Sunday 28 February 2010

Texas pilot air attack on US tax office: Terrorism or Not?

The Obama administration's refusal to acknowledge last week's plane attack at a government facility in Texas as terrorist shows a double-standard approach to what does and does not constitute an act of terrorism, with the label seemingly being reserved exclusively to acts committed by Muslims.

"It should definitely be classified as a terror act," Professor Michael Greenberger, Director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security (CHHS) at the University of Maryland, told

On Thursday morning, Joseph Stack, a 53-year-old software engineer, deliberately crashed a small aircraft into the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) building in Austin, Texas, engulfing it in flames and killing at least one person in addition to himself.

In a suicide note left behind, Stack railed against the US government, complaining about being taxed twice by the IRS and losing tens of thousands of dollars.

Stack wrote that he ultimately resolved that "violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."

Still White House press officials refused to describe the attack as an act of terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security denied "a nexus" to terrorist activity.

Austin police chief insisted that the attack was not an act of terrorism.

But law and security experts affirm that flying an aircraft into a building full of people because of personal grudge against the government or for making a political statement should undoubtedly be labeled as terrorist.

"If we look at the books then this act is clearly an act of terrorism," maintains Greenberger.

"Terrorism is defined as committing a terror act with the aim of changing the government policy. While the criminal act is a purely personal action which affects individuals and which is not meant to change a public policy."

Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Oklahoma-based organization that fights extremism and hate crimes, agrees.

"If a person does an action to make a political statement or driven by ideology, it is counted as terrorism," he told IOL.

"Clearly ideology motivated, at least partially, this man’s act."

Read the complete article here.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Israel annexing Muslim places of worship as Israeli Heritage sites

As fury still raging over Israel’s decision to annex two mosques in the occupied West Bank, the world’s largest Muslim bloc has called for action over the provocative plan to add the two Muslim holy sites to the Jewish heritage sites.

“The OIC Group stresses the illegality and illegitimacy of the Israeli government's decision and considers it as null and void and without any effect whatsoever,” the Organization of the Islamic Conference said in a statement read by Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s permanent representative to the UN.

Members of the 57-member organization met at the UN Headquarters to discuss Israel’s decision to add the Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil (Hebron) and Bilal Mosque in Bethlehem to its Jewish heritage sites.

“The OIC Group calls on the international appropriate bodies… to compel the Israeli government to revoke its aggressive and irresponsible decisions in this regard.”

Hawkish Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu added the two Muslim holy sites last week to a list of 150 so-called Jewish heritage sites that would be renovated to reconnect Israelis to their history.

The two mosques were not included in the original plan which was first presented by Netanyahu on February 3.

But under pressure from right-wing ministers, Netanyahu decided to add the two sites to the plan.

The Israeli decision has provoked anger inside the occupied Palestinian lands and drew worldwide condemnation.

On Thursday, the US denounced the Israeli annexation plan as “provocative”.

"We have raised this directly with the Israeli government," said US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.

"We have asked both parties to refrain from provocative and unilateral actions that undermine efforts to resume negotiations to end the conflict."

Built in 635 A.D., the Ibrahimi Mosque is one of the first Muslim worship places in Palestine.

But Jewish extremists claim the two sites, known to Israelis as the Cave of the Patriachs and Rachel's Tomb, belong to historical Jewish heritage.

The mosques’ annexation plan has even sparked furor inside Israel.

"Netanyahu has shown once again that he is incapable of standing up to pressure," mass-circulation daily Haaretz said.

It described the hard-line premier a "master pyromaniac", recalling that it was Netanyahu who during a previous term as premier in 1996 sparked bloody riots in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) by ordering the opening of a tunnel under the Al-Asqa mosque.

It warned that the move opens “a Pandora's box at a time when the world is looking for a resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The right-wing daily Maariv also accused Netanyahu of “having learnt nothing from the past.”

Protests have swept the occupied Palestinian lands since the Israeli decision, with daily clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and occupation forces.

Palestinian organizations declared Friday, which commemorates the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), a day of popular protest across the occupied lands.

The silence of Israel's liberals

Interesting analysis by Carlo Strenger in The Guardian:

It is not a pleasant experience to look at Israel's image in the world nowadays, to put it mildly. To the extent the country makes the headlines, it is in the context of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead, the latest outlandish statement of foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman or Israel's continuing occupation of large parts of the West Bank. Israel's negative image is reflected in events such as ambassador Michael Oren being heckled on University of California Irvine campus and deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon apparently being threatenedduring an appearance at Oxford University.

Ultimately Israel's standing in the world hinges on one central factor: the continuing occupation of large parts of the West Bank and maintaining dozens of mini-settlements there. To protect these, Israel maintains hundreds of roadblocks that make Palestinian lives miserable. Binyamin Netanyahu's government has been playing hide-and-seek with the international community about the cessation of construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. His only tangible achievement is to have survived his first year in office without a major crisis with the US while keeping his rightwing coalition intact.

Looking at this small-time bickering and manoeuvring, most liberal Israelis experience a combination of dismay and often outright disgust. But, as Aluf Benn has pointed out recently, most Israelis feel politically quite apathetic – and Israel's liberals are hardly heard anymore. While I think the observation is correct, I disagree with his diagnosis: I think that the reason for the political apathy of Israel's citizenry is not lack of concern, but fear and hopelessness. In private conversation many Israelis are afraid that Israel will not survive in the long term; that at best it will remain in a state of low-intensity warfare, and at worst involved in bloody confrontations with its neighbours.

The contrast between Israel's human, cultural, social, and economic reality and the paralysis maintained by its political class is stunning. First-time visitors from abroad are often surprised: based on what they see in the news they expect a backward, theocratic police state, and instead they find a vibrant, liberal country. They meet outgoing, curious, ambitious people who are open to the world. They see an economy based on entrepreneurship and a cultural scene that is dominated by liberal voices. No wonder they have difficulty connecting what they see to politicians like Lieberman or Eli Yishai whose attitude towards the world is run by deep suspicion, lack of civility and totally devoid of geopolitical sophistication, never mind moral sensitivity.

Why then this contrast between Israel's human and cultural reality and its political class? Israel's liberal citizenry has all but disappeared from the political scene: Until the late 1990s, the square in Tel Aviv renamed afterYitzhak Rabin after his assassination was the scene of demonstrations that hundreds of thousands attended: against Sharon after the massacre of Sabra and Shatila; for peace – including the rally at which Rabin was murdered. In the last years Rabin Square has not seen any major demonstrations of Israel's liberals.

What has changed, then? For outside observers it may be difficult to understand to what extent Israel's liberals were disempowered by the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000 and the ensuing second intifada. It is difficult to understand how traumatic the continuing shelling of southern Israel after the disengagement from the Gaza Strip has been. For many Israelis this meant that the promise of Israel's left, Peace Now, had been shattered. The prediction that if Israel would offer the two-state solution along the 1967 borders, Palestinians would accept it, turned out to be wrong. Israel's electorate never forgave the left for the failure of this prediction, and all but wiped it out in the last elections.

Hence the paradox of Israel's current state of mind: two-thirds of the electorate consistently supports the two-state solution, but the vote goes ever more to the right. Israelis want the two-state solution, but are deeply afraid of implementing it. As a result they vote for politicians who address their fears rather than for those who offer hope – because they feel there is no hope they can believe in. These politicians, in turn, do everything to further isolate Israel with often boorish behaviour, thus reinforcing Israelis' fears that they can depend only on military force for survival. The result is a form of moral numbness, in which criticism is shrugged off as another one of the relentless attacks on Israel.

Is there a potential comeback for Israel's liberal wing? I wish I had a hopeful conclusion, but recent developments are making me ever more pessimistic. Tsipi Livni, who looked like a ray of hope, is having trouble keeping her Kadima party together. Labour leader and defence ministerEhud Barak has taken the last bit of credibility from the Labour party; and the left-leaning Meretz party has become a defunct fig-leaf without any relevance.

And while I tend to think that Netanyahu has made a strategic choice for the two-state solution, there is no way he can implement it with his current coalition. The only short-term scenario that could initiate some change would be for Netanyahu to sever his ties with Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party and to form a government together with Kadima based on an unequivocal acceptance of the two-state solution and immediate dismantling of isolated settlements.

For the time being the vibrant, creative and liberal Israel that I know continues to express itself in literature, film and music; it continues to work through countless NGOs devoted to causes ranging from supporting Palestinian mental health institutions to ecological initiatives; its creative energies are felt daily in academia and the thriving world of Israeli startups. I hope that it will awaken from its political paralysis before it is too late.

Friday 26 February 2010

Hadith: Praise and Thank Allah

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said God suggested turning a valley into gold for his use, but he replied: "No, my Lord, but let me have enough to eat and be hungry on alternate days. Then when I am hungry, I shall make supplication to Thee and make mention of Thee, and when I have enough (to eat) I shall praise and thank Thee."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1353

Photo source:

Maria Toor: Waziristan’s Women Squash Champion

South Waziristan always makes local and international headlines as the epicenter of militancy in Pakistan and the stronghold of the feared Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

But Maria Toor, the women squash champion of Pakistan, offers a soft face of the restive mountaineer region and hopes to help clear stereotypes about her homeland.

"My people are wonderful. It’s only a myth that there are only militants or hardliners," Maria, 20, told

"My area has produced a number of people who have proven themselves in different walks of life."

Recalling her childhood days in the town of Shakai, a witty Maria says she used to fight with boys in the streets, which ultimately helped her become a strong and independent woman.

"My father raised me as a boy, and I too have always considered myself a boy," she said, noting that this why her first sport choices was weightlifting.

She disguised herself as a boy to take part in her first ever sports event, which was a weightlifting championship in Peshawar.

"I beat all male players in that championship," laughed Maria, with short hair boyishly cut above her neck.

However, due to the lack of facilities for women weightlifters, she decided to give up the sport, though she still thinks she had the potential to excel in that field.

Maria met former world squash champion Jansher Khan in Peshawar in 2002, sparking her interest in the sport.

Two years later, she became Pakistan’s top female squash player and is currently seeded 85 on the World Squash Federation ranking.

Maria gives credit to her father for all her achievements.

"It’s my father who has brought me here. He had to migrate from Waziristan to Peshawar because he did not accept the so-called tribal traditions, which have nothing to do with Islam."

Her father Shams-ul-Qayyum, a government servant, is a traditional Pashtun who wears the traditional Shalwar Kameez (lose trouser and shirt) and sports a long beard.

He hails from the Wazir tribe, the second largest tribe in South Waziristan after Mehsuds.

He was the first ever man in the tribal area to allow his wife to take the central superior services exams to become part of the government's administration.

"My mother was the first ever woman from Waziristan who appeared in the CSS exams," said Maria.

But by allowing his wife to remove her face-veil, to appear in the CSS exams, Shams-ul-Qayyum violated the centuries-long traditions of the tribal area.

For that, he had to leave with his wife and children.

"I do not regret what I did," he told IOL proudly.

"I did everything for my daughter and other children. I would just say that I am proud of my daughter."

Maria admits that there is a little room for women in normal course of life in rugged Waziristan.

"For a majority of women and girls their boundary walls are everything," she notes.

"It’s the entire world for them, which definitely is because of local culture and tribal traditions."

The squash champion insists, however, that this has nothing to do with Islam which is the biggest exponent of women rights.

"Islam doesn’t forbid women to excel in every walk of life," Maria insists.

"I believe that Islam has granted more rights to women than any other religion. And I also believe that we girls should not misuse these rights."

The young lady is preparing to travel to Cambridge University for a five-year scholarship.

"I am not going forever," she says with a big smile on her face.

"Inshaullah I will come back and will struggle to change the lives of our women."

Thursday 25 February 2010

On Jesus (peace be upon him) and Gays

British pop singer Elton John has provoked Christian outrage worldwide over remarks that Jesus Christ was homosexual.

“Jesus was certainly compassionate, but to say he was 'super-intelligent' is to compare the son of God to a successful game-show contestant,” Bill Donohue, president of The Catholic League, the largest US Catholic rights group, said in a statement cited by Australia’s Sky News on Saturday, February 20.

“More seriously, to call Jesus a homosexual is to label him a sexual deviant.

“What else would we expect from a man who previously said, 'From my point of view, I would ban religion completely'?”

The controversial pop star has described Jesus as a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man”.

“On the cross, he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don't know what makes people so cruel,” John, who is a gay, told US celebrity news magazine Parade on Friday.

Donohue, the US Catholic leader, accused the pop star of ignorance and intolerance.

“In any event, if we thought we could persuade him to issue an apology, we would try. But given his recidivism, we won’t even bother to ask,” he said.

“One thing is clear: someone needs to straighten John out.”

Christian leaders accused the British singer of seeking to draw media attention.

"Had a senior political figure made these comments, I would have had an opinion,” said Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute.

“But this is Elton John and I don't think anybody takes him seriously."

Stephen Green, director of Christian Voice, agreed.

“This is a desperate cry for attention," he said, describing John’s statements as “rubbish”.

"The Bible says Jesus was without sin and that rules out homosexuality.”

Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the great Prophets of God and that he is the son of Mary but not the Son of God. He was conceived and born miraculously.

In the Noble Qur’an, Jesus is called "Isa". He is also known as Al-Masih (the Christ) and Ibn Maryam (Son of Mary).

As for his crucifixion, Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified but was lifted up to heaven.

Muslims believe that Jesus will come back to earth before the end of time to restore peace and order, fight the Anti-Christ (Al-Masih Al-Dajjal) and bring victory for truth and righteousness.

The true followers of Jesus will prevail over those who deny him, misrepresent him and reject him.

In the Holy Quran, Allah says:

(Say ye: we believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord: we make no difference between one and another of them: and we bow to Allah (in Islam).) (Al-Baqarah 2: 136)

(Behold! the angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth Thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.) (Aal `Imran 3: 45)
Meanwhile in Kenya:

Muslim and Christian residents of Mtwapa, a district in the outskirts of the port city of Mombassa, recently joined hands in disrupting a planned nuptial involving two local tribesmen on the ground of being completely an alien practice in their largely conservative community.

"It is just something that we used to hear about and it never occurred to the back of my mind that it will happen here in Africa," Mustapha Said, a Muslim resident, told

Two men had wanted to make their wedding ceremony public but in vain.

Local Muslim and Christian communities who reside in the small coastal town went on rampage to disrupt the ceremony.

The two men, whose identities have not been revealed, were taken into custody after the controversial incident.

"We are really worried for our future and we don’t want Africa to embrace an alien practice like homosexuality," said Maymuna Salim, a 26-year-old Muslim woman.

The faltered gay wedding ceremony would have been the first public same-sex marriage in the East African country.

Homosexuality is legally prohibited in Kenya and statutes which date back to the colonial period provide for prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Africa has put a strong resistance for same-sex marriages on grounds of religion, belief and conscience.

In 2006, South Africa became the first in Africa, and fifth in the world, to legalize same-sex marriage.

But defiant Africa remains one of the most homophobic places in the world.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Mossad's secret wars

From Al Jazeera and The Guardian:

For more than half a century, the Mossad has been blamed for numerous killings around the world, and is often at the centre of conspiracy theories, including those surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 1998 Lockerbie bombing and the 911 attacks in the US.
While some of its actions have been celebrated within Israel, the organisation has at times come under criticism for disrespecting the sovereignty of other nations and has been accused of violating international law.

The Mossad was established in 1951 by David Ben-Gurion, the then prime minister of newly-formed Israel, who set out that the intelligence apparatus would provide the "first line of defence" at a time when Israel, he said, was "under siege by its enemies".

It eventually adopted a verse from the Book of Proverbs: "Without guidance do a people fall, and deliverance is in a multitude of counsellors" as both a motto and a warning to its enemies.

While the secretive organisation forms one of three intelligence entities - Shin Bet (internal security) and military intelligence are the other two - its director reports directly to the prime minister.

Mossad has built itself a formidable reputation, not only through suspected assassinations but also successful rescue operations and intelligence missions, such as the freeing of 100 hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976.
The first notable victory came in 1960, when its agents kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal living in Argentina, who was then smuggled into Israel where he was tried and executed two years later.

While Eichmann's capture propelled Ben-Gurion to receive a standing ovation in Israel's Knesset, Argentina complained to the United Nations that its sovereignty had been violated.

Subsequently the UN Security Council passed a resolution saying that such acts, if repeated, could endanger international peace and security.

But such acts were repeated and the UN Security Council's resolution could not prevent Israeli intelligence agents from operating on foreign soil again.

During the 1970s, Mossad agents assassinated a number of people said to be connected with the Black September group, which had killed 11 Israeli athletes and a coach at the 1972 Munich Olympic games.

The so-called Operation Wrath of God, which aimed to hunt down those responsible for the attacks, began with the killing of Wael Zwaiter, a Palestinian translator living in Rome, whom Israel accused of being a Black September commander.

Although his supporters say he was an intellectual with no conclusive links to the Black September group, Zwaiter was shot dead by agents as he walked home late on the evening of October 16, 1972.

Mahmoud Hamshari, who Israel said was the head of Black September in France, was killed by a bomb that was detonated after he picked up the phone in his Paris apartment in December 1972.

Nearly one year later Israeli agents targeted Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan waiter working in Lillehammer, Norway, who Mossad had confused with Ali Hassan Salameh, one of the Black September leaders.

He was shot dead in front of his pregnant wife as they emerged from a cinema on July 21, 1973.

When the Mossad agents tried to leave the country, six of them were arrested and sentenced to prison terms in Norway.

Ali Hassan Salameh was eventually tracked down by the organisation and killed by a car bomb in Beirut, Lebanon in January 1979, which reportedly killed eight other people.

Palestinians have always claimed, however, that many of those assassinated in Operation Wrath of God were not involved with Black September and were instead advocates of dialogue with Israel.

Last November, a sharp-eyed Israeli woman named Niva Ben-Harush was alarmed to notice a young man attaching something that looked suspiciously like a bomb to the underside of a car in a quiet street near Tel Aviv port. When police arrested him, he claimed to be an agent of the Mossad secret service taking part in a training exercise: his story turned out to be true – though the bomb was a fake.

No comment was forthcoming from the Israeli prime minister's office, which formally speaks for – but invariably says nothing about – the country's world-famous espionage organisation. The bungling bomber was just a brief item on that evening's local TV news.

There was, however, a far bigger story – one that echoed across the globe – two years ago this week, when a bomb in a Pajero jeep in Damascus decapitated a man named Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was the military leader of Lebanon's Shia movement Hizbullah, an ally of Iran, and was wanted by the US, France and half a dozen other countries. Israel never went beyond cryptic nodding and winking about that killing in the heart of the Syrian capital, but it is widely believed to have been one of its most daring and sophisticated clandestine operations.

The Mossad, like other intelligence services, tends to attract attention only when something goes wrong, or when it boasts a spectacular success and wants to send a warning signal to its enemies. Last month's assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai, now at the centre of a white-hot diplomatic row between Israel and Britain, is a curious mixture of both.

With its cloned foreign passports, multiple disguises, state-of-the-art communications and the murder of alleged arms smuggler Mahmoud al-Mabhouh – one of the few elements of the plot that was not captured on the emirate's CCTV cameras – it is a riveting tale of professional chutzpah, violence and cold calculation. And with the Palestinian Islamist movement now vowing to take revenge, it seems grimly certain that it will bring more bloodshed in its wake.

The images from Dubai follow the biblical injunction (and the Mossad's old motto):"By way of deception thou shalt make war." The agency's job, its website explains more prosaically, is to "collect information, analyse intelligence and perform special covert operations beyond [Israel's] borders."

Founded in 1948 along with the new Jewish state, the Mossad largely stayed in the shadows in its early years. Yitzhak Shamir, a former Stern Gang terrorist and future prime minister, ran operations targeting German scientists who were helping Nasser's Egypt build rockets – foreshadowing later Israeli campaigns to disrupt Iraqi and (continuing) Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear and other weapons.

The Mossad's most celebrated exploits included the abduction of the fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was later tried and hanged in Israel. Others were organising the defection of an Iraqi pilot who flew his MiG-21 to Israel, and support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels against Baghdad. Military secrets acquired by Elie Cohen, the infamous spy who penetrated the Syrian leadership, helped Israel conquer the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war.

It was after that that the service's role expanded to fight the Palestinians, who had been galvanised under Yasser Arafat into resisting Israel in the newly occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The 1970s saw the so-called "war of the spooks" with Mossad officers, operating under diplomatic cover abroad, recruiting and running informants in Fatah and other Palestinian groups. Baruch Cohen, an Arabic speaker on loan to the Mossad from the Shin Bet internal security service, was shot in a Madrid cafe by his own agent. Bassam Abu Sharif, of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was badly disfigured by a Mossad parcel bomb sent to him in Beirut.

Steven Spielberg's 2006 film Munich helped mythologise the Mossad's hunt for the Black September terrorists who massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Eleven of them were eliminated in killings across Europe, culminating in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer, where a Moroccan waiter was mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, the Munich plot's mastermind. Salameh was eventually killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 1979 – the sort of incident that made Lebanese and Palestinians sit up and notice last year's botched training episode in Tel Aviv.

Some details of the assassination of Mabhouh last month echo elements of the campaign against Black September – which ended with the catastrophic arrest of five Mossad agents. Sylvia Raphael, a South African-born Christian with a Jewish father, spent five years in a Norwegian prison; she may have been among the young Europeans in Israel who were discreetly asked, in nondescript offices in Tel Aviv, if they wished to volunteer for sensitive work involving Israel's security. Other agents who had been exposed had to be recalled, safe houses abandoned, phone numbers changed and operational methods modified.

Over the years, the Mossad's image has been badly tarnished at home as well as abroad. It was blamed in part for failing to get wind of Egyptian-Syrian plans for the devastating attack that launched the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Critics wondered whether the spies had got their priorities right by focusing on hunting down Palestinian gunmen in the back alleys of European cities, when they should have been stealing secrets in Cairo and Damascus. The Mossad also played a significant, though still little-known, role in the covert supply of arms to Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran to help fight Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as part of the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan's presidency.

It has, in addition, suffered occasional blows from its own disgruntled employees. In 1990, a Canadian-born former officer called Victor Ostrovsky blew the whistle on its internal organisation, training and methods, revealing codenames including "Kidon" (bayonet), the unit in charge of assassinations. An official smear campaign failed to stop Ostrovsky's book, so the agency kept quiet when another ostensibly inside account came out in 2007. It described the use of shortwave radios for sending encoded transmissions, operations in Iran for collecting soil samples, and joint operations with the CIA against Hezbollah.

But the worst own goal came in 1997, during Binyamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister. Mossad agents tried but failed to assassinate Khaled Mash'al – the same Hamas leader who is now warning of retaliation for Mabhouh's murder – by injecting poison into his ear in Amman, Jordan. Using forged Canadian passports, they fled to the Israeli embassy, triggering outrage and a huge diplomatic crisis with Jordan. Danny Yatom, the then Mossad chief, was forced to quit. Ephraim Halevy, a quietly spoken former Londoner, was brought back from retirement to clear up the mess.

The Dubai assassination, however, may yet turn out to be far more damaging – not least because the political and diplomatic context has changed in the last decade. Israel's reputation has suffered an unprecedented battering, reaching a new low during last year's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. "In the current climate, the traces left behind in Dubai are likely to lead to very serious harm to Israel's international standing," the former diplomat Alon Liel commented yesterday.

Even though Israel is maintaining its traditional policy of "ambiguity" about clandestine operations, refusing to confirm or deny any involvement in Dubai, nobody in the world seems to seriously question it. That includes almost all Israeli commentators, who are bound by the rules of military censorship in a small and talkative country where secrets are often quite widely known.

It would be surprising if a key part of this extraordinary story did not turn out to be the role played by Palestinians. It is still Mossad practice to recruit double agents, just as it was with the PLO back in the 1970s. News of the arrest in Damascus of another senior Hamas operative – though denied by Mash'al – seems to point in this direction. Two other Palestinians extradited from Jordan to Dubai are members of the Hamas armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, suggesting treachery may indeed have been involved. Previous assassinations have involved a Palestinian agent identifying the target.

Yossi Melman, the expert on intelligence for Israel's Haaretz newspaper, worries that, as before the 1973 war, the Israeli government may be getting it wrong by focusing on the wrong enemy – the Palestinians – instead of prioritising Iran and Hizbullah.

"The Mossad is not Murder Inc, like the Mafia; its goal is not to take vengeance on its enemies," he wrote this week. "'Special operations' like the assassination in Dubai – if this indeed was a Mossad operation – have always accounted for a relatively small proportion of its overall activity. Nevertheless, these are the operations that give the organisation its halo, its shining image. This is ultimately liable to blind its own ranks, cause them to become intoxicated by their own success, and thus divert their attention from their primary mission."

From an official Israeli point of view, the Mossad has an important job to do. Its reputation for ruthlessness and cunning remains a powerful asset, prompting what sometimes sounds like grudging admiration as well as loathing in the Arab world – where a predisposition for conspiracy theories boosts the effect of the disinformation and psychological warfare at which the Israelis are said to excel.

The government's official narrative, of course, is that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that pioneered horrific suicide bombings, fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian targets and – despite occasional signs of pragmatism or readiness for a temporary truce or prisoner swap – remains dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. It refuses to admit that its ever-expanding West Bank settlements remains a significant barrier to peace.

In western countries, including Britain, there was widespread anger at the 1,400 Palestinian casualties of the Gaza war. Barack Obama has declared the occupation "intolerable". Netanyahu heads the most rightwing coalition in Israel's history; his famous quip that the Middle East is a "tough neighbourhood" no longer seems to justify playing dirty.

Yet Israelis, and not just those on the right, worry that their very existence as an independent state is being de-legitimised. And, judging by the jobs section of the Mossad website, there are still plenty of opportunities for Israel's wannabe spies: challenging positions are available for researchers, analysts, security officers, codebreakers and other technical work. Speakers of Arabic and Persian are invited to apply to be intelligence officers.The work involves travel abroad and a "young and unconventional" environment.

It is a novelty of this episode that ordinary Israeli citizens are angry that their identities appear to have been stolen by their own government's secret servants – one reason why the Mossad chief Meir Dagan may find his days are numbered. But it is hard not to detect an undercurrent of popular admiration for the killers of Mabhouh. The day after the sensational CCTV images and passport photos were shown, the Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe'er reached the quarter-finals of a major international competition in the emirate. "Another successful operation in Dubai," the Ynet website headlined its story.

Ofer Kasti, Haaretz's education correspondent, did not have his passport cloned, but he does bear a striking resemblance to the hit-squad member named as Kevin Daveron. "My mum rang and asked gently if I'd been abroad recently," he wrote. "Friends asked me why I hadn't brought back any cigarettes from the duty free shop in Dubai. I thought I sensed admiring glances in the street. 'Well done,' said an elderly woman who came up to me in the supermarket and clapped me the shoulder. 'You showed those Arabs.'"

More on Muslim Innovations and Science

1001 Muslim Innovations, Ancient Knowledge Passed Through the Ages

Many Muslim scientists like Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, known in the West as Alhazen, and Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (Algorithmi), made great contributions that shaped the modern world. In the 9th century, Muslim inventor Abbas ibn Firnas was the first to design and test a flying machine, hundreds of years before da Vinci drew plans of his own. Hospitals as we know them today believed to have come from 9th century Egypt.

A replica of the first person said to have flown with wings is displayed at the science museum in central London on January 21, 2010. The debt owed by European scholars to their Muslim counterparts on everything from water pumps and blood circulation to engineering and map-making was unveiled in a London exhibition on January 21.

Coffee, computers and piston engines - could we imagine a world without them? These are intricate parts of every day life for most of us and the knowledge that led to them was either invented by or passed down through the ancient Muslim world. That is the theme of an exhibit in London's Science Museum and it's a far cry from the view held by some that the Muslim and Western World represent a "clash of civilizations."

A simple cup of coffee has become an intricate part of so many cultures. It's called "Kawha"- where it was first developed as a drink - in the Arabian Peninsula, in today's Yemen.

Professor Salim al-Hassani of the University of Manchester explains the coffee beans were actually brought to Yemen from the Horn of Africa, from Ethiopia.

"Well of course, coffee was invented in the very early years of Islam - a guy called Khaled in Ethiopia, a young man looking after his sheep," al-Hassani said.

The sheep seemed to like the beans. So the young man took the beans to Yemen - the story goes - and the drink was developed and spread like wildfire.

And there were many other inventions or innovations passed on by the early Muslim world from the 7th Century onward, says Hassani.

"One of them is the invention of the university. This was done in the year 850 by a young lady called Fatima al-Fihri in the city of Fez in Morocco," al-Hassani said. "The first university as we know it in the world, giving degrees and so on."

And that's the theme of this exhibit at the London Science Museum. It's called 1001 inventions: the Muslim Heritage, a bit like "1001 Arabian Nights," the well known fairy tale.

The exhibit in London focuses on scientific or technological inventions and advances that changed our world - from some of the earliest universities, to innovations in medicine, hygiene, pumps, and water wheels.

Some says these important achievements have been forgotten amid the news often coming out of the Muslim world today that focuses so much on strife and terrorism. But, ask just about anyone on the streets of, say, Cairo or Damascus today and they haven't forgotten - they'll readily tell you about Islam's glory days - not just its conquests but its cultural, scientific and technological innovations."

These advances came at the height of the Islamic empire's glory when it spread from the Middle East, across North Africa to southern Spain and beyond.

A time when Muslim scholars and inventors were at the forefront, says Hassani.

"During that time, there were enormous contributions in science and technology that we have forgotten about and that comes to us from other civilizations," al-Hassani said. "And, it came to use over a very important civilization and that is the Muslim civilization."

A scale model of Al-Jazari’s 13th-century Scribe Clock

Muslims absorbed knowledge - from India, China, the Greeks, the ancient Egyptians - and passed it on. One exhibit exemplifies that mixture - a giant clock featuring an Indian elephant and Chinese dragons and using ancient Greek water works. The one here is a replica of the original designed by the Muslim inventor, mathematician and engineer al-Jazari in the early 13th Century.

Anne Marie Brennan teaches forensic biology at London's South Bank University and is fascinated by these innovations.

"Everybody has to love the elephant clock," Brennan said. "The elephant clock is wonderful because it is like a United Nations clock. It has all the elements of different civilizations and I like it as a scientist because it shows that science doesn't have to be boring and sterile and plain, but it can be decorative and it can also pay homage to the cultures that bring it forward."

And then there is mathematics and algebra. In general, our numbers are known as "Arabic numerals" today, but it wasn't always so, says professor Hassani.

"The numbers that we have today - 1,2,3,4 - they're called Arabic numerals, but actually the Arabs at the time called them Indian numerals," al-Hassani said.

And, the number "0" for example - "zephir" in Arabic - was used first by early Arab scholars as an integral part of mathematical equations. And that's part of the all important formula of zeros and ones that was crucial to the development of computers and other new technology.

See also the earlier post here.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Recognising Evil

Whoever does not recognize evil is more likely to fall into it.

– Umar bin Khattab (Radi-Allahu anhu)

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)'s definition of Ideal Muslim

A Prophetic hadith (tradition) makes the following statement:"The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe. The emigrant is one who abandons those things God has prohibited"(Al-Bukhari).

Let's briefly analyze this hadith:

In Arabic the presence of the definite article 'al-' (translated as "the") before Muslim is significant. This refers to true and ideal Muslims who leave their mark on all minds, not those who appear or claim to be Muslim, or whose birth certificate reads "Muslim." We understand this from the definite article, which points to a specific, definite one. This is derived from the Arabic grammatical rule that when something is described with a definite article, the item's highest and most perfect condition is indicated. So when "the Muslim" is aid, the first thing that comes to mind is the most perfect meaning of Muslim, and that is what is meant in the hadith.

True Muslims are people of safety and trust, so much so that other Muslims can turn their backs on them without doubt or suspicion. They can entrust a family member to such people without fear, for that person will be absolutely safe from the Muslims' hand or tongue. If they attend a gathering together, the person can leave in full confidence that no one will gossip about him or her, and neither will he or she have to listen to gossip about others. Such Muslims are as sensitive to the dignity and honor of other people as they are to their own. They do not eat; they feed others. They do not live; they enable others to live. They will even sacrifice spiritual pleasure for others. I derive all these meanings from the fact that the definite article also means hasr, an Arabic style that confines the meaning of a sentence to a certain person or object.

As in every statement of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), every word in the hadith under discussion was chosen carefully. Why were the hand and tongue mentioned? Of course there are many subtle points related to this choice. A person can harm someone in two ways: either directly or indirectly. The hand is used for direct attack and the tongue attacks indirectly through gossip and ridicule. True Muslims will never engage in such activities because they always act justly and generously, whether directly or indirectly.

The Prophet mentioned the tongue before the hand because one can retaliate for what is done with the hand; however, the same is not always true for the damage done indirectly through gossip or slander. Thus such action can easily cause conflict between individuals, communities, and even nations. Dealing with this type of harm is relatively more difficult than dealing with the harm caused by the hand. This is why the Prophet mentioned the tongue before the hand.

Another important moral dimension of Islam is that Muslims keep at bay things that will harm others, whether physically or spiritually, and that they do their best not to harm others. Every segment of a Muslim society must represent safety and security. Muslims are true Muslims to the extent that they carry within themselves a feeling of safety and that their hearts beat with trust. Wherever they are or live reveals this feeling that derives from as-salam, "peace," the salutation of Muslims. Muslims wish peace for those whom they greet by saying, "Peace, mercy, and blessings be upon you." They wish safety when leaving, adorn their prayers with greetings, and give salam to other believers when they leave God's presence, i.e. at the end of the prayers.

Let's look at these points deriving from the spirit of salam: True Muslims are the most trustworthy representatives of universal peace. They travel everywhere with this sublime feeling, which is nourished deep in their spirits. Contrary to giving torment and suffering, they are remembered everywhere as symbols of safety and security. In their eyes, there is no difference between a physical (direct) or a verbal (indirect) violation of someone's rights. In fact, in some cases the latter is considered to be a greater crime than the former.

If Muslims commit some of these sins, they are still Muslims. We cannot consider them as being between faith and denial. As in every matter, in the matter of faith and Islam, one should keep aims high and seek perfection rather than be satisfied with being a common believer. These are only a few of the many things miraculously compressed into the hadith in question.

Excerpted with some modifications and with kind permission from "Ideal Believer, Ideal Muslim According to the Prophetic Definitions." - By Fethullah Gulen

Fethullah Gulen is an influential Turkish Muslim intellectual who inspired a series of social activities, including a transnational education and business network, interfaith dialogue forums, and multicultural encounters.

Another interesting related article is here.

Monday 22 February 2010

Israel's Non-violent policy for Land Grab

Israel's separation barrier has generated anger and protests all over the Palestinian territories.

For one small village on the ouskirts of Bethlehem, the wall has effectively imprisoned its Palestinian residents.

Al-Nu'man village was cut off from Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank in 2003 and it is walled-in on three sides by the West Bank separation barrier, which was illegally constructed beyond the Green Line drawn after the 1949 Arab-Israeli war.

A permanent checkpoint is now the only entrance to and from from the village.

Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh reports.

Israeli Settlements Freeze! Surely you must be joking

Construction in Israel’s illegal settlements across the West Bank is continuing. That’sthe conclusion of Peace Now, an Israeli non-governmental Organisation [NGO], which has been monitoring settlement activities for years. The report by the Israeli NGO documents construction going on even at nights and on Saturdays, the Jewish Day of rest.
But wait a minute. Doesn’t the Israeli government have a so-called temporary freeze on settlement expansion in the Occupied Territory? Sure it does. These, says the Israeli ministry of defence, which provides settlements with protection, infrastructure, and free services, are ‘violations’. In fact, Israel officially and publicly admits to 28 settlements where these ‘violations’ are taking place. Peace Now puts the number at 33. Both numbers exclude the unprecedented rate of Israeli settlement expansion in Occupied East Jerusalem.
The crew and I went on a drive from Ramallah heading south to Bethlehem, trying to document for ourselves these ‘violations’. They were not hard to spot… As we approached Bethlehem, we sneak close to Nikodim, one of the cited violators. It’s the home of Israel’s minister of foreign, Avigdor Lieberman. There, construction was happening with much ease… After all, the country’s top diplomat is not only a resident in this settlement, which international law considers illegal; he is an ardent supporter of building yet more settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Everywhere we looked, we found billboards advertising new homes for prospective settlers – most of them have not been built yet. But they are tempting. Israeli government incentives make it much cheaper for the average Israeli to buy a house in one of the dozens of illegal settlements across the West Bank and in occupied East Jerusalem.
Close by in Bitar Ellit, also built on Palestinian land in Bethlehem, we documented ‘violations’ left and right. When a settler guard cited us snooping around, he called the Israeli military. We took off of course but the question that begs answering here is: If the Israeli army, which ironically grants construction permits in settlements, considers these actions to be violating the government’s moratorium, why isn’t it stopping them?
Aware of the Peace Now report, Palestinians are shaking their head, telling anyone in the international community who would listen, ‘we told you so’.
I went to see Dr Jad Ishaq, who heads the Applied Research Institute – one of Palestine’s most reputable research organisations. He told me it’s the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who should provide Palestinians with an explanation now. “Clinton should come to the West Bank and take a tour; see for herself the effects of what she called an unprecedented step for peace”.
That’s because back in November, the US Secretary of State told Palestinians the Israeli government had taken an ‘unprecedented step’ after the ‘moratorium’ announcement. She also instructed them to go back to negotiations with Israel’s rightwing government because according to her, a settlement freeze was not a precondition to negotiations. Of course, this statement ignored the international roadmap for peace, drafted by the previous American administration, which clearly states such a freeze is top among Israel’s immediate obligations.
Clinton’s reaction and pressure on Palestinians angered them greatly. Palestinians countered by saying the Israeli announcement was nothing but a sham. And the Palestinian public has so far been very pleased with the Palestinian President’s refusal to succumb to the pressure. In fact, this is one of the few points on which the occupied and split Palestinian nation now agree.
Israel's so-called moratorium excluded the occupied East Jerusalem and allowed for the construction of thousands of structures inside the West Bank. The offer also ignored international law, which considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to be illegal – null and void.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave an advisory ruling on Israel’s wall, which de facto annex these settlements, their infrastructure, and Israeli only roads. The ICJ deemed the wall and the settlement regime illegal. Incidentally, this Wall devours approximately 30 per cent of the West Bank, including some of its most fertile lands and its most important water resources.
Some Palestinians may find comfort that their plight against Israel’s colonisation is on the right side of International law. Their dismay, however, is growing as they are coming to conclude that the international community is either oblivious to the facts these bulldozers are creating on the Occupied Palestinian homeland or unwilling to take a real stance that bring them to a halt. Either way, Palestinians have seldom felt more alone - forced to fight for the dream of statehood in their homeland, inch by inch.