Wednesday 30 June 2010

Dewsbury newspaper links Cumbria murder to Muslims

A local Dewsbury’s columnist who wrote that had the Cumbria mass-murderer been carrying the Qur’an he would have been celebrated by “so-called British Muslims” will not face prosecution, Dewsbury police announced.

Almost 300 demonstrators gathered outside Dewsbury Police Station on June 6 in protest at alleged inflammatory Islamophobic comments made in the The Press the previous Friday.

Writing just three days after Derrick Bird murdered 12 people in Cumbria and before the victims’ burials, the local paper’s columnist, Danny Lockwood, wrote that had Bird been carrying a copy of the Qur’an, “he would have been celebrated as a hero by tens of thousands, possibly more, of so-called ‘British’ Muslims.”

Lockwood made the analogy in his weekly column Ed Lines hitting out at the Home Office’s decision to allow Muslim scholar Zakir Naik into the county.

A spokesman for Dewsbury Police confirmed to The Muslim News that 70 people had lodged a formal complaint: “We received a number of complaints about the content of the article which appeared in The Press. We then had to liaise with the Crime Prosecution Service for advice on the matter and enquiries were ongoing at that stage. We received about 70 complaints from people the nature of the complaints was about what was written in The Press.

“Following that week we received notice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that the matter would not be perused any further.”

Dewsbury Police has vowed to “continue to monitor the situation” adding that they have contacted The Press regarding the complaints.

A petition was circulated which asks for a retraction and full public apology. It also calls for local people, businesses and politicians of all persuasions to boycott the paper.

Local campaigner, Abdul Hai, told The Muslim News he and many of Dewsbury’s Muslims were “appalled by the CPS’s decision not to bring charges; this newspaper, and particularly this columnist, has been writing things like this for ten years or more. Sadly we’ve become used to it but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. People are upset and people are angry.

“To make a connection between the horrific events in Cumbria last week and Islam, or any religion, is deeply offensive. To make these comments just two days after what happened in Cumbria, with the bodies not yet buried and the whole country still in mourning is sick.”

He added. “For years The Press has been targeting Dewsbury’s Muslim community. They always make a link between national and international events to Muslims or Muslim organisations even if it has nothing to do with Muslims. The paper is free and it’s distributed in predominately white areas and in areas were the BNP do well. ”

Atif Asif, who helped organise the protest said: “Three hundred turned out today but there are ten times as many who are disgusted by the hatred The Press spreads. These are people from all backgrounds and religions who love Britain, love Dewsbury and are sick to the back teeth of the poison spread by The Press for years they have talked our town down and encouraged cynicism, hatred and division in its communities.”

“Nobody buys the paper but it’s delivered free in white only areas. If you believed what you read then ‘Asians’ and ‘Muslims’ are to blame for all society’s ills. We are calling on all good people in the town to boycott the paper. We also intend to ask the shops who sell it, the politicians who speak to it and the advertisers who pay for it to make a stand and condemn these truly horrid comments.”

23-year-old law student Karim Jaffer of Wellington Road said: “Lockwood starts his column saying the analogy he’s about to make using the Cumbria atrocity and Muslims smacks of ‘insensitive opportunism’ but goes on to make it anyway. He does so, not because he’s cavalier but because he’s made a calculated move to make a link between Bird’s actions and Muslims.”

A CPS spokesman told The Muslim News: “We were not asked to give a charging decision by the police, but we did provide them with advice. It should be noted that the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 contains wide exemptions for freedom of speech, specifically saying that nothing in the Act shall prohibit or restrict ‘discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions’.
“According the legal guidance evidence would have had to be obtained revealing that Lockwood used ‘threatening’ language ‘to stir up religious hatred. Threatening is the operative word, not abusive or insulting.’
“So using abusive or insulting behaviour intended to stir up religious hatred does not constitute an offence, nor does using threatening words likely to stir up religious hatred.”
Lockwood has since apologised, writing a week after making the controversial comparison, he said, “was about as wide off the mark as I can recall being for quite some time last Friday. No excuses. A couple of explanations maybe, but I don’t mind saying sorry to a lot of honest, decent people who were offended by my comments in relation to mass killer Derrick Bird and Islamic radicals.”


Tuesday 29 June 2010


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "(The significance of) this world (in comparison) to the hereafter is similar to one of you dipping his finger in the ocean and then seeing (the amount of water that) has stuck to it."

Sahih Muslim, Hadith 1330

Monday 28 June 2010

Egypt: Women reciting Quran in spotlight

Egypt's women have already made inroads into several one-time domains of men. But a suggestion to allow women to recite Islam's holy book the Quran in public has triggered sharp differences among Muslim clerics in this country recently swept by a wave of Islamism.

"Such calls echo a Western agenda," said Mohammad Al Barri, a cleric at Al Azhar, Sunni Islam's influential seat of learning. "There is no clear text in the Quran or the Prophet Mohammad's [PBUH] sunna [traditions and sayings] that women recited the Holy Quran in front of men. Should this happen, there would be a big sedition, which we should avoid by all means," Al Barri told a seminar at the Egyptian Press Syndicate this week.

More than two years ago, Egypt appointed its first women judges. However, a vigorous campaign to empower women, led by Mubarak's wife, has faced stiff opposition from Muslim fundamentalists, say observers.

"The only place where women can read the Holy Quran is in the presence of other women," Al Barri, the Al Azhar scholar, said. "Letting a woman read in front of men would tempt them, thereby earning her and them God's wrath instead of His contentment."

Official ceremonies are usually opened with verses from the Quran, which are always recited by male shaikhs.

Likewise, Egypt's Muslims usually hire male reciters to read from the Holy Quran in the presence of male mourners in memory of their departed relatives. Never have women reciters been seen doing this.

"Women should have the right to recite the Holy Quran in public," said Souad Saleh, a well-known woman Muslim preacher. She told the same seminar that women's voices are not enticing and as such should not be suppressed.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Imams urged to condemn domestic abuse

SCOTLAND’S leading Islamic scholar is launching an unprecedented campaign to place anti-domestic violence messages in Friday prayers at every mosque in Scotland.

Shaykh Amer Jamil, right, the country’s most prominent and respected Muslim thinker, is to meet every imam in Scotland over the coming months. Jamil will ask the imams to tell their congregation about Islam’s stance opposing domestic violence, and give the clerics advice on dealing with the police.

According to police, there is a problem in the Muslim community of families failing to report domestic abuse. Scholars like Jamil also say that some Muslim men use incorrect readings of the Koran to justify beating their wives.

Jamil added: “When police or social work got involved, some men were saying: ‘Look, this is allowed in my culture and religion, you don’t understand’. That’s rubbish.

“Half the problem is that imams don’t understand the reality of domestic violence and how bad it is. I think that if we can get the information to them, it will motivate them to do something about it.”

As well as the messages in Friday sermons, there will be 30,000 leaflets distributed around the country in English, Urdu, Arabic and Bengali.

Jamil added: “Islam has no religious justification for this kind of behaviour. If this goes on in families, and someone knows their cousin, uncle or brother is doing it, they have a responsibility to speak up. If they don’t, it’s sinful.”

Jamil has also campaigned against the dangers of forced marriage, terrorism and ‘DIY Islam’ – incorrect versions of the religion learned over the internet often with a hardline twist.

His latest project has the backing of Strathclyde Police, the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Amar Shakor, chair of the Scottish Police Muslim Association, is backing Jamil. “We support this initiative that will provide education to the community on how to report domestic violence,” he said. “One of the issues we do have in the Muslim and Indian sub-continent community is in regards to the honour of a family if they report domestic violence, because shame is said to be brought onto the family as well. That’s a hurdle we need to cross.”

Shakor also wants Muslim men to know they can report domestic violence. “It’s not just women that suffer,” he said. “Some male victims that come over from the sub-continent suffer from domestic violence and there is under-reporting amongst men too.”

The Scottish Government sees the project as a strand of its own campaign against domestic violence.

A government spokeswoman said: “The project will make it very clear that Islam does not tolerate domestic abuse of any kind or under any circumstances. By working closely with imams and the community the project will challenge the misconceptions and empower more women to come forward for help.

“We support this initiative, in partnership with ACPOS, and will continue to do everything we can to tackle domestic abuse in Scotland.”

Half the problem is that imams don’t understand the reality of domestic violence and how bad it is.


Friday 25 June 2010

Psychiatrist of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Commits Suicide

Moshe Yatom, a prominent Israeli psychiatrist who successfully cured the most extreme forms of mental illness throughout a distinguished career, was found dead at his home in Tel Aviv yesterday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. A suicide note at his side explained that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been his patient for the last nine years, had “sucked the life right out of me.”

“I can’t take it anymore,” wrote Yatom. “Robbery is redemption, apartheid is freedom, peace activists are terrorists, murder is self-defense, piracy is legality, Palestinians are Jordanians, annexation is liberation, there’s no end to his contradictions. Freud promised rationality would reign in the instinctual passions, but he never met Bibi Netanyahu. This guy would say Gandhi invented brass knuckes.”

Psychiatrists are familiar with the human tendency to massage the truth to avoid confronting emotionally troubling material, but Yatom was apparently stunned at what he called the “waterfall of lies” gushing from his most illustrious patient. His personal diary details the steady disintegration of his once invincible personality under the barrage of self-serving rationalizations put forth by Netanyahu.

“I’m completely shocked,” said neighbor Yossi Bechor, whose family regularly vacationed with Yatom’s family. “Moshe was the epitome of the fully-integrated personality and had cured dozens of schizophrenics before beginning work on Bibi. There was no outward indication that his case was any different from the others.”

But it was. Yatom grew increasingly depressed at his complete lack of progress in getting the Prime Minister to acknowledge reality, and he eventually suffered a series of strokes when attempting to grasp Netanyahu’s thinking, which he characterized in one diary entry as “a black hole of self-contradiction.”

The first of Yatom’s strokes occurred when Netanyahu offered his opinion that the 911 attacks on Washington and New York “were good.” The second followed a session in which Netanyahu insisted that Iran and Nazi Germany were identical. And the third occurred after the Prime Minister declared Iran’s nuclear energy program was a “flying gas chamber,” and that all Jews everywhere “lived permanently in Auschwitz.” Yatom’s efforts to calm Netanyahu’s hysteria were extremely taxing emotionally and routinely ended in failure. “The alibi is always the same with him,” complained another diary entry. “The Jews are on the verge of annihilation at the hands of the racist goyim and the only way to save the day is to carry out one final massacre.”

Yatom was apparently working on converting his diary into a book about the Netanyahu case. Several chapters of an unfinished manuscript, entitled “Psychotic On Steroids,” were found in his study. The excerpt below offers a rare glimpse at the inner workings of a Prime Minister’s mind, at the same time as it reveals the daunting challenge Yatom faced in seeking to guide it to rationality:
Monday, March 8
“Bibi came by at three for his afternoon session. At four he refused to leave and claimed my house was actually his. Then he locked me in the basement overnight while he lavishly entertained his friends upstairs. When I tried to escape, he called me a terrorist and put me in shackles. I begged for mercy, but he said he could hardly grant it to someone who didn’t even exist.”

Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire" and "The Madness of King George."


The Trouble with Dr. Zakir Naik

If you're looking for a snapshot of India's hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Bombay-based cleric Dr. Zakir Naik. In India, the 44-year-old Dr. Naik—a medical doctor by training and a televangelist by vocation—is a widely respected figure, feted by newspapers and gushed over by television anchors. The British, however, want no part of him. On Friday, the newly elected Conservative-led government announced that it would not allow Dr. Naik to enter Britain to deliver a series of lectures. According to Home Secretary Theresa May, the televangelist has made "numerous comments" that are evidence of his "unacceptable behavior."

The good doctor's views run the gamut from nutty to vile, so it's hard to pinpoint which of them has landed him in trouble. For instance, though Dr. Naik has condemned terrorism, at times he also appears to condone it. "If he [Osama bin Laden] is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him," he said in a widely watched 2007 YouTube diatribe. "If he is terrorizing the terrorists, if he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist."

Dr. Naik recommends the death penalty for homosexuals and for apostasy from the faith, which he likens to wartime treason. He calls for India to be ruled by the medieval tenets of Shariah law. He supports a ban on the construction of non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim lands and the Taliban's bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas. He says revealing clothes make Western women "more susceptible to rape." Not surprisingly, Dr. Naik believes that Jews "control America" and are the "strongest in enmity to Muslims."

Of course, every faith has its share of cranks; and, arguably, India has more than its share. But it's impossible to relegate Dr. Naik to Indian Islam's fringe. Earlier this year, the Indian Express listed him as the country's 89th most powerful person, ahead of Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen, eminent lawyer and former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, and former Indian Premier League cricket commissioner Lalit Modi. Dr. Naik's satellite TV channel, Peace TV, claims a global viewership of up to 50 million people in 125 countries. On YouTube, a search for Dr. Naik turns up more than 36,000 hits.

Nobody accuses Dr. Naik of direct involvement in terrorism, but those reportedly drawn to his message include Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American arrested last year for planning suicide attacks on the New York subway; Rahil Sheikh, accused of involvement in a series of train bombings in Bombay in 2006; and Kafeel Ahmed, the Bangalore man fatally injured in a failed suicide attack on Glasgow airport in 2007.

Nonetheless, when the doctor appears on a mainstream Indian news channel, his interviewers tend to be deferential. Senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest last year as a "rock star of televangelism" who teaches "modern Islam" and "his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world." A handful of journalists—among them Praveen Swami of the Hindu, and the grand old man of Indian letters, Khushwant Singh—have questioned Dr. Naik's views, but most take his carefully crafted image of moderation at face value.

At first glance, it's easy to understand why. Unlike the foaming mullah of caricature, Dr. Naik eschews traditional clothing for a suit and tie. His background as a doctor and his often gentle demeanor set him apart, as does his preaching in English. Unlike traditional clerics, Dr. Naik quotes freely from non-Muslim scripture, including the Bible and the Vedas. (You have to pay attention to realize that invariably this is either to disparage other faiths, or to interpret them in line with his version of Islam.) The depth of Dr. Naik's learning is easily apparent.

But this doesn't fully explain Dr. Naik's escape from criticism. It helps that Indians appear to have trouble distinguishing between free speech and hate speech. In a Western democracy, demanding the murder of homosexuals and the second-class treatment of non-Muslims would likely attract public censure or a law suit. In India, it goes unchallenged as long as it has a religious imprimatur. However, create a book or a painting that ruffles religious sentiment, as the writer Taslima Nasreen and the painter M. F. Husain both discovered, and either the government or a mob of pious vigilantes will strive to muzzle you.

In general, India accords extra deference to allegedly holy men of all stripes unlike, say, France, which strives to keep religion out of the public square. Taxpayers subsidize the Haj pilgrimage for pious Muslims and a similar, albeit much less expensive, journey for Hindus to a sacred lake in Tibet. This reflexive deference effectively grants the likes of Dr. Naik—along with all manner of Hindu and Christian charlatans—protection against the kind of robust scrutiny he would face in most other democracies.

Finally, unlike Hindu bigots, such as the World Hindu Council's Praveen Togadia, whose fiercest critics tend to be fellow Hindus, radical Muslims go largely unchallenged. The vast majority of Indian Muslims remain moderate, but their leaders are often fundamentalists and the community has done a poor job of policing its own ranks. Moreover, most of India's purportedly secular intelligentsia remains loath to criticize Islam, even in its most radical form, lest this be interpreted as sympathy for Hindu nationalism.

Unless this changes, unless Indians find the ability to criticize a radical Islamic preacher such as Dr. Naik as robustly as they would his Hindu equivalent, the idea of Indian secularism will remain deeply flawed.


Thursday 24 June 2010

An Apology to the Non-Hijabi

At a recent Egyptian dinner in honor of a visitor to our town, I encountered a situation that opened by eyes to an important issue that is rarely addressed.

I approached the honored guest to offer my obligatory salaams. She seemed nice, more quiet than others and the wrinkles on her face indicated that she must be a grandma. She asked me hesitantly which one of the women behind me was my mom so she can extend her good wishes to our family. I pointed in the direction of where my mother was assisting the ladies set the table for dinner, The old lady gasped for air and looked puzzled and said with disgust FOR EVERYONE TO HEAR:

"Why doesn't your mom wear hijab? And how come you wear hijab and your mother doesn't?"

My initial reaction was to tell the woman off. But given the setting, the people she was related to I cared about and my good upbringing, I defied my instincts and calmly responded: "Why don't you ask her yourself?"

I realize now, years into my understanding of my own identity of a Muslim American woman, that most frequently women who don't wear hijab tend to be harassed, marginalized, patronized, lectured, judged, attacked, and insulted--get this--BY THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES, the Muslim community specifically.

I've read countless articles, blogs, books, etc where Muslim women whine about their rights to cover, to not be judged for their choices, etc. But the opposite isn't always true. If a woman by choice doesn't wear the hijab, she is mistreated or pressured by the community to become a hijabi. I find it interesting that Muslims tend to preach and demand rights from others, yet they fail to fulfill them themselves. Where is the respect, freedom of choice and tolerant attitudes when it comes to Muslim women who don't wear hijab?

I would like to say it loud and clear for everyone to hear: Muslim women who DON'T wear hijab are Muslim; they can be practicing; they can be God-fearing; they can love God more than a hijabi ever will; they can provide for the community. A piece of cloth doesn't determine who you are with relation to God.

Hijab doesn't mean piety. I've met the most despicable people who wear hijab, niqab, abaya, or whatever. And I've also met the nicest, most practicing, most inspiring women who don't wear hijab, but are modest in their heart, body and soul.

A recent Twitter buddy was upset when she took a short cab ride to her job in Cairo City, Egypt. The driver guilt her about her exposed hair. He told her she must cover because it's the duty of Muslim women to cover. She embarrassingly admitted that she wasn't Muslim and his lecture didn't apply to her. He then continued with his abuse and told her she was going to hell either way then!

I think the 'holier-than-thou' attitudes in the Muslim community have no place in Islam. Prophet Muhammad didn't teach hate, but love. He taught us to be kind, to react calmly and to be gentle. I say we leave judging for God and embrace one another so we can fulfill the Godly command in the Quran to stand united by one another to battle evil and do good.

On behalf of the abusive men and women who have made you feel 'less' of a Muslim or who have lectured you endlessly on the lack of your faith, I would like to apologize to you, the Muslim Non-Hijabi, for all the pain and disrespect we've intentionally and unintentionally caused in the name of God.

Forgive us.


Wednesday 23 June 2010

Abandoned in Pakistan by her British husband

The picture shows Aqila, aged 18, celebrating her marriage in front of relatives and friends. At the time she dreamt of coming to England for a happy, long life with her new husband and his family.

Two years later, the young bride is stranded in her village in Pakistan after, a court has heard, being drugged and forcibly taken back by her husband and father-in-law without her newborn baby. Aqila, 20, was dumped outside her parents' house in March without her passport and British visa, leaving her stranded with little hope of return, the High Court was told last week.

Her case highlights the plight of what is feared to be a growing number of women who come to Britain after marrying a British husband and are then abandoned back home without their children or immigration documents.

Lawyers hope that a ruling this week will expose the full extent of cases similar to Aqila's and force the authorities to recognise the need for action to prevent mothers from being separated from their children. Her solicitor has dealt with at least 50 cases and says this is a hidden abuse of women from overseas who marry British men.

Aqila, who speaks no English, was forced to plead with the judge to reunite her with her tiny son via video link last Wednesday after the Home Office refused to allow her into the country even to attend the hearing.

The court's Family Division must decide if Aqila was forcibly marooned in Pakistan in order to take her child or whether she willingly left him behind, stranded there because of an unfortunate set of unplanned events.

Justice Mary Hogg is expected to make a landmark ruling after Aqila's legal team presented her with six other cases that illustrate the plight of scores of women brought to the UK after arranged marriages and dumped back overseas when they have given birth or their husbands have tired of them.

If Mrs Justice Hogg identifies "abandoned spouses" as a phenomenon, it could help British courts to reunite scores of children with their mothers forced to fight lengthy legal battles.

Last Friday Mrs Justice Hogg took the unusual step of allowing partial identification of Aqila because of the "public interest" in shining a light on this hidden issue. Aqila's solicitor, Anne-Marie Hutchinson from Dawson Cornwell, has nine other "abandoned spouse" cases but has dealt with dozens more over the past five years.

Her barrister, Teertha Gupta, said: "We are asking the court to take judicial notice of these other cases and say something which will help young girls who find themselves in this situation. We hope also this will have a deterrent effect to stop families doing something without thinking it through."

Born in 1989 in a village in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir region of Pakistan, just yards away from her husband's ancestral home, Aqila was a bright woman who finished high school. As was her family tradition, her marriage was arranged between her own and her husband's extended families. She married her husband in March 2008 when she was 18.

Aqila came to live in the north of England in October 2008 on a spousal visa, valid until December 2010. She and her husband, who was her legal sponsor, needed to fulfil certain immigration procedures for her to stay here indefinitely. It never got that far.

Aqila alleges that her husband, mother-in-law and three sisters-in-law started to mistreat her within days of her arrival; they also took her passport. Her husband would become enraged when she challenged him when he stayed out until the small hours. She claims he would on occasion during arguments "pull her hair" and "beat her". The court also heard that she was treated like an "unpaid servant" by the four women in the house who also sometimes "bullied" and "beat" her. She was never allowed out unaccompanied and her phone calls were always monitored, all of which her husband and in-laws denied.

Her father-in-law told the court that although he spent very little time in the house Aqila was very happy. During cross-examination, Aqila's husband admitted that the marriage was "rocky" and that he found his wife "very demanding" and "unreasonable".

Within seven months of her arrival, Aqila was pregnant, and their son was born two months prematurely in January this year. The court heard that there was concern from doctors that Aqila may be unable to have more children. The family rejected suggestions by Aqila's barrister that this was the final trigger which led them to dumping her in Pakistan and keeping the baby. They also denied threatening to kill Aqila while she was pregnant.

Within weeks of the birth, three plane tickets had been bought for Pakistan: two return flights for husband and father-in-law, and a one-way ticket for the new mother. The family repeatedly told the court that Aqila had willingly left her two-month-old son in order to visit her own family for an indefinite period of time. Aqila insisted to the court that she had not wanted to go, especially without her baby, but was "given something" to drug her before the journey and then dumped outside her family home. Her husband and father-in-law left the country less than 48 hours after arriving. She has never seen or spoken to them again.

The husband's barrister, Nasra Butt, told the court that her client left Pakistan after making a snap decision that the marriage was over following a row with his wife's family, and that he never intended to leave her stranded without her documents. He claims to have posted his wife's passport, which included her visa, her ID card and the divorce papers he had obtained from a priest within hours of the row, to the British High Commission. The documents have not been seen since.

Aqila has a new Pakistani passport but the British High Commission has refused to supply her with a duplicate spousal visa which would allow her to fight this case in person. Mrs Justice Hogg drew attention to the difficulties involved in conducting the trial using video and telephone links. The UK Borders Agency insisted yesterday that all visa application involving child custody cases were "carefully reviewed".

In summing up Mr Gupta said: "Aqila was dependent on her husband's family for everything. The powerbase was with the family and open to abuse... This marriage was not working so this unsophisticated family decided to return her back to where they had found her because she had performed her role; she had produced a child, and so could now be disregarded."

Outside court Ms Hutchinson said: "We want guidance from High Court so that these cases are fast-tracked to determine as quickly as possible how mum ended up out of country, whether by choice or was she pushed or duped."

Speaking through a translator Aqila told The Independent on Sunday: "I spend my days praying and crying to God to let be with my son. That's all I want. I don't want to bring ill to my in-laws. I just want to be with my child. Without him I have nothing." The judge's ruling is expected this week.

The Timeline: Aqila's story: married, beaten, drugged, abandoned and separated from her child

July 1989 Born in Azad Jammu and Kashmir region of Pakistan.

October 2007 Family discuss marriage with British family who originate from same village.

March 2008 Marries at the age of 18.

October 2008 Arrives in England on a spousal visa to live with husband and his family.

January 2010 Gives birth to a son two months prematurely.

February 2010 Three flights bought to Pakistan, Aqila's is the only one-way ticket.

March 2010 Travels to Pakistan with husband and father-in-law. Both return in 48 hours, leaving her without a passport.

June 2010 Gets new Pakistani passport but is refused a duplicate visa. Participates in a week-long hearing. Husband's family agree to send her a photo of her son.


Monday 21 June 2010

Beneath the galabiya: Intersex operations in Assiut

Assiut--In the realm of sexual taboos in Egypt, the issue of "intersex individuals"--or those born with "ambiguous genitalia"--is certainly somewhere near the top of the list. While medical professionals take an impartial approach to treatment and surgical operations, social and cultural factors pose a challenge for affected individuals and their families.

In Assiut, Upper Egypt's largest city, where the local culture is among Egypt's most conservative, various factors--from inbreeding to a lack of knowledge among pregnant women--have led to a disproportionately large number of cases of intersex children. But with exact figures unrecorded by the Health Ministry--and affected individuals not stepping forward--it remains difficult to determine just how large the problem is.

"In Upper Egypt, the family denies and often keeps secret that their children have this problem, since the condition is seen as shameful. They fear he or she will be a homosexual," explains a senior official at the Assiut Department of Health. "But from a human and medical standpoint, these individuals are just patients. Unfortunately, this is not yet readily accepted by society."

Nevertheless, some cases are beginning to come forward. Since 2000, doctors in Assiut have performed over 25 local intersex surgeries. Prior to that, cases were sent to Cairo for treatment.

"Male or female?" asks Dr. Mustafa el-Sonbaty, head of plastic surgery at Assiut University. Sitting in his private clinic, he covers one side of a thick photo album containing photographs of his past patients with one hand, and produces a photo of a naked individual of indeterminate gender.

As we are unable to formulate a response, the doctor, who has operated on 15 intersex individuals in Assiut since 2000, promptly comes to our aid, revealing the opposite page of the album.

"You see? This penis was not properly developed while in its mothers fetus," he says enthusiastically, pointing to what looks like a small phallus. He then points towards the individual's pelvis. "Do you see those two swollen spots? Those are the testes, but they're inside--this is a male pseudo-hermaphrodite," he concludes.

The term "hermaphrodite" is not to be confused with transsexual or transgender, which describe individuals who identify with a gender different to their biological one. While transsexuals are fully male or female in the physical sense, intersex individuals' "gender dilemma" is rooted in their physiology.

True hermaphroditism is an extremely rare condition in which individuals are born with both male and female reproductive organs, embodying both XX (female) and XY (male) chromosomes. Medical professionals study the chromosomes and run tests to measure hormones, along with other indicators of sex, and usually restore the child to the more dominant gender. In his 15 years of medical practice, el-Sonbaty has witnessed only one such case.

Male and female pseudo-hermaphrodites are slightly more common. Such persons suffer from a congenital sexual disorder in which they are born with ambiguous reproductive organs, or "mixed" sex anatomy. The condition includes a wide range of symptoms, including undeveloped, underdeveloped or disfigured sexual organs.

The unusual genitalia of intersex babies may confuse doctors and midwives. Thus, a child may be mistaken for a male when she is in fact female--and vise versa.

According to el-Sonbaty, the causes of intersex disorders are 57 percent genetic, 16 percent predispository, and 27 percent unknown factors.

According to Dr. Abdel Moneim el-Haggagy, a urologist and pioneer of intersex operations in Assiut, intersexuality is one of many chromosomal disorders, including Downs Syndrome and cleft lip. The causes of these disorders vary, but according to el-Haggagy, inbreeding is one of the most significant.

"All of the cases of pseudo-hermaphrodite babies I've seen were born to third-degree relatives," he says. "But other factors are also at play."

High fertility rates in Egypt mean women are often unaware they are pregnant. Doctors, meanwhile, often fail to ask female patients whether or not they are pregnant before prescribing potentially harmful drugs or x-ray scans. Pharmacists, he points out, also rarely ascertain whether a woman is pregnant before selling over-the-counter medicine.

Exposing the fetus to radiation or harmful medication, such as certain antibiotics--especially during the first eight weeks of pregnancy--can cause damage to the development of an unborn child.

While elsewhere in the world most intersex disorders are immediately discovered and babies operated on within the child's first two years, in Upper Egypt, the condition often goes undetected, says el-Haggagy. With the onset of puberty, intersex individuals usually begin to manifest signs of belonging to the opposite gender than the one they were assigned at birth.

"When a male pseudo-hermaphrodite child grows older and starts to show male characteristics, such as facial hair and boyish body structure, the family realizes its mistake," says Tarek el-Gammal, chief of reconstructive microsurgery at Assiut University Hospital, who works closely with el-Haggagy on corrective surgery.

Exacerbating the issue for male pseudo-hermaphrodites (individuals born with disfigured male organs) is the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt, especially in the rural areas of Upper Egypt. Born with what is mistakenly assumed to be an unusually large vulva, the child is circumcised, losing what is in fact his disfigured penis.

Restoring the organs involves a complex, 12-hour operation, requiring a team of at least five medical personnel, including a micro-surgeon, urologist and anesthesiologist. Tissues from the patient's arm are used to rebuild the missing part of the male organ and connect it to the nerves and veins. Post-operation recovery lasts four to five days in an intensive care unit, during which time the patient undergoes a "masculinization" process that involves cutting his hair and changing his clothes.

"They are extremely happy after the operation," says el-Gammal. "They are relieved that their problems are over."

Despite the positive outcome for recovered patients, the Assiut doctors interviewed for this article point out that many affected individuals fail to come forward, embarrassed by their condition and overwhelmed by the social stigma associated with their condition.

This is especially the case for female pseudo-hermaphrodites, whose conditions are often discovered when the child reaches puberty and begins to menstruate. While more common than male psuedo-hermaphroditism--and in fact much easier to treat medically, using a simple surgical intervention to restore the size of the female organ to normal--few such patients come forward, and of those, none seen by el-Haggagy agreed to the operation, he says.

"She is entirely female, with XX chromosomes and the complete appearance of a woman, except for an enlarged female organ. But the families refuse such operations, and ask for temporary solutions instead," says el-Haggagy. "Years later, they just give up when they see the drastic changes their child is undergoing."

Conversely, the doctors report that families are usually quite happy to have their "daughter" transformed into a son overnight.

"I had one father who was so happy that he kissed my cheeks until they nearly fell off," says el-Sonbaty.

While the doctors view intersexuality disorders as a serious health problem and acknowledge the usefulness of corrective surgery to reverse the condition, transgenderism is not viewed so kindly.

Although sex-change surgery is legal in Egypt, the patients and handful of doctors who agree to operate face intense religious and social scorn, and the Physicians Syndicate has banned transsex operations altogether. The infamous story of Sayyed, an Egyptian who underwent such a procedure in the late 1980s to become "Sally," is still recalled by doctors when asked about transgenderism.

The Assiut doctors all report being requested by at least one individual for a sex change operation. After finding chromosomal and hormonal results normal, they reject the request, and instead refer the patient to psychologists.

"How could I be complicit in such a sinful crime?" asks el-Sonbaty. "Altering the body of a man with no physical issues to accommodate his psychological problems is a sin, as we would be changing what God created."

Saturday 19 June 2010

Arrogance a quality of Satan.

According to the Qur'an, "(ALLAH) said: 'What prevented you (O satan) that you did not prostrate yourself when I commanded you?' (satan) said: 'I am better than him (Adam). You created me from fire, and him You created from clay.' (ALLAH) said: '(O satan) get down from this (Paradise), it is not for you to be arrogant here. Get out, for you are of those humiliated and disgraced.'" (Qur'an 7: 12-13)

Friday 18 June 2010

Latino Muslims: Chicago women deal with dual identity

Every Sunday morning, a group of women meets at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview to study the Quran. They are Muslim, of course, but also Latinas.

Most of them converted to Islam after growing unhappy with aspects of Catholicism and they found a new identity in being Muslim while also retaining their ethnic traditions.

“I learned to respect myself through Islam,” said Magdalena Hanafi, a native of Mexico who is married to an Egyptian man and converted 15 years ago.

Latino Muslims in Chicago are less visible and organized than in New York or in California, where they have official groups and organizations, but they are nonetheless a community. Its members are mainly women and they usually meet in informal settings, like private houses, or in mosques that give them a space to organize social and religious activities.

According to a Pew Research report, 4 percent of the American Muslim population is of Hispanic origins. There are a total of 1.4 million Muslims 18 years or older living in the United States, according to the report.

The conversion

James E. Jones, a professor of world religions at Manhattanville College, said there is a rich historical connection between Spanish culture and Islam. “This history resonates for them [Latinos],” he said.

Jones likened the conversion movement to the African American Islamic tradition; in both cultures individuals are seeking an alternative positive identity. In addition to a spiritual attraction, Jones said, some are attracted to “faith that posits the belief in one community.”

Latino converts usually have a Catholic background, from which they have gradually distanced themselves, often out of dissatisfaction over specific religious practices or theological tenets.

Juliane Hammer, a professor of religious studies at George Mason University, said that “something happens to Catholic identity that opens the door to considering other religious identities.”

Hazel Gomez is a community organizer at the Inner City Muslim Action Network, a non-profit social service organization on the South Side She is of Puerto Rican and Mexican origin and she converted to Islam when she was 18, after noticing a striking difference between the intensity of the spiritual experience lived by her Muslim classmates and her own.

“I would see my friends happy that they were fasting,” Gomez said.

Catholicism, she said, didn’t provide her with a simple and structured way of life she was looking for.

“Catholicism wasn’t something I could live every day,” she said, adding that she appreciates the ritual of prayer multiple times a day.

And she said she was dissatisfied with certain principles of Catholicism.

“There were certain things that didn’t sound right to me,” Gomez said.

Confession, she said, was hard to accept. “Telling your sins to another human being made no sense to me,” she said.

The doctrine of the trinity, according to which God is composed of three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is another part of Catholicism that many converts contest.

Ruth Saleh, a native of Mexico who has been a Muslim for more than 20 years, said that she had long had doubts about this principle even before converting.

“That was something in the back of my mind when I was Catholic,” she said. “To believe that there is only one God was the most reasonable explanation for me.”

The Muslim Latino community in Chicago

Although there isn’t any official data or studies on Latino Muslims in Chicago, members of the community agree that they are mostly women and that they rely mainly on informal social networks, since they lack a specific Latino worship place.

“Women are more active in the community,” said Rebecca Abuqaoud, a native of Mexico who came to the United States when she was 21 and converted to Islam 12 years ago.

Men, she said, were more involved in the past, while now women are the ones who usually organize social activities. Abuqaoud said that they have organized women-only events for 10 years. The last one was held a couple of weeks ago and drew about 100 participants.

“I don’t know where the Latino men go,” Gomez said.

For her, women are more active because they need more support. “It’s so empowering to see so many women,” she said.

Gomez, who is starting a Latino Muslim organization in Chicago with a couple of other women, said that social events are key to bringing families together. At these events, she said, non-Muslim family members realize: “’Hey, my daughter is not the only Latina Muslim there.”

Being Latino and a Muslim

Surprise and puzzlement are the most common reactions that Latino Muslims usually face when they first convert to Islam.

“It’s a difficult experience,” professor Hammer said. “Somebody who converts questions everybody else’s religious commitments.”

“My family thought this religion was only for Arabs and not for Mexicans,” Hanafi said.

With time, however, many Latina Muslims said their families have come to terms with their decision and understand that their being Muslim can coexist with their Latino roots.

“My family didn’t like it in the beginning,” Saleh said. “Now they accept it.”

Gomez said that there is no contradiction in being a Latina and a Muslim; rather there is enrichment.

“As a Latina Muslim I’ve grown more not only as a Muslim but as Latina and as someone who is trying to contribute to society,” she said.

For Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, who directed “New Muslim Cool,” a documentary on Puerto Rican American convert and rapper Hamza PĂ©rez, Latinos who convert to Islam can be considered part of a larger American cultural picture.

“Americans reinvent themselves quite a bit,” she said “It’s the basic idea of our national identity.”


Thursday 17 June 2010

Guilty pleas in murder of teen Aqsa Parvez

The father and brother of a slain Mississauga teen have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a case which has been called an "honour killing."

In an unexpected development on Tuesday afternoon, Aqsa Parvez's two family members admitted to strangling the teen girl at the family home on the morning of Dec. 10, 2007.

Muhammad Parvez, 60, and son Waqas, 29, were both scheduled to go on trial in January for first-degree murder.

Aqsa's death ignited an intense public debate after reports surfaced that she may have been killed for rebelling against her family. Some friends said that family tensions exploded after Aqsa refused to wear the hijab, which is a Muslim head covering.

Lawyers confirmed the second-degree murder pleas to on Tuesday afternoon.

It is expected that the father and son will be given automatic life sentences. An agreed statement of facts was to be read out in the Brampton courtroom.

Aqsa was only 11 when her family moved to Canada from their native country of Pakistan.

But within a few years, the teen began to argue with her conservative family about clothing, friends and her desire to earn her own money.

According to an agreed statement of facts which was presented in court on Tuesday, the real trouble began a year before the murder.

The teen had told friends at her school that she no longer wanted to wear her hijab, despite her family's insistence. As the arguments escalated, Aqsa ran away from home more than once and told friends that she feared for her life as her father grew angrier.

On the morning of her death, a family member picked her up at a bus stop and took her home. Not long after Aqsa arrived home, her father called 911 and told the operator he had strangled his daughter, the court heard.

Evidence showed that Aqsa had the DNA of her brother under her fingernails.

In an interview with police shortly after the death, Aqsa's mother said that her husband had been angry because of the teen's behaviour.

The mother told police: "He said, ‘this is my insult. My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter.'"

Crown prosecutors are asking that both men serve 18 years before they have a chance of parole.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Turkey and the Neocons

It couldn't be more predictable. Back when Israel and Turkey were strategic allies with extensive military-to-military ties, prominent neoconservatives were vocal defenders of the Turkish government and groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and AIPAC encouraged Congress not to pass resolutions that would have labeled what happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Turks during World War I a "genocide." (The "Armenian lobby" is no slouch, but it's no match for AIPAC and its allies in the Israel lobby). The fact that the ADL was in effect protecting another country against the charge of genocide is more than a little ironic, but who ever said that political organizations had to be ethically consistent? Once relations between Israel and Turkey began to fray, however -- fueled primarily by Turkish anger over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians -- the ADL and AIPAC withdrew their protection and Congressional defenders of Israel began switching sides, too.

Last week Jim Lobe published a terrific piece at InterPress Service, detailing how prominent neoconservatives have switched from being strong supporters (and in some cases well-paid consultants) of the Turkish government to being vehement critics. He lays out the story better than I could, but I have a few comments to add.

First, if this doesn't convince you that virtually all neoconservatives are deeply Israeli-centric, then nothing will. This affinity is hardly a secret; indeed, neocon pundit Max Boot once declared that support for Israel was a "key tenet" of neoconservatism. But the extent of their attachment to Israel is sometimes disguised by the claim that what they really care about is freedom and democracy, and therefore they support Israel simply because it is "the only democracy in the Middle East."

But now we see the neoconservatives turning on Turkey, even though it is a well-functioning democracy, a member of NATO, and a strong ally of the United States. Of course,Turkey's democracy isn't perfect, but show me one that is. The neocons have turned from friends of Turkey to foes for one simple reason: Israel. Specifically, the Turkish government has been openly critical of Israel's conduct toward the Palestinians, beginning with the blockade of Gaza, ramping up after the brutal bombardment of Gaza in 2008-2009, and culminating in the lethal IDF attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. As Lobe shows, a flock of prominent neoconservatives are now busily demonizing Turkey, and in some cases calling for its expulsion from NATO.

Thus, whether a state is democratic or not matters little for the neocons; what matters for them is whether a state backs Israel or not. So if you're still wondering why so many neoconservatives worked overtime to get the U.S. to invade Iraq -- even though Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan or Pakistan -- and why they are now pushing for war with Iran, well, there's your answer.

As I've said repeatedly, there's nothing wrong with any American feeling a deep attachment to a foreign country and expressing it in politics, provided that they are open and honest about it and provided that other people can raise the issue without being accused of some sort of bigotry. The neocons' recent volte-face over Turkey is important because it reveals their policy priorities with particular clarity, and Lobe deserves full points for documenting it for us.

One last comment. Neoconservatives usually portray American and Israeli interests as essentially identical: In their eyes, what is good for Israel is good for the United States and vice versa. This claim makes unconditional U.S. support seem like a good idea, and it also insulates them from the charge that they are promoting Israel's interests over America's. After all, if the interests of the two states are really one and the same, then by definition there can be no conflict of interest, which means that the "dual loyalty" issue (a term I still don't like) doesn't arise.

I hold the opposite view. I believe that the "special relationship" has become harmful to both countries, and that a more normal relationship would be better for both. Right now, the special relationship hurts the United States by fueling anti-Americanism throughout the region and making us look deeply hypocritical in the eyes of billions -- yes, billions -- of people. It also distorts our policy on a host of issues, such as non-proliferation, and makes it extremely difficult to use our influence to advance the cause of Middle East peace. President Obama's failures on this front -- despite his repeated pledges to do better--make this all-too-obvious. At the same time, this unusual relationship harms Israel by underwriting policies that have increased its isolation and that threaten its long-term future. It also makes it nearly impossible for U.S. leaders to voice even the mildest of criticisms when Israel acts foolishly, because to do so casts doubts about the merits of the special relationship and risks incurring the wrath of the various groups that exist to defend it.

Although the United States and Israel do share certain common interests, it is becoming increasingly clear that their interests are not identical. This situation puts die-hard neoconservatives in a tough spot, as it could force them to choose between promoting what is good for America or defending what they think (usually wrongly) will be good for Israel. And insofar as prominent neocons continue to beat the drums for war, it behooves us to remember both their abysmal track record and their underlying motivations.


Tuesday 15 June 2010

BNP activist 'delivered anti-Muslim leaflets'

A BRITISH National Party activist delivered leaflets of "hate speech" intended to stir up religious hatred of Muslims, a court heard today.

Anthony Bamber, 54, printed and then distributed documents entitled The Heroin Trade which allegedly claimed followers of Islam were responsible for the sale of the drug on Britain's streets.

It said the trade was a "crime against humanity" and demanded that Muslims "apologise and pay compensation" for the flow of heroin from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Preston Crown Court was told Bamber, of Preston, Lancashire, targeted various people across the North West in his leaflet drops between March and November 2008, including a school in Sedbergh, Cumbria, two barristers in Manchester, and addresses in Harrogate.

David Perry QC, prosecuting, said: "The defendant distributed leaflets and letters by hand or by post which were threatening and he did so with the intention of creating or stirring up religious hatred, and the religion he directed the hatred towards was Islam.

"This case is about hate speech. That is speech designed to arouse hatred against members of a social group identified by a particular characteristic.

"In this case the social group is Muslims and the characteristic they share is religion, namely Islam.

"The objective of the letters and leaflets, the prosecution say, was to provoke hatred of Islam. The hatred was not directed just at the concept but at the followers of Islam - Muslims."

In March 2008, Bamber and another man visited Barnoldswick, Lancashire, where they delivered the leaflets by hand, the court heard.

A householder in the area contacted the police, who arrived and spoke to the defendant, Mr Perry said.

"The defendant admitted he had been distributing the leaflets and he said his purpose was to promote an organisation known as the Preston Pals," the prosecutor said.

The Preston Pals was a battalion which fought in the First World War which recruited its members from the city.

Mr Perry said: "They (the Preston Pals) have got nothing whatsoever to do with the BNP and nothing whatsoever to do with the hatred of Islam. Why that name was being used is not really known.

"The defendant also said that the leaflet was inspected by a lawyer who informed him that the material could not be interpreted as provoking religious or religious hatred."

The jury was told the leaflet said 95% of heroin traded in the UK came from the Pakistan and Afghanistan region and was a "crime against humanity".

It continued: "Before the Islamic invasion it was impossible to find heroin in our land. Muslims are almost exclusively responsible for its production, transportation and sale.

"It is a crime against humanity because it has caused far more suffering than slavery ever did. It has led to millions of premature deaths."

Taxpayers were also victims due to the cost of policing and rehabilitation for which Muslims must compensate, the leaflet added.

Muslims should be held to account with condemnation heaped upon them so that it would lead to the abolition of the trade, it concluded.

The leaflet was labelled a Preston Pals publication which was "committed to non-violent democratic resistance" and was set up in honour of the soldiers in a "campaign on behalf of indigenous communities".

Mr Perry said the real intention of the leaflet was "obvious".

"It is no doubt intended to be dramatic. It is no doubt intended to capture the imagination and say 'look at what these people are doing, they are all criminals'," he said.

The crime of drug trafficking was the collective responsibility of all Muslims - according to the leaflet - and they were all being "tarred with the same brush".

He told the jury the tone of the leaflet could be seen as "militaristic and menacing" rather than promoting a non-violent and democratic cause.

"You may think it is intolerant, bigoted and intended to be divisive. It is blaming Islam with contestable and questionable assertions of facts and stoking resentment.

"The prosecution say that the overall message is that Muslims are killing British youths and they must themselves be made to pay and it is your duty to make them pay. They are 'the invader'."

In June 2008 the headteacher of Sedbergh School received a large brown envelope which contained a number of letters addressed to individual teachers.

The letters were along similar lines to the leaflet and called for Muslims to be held to account for the heroin trade.

"We know we are asking a lot," it said. "There are many dangers with confronting the Muslim invader."

Mr Perry said: "The letter makes it clear that all Muslims are to be held to account and it makes it clear that all Muslims are culpable."

Similar material was also sent to two barristers in Manchester and addresses in Lytham and Eccleston, Lancashire, and Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the court was told.

Bamber, of Greenbank Street, who is representing himself, denies seven counts of distributing threatening written material intended to stir up religious hatred.

The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.


Friday 11 June 2010

'Women-friendly' mosques directory launched

A directory of the 100 most "women-friendly" mosques in England is launched today, claiming to be "the start of the process to broaden and deepen the engagement of Muslim women in British mosques".

Fifty mosques were found to meet all five of the requirements set out by inter-faith organisation Faith Matters, while a further 50 are listed as meeting four of the criteria, which include providing a separate prayer space for women.

The Developing Diversity directory has not been constructed as a ranking tool, but mosques praised for meeting all of the study's criteria include the East London mosque, in Tower Hamlets, London, which serves the UK's largest Muslim community; the Jamiyat Tablighul Islam mosque in Bradford, where a separate prayer room caters for over 800 women; and the Karimia Institute in Nottingham which runs two nurseries for young children alongside an activity club for girls aged 8-15.

Also included for meeting four of the five criteria is the Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre, in Birmingham, and the Farnworth Mosque in Bolton, which lie within the constituencies of Shabana Mahmood and Yasmin Qureshi, the first-ever female Muslim MPs elected at the general election.Researchers for the directory, compiled by the inter-faith organisation Faith Matters, assessed 486 mosques across England through visits and telephone contact in order to draw up the directory, which was supported by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

The other criteria, which was determined through consultancy sessions with 100 female Muslims, include services and activities specifically for women, an imam or female scholar accessible to women, the inclusion of women in decision-making processes and the representation of women on mosque committees. Fiyaz Mughal, founder and director of Faith Matters, described his research as "just one cog starting the process. We hope that this will act as a useful resource for the enquiring mind and a reference point to help develop good practice in mosques. "Such is the nature of the work, some individuals will be unhappy that their mosque wasn't included. It's not to say these are the only 100, but that they provide a snapshot of the ones who are providing these core areas, and providing best practices that other mosques can learn from.

"The long-term view is for other mosques and religious institutions to see the need for good service delivery, and within that the importance of serving half of the population in the best possible way.


Thursday 10 June 2010


"They want to extinguish God's (guiding) light with their utterances: but God will not allow (this to pass), for He has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth."

The Holy Quran, 9:32

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Israel forced to apologise for YouTube spoof of Gaza flotilla

The Israeli government has been forced to apologise for circulating a spoof video mocking activists aboard the Gaza flotilla, nine of who were shot dead by Israeli forces last week.

The YouTube clip, set to the tune of the 1985 charity single We Are the World, features Israelis dressed as Arabs and activists, waving weapons while singing: "We con the world, we con the people. We'll make them all believe the IDF (Israel Defence Force) is Jack the Ripper."

It continues: "There's no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all."

The Israeli government press office distributed the video link to foreign journalists at the weekend, but within hours emailed them an apology, saying it had been an error. Press office director Danny Seaman said the video did not reflect official state opinion, but in his personal capacity he thought it was "fantastic".

Government spokesman Mark Regev said the video reflected how Israelis felt about the incident. "I called my kids in to watch it because I thought it was funny," he said. "It is what Israelis feel. But the government has nothing to do with it."

The clip features a group led by the Jerusalem Post's deputy managing editor Caroline Glick, wearing keffiyehs and calling themselves the Flotilla Choir. The footage is interspersed with clips from the recent Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid ship, the Mavi Marmara.

The clip has been praised in Israel, where the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot said the singers "defended Israel better than any of the experts".

But Didi Remez, an Israeli who runs the liberal-left news analysis blog Coteret, said the clip was "repulsive" and reflected how out of touch Israeli opinion was with the rest of the world. "It shows a complete lack of understanding of how the incident is being perceived abroad," he said. Award-winning Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport said the clip demonstrated prejudice against Muslims. "It's roughly done, not very sophisticated, anti-Muslim – and childish for the government to be behind such a clip," he said.

A similar press office email was sent to foreign journalists two weeks ago, recommending a gourmet restaurant and Olympic-sized swimming pool in Gaza to highlight Israel's claim there is no humanitarian crisis there. Journalists who complained the email was in poor taste were told they had "no sense of humour".

Last week, the Israel Defence Force had to issue a retraction over an audio clip it had claimed was a conversation between Israeli naval officials and people on the Mavi Marmara, in which an activist told soldiers to "go back to Auschwitz". The clip was carried by Israeli and international press, but today the army released a "clarification/correction", explaining that it had edited the footage and that it was not clear who had made the comment.

The Israeli army also backed down last week from an earlier claim that soldiers were attacked by al-Qaida "mercenaries" aboard the Gaza flotilla. An article appearing on the IDF spokesperson's website with the headline: "Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be al-Qaida mercenaries", was later changed to "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers found without identification papers," with the information about al-Qaida removed from the main article. An army spokesperson told the Guardian there was no evidence proving such a link to the terror organisation.

While the debate over accounts of the flotilla raid continues, Israel is facing more boycotting. In the past week, three international acts, including the US rock band the Pixies, have cancelled concerts in Tel Aviv.

Best-settling authors Alice Walker and Iain Banks have backed the boycott campaign, with Banks announcing his books won't be translated into Hebrew. Dockworker unions in Sweden and South Africa have refused to handle Israeli ships, while the UK's Unite union just passed a motion to boycott Israeli companies.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Out of the City, out of control

Sex and The City 2 is beyond awful - it gives Western women a bad name

You may be wondering why it has required two contributors to write an article condemning Sex and the City 2 as possibly the most racist, sexist and offensive piece of cinematic trash produced in the last decade. This has been necessary due to the fact that only one writer was able to sit through the whole film and did not feel she could fully convey her fury without the aid of another – one who had repeatedly left the film in disgust and napped intermittently for its duration.

We are both free-thinking, intelligent young women who went into Sex and the City with pretty low expectations; merely the desire for a couple of hours of escapism and over-the-top fashion. Neither of us are easily offended – in fact we tend to be fairly offensive ourselves. In fact, one of us cites Jeremy Clarkson, the most politically incorrect man on the planet, as her comedy idol. Yet Sex and the City 2 achieved such a high level of racial insensitivity and bigotry rarely witnessed in contemporary culture that even we were left squirming. Michael Patrick King, the film’s director, should be Clarkson’s new muse, so efficiently has he managed to offend both men and women from virtually every corner of the globe.

The film appears as though it has been written by kids on work experience. Racist kids on work experience. The one-liners veer between the disgustingly vulgar and the downright unfunny – for instance, in the middle of the desert Samantha shrieks: ‘Lawrence of my labia!’ Disgusting because the woman now looks like a badly preserved corpse, and incredibly offensive given their environment. Throughout their trip to ‘Abu Dhabi’ – the film was in fact made in Morocco, because shockingly, the values of the makers of Sex and the City coincided very little with those of the Arab Emirate states – the women sublimely embody the stereotypical ‘ugly American’ abroad, offending everyone within earshot.

There are ‘hilarious’ references to ‘The Real Housewives of Abu Dhabi’, mocking observations about the difficulties of eating in a niqab, and a satirical gem in the creativeness of a ‘burkini’.

The women waltz carelessly through the Middle East, figuratively raping every cultural sensitivity they encounter along the way. Presumably, the writers are attempting to satirise the oppression of women by some Muslim traditions, but they are in fact too stupid to make a valid satirical point and end up merely offending.

Any attempt at making a valid point about the lives of Muslim women backfired and managed to spectacularly offend not only followers of Islam, but also British and American audiences who are tainted by association with these crass and vulgar stereotypes.

The film steadily buries its audience under a suffocating mountain of sexism, racism and decadence until it can take no more. One cannot comprehend why the actors of Asian descent who signed up to play the male servants were so willing to be involved in a production which so brutally belittles their heritage and reinforces every racist stereotype already regrettably in existence.

We could also comment on the homophobia, the rampant excesses of the lives of the four women which no longer bear any relation to reality and the reduction of women to shoe-obsessed, tactless harpies, but to address those issues would turn this into an entire essay.

It is sufficient to state that if this is the picture that some Middle Eastern countries are given of Western society, one can almost understand the motivations of Muslim extremists.

By the time we left, we would have greeted the demise of these insensitive, idiotic characters with applause and can only pray that Sex and the City 2 will never be the image by which Western women are judged by those in the Middle East.

Saturday 5 June 2010

Gulf sex shop offers marriage guidance

MANAMA — Usually veiled and wearing a modest, flowing abaya, Khadija Ahmed looks an unlikely owner of the conservative Gulf's first sex shop.
She sees nothing wrong, however, with selling "joy jelly," edible undies or the vibrating accoutrements offered by such niche boutiques around the world, insisting that nothing in Islam forbids the pleasures of the bedroom.

"It's not a sex shop in the Western sense," she explained, "but a place to help married couples, and only married couples, enjoy sex to the full."
Ahmed, who admits that she cannot, of course, check identity cards to see whether clients are married or not, got the idea for the business as she came to realise how many men and women were having extra-marital affairs.

Her shop, named Dar Khadija, aims "to provide a service to married couples by making their sex lives more exciting than the lure of an affair.
"Why do married men and women go looking for love elsewhere? Because of the routine that couples fall into."

If whips and leather bondage suits are what you're seeking to pep up your sex life then you won't find them in Dar Khadija.
Nevertheless, it does offer risque bedroom accessories and kinky lingerie, plus a selection of ladies' clothing which range from jeans and tops to fancy evening dresses and embroidered abayas.
And edible underwear.

"The feedback from the clientele has been good. One of my customers told me that I saved his marriage, just as he was about to get divorced," she said.
"That makes me happy as I told myself I might have helped a couple to stay together and a family has not broken up."

Ahmed, 32, launched Dar Khadija online in 2007 and goods were available by mail order only. However, as business prospered she secured permission for a shop, the only one of its kind in the Gulf.
In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, with its notoriously strict brand of Sunni Islam, such an outlet would be unthinkable.

But Bahrain's relatively liberal environment has made the Gulf archipelago an attraction for visitors from more conservative Muslim states in the region, especially Saudis, many of whom travel every weekend across the 30-kilometre (19-mile) causeway that links the two countries.

Of course, there has been criticism and unwanted attention.
Appearing on a television show, aired from Lebanon, some callers told her that her business was shameful and that she shouldn't be wearing the Islamic headcover.
The incomprehension of customs officials or the conservatism of its retail supervisors have sometimes led to her orders -- she imports most of her stock from the American market -- being rejected or severely delayed.

Ahmed is defiant about the moral legitimacy of her business, which won the approval of authorities and has no shortage of clients, mainly thanks to its website.
"Nothing in Islam forbids sexual pleasure. Ask that question to any devout Muslim and he will not tell you otherwise," she insisted.
As she spoke, a man in his 50s enters the shop and asked for massage cream to help "improve his performance."

He said he heard about the shop when he saw Ahmed appear on television, and talked to her at length about brands and prices.
Curious onlookers and teenagers are discouraged
"I only deal with responsible adults, and I have male and female customers, with a slightly larger proportion of women," she said.
"A stable family is our desire for everyone... and I have the feeling I am helping in my way," she added.
"As for perversions, that's not my business."


Friday 4 June 2010

Jummah Mubarak

”Only that believer is graced with the blessings and benefits of Friday, who looks forward for it most, anxiously and eagerly; and wretched is the negligent one who is least interested in it and who does not even know in the morning which day has dawned.” - Imam Ghazali

Thursday 3 June 2010

Israel faces child-abuse claims

An international children's rights charity has said it has evidence that Palestinian children held in Israeli custody have been subjected to sexual abuse in an effort to extract confessions from them.

The Geneva-based Defence for Children International (DCI) has collected 100 sworn affadavits from Palestinian children who said they were mistreated by their Israeli captors.

Fourteen of the statements say they were sexually abused or threatened with sexual assault to pressure them into confessions.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in the West Bank, Nour Odeh, met one of the children, identified only as "N", who said he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his interrogators.

Dismissive attitude

DCI officials say that when they complain to the Israeli military about the treatment of the children, their allegations are dismissed as untrue.

Now the organisation has submitted its evidence to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to try and increase pressure on Israel to stamp out the alleged abuse.

According to our correspondent, Israel has two sets of laws: one for its citizens and another for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

All Palestinians, minors and adults, are tried in military courts.

Children between the ages of 12 and 16 are tried in Israeli military courts as children.

From 16 years onwards, Palestinians are tried as adults.

Human-rights groups have criticised Israel's detention policy with regard to children, which denies them access to their families or lawyers during the detention process.

Palestinian children arrested by Israel are not permitted to see their lawyers until they are in court.

There are currently 340 Palestinian children in Israeli jails, mostly convicted of throwing stones.

An Israeli military order stipulates that stone throwing carries a maximum jail sentence of 20 years, and there is no appeals process for decisions by Israeli military courts.

Israeli reaction

The Israeli military, in a written response, rejected DCI's allegations, saying the detention of minors is consistent with international law.

It said all court hearings involving minors in the West Bank were conducted before a special military court which specialises in dealing with issues pertaining to minors.

"Allegations regarding violence in the course of questioning should be raised during the trial or in a formal complaint," the military said.

"Regarding the presence of a lawyer during questioning of a minor, the Youth Law does not require such a presence, even within the state of Israel."

Bana Shoughry-Badarne, head of the legal department at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, an Israeli human-rights group, says there is a huge issue of impunity in Israel with regard to complaints against the security services.

"Our latest report, from 2009, shows that from the 600 complaints that were submitted to Israel's attorney-general, all of them were dismissed," she told Al Jazeera from Jerusalem.

"There was not even one criminal investigation."

Wednesday 2 June 2010

The war on Baloch women

Last month, Gul Begum and her elder sister Dur Jamal, aged 11 and 13 years, were standing outside their tent in Dalbandin when their lives changed for ever. According to Dur Jamal, a donkey had come too close to the orphans’ tent and they were trying to push it away.
Suddenly, two masked men appeared on a motorcycle, dousing them with acid and inflicting severe burns on their faces. In just an instant, like so many other Baloch girls, they had been turned into innocent victims in a sordid war that made their scars a symbol of the power of certain groups.

A couple of days later, an organisation calling itself the Baloch Ghairatmand Group distributed pamphlets in the Dalbandin area, including the Press Club, private houses and shops. The pamphlets warned that women leaving their homes would be disciplined like the girls in Dalbandin. Warnings and even, allegedly, a target list of women who had been seen venturing out, were circulated via cellphone. The driver of a van from the Government Girls College reported that he had been stopped and told that girls walking to the college would be attacked. Local people claimed that the culprits were unknown to them and that they had never heard of the group before.

The violence did not stop with the orphaned and destitute sisters who had lived all their lives in a ragged tent in a poor Baloch village. A fortnight later Nazima Talib, a professor of mass communications, was gunned down as she stepped into a rickshaw outside Balochistan University in Quetta.

Unlike the acid attack, which had taken place in the evening in a relatively remote area, the attack on Prof Talib occurred in broad daylight on a busy street, demonstrating the audacity of her killers. A professor of two decades’ standing, she was widely respected and well-known in the university’s academic community. Her gunmen sprayed her with so many bullets that she died instantly. Few definitive reports are available as to why Professor Talib was targeted.

While Balochistan was still reeling from Professor Talib’s brutal killing, women in Balochistan were targeted again. This time the victims were three young girls who were returning from a wedding in Kalat. Twenty-year-old Fatima, 14-year-old Sakeena and eight-year-old Saima were passing near the village of Babo Mohalla when two masked men flung acid on them, inflicting severe burns on their faces and other parts of their bodies. Yet another group claimed responsibility, distributing pamphlets the day after, warning women against leaving their homes without a male relation and instructing them to wear the hijab.

President Zardari took note of the attack a few days later, calling them ‘barbaric’. A few local suspects were rounded up but little information is available as to the larger connections of the group. Since the attacks, Balochistan has remained tense and many women choose not to venture out for fear of being victimised. According to reports in various newspapers, during the past week two government girls’ schools have been closed indefinitely due to threats from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Balochistan and the Balochistan Liberation Army.

The attacks on women in Balochistan and the lack of outcry or attention at the national level represent the afflictions facing the country. Beset with ethnic separatists that hold grievances against the usurpation of local resources and an itinerant and increasingly volatile branch of the Taliban, ample room exists for the proliferation of conspiracy theories that lull the public into inaction. With each new attack, a new set of rationalisations is created: the girls in Dalbandin were poor and hence probably just vagrants; Nazima Talib was Punjabi so her death must have been caused by the BLA; the girls in Kalat had loose morals so they deserved to be attacked and killed.

Each new act of violence seems to bring with it a new explanation that alters the moral shade of the attack from ugly black to murky grey, pointing towards the possible complicity of the victim in the act itself. The public, otherwise willing to take to the streets over any issue, mollifies itself with the comfort that no anger or repulsion needs to be reserved for the attackers, and no empathy for the victims because it must have been, at least in part, their own fault.

It is this moral miasma that prevents Pakistanis from acknowledging the horror of the killing, maiming and targeting of women in the streets of the country. The women of Balochistan, caught as they are between a tribal power structure that gives them little autonomy, the ever-encroaching Taliban and the military’s presence, have little to hope for.

Change is unlikely in a country mired in problems and more concerned with Facebook pages than the complete absence of physical security for millions of its women. This sort of violence against women, where their bodies have become political sites where various groups contest their control over the territory, is likely to claim scores more as long as the public refuses to decry it.

In the meantime, any woman venturing into the streets of Pakistan must do so with the knowledge that anyone who chooses to shoot them, assault them or fling acid in their faces is unlikely to face any sort of punishment. It is true that violence against women exists in every nation of the world, but perhaps only in Pakistan is it so easily tolerated and so rarely punished.

The writer is a US-based attorney teaching constitutional history and political philosophy.