life) are a vital part of understanding Islam and being a “good Muslim”. This initiative is, therefore, to be welcomed. However, there are a number of key issues.

It is crucial that the madrassas and mosques chosen to participate in this include those “informal” mosques that are run voluntarily by local community members as well as the larger, well-established and more organised ones, that may in fact need less support.

It is surprising and disappointing that Birmingham is not benefiting from the pilot programme, particularly given the high-profile anti-terrorism raids in a city where the “preventing violent extremism” agenda is a high priority.

We must also remember that initiatives of this nature must be supported by other projects that look to create cohesive communities and must not be carried out in a vacuum. For example, at Ashram we are working with mosques, churches and temples to deliver our successful sports inclusion project in partnership with a broad range of faith-based organisations to bring together children from all backgrounds through sport. This programme must seek to cross existing boundaries, not further to entrench them.

As an intercultural agency, our experience shows that the Muslim community wants to make effective and substantial contributions to the wider community, whether that is through education, sport or other programmes. Crucially, the “doorstep” issues that concern Muslims are almost identical to those concerning the wider community, for example better health and education, better community safety etc.

Our work with the Muslim community in the past five years, and in particular women and young people, has repeatedly shown us that this section of society wants to engage with a wider community agenda and debunk the unhelpful and divisive mythology that existed about them.

Yes, engage with mosques and madrassas — but in the context of engaging across traditional community barriers and not in isolation. After all, a Muslim from Birmingham is as much a Brummie as a follower of Islam.

Ghulam Shabar-Chairman, Ashram Housing Association, Birmingham



Somalia: Islamists Destroy Graves, Kill Robbers

December 09, 2008

Kismaya - The Islamic insurgent forces in the port town of Kismayu, 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of Mogadishu have destroyed graves and temples in Kismayu after operations they conducted in the city, witnesses and officials said on Tuesday.

Sheik Hassan Yaqub Ali, the information secretary of the Islamic administration in Kismayu told reporters that the graves in temples are against the Sharia law.

The Islamists took control of Kismayu after deadly gun battle with local militias led by Colonel Barre Hiralle two months ago.

The Sufi organizations in Somalia worship in temples with graves inside but other Islamic organizations like Shebab and Al-itihad oppose it coming up with other Islamic interpretations.

On the other hand Al-shebab fighters have killed two robbers, in Muri village in Lower Shabelle region and have captured three others after they have exchanged gun fire on Tueaday.

Locals say the robbers have been looting the civilians in the village when Al-shebab fighters came to help intervene in the robbery.

Earlier the robbers killed a pregnant woman that was traveling a bus in the village



Porn, sharia and the ideology of convenience

Meidyatama Suryodiningrat ,Dec 10, 2008

Politics is the art of the possible, even though it defies natural logic.

Hence even in a “de facto” secular state such as Indonesia, it is possible, perhaps even natural, that several dozen of the country’s 471 regencies are governed by sharia law.

The demise of the secular republic?

Not quite yet.

Rising Islamisation?


Popular direct elections on the local and national stages demand deliverables.

Candidates and parties are measured by the degree by which they can realize these campaign promises. When the economy and welfare become remote pledges, appealing to the innate moral voice becomes the sole alternative.

For the laymen voter, that voice is symbolically equated with Islam.

The rise of political Islam is not necessarily one of historical or ideological consciousness. It is a relatable populist issue for a mass which represents the world’s largest Muslim population.

Though disconcerting, the fact that one in 10 regencies is controversially subject to sharia law is a qualified political balance in a nation where nine in 10 claim to be Muslims.

With general elections just six months away, why were we so surprised legislators passed last month the anti-porn bill or that it was ratified by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono?

The genesis of the anti-porn is akin to sharia imposed in many types of regency. It was conceived by misguided notions of moralism, but given life by non-Islamic political elements that needed to generate a novel platform to reinvigorate a waning constituency.

Would the anti-porn bill have been passed and ratified by the President if the Golkar Party had rejected it?

Unequivocally not.

Yudhoyono too must start cleverly gathering cache.

He plants roots beyond Golkar’s indecisiveness in selecting a presidential nominee. Supporting ratifying the anti-porn bill is a ploy that opens many doors.

The problem with political Islam in Indonesia has often been that politicians do not wish to entangle themselves in the sensitivities and intricacies of a secular vs Islam ideological battle.

Since 1955, Indonesia has not had an election based on ideology.

The eight elections since then have been polls based on nuance and personality rather than being referendums of ideology.

Islam rightfully demands space and a place on our political stage. During the Soeharto years, it was wrongly marginalized and often criminalized.

But if the adherents of political Islam seek to progress a religious-based agenda then it may be an inevitable consequence in our democracy that a showdown is forthcoming.

Adherents of the secular agenda then must stop beating around the bush and begin to see the events taking place as a zero-sum ideological battle.

It is not a rejection of God or religion, but a clarification of the distinction between the state and religion.

It is a sacred line that other nations have painfully but necessarily drawn. An indistinct hem on which Indonesians still only hesitantly manage to scribble.

The wishy-washy approach will be the downfall of compromising ideologists. Evidence for this is the failure to suspend shariah law and religious bigotry.

The passing of the anti-porn bill is not an issue about civil rights, the protection of cultural traits in Papua and Bali or about moral standards.

It is unequivocally a victory for the Islamist agenda.



Dutch politician presents Islam film

December 10, 2008

Former Muslim Ehsan Jami has presented his English-language film entitled Interview with Muhammad. In the film, the prophet Muhammad looks back on his life and the interviewer questions him on women's rights, non-believers and Judaism.

Mr Jami says his film is not anti-Islamic. It focuses on what he calls the victims of Islam. He hopes the film will improve their situation. The 15-minute film was presented to the press in the parliamentary press centre in The Hague. It is also available on the internet.

Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin has criticised the showing. He says he is concerned about the image of the Netherlands in the media abroad. The minister stresses that Islam is fully respected in the Netherlands, but there is also freedom of speech.




The World’s Unfinished Business: ban cluster bombs

Ramzy Baroud

Khaleej Times Online

10 December 2008

  The United States, Russia and China are sending a terrible message to the rest of the world by refusing to take part in the historic signing of a treaty that bans the production and use of cluster bombs.


In a world that is plagued by war, military occupation and terrorism, the involvement of the great military powers in signing and ratifying the agreement would have signalled — if even symbolically — the willingness of these countries to spare civilians’ unjustifiable deaths and the lasting scars of war. 


Nonetheless, the incessant activism of many conscientious individuals and organisations came to fruition on December 3-4 when ninety-three countries signed a treaty in Oslo, Norway that bans the weapon, which has killed and maimed many thousands of civilians.  The accord was negotiated in May, and should go into effect in six months, once it is ratified by 30 countries. There is little doubt that the treaty will be ratified; in fact, many are eager to be a member of the elite group of 30. Unfortunately, albeit unsurprisingly, the US, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — a group that includes the biggest makers and users of the weapon — neither attended the Ireland negotiations, nor did they show any interest in signing the agreement.


The US argues that cluster bombs are a legitimate weapon, essential to repel the advancing columns of enemy troops. If such a claim carried an iota of legitimacy, then the weapon’s use should have ended with the end of conventional wars in the mid twentieth century. However, cluster bombs are still heavily utilised in wars fought in or around civilian areas. Most countries that have signed the accords are not involved in any active military conflict and are not in any way benefiting from the lucrative cluster munition industry.


The hope, however is that once a majority of countries, including the Holy See, sign the agreement, the use of the lethal weapon will be greatly stigmatised. The treaty was the outcome of intensive campaigning by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), a group of non-governmental organisations. CMC is determined to carry on with its campaigning to bring more signatories to the fold.


But without the involvement of the major producers and active users of the weapon, the Oslo ceremony will remain largely symbolic. However, there is nothing symbolic about the pain and bitter losses experienced by the cluster bombs’ many victims. According to the group Handicap International, one-third of cluster-bomb victims are children. Equally alarming, 98 per cent of the weapon’s overall victims are civilians. The group estimates that about 100,000 people have been maimed or killed by cluster bombs around the world since 1965. It certainly is unconscionable that countries who have the chutzpa to impose themselves as the guardians of human rights are the same who rebuff such initiatives and insist on their right to utilise such a killing tool. Unlike conventional weapons, cluster bomblets survive for many years, luring little children with their attractive looks. Children have often mistaken them for candy or toys.


Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch described the countries that refused to sign as standing “on the wrong side of history. Some of them are clinging to what is now a widely discredited weapon.”


But there is more to that refusal than clinging onto an outdated military philosophy. The cluster munition industry is thriving. The weapon was used in massive quantities by the US army in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel in Lebanon and both parties in the S. Ossetia conflict. The British also used it in Iraq, making handsome deals with the weapons’ Israeli manufacturer.


Thirteen-year-old Ayat Suliman now lives in Sweden. In an AFP report, she complained, referring to her peers: “Nobody understands me. They all think I’m ugly.” It was on May 5, 2003 that Ayat’s brother came running with what he thought was a dazzling toy. “I remember that it was very colorful and very nice,” said Ayat. The explosion that rocked the little girl’s house in Iraq claimed the lives of her four brothers and cousin, aged 3 to 15. Most of Ayat’s body was burned as a result, and she is still unable to walk independently.


Ahmad Mokaled of the Lebanese town of Nabatieh at the border with Israel was about to celebrate his fifth birthday when he too found a shiny object. Ahmad’s last words, according to his father, who was busily setting up his son’s birthday picnic in a park, were: ‘Dad, Help me.’ He died, but after “four long hours of suffering.”


The tragic stories of Ahmad and Ayat are repeated throughout the world, almost everyday, with some countries paying a much more disproportionate price than others, notably, again, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.


But neither terrible statistics nor the heart-wrenching personal stories of the many victims seem enough to compel manufactures and active users of the weapon to quit. Countries with sizable military power tend to avoid any entanglement in international law or treaties that limit their flexing or application of their military muscle. The US and Israeli attitudes towards international law carry similar traits, both act as entities above the law, tirelessly infusing ‘national security’ as an excuse for their rebuffing of such international initiatives. It’s also no surprise that the US, Israel, but also Russia refuse to ratify the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, signed by 158 countries — as of 2007 — which prohibits the production, transfer or use of landmines.


Of course, neither the Ottawa nor the Oslo treaties are the exception to the rule as far as Washington’s attitude towards positive international initiatives are concerned. The US under the Bush administration developed a mind-set of animosity towards the rest of the international community, reaching the point of dubbing the UN irrelevant. 


Needless to say, CMC, world governments and citizens throughout the world are hoping that the new American administration of Barack Obama will truly bring an end and reverse Bush’s ruinous legacy. Realists say it will take years for an effective change of policy to take place. In the meantime, the millions of unexploded cluster bomblets and landmines scattered the world over, wait for no one. They will continue to claim lives and maim thousands, just like Ahmad of Lebanon, and Ayat of Iraq.


Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of


Military option against Iran unnecessary: Peres

Mohammed Mar’i | Arab News

 Wednesday 10 December 2008 (12 Dhul Hijjah 1429)                 


RAMALLAH: Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday said that the union of western countries against Iran’s policies and the drop in oil prices has rendered the military option against the Islamic Republic unnecessary at this point.


Iran’s leadership will also have to get up tomorrow morning and give food to their children. What will they give them? Enriched uranium?” Peres said during his visit to the Arab town of Sakhnin to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha.


According to Peres, following the election of US President Barack Obama and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report indicating that Iran was moving forward with its nuclear program, “the United States, Europe and China must cooperate to lower the price of oil in order to curtail Iran’s frenzy, which did not stem from the West’s conciliatory efforts but rather from its divisiveness.”


“Had the West presented a united front against Iran, it would not have been able to develop its nuclear program to such an extent,” Peres said.


He added that due to the drop in the price of oil Iran will not be able to invest as much in its uranium enrichment program, long-range missiles “or other munitions.”


But reports on Monday suggesting Iran has recently tripled its missile arsenal have exacerbated Israeli concerns that the Islamic Republic remains tireless in its efforts to step up defensive capabilities against Israel.


According to the Israeli Channel 10 television, the number of Shihab-3 missiles in Iran’s possession has gone from roughly 30 at the start of 2008 to more than 100.



Wednesday 10 December 2008 (12 Dhul Hijjah 1429) 


 Singh, Patil send greetings of Eid to people of Pakistan

Nilofar Suhrawardy | Arab News


 NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the tension between India and Pakistan over Nov. 26 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh extended Eid greetings to the people of Pakistan.


While greeting the nation on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, the two leaders also sent a message to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in which good wishes were conveyed to the people of Pakistan and vowed to work together for integrity and friendship in future.


Muslims across the nation celebrated Eid Al-Adha with traditional religious fervor. The impact of Mumbai tragedy was apparent with there being somber note in the celebrations and tight security across the country. Many Muslims were seen sporting black bands on their arms as their condemnation of terrorist strikes. “Festivities are on a low-key, because of the Mumbai incident,” a cleric at New Delhi’s Jama Masjid said.


Around 20,000 Muslims gathered at the historic mosque for Eid prayers. Security was stricter than usual, with worshipers passing through security checks. Besides, constant announcements were made to the public to report if they see anything suspicious.


Clerics across the nation condemned the Mumbai attacks in Eid sermons. Black bands — most visible in Mumbai — were also seen in Lucknow and other places. Condemning the Mumbai blasts, Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawwad said in Lucknow:

“We strongly protest the unfair and inhuman use of jihad, and the Muslims involved in it are a shame to our religion.”

“No religion preaches killing people and Islam is strictly against it. We extend our apologies to the families of those killed in the terror attacks,” Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mehali of the Sunni sect said.


Mumbai tragedy was also echoed at a different level with many sacrificial goats named after Bollywood actors. So quite a few Shahrukh Khans and Salman Khans were on sale in old Delhi.


Obama team: Mixed reactions

Osama Al Sharif |


There were mixed reactions in the Middle East to President-elect Barack Obama’s unveiling of his foreign policy and national security team last week. Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) welcomed his designation of Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The Palestinians cannot but hope that under Obama, Clinton will invigorate a stale peace process. The Annapolis momentum has all but gone. President George W. Bush’s promise to see the two parties reaching a final status agreement before the end of this year will not happen.


Palestinian hopes maybe built on sentiments rather than reality. The former first lady may be viewed in positive light because of the fact that under the two terms of her husband, Bill Clinton, the peace process was flying high. Palestinian leaders were regular visitors to Washington and the White House. President Clinton embraced peace efforts and invested much of his time and good will in trying to bring the two sides closer than they had ever been to a final agreement.


Hillary accompanied her husband on a historic visit to Gaza Strip, as guests of Yasser Arafat, in 1998 where she toured refugee camps and expressed sympathy with the plight of Palestinians. But that was almost a decade ago.


Clinton of the present is a sophisticated political animal. Until early this year she was running a vicious campaign to win the nomination of her party to contest the US presidential elections. She lost to Obama. But even before that she had become a heavyweight politician after winning her seat as senator for the state of New York in 2000 where Jewish votes tilted in her favor. Sitting on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton’s defense of Israeli policies was characteristic. She had voted for the Iraq war resolution, although she, like most of her party colleagues, became a critic of the Bush policies in Iraq.


Ehud Olmert welcomed her nomination as secretary of state and described her as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people. Hamas was not so enthusiastic. Most Arab governments were silent. The Iranians still remember Clinton’s direct threat that she will “obliterate” Iran if it attacks Israel.


Obama’s decision to keep Robert Gates at the helm of the Pentagon should have come as good news to the Al-Maliki government in Baghdad. Under his watch most strategic understandings with the Iraq government were reached. He had implemented the military surge with considerable success and struck alliances with Sunni tribes, which were instrumental in chasing out Al-Qaida from their traditional strongholds in Al-Anbar and other provinces.


And although Gates was member of the Iraq Study Group (The Baker-Hamilton bipartisan committee), which in 2006 made recommendations for a phased-out withdrawal, Obama’s decision to keep him is expected to influence the new president’s desire to quit Iraq as soon as possible. So will his new national security adviser, retired Navy Gen. Jim Jones, who has expressed reservations about a quick pullout from Iraq. Since 2007 Jones has been working as special envoy for Middle East security with the Palestinians and Israelis.


Jones’ appointment to a sensitive position was met with reservation in security circles in Israel because of comments Jones has supposedly made criticizing Israeli policies in the occupied territories.


The Syrians will probably be happy with Obama’s new team. Gates, again as former member of the ISG, favors dialogue with Damascus as a way to distance Syria from Tehran and influence its relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas.


It is too early to make a full reading of Obama’s Middle East policy. We know that he will be personally involved in guiding his team. And we also know that he will dedicate a good deal to shaping strategies on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has warned that the Bush administration had taken its eye off Afghanistan and said that his priority will be to refocus the war effort on that country.


And we know that he will have to decide on how to deal with Iran, which continues to enrich uranium and has rejected US and European compromises. For Israel taking out the so-called Iranian threat will remain a priority. Some Arab analysts have warned recently that Israel may force that issue on the new president by launching a pre-emptive strike in the coming few weeks.


But we also know that the new president will be busy in the first few months of his term with the crisis that is crippling the US economy. That’s not so good news for the Palestinians who are running out of time and are incapable of stopping unilateral Israeli actions in the territories. Furthermore, failure to end the Gaza siege or reach a deal with Hamas has further weakened Mahmoud Abbas, who will face a constitutional challenge in the first week of January when his term comes to an end.


US pundits have applauded Obama’s national security team, although some have challenged his mantra of bringing change to Washington. He will need a seasoned team as he faces his first immediate foreign policy test in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the stressed relations between Delhi and Islamabad, two nuclear powers that are both close allies.


The Middle East will feature high on the new administration’s agenda regardless of how Obama will like to arrange his priorities. The region is suffering from a number of crises and while each is as important as the other, each will need a new approach. Sadly some issues will deteriorate as the new Obama team works out a new game plan.


— Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist based in Jordan.        



Editorial: Mideast hopes on Obama

10 December 2008

 Wednesday 10 December 2008 (12 Dhul Hijjah 1429)


It is too early to start judging US President-elect Barack Obama and his policies when he has not even been sworn into office. But it is not too early to start worrying about what he may or may not do, particularly when it comes to the Middle East.


His appointment of a number of dyed-in-the-wool Zionists to crucial positions in the incoming administration, not least Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, has already caused considerable concern. A sense of foreboding that his administration may yet turn out to be as pro-Israeli as Bush’s, if not more, is unlikely to be diminished by the appointment as his national security adviser of Gen. James Jones. He is the man who two months ago said nothing is “more important” to security in the Middle East than a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and who, in a report to Condoleezza Rice in August, was highly critical of Israeli policies in the occupied territories (a report that the White House chose not to publish). What about his choice of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state?


Despite earlier stories of sympathy for the Palestinians, she has been a stern critic of them since becoming a senator for New York. It has won her strong support among Israelis; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gushed enthusiasm at her appointment as secretary of state, calling her a long-term friend of Israel who would continue to advance the two country’s special relationship. Is there any reason to doubt him?


Some may see her as someone of few fixed principles whose hostility to the Palestinians will vanish now that she is saying goodbye to her senatorial seat in New York. Only time will tell. For the moment, however, there are other, more immediate reasons to be worried about the new administration’s policies on the Middle East. One is Obama’s interview on Sunday for NBC’s “Meet the Press”. It is not that he declared an abiding support for Israel or antipathy to the Palestinians. The problem is that he did not mention the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at all. That might have been understandable if the interview was about the economy or the transition of power. It was. But it was also about foreign policy. The only reference to the subject was in reply to a question on Iran, in which he, echoing the Bush White House, called Hamas (and Hezbollah) terrorists and condemned the Iranians “threats” against Israel.


The Israeli-Palestinian dispute does not appear to be on his agenda. That is all the more worrying because he will enter the White House just 20 days before the Israeli elections — elections that are likely to result in the most hard-line Israeli government in memory. Polls indicate that Likud will sweep to power. Not only is it led by Benjamin Netanyahu, as uncompromising as ever, it is now dominated by hawks. Only yesterday they won the party’s primary contest to stand as its candidates for Parliament. If the US president-elect thinks that the Middle East can wait till he takes office, he is mistaken. Netanyahu had already made it clear that Palestinian sovereignty and discussions about territory are not going to happen while he is prime minister. Any plans that the Obama team may have to launch a Middle East peace initiative require it send out unmistakable signals to the Israeli electorate now, before the Israeli election, that Likud’s policies are going to result in a clash with the US, that an Obama administration will respond negatively to an intransigent Israel.


It is this lack of any sign, not just of a change in direction but any sign at all regarding the Middle East, that is so worrying and so perplexing. No change means things will get worse. The Middle East will fester and, in festering, become more dangerous — for itself and for the world. Hope dashed, and there has been so much hope in Obama in the Middle East, can be far more deadly than continuing resentment.



Professor Asma Ismail: Living for a cause

P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News

Saturday 6 December 2008 (08 Dhul Hijjah 1429)          


Professor Asma Ismail is the deputy vice chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and director of the Institute for Research in Molecular Medicine (INFORMM) at the university. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Young Scientist Award, International Federation of Inventors Award for Outstanding Malaysian Women Inventor, AvonTan Sri Fatimah Malaysian Women of Distinction Award, National Invention Award and National Innovation Award.


Asma, who holds a doctoral degree in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Nevada, started her career as a lecturer at USM's School of Medical Sciences in 1986. She was a visiting scientist at University of Tokyo in 1989 and a visiting fellow at the Medical College, St Bartholomew's Hospital in London in 1992. In 2001, she became the director of the Centre for Medical Innovations and Technology Development at USM before becoming the director of INFORMM two years later.


Professor Asma, who specializes in proteomics and its application in the rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases especially typhoid fever, is an inspiring personality. Her studies on specific biomarkers led to the discovery of an antigenically specific 50kDa of Salmonella typhi. She is one of the scientists credited with the translation of the scientific discovery into four rapid diagnostic kits for typhoid that have been successfully commercialized globally. She has applied for 26 patents worldwide of which seven has been granted. Speaking to Arab News, Asma said INFORMM has been successful in adopting a closed cycle concept of research, development, commercialization and the setting up of knowledge-based spin-offs in one entity. "This concept led to the discovery of specific biomarkers and the development of innovative and rapid molecular diagnostic kits (protein and DNAbased) against infectious diseases and tropical diseases," she said.


Kits for pharmacogenomic purposes have also been developed to facilitate drug trials and pharmacogenetic understanding of the human response to drugs especially for AIDS. "These innovative diagnostic kits provide solutions to reduce inequity and enhance sustainability values of accessibility, affordability and availability," she said, insisting that diagnostics should be made affordable to Third World countries.


"If companies make diagnostics accessible to poor countries through profit minimization they will be able to earn more profits by targeting the world's four billion poor," she pointed out. "A diagnostic system that costs $10 in the United States can be made available for $1 in our countries. We have to make R&D relevant for our people and countries," she said.


INFORMM's healthcare R&D targets include OIC member countries and other Asian developing and underdeveloped countries. The Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank selected INFORMM for its Science & Technology Award this year in recognition of its outstanding scientific contributions to the socioeconomic development of Malaysia. INFORMM created innovative and affordable diagnostics to treat infectious diseases. "We hope our scientific achievements can help develop and create an impact to the poor and vulnerable in the Islamic countries," she stated.


Asma believes that the IDB's cash award would support INFORMM's activities in producing sustainable diagnostics to treat burdensome infectious diseases in the poor countries. The award money will also be utilized to ensure the competitiveness of the institute's products in the global market as well as to train graduate students to learn and acquire a technology or a skill that would enhance product development, she said. "We would like develop more diagnostics that address local problems and the solutions created can be utilized to solve global problems as well," she said.


Asma expressed her delight over winning the prestigious award. "As an INFORMMer, we feel honoured yet humbled to receive this award," Asma said. "Despite being a young institute that has completed just five years, INFORMM was chosen for the award. I hope this award will encourage other centres of excellence in Malaysia to prove their competence to win the award," she said, adding that INFORMM was the first research institute in Malaysia to receive such an IDB award. Asma also spoke about the institute's cooperation with international scientific and research centres. "We have reached partnership with Finlay Institute of Havana, to develop diagnostics for typhoid, cholera, dysentery and tuberculosis using monoclonal antibodies and immunochromatography technology platforms," she said. In the quest of developing cheap microfluidics diagnostics, a device has been developed in collaboration with Deakin University, Australia. The device can replace the conventional PCR machine for DNA diagnostics and deliver results within 30 minutes. "In the area of pharmacogenomics, we have a strong collaboration with Yale University in the development and advancement of pharmacogenomics especially to treat AIDS," she said.


"Our institute has a team of people (academic and support staff) with ambitions to strive to be the best that we can be in everything that we are committed to. We believe that geographical location should not be a barrier in trying to make a difference in the world," she said. "Even though we are only a force of 10 academics and 40 support staff, we dared to dream big and dared to hope that our innovations can help reduce inequity in the world. Our success story reflects in part, Malaysia's scientific capability and ability to create an impact on society and on the world. We want make use of science for the welfare of humanity. To INFORMMers, the future is not where we are going but what we are creating."