Wednesday 31 August 2011

Children sexually abused on Pakistan's streets

Nadeem knows first hand the misery of life on the streets. Sexually assaulted as a child, he became a pimp of young boys -- the only way he knew how to survive as a member of Pakistan's underclass.

He says he was 12 years old when he was attacked. Since then, he has been dragged into a vicious cycle of horrifying abuse allegedly aided and abetted by police and which few are willing to confront in the Muslim country.

"It was just the third night I slept on a street when a policeman picked me up and did bad things to me. I cried a lot but no one came to help me," Nadeem, now 17, told AFP.

He was sexually assaulted for a second time by the leader of a street gang, who then forced Nadeem to join the 17 other children in his gang.

By 14 he was a full-time sex worker. His pimp gave him a mobile phone to keep in contact with clients.

According to charities which work to protect street children in Pakistan, up to 90 percent are sexually abused on the first night that they sleep rough and 60 percent accuse police of sexually abusing them.

"Children on the street are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted, and sometimes killed," said Rana Asif Habib, head of the Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF).

"Police (should) protect people. When policemen are themselves involved in molesting children, who will protect them?" he asks.

"What we have gathered in our research is that policemen make up more than 60 percent of those who physically torment, sexually harass street children," said Anwer Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation, the country's largest charity.

Karachi is home to Pakistan?s biggest community of street children -- tens of thousands of victims of domestic violence and broken homes, drugs and crime, in the steamy port city.

More than 170,000 street children live on the streets across the country.

Illiterate, uneducated and most without family, the children can grow into seasoned criminals, drug addicts or fall prey to Islamist militancy.

When Nadeem turned 16, he tried to escape. He received counselling from a charity and was taught photography. He tried to make it his profession.

"I was happy with my work, but a year ago, a policeman put me in the lockup on a false charge, confiscated my camera and abused me sexually," he said.

The experience turned him against the world.

"I decided to become stronger. Now I have my own gang and many influential people are my clients. No one can touch me now."

Nadeem says he acts as a pimp to 10 teenage sex workers aged 14-18, taking a sizeable cut of whatever the boys bring in earnings.

"Half an hour after finishing with one client I get another call and I forget all about wanting a respectable life."

Nadeem lives on a street in the downtown Saddar neighbourhood, but rents a room in a cheap hotel when he has surplus cash. He confesses that he too sexually assaulted a child.

"He insulted me and my family so I told him he had it coming. So I grabbed him and gave it to him. I still remember that night. I haven't done that to anyone else since then and I don't want to."

Rizwan is a fisherman's son. He insists he is 12, but he looks much younger. He left home three years ago because his family beat him and says he was abused by police. IHDF fears he too will be dragged into the sex industry.

"The police tried to make me do bad things six or seven times but I managed to get away," he said.

"But one day, one policeman took me by force, put a cloth over my mouth and took me to a place where he did bad things."

Shaukat Hussain, head of police in Karachi's southern district where many street children live, said any officers found guilty would be punished, but denied the force was anything like as culpable as reported.

"There are black sheep in our department who are involved in such acts. But we punish anyone whose crime comes to surface and is proved," he told AFP.

"The number of policemen who are involved in such acts is far less than what is being claimed by the media and NGOs," he added.

Pakistan offers little protection to vulnerable children.

"A draft bill for child protection has been pending with the interior ministry for two years," a senior official of the human rights ministry told AFP on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media.

The bill is designed to tighten the laws protecting children, bringing them in line with international conventions, doing more to help children in difficulty and bringing police and other offenders to book for abusing minors.

"There is a visible lack of interest on the part of the government on this issue... despite our constant pursuits," said the ministry official.

One former police official told AFP that he organised seminars to sensitise police on how to treat street children four years ago, but that the programme was abruptly abandoned when he retired.


Monday 29 August 2011

To Him We Belong & To Him We Shall Return...

On May 27th, 2011, I took my shahada, or my declaration of faith in Islam in front of our crowded masjid. However, I did not become a Muslim on that day. I have been Muslim my entire life, but was unaware of it. I have always believed in one God and Him alone. This thought is one of the most basic, but most important, pillars of the religion. The reason I never knew I was Muslim was because no one ever told me. I have a Muslim roommate, have met many Muslim people, but no one ever told me what Muslims believe in. All along I had believed in Islam, but had no idea that my faith was the same faith as millions of people around me.

Finally, after years of trying to understand my beliefs, attending different religious services and only believing in parts of what I would hear, a close friend asked me what I believed in. We had been friends for a while and I never talked about religion with him. I explained my fundamental beliefs, that I believe in God, but not the trinity, and I believe in heaven and angels, but also noted that it did not fall under any one religion and I “didn’t know what it was called”. He told me that I had been wrong all this time and that all of my beliefs are consistent with his beliefs as a Muslim.

At first I thought he was just trying to make Islam “look good”. Explaining the most appealing parts of the faith. He would send me ayas (or “verses”) from the Qur’an and I agreed with them, but I thought he was only picking and choosing the best lines that would make me more interested. I went out and bought a Qur’an for myself to find things to point out to him that I did not agree with. I couldn’t find one single thing. I agreed with every aya. I easily understood why the literal translation of “aya” is “miracle”. Every verse is a miracle. As a matter of fact, every word is a miracle.

It was a miracle in my own life that after searching for twenty years, after being confused, after thinking I would never find anyone else with my beliefs, I found Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) through His will. The best part was, however, that He had always been with me. I would stay up as late as possible reading Qur’an and crying knowing that I was reading the truth. I reflect on how beautiful it is that Allah (swt) gave all of the other Prophets the power to perform miracles for the people of their time to see, but he gave Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhi wa salaam) a miracle that I get to hold in my hands every day, the Qur’an.

I knew I was Muslim and I knew I was so incredibly blessed that Allah (swt) wanted me, a twenty-year old college student, to come to Him. How could I be so lucky? And how could I do anything but seek all the knowledge and faith possible when I was chosen by Him to come to Islam?

There is a hadith that says, “if you draw nearer to Allah by a handspan, He will draw nearer to you by a cubit, and if you draw nearer to Him by a cubit, He will draw nearer to you by a fathom. And if you walk towards Him, He will rush to you.” Well, I drew nearer to Him by miles and miles and He far surpassed my efforts. And I sprinted to Him, and He rushed to me at lightspeed.

That is not to say there were not times when I was terrified. Americans do not think too fondly of Muslims, and after all the negative media portrayals I expected my friends to feel similarly about the subject. Some do, and I do not mind letting them go as friends. A friend should accept you for what you are, and also should draw you nearer to Allah. Spending time with those friends makes it obvious to me that they are not what is best for me, and that I prefer friends who are of my religion. When it’s time to pray, I can go pray without having to explain myself. When we see someone walking down the street that is “different” we do not judge them, as opposed to tease them or harass them as my friends and I had done in the past. That is not to say I do not make du’aa (or prayer) for them.

There are friends who support me and love me no matter what my choice is, and to them I am thankful. I can only hope that Allah (swt) draws them nearer to Him. However, what I was surprised to find out of these friends is the complete lack of knowledge about Islam, and oftentimes about their own religions as well. I was ignorant about Islam before converting, but I had not thought that all of my friends would be equally as ignorant about Islam and their own religions!

It is my biggest honor in life to be Muslim. It is my second biggest honor to explain Islam to others. I am thankful that people feel comfortable enough around me at a grocery store, or in line at Subway, or at my office, or at the park to ask me about my faith, I just hope that I am eloquent and intelligent enough to speak for my faith.

There’s nothing I love talking about more than what we believe in and why we believe in it. I cannot force others to believe in Islam: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error” (Qur’an 2.256). However, I can educate people who do not know what Islam is about the basic beliefs. I cannot teach faith, that is only in the heart and that is only between you and Allah (swt), but I can teach religion and His message. This teaching, or dawah, is a critical part of Islam. Islam does not belong to us, it belongs to all of mankind. Islam, and the Prophet (saws) are a mercy for the entire world.

I have been told to “go back where I came from” in a WalMart parking lot (to which I responded, “I’m from Cleveland!”). I have been told to “shut up” while eating ice cream with Muslim friends for no reason. I have had people make sure their children did not walk anywhere near me at restaurants. I have had people tell me that Jesus loves me (to which I responded, “I love him too!”). I have had a woman tell me she feels bad for the way I dress when I was wearing a long dress and turtleneck and she was wearing a tube top and mini skirt (to which I responded, “honey, I feel even worse for you”). And, I have had parents tell their children the reason I was wearing hijab is because I have cancer. And that is perfectly fine. If these people knew the peace we had in our hearts, they would be fighting us for that.

I hope to teach people more about our religion, and I hope that more people are open minded enough to learn, and I hope that I continue learning forever. I encourage the Muslim population to get to know people from different cultures and religions and explain ours. There’s no need to fight, but how beautiful is it that we would speak for ourselves instead of letting others speak for us. May Allah (swt) continue blessing us with the bounty of iman, and inshaAllah (God willing) we will all draw each other nearer to Allah.
“To Him we belong and to Him we shall return.” (Qur’an 2.156)


Please check out more of these stories at the excellent intiative MyfellowAmerican.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Challenging patriarchal culture in Afghanistan

On July 14th, a group of about fifty women and men took to the streets in Kabul to protest agains harassment by men in public places.

For Afghanistan, this was a first, and represents a new generation of young Afghan women and men. The event drew the attention of the international media.

Police walked with us and helped distribute flyers

"The protest walk started from Kabul University to the offices of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan", explained 19-year-old Noorjahan Akbar, feminist activist and student.

"We held signs and pamphlets and flyers on street harassment were distributed. We were interviewed by the media and spoke to local men and women about street harassment.."

Protest walk grabbed the world's attention

In an interview with Safeworld, Noorjahan told Clara Boxall, "Our protest walk has grabbed the attention of people in Afghanistan and around the world, and local Afghans are starting to recognise street harassment as a problem".

"Women rarely go to the police for help on street harassment and sometimes the police themselves are the harassers, but during our protest walk the policemen were very helpful. They walked with us, helped in distributing flyers and even talked to passers by about the objectives of our walk."

Fighting deep-seated beliefs

Noorjahan is co-founder of Young Women for Change, which aims to fight the deep-seated beliefs that underpin the oppression of women in Afghanistan.

Her parents are very supportive of her activism work and her education, but she feels that the majority of parents are still not ready for young women to engage freely in society.

In Kabul, however, attitudes are gradually changing,

"There are more women going to schools and universities and it is more accepted by the community."

In rural Afghanistan, young women face greater challenges and dangers. A lack of female teachers and safe transportation makes travel difficult. There is also little interest in protecting girl’s schools and supporting female teachers.

For girls travelling to school in rural areas, dangers can include physical assault, including acid attacks, and even kidnappings, says Noorjahan.

It's the men, not Islam, that violate the rights of women

Noorjahan is outspoken about the reasons behind oppression of women in Afghanistan.

"In Afghanistan, Islam is mixed with the Afghan culture and this culture includes traditions that violate the rights of women and children....

For example, the religion forbids a marriage without the woman’s consent, but the culture permits it.... Around seventy-five per cent of marriages in Afghanistan are either forced or child marriages.

Islam also allows women to vote but the majority of Afghan women are not given ‘permission’ to leave their homes to vote, according to cultural believes. Culturally women are also denied their rights to worship in Mosques, and this is in opposition to Islamic law."

Noorjahan believes this is because, in Afghanistan, the religion has been mainly interpreted by men.

"The vast majority of women are illiterate and cannot understand the Q'ran. Therefore any interpretation done is by men only and in this way, men have taken advantage to guarantee their dominance within the society."

Noorhahan is optimistic: "This will change when women start taking part in interpreting the religion and learning about feminism and women’s rights through Islam."

Young Women for Change holds monthly lectures on women's rights, which are based on Islam and the Afghan law. "Using Islam and the law to prove that street harassment is not related to women’s clothing, and is rather a backlash against women’s participation in the society and it needs to stop."

Taliban negotiations could compromise women's rights

"Many things have improved for women since the fall of the Taliban, however this progress is mainly limited to the urban areas and this progress could be threatened again. At the moment negotiations are being made with the Taliban and some freedoms have already been taken away from women, and this could further compromise women’s rights and the freedom that we deserve."

The struggle for women to obtain support and justice

In a recent TrustLaw poll, Afghanistan came out as the most dangerous country in the world for women. Noorjahan believes this is accurate.

"Ninety per cent of Afghan women face domestic violence," says Noorjahan.

"A lack of judicial and legal support for abused women and recent regulations on women shelters make it even harder for women to seek help and protection.

"Street harassment against women has increased and also sexual crimes of children and women. There is little hope for victims in seeking and receiving justice. And worse of all, the small number of women and men who do seek justice and activists advocating women’s rights or helping to build schools for girls, are being denied any protection. About a month ago the daughter of a principle of a girl’s school in Kandahar was kidnapped...

"Several women’s rights activists have been murdered and there has been no justice for their cases. Ama Safia Jan and Nadia Anjuman are amongst those murdered."

More women are needed in negotiations and judiciary

Noorjahan, like many other Afghan women, has strong views on women and the peace process.

"Currently there are only nine women members in the High Peace Council and women are given very little voice and representation in the peace process because our fates are being decided by men, who have destroyed this country and violated our rights for decades."

She is critical of the attitude of the government towards women's rights. "The Afghan government does not have a stable policy towards women’s rights and human rights.

"The president has rarely addressed issues relating to crimes against women and the negotiations with the Taliban has also led to certain compromises that influence women’s rights...

Another problem is implementation.

"The laws that do protect women are not widely implemented and part of the reason for this is due to the small number of women in the judicial system."

Speaking out

"We produce TV and radio advertisements about street harassment and currently we are also working on a documentary on street harassment faced by women in Kabul...

Noorjahn and her friends are all too aware of the dangers ahead

"It is important to keep women’s issues on the table while the government is focusing on negotiations with the Taliban.

The majority of the Afghan women I meet these days are afraid that their fight for equality has been abandoned by their former international allies.


Friday 26 August 2011

How Israel takes its revenge on boys who throw stones

Video seen by Catrina Stewart reveals the brutal interrogation of young Palestinians

The boy, small and frail, is struggling to stay awake. His head lolls to the side, at one point slumping on to his chest. "Lift up your head! Lift it up!" shouts one of his interrogators, slapping him. But the boy by now is past caring, for he has been awake for at least 12 hours since he was separated at gunpoint from his parents at two that morning. "I wish you'd let me go," the boy whimpers, "just so I can get some sleep."

During the nearly six-hour video, 14-year-old Palestinian Islam Tamimi, exhausted and scared, is steadily broken to the point where he starts to incriminate men from his village and weave fantastic tales that he believes his tormentors want to hear.

This rarely seen footage seen by The Independent offers a glimpse into an Israeli interrogation, almost a rite of passage that hundreds of Palestinian children accused of throwing stones undergo every year.

Israel has robustly defended its record, arguing that the treatment of minors has vastly improved with the creation of a military juvenile court two years ago. But the children who have faced the rough justice of the occupation tell a very different story.

"The problems start long before the child is brought to court, it starts with their arrest," says Naomi Lalo, an activist with No Legal Frontiers, an Israeli group that monitors the military courts. It is during their interrogation where their "fate is doomed", she says.

Sameer Shilu, 12, was asleep when the soldiers smashed in the front door of his house one night. He and his older brother emerged bleary-eyed from their bedroom to find six masked soldiers in their living room.

Checking the boy's name on his father's identity card, the officer looked "shocked" when he saw he had to arrest a boy, says Sameer's father, Saher. "I said, 'He's too young; why do you want him?' 'I don't know,' he said". Blindfolded, and his hands tied painfully behind his back with plastic cords, Sameer was bundled into a Jeep, his father calling out to him not to be afraid. "We cried, all of us," his father says. "I know my sons; they don't throw stones."

In the hours before his interrogation, Sameer was kept blindfolded and handcuffed, and prevented from sleeping. Eventually taken for interrogation without a lawyer or parent present, a man accused him of being in a demonstration, and showed him footage of a boy throwing stones, claiming it was him.

"He said, 'This is you', and I said it wasn't me. Then he asked me, 'Who are they?' And I said that I didn't know," Sameer says. "At one point, the man started shouting at me, and grabbed me by the collar, and said, 'I'll throw you out of the window and beat you with a stick if you don't confess'."

Sameer, who protested his innocence, was fortunate; he was released a few hours later. But most children are frightened into signing a confession, cowed by threats of physical violence, or threats against their families, such as the withdrawal of work permits.

When a confession is signed, lawyers usually advise children to accept a plea bargain and serve a fixed jail sentence even if not guilty. Pleading innocent is to invite lengthy court proceedings, during which the child is almost always remanded in prison. Acquittals are rare. "In a military court, you have to know that you're not looking for justice," says Gabi Lasky, an Israeli lawyer who has represented many children.

There are many Palestinian children in the West Bank villages in the shadow of Israel's separation wall and Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands. Where largely non-violent protests have sprung up as a form of resistance, there are children who throw stones, and raids by Israel are common. But lawyers and human rights groups have decried Israel's arrest policy of targeting children in villages that resist the occupation.

In most cases, children as young as 12 are hauled from their beds at night, handcuffed and blindfolded, deprived of sleep and food, subjected to lengthy interrogations, then forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language few of them read.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem concluded that, "the rights of minors are severely violated, that the law almost completely fails to protect their rights, and that the few rights granted by the law are not implemented".

Israel claims to treat Palestinian minors in the spirit of its own law for juveniles but, in practice, it is rarely the case. For instance, children should not be arrested at night, lawyers and parents should be present during interrogations, and the children must be read their rights. But these are treated as guidelines, rather than a legal requirement, and are frequently flouted. And Israel regards Israeli youngsters as children until 18, while Palestinians are viewed as adults from 16.

Lawyers and activists say more than 200 Palestinian children are in Israeli jails. "You want to arrest these kids, you want to try them," Ms Lalo says. "Fine, but do it according to Israeli law. Give them their rights."

In the case of Islam, the boy in the video, his lawyer, Ms Lasky, believes the video provides the first hard proof of serious irregularities in interrogation.

In particular, the interrogator failed to inform Islam of his right to remain silent, even as his lawyer begged to no avail to see him. Instead, the interrogator urged Islam to tell him and his colleagues everything, hinting that if he did so, he would be released. One interrogator suggestively smacked a balled fist into the palm of his hand.

By the end of the interrogation Islam, breaking down in sobs, has succumbed to his interrogators, appearing to give them what they want to hear. Shown a page of photographs, his hand moves dully over it, identifying men from his village, all of whom will be arrested for protesting.

Ms Lasky hopes this footage will change the way children are treated in the occupied territories, in particular, getting them to incriminate others, which lawyers claim is the primary aim of interrogations. The video helped gain Islam's release from jail into house arrest, and may even lead to a full acquittal of charges of throwing stones. But right now, a hunched and silent Islam doesn't feel lucky. Yards from his house in Nabi Saleh is the home of his cousin, whose husband is in jail awaiting trial along with a dozen others on the strength of Islam's confession.

The cousin is magnanimous. "He is a victim, he is just a child," says Nariman Tamimi, 35, whose husband, Bassem, 45, is in jail. "We shouldn't blame him for what happened. He was under enormous pressure."

Israel's policy has been successful in one sense, sowing fear among children and deterring them from future demonstrations. But the children are left traumatised, prone to nightmares and bed-wetting. Most have to miss a year of school, or even drop out.

Israel's critics say its policy is creating a generation of new activists with hearts filled with hatred against Israel. Others say it is staining the country's character. "Israel has no business arresting these children, trying them, oppressing them," Ms Lalo says, her eyes glistening. "They're not our children. My country is doing so many wrongs and justifying them. We should be an example, but we have become an oppressive state."

Child detention figures

7,000 [Figure corrected due to subbing error, with apologies for earlier error.] The estimated number of Palestinian children detained and prosecuted in Israeli military courts since 2000, shows a report by Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP).

87 The percentage of children subjected to some form of physical violence while in custody. About 91 per cent are also believed to be blindfolded at some point during their detention.

12 The minimum age of criminal responsibility, as stipulated in the Military Order 1651.

62 The percentage of children arrested between 12am and 5am.


Pamela Geller BUSTED!!!

Thursday 25 August 2011

The French Morality Police

Since the enforcement of France and Belgium’s bans on face veils (“niqab”), the countries’ policemen have been assigned a singularly difficult task: making sure that Muslim women behave. Police are required to detain and fine Muslim women covering their faces illegally in public. The French police send some of these women to citizenship classes where they can learn the appropriate way to exhibit their spirits of liberté and égalité, whilein Belgium offenders can also be jailed (sans face veils, of course)...

As French President Sarkozy stated when promoting the ban, the niqab is “a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement” of women. Recent news articles indicate that, at least in France, the police force is befuddled about how to enforce this ban and ensure that Muslim women are less subservient and debased.

Should they approach the veiled Saudi princesses shopping at Louis Vuitton with their security guards? Since that could lead to all kinds of trouble, not to mention antagonize the many Arabian princesses who are lovers of French fashion, perhaps they should instead focus on chasing after veiled housewives in minivans shuttling children to afterschool activities? How should the police handle those rebellious women living in the Muslim ghettos of Paris who cover their faces, particularly if they are carrying about in large numbers? Even more puzzling, how do the police determine if the women are donning the niqab by choice or have been coerced into veiling their faces by their husbands, brothers, or fathers?

Being new at the task of apprehending and disciplining unruly Muslim women who refuse to follow the dress code dictated by the government, the French, and even the Belgians, need guidance from the pros. They should reach out to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the members of its Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also referred to as the muttawas. The muttawas are a highly trained special task force of Saudi men who spend their days stalking Muslim women to make sure that they dress in accordance with the Kingdom’s rules and do not mingle with unrelated members of the opposite sex. There are few people in the world more concerned with ensuring the dignity of Muslim women than the muttawas.

Unlike the French security officials feeling uneasy about their new duties, the muttawas have no qualms about personally following, interrogating, and punishing women who dare to dress as they choose. Women in Saudi Arabia, when leaving the house, must carefully tuck all stray hairs into their scarves, and ethnic Saudi women have to make sure their faces are completely concealed. If any of the thousands of muttawas patrolling the streets find these women in violation of the dress code, they often administer a swift tongue-lashing. If the women are particularly rebellious, the muttawas also give them a few good strong whacks with their switch-like canes. Many Saudi women have stories of being caned on the head, shoulder, or back because their hair, ankles, or wrists were showing. The women who prove particularly rebellious and dare to venture out without covering their hair or, even worst, talk back to the muttawas, swiftly find themselves in jail.

If the Saudi muttawas cannot provide relevant guidance to the French and Belgians, perhaps they can impose upon the morality police of Iran for assistance. When not chasing after rebellious teenagers out on dates, men wearing effeminate jewelry, and the dog owners in Tehran, the morality police spend their time ensuring that Iranian women are covered up. Like the Saudi muttawas, they have years of experience controlling Muslim women and their errant desires to dress inappropriately. If, in the hundred-degree summer heat, women loosen their head covering or expose their ankles, they, like their Saudi sisters, are subjected to humiliation, fines and arrest by the hands of the morality police.

Perhaps, if the French and Belgians fly the morality police from Saudi Arabia and Iran to commence their lessons, they will also learn that these are some of the most misogynistic individuals on earth. They are people who have stripped Muslim women of the basic right to choose how to express their individuality and religiosity, and believe that draconian punitive measures are justified to ensure that women dress and behave only according to the government’s dictates. Surely, their grossly paternalistic viewpoint has no place in a society such as France that prides itself on its ideals of liberté and égalité.

If the French and Belgians decide to strictly enforce their bans, and if Italy and Spain carry forward with their own bans as they are currently contemplating, they will only assist fanatics such as the muttawas oppress Muslim women. This, because the muttawas already rely on the assumption that women have no real freedom anywhere in the world, explaining on their website: “There are those who say that we must leave people alone and not interfere in personal matters of virtue from which they refrain, because this conflicts with their individual freedom. [T]here is no such thing as 'personal freedom.' It is a lie. . . Have you found personal freedom in the east of the land or in its west? In Eastern or Western regimes? None whatsoever, neither here nor there.” Muslim women can only hope that the muttawas and their kin are wrong, and that the liberal secular countries of Europe will ultimately reject the notion that it is fair to harass and oppress Muslim women in the same manner they were treated in places like Saudi Araba, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Uzma Mariam Ahmed is a Contributing Writer to

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Madagascar maids: Misery in the Middle East

Forced to work as a "slave maid" for wealthy families in Lebanon for 15 years, Abeline Baholiarisoa - a 59-year-old woman from Madagascar - finally achieved her freedom in March.

Madagascar's government chartered a plane to evacuate her and 85 other women.

The youngest of her four children, whom she left behind when he was six years old, played a key role in her evacuation, tracking her down via a welfare agency that rescues "slave maids", she says.

Ms Baholiarisoa says she was trapped in "a living hell" after being duped into going to Lebanon.

A recruiting agency had promised her a nursing job for three years, with a salary of $800 (£486) a month.

Ms Baholiarisoa says she thought it would give her a chance to save money, which she could send to her children.

But her dream was shattered the minute she touched down in Beirut.

"It was a trap, because as soon as I got there they took away my papers and said my contract didn't mean anything," Ms Baholiarisoa says.

"They said, 'Abeline, this is null and void.' For the next 15 years they shattered my life and the lives of my children."

Ms Baholiarisoa says she was put to work as a maid with another Malagasy woman in the house of a rich couple with newborn triplets.

"We didn't have time to eat or sleep - night and day. We didn't even have time to clean ourselves.

"I worked 24 hours a day and received $160 a month. From this, I had to pay the lady of the house money for my food because they only gave us a quarter of a loaf of bread and some bits of fruit each day."

'Women crippled'

Ms Baholiarisoa says she ran away from her first job after seven months and her second job after two years.

But with no papers and no way to return home she was forced to accept maid jobs for 12 more years.

Fabienne Marie Ange - a social worker with Madagascar's Union of Qualified Domestic Workers (SPDTS), which specialises in helping "slave maids" - says many of them are so traumatised that they do not even know where they are.

"Sometimes in Lebanon the boss gives them drugs to keep them strong. They have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they don't eat properly. It has an effect on their mental [health]," Ms Ange says.

Ms Baholiarisoa says she refused her employer's attempts to give her pills for "stress", but she knew of people who ended up with an "empty brain" after taking them.

"You become like a beast, like an animal made for work," she says.

Some women are forced to work in Lebanon's clubs and streets as prostitutes, while some maids sell their bodies on the side just to pay for food, Ms Ange says.

According to SPDTS President Noro Randimbiarison, some of the women have died in mysterious circumstances in Lebanon.

When their bodies were eventually returned to Madagascar, it was discovered that several of them had missing organs.

"Some families decided to open the coffin and found that the girl didn't have eyes, her eyes had been replaced by doll's eyes, or they didn't have a tongue or intestines or the heart. This really happens. It's real," says Ms Randimbiarison.

Medical reports on the cause of death are vague - and some families have been told that the women committed suicide by jumping off tall buildings, she says.

Ms Baholiarisoa claims women were pushed from windows, sometimes to cripple them just enough so they could not run away; others disappear, fuelling suspicion that they were killed.

'Trafficking rackets'

"We have no idea how many women have died out there or have gone mad because if you ask a boss where is his maid they say she ran off with someone and it's over," she says.

"Where is the proof that she's run off and they haven't buried her in the courtyard? We don't have any proof."

Madagascar's Minister of Population Nadine Ramaroson, the only government minister tackling the issue, says "a very organised network" involving senior government officials and businessmen emerged in the 1990s to engage in human trafficking.

Government officials provide fraudulent work permits, travel and identity document for around $5,000 per trafficked woman, social workers say.

Ms Ramaroson says the government is trying to break the criminal networks, but it is not easy.

While one job agency flew 300 women to Jordan last month with the government's approval, 43 women bound for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were stopped from boarding planes.

Ms Ramaroson said all were recruited from remote rural areas with high illiteracy and poverty levels. Some 16-year-old girls were given forged identity papers showing their age as 21.

She said their contracts stated they would work in top institutions "when these girls don't even know what electricity is".

Ms Baholiarisoa considers herself lucky. Given up for dead by her older children, her youngest child - now an adult - contacted SPDTS to help trace his mother.

They picked up one of her many calls for repatriation at the consulate in Beirut, she says.

Ms Baholiarisoa now helps SPDTS track down other women trying to escape Lebanon and to prevent other women from being duped into taking jobs in the Middle East.

"If the madam at SPDTS hadn't taken me in with open arms I don't know what I would have done," she says.

"It pains me that these girls are leaving because I know what awaits them, especially the beautiful ones."

From the plane load of women rescued in March, Ms Baholiarisoa is the only one with a job.

Some of the women have returned to discover husbands remarried and children adopted.

Others, like Ms Baholiarisoa, have to rebuild relationships after much hurt and loss.


Monday 22 August 2011

Sunday 21 August 2011

Wardina Safiyyah is a TV host, actress and model.

She used to sashay down the runways across Asia in short skirts and revealing tops.

Then 15 years ago she decided to 'cover up' and expose only her wrists and face as a way to profess her Islamic faith. She, like many Muslim women in Malaysia, began to wear the headscarf or 'tudong' as it is called it in Malay.

The headscarf is the most visible sign of the islamisation of Malaysia, which has been gathering pace since the Iranian revolution of 1979. While some non-Muslims are concerned about this trend, Ms Wardina says her ability to choose what she wants to wear is proof that Malaysia is still a moderate Islamic nation.

Today, Ms Wardina has become a fashion icon for Muslim women in the country and she hopes to redefine the concept of beauty.

Ms Wardina feels empowered by her new Islamic attire - forcing people to judge her on her talent rather than her cleavage, she says.


Thursday 18 August 2011

Islamic Relief UK: East Africa Crisis Appeal - Children in Need

Please watch the video below- It's only around 2 minutes long. Alhumdulillah, we can never thank Allah enough for everything HE has given us. Please give how much you can inshAllah.

Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) narrated “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) was the most generous of people and he was the most generous in the month of Ramadan, when Jibreel would meet him. Jibreel used to meet him every night of Ramadan to teach him the Quran.” This hadith emphasises the need to be generous in giving all kinds of charity in Ramadan, in addition to studying the Quran. It is also important to feed others, especially those with less. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “whoever gives a fasting person (food or drink to break their fast), they will have similar to the reward of the one who fasted, without any decrease for the one who fasted.”

JazakAllah Khairun.

Muslims tackle looters and bigots

There is a lively debate taking place in the UK media between left and right wing commentators as to the causes of the English riots, in which hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted. However, both sides agree that the looting has been inexcusable. I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims.

"When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian", a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.

In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbours is worth highlighting - especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Pro-active response

On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked 'East London Mosque' took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europewho used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.

While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.

Most important to emphasise is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBTcommunity. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.

I am not sure if the Telegraph's Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bike by looters in Tower Hamlets or in another part of London as he cycled home from Hackney to Greenwich on Monday night, but even his incessant negative reporting of Muslims associated with the East London Mosque would not have excluded him from their neighbourly support had they been in the immediate vicinity to help him.

Gilligan reports that police were unable to offer him any advice other than to go home when he finally received an answer to his 999 call as a victim of a violent street robbery. London policing on Monday night was stretched as never before and Gilligan was one amongst hundreds of victims who had to fend for themselves as looters ran amok around the capital city. In these unique circumstances the street skills of Muslim youth workers, who are routinely helping police to tackle violent gang crime and anti-social behaviour in Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Brixton and in other deprived neighbourhoods, were a key ingredient in filling the vacuum created by insufficient police numbers.

I first saw East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe street skills in action in 2005 when they robustly dispatched extremists from Al Muhajiroun who were in Whitechapel attempting to recruit youngsters into their hate filled group. I saw the same skills in action in the same year when volunteers from the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Welfare House ousted violent supporters of Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque. More recently, Muslim bravery has been seen in Brixton when extremists spouting the latest manifestation of Al Muhajroun hatred were sent packing out of town. In all these instances, and so many more, the brave Muslims involved have received no praise for their outstanding bravery and good citizenship, and instead faced a never ending barrage of denigration from journalists such as Gilligan, Melanie Phillips, Martin Bright.... sorry I won't go on, it's a long list!

Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are 'extremist'. Street in Brixton is a case in point. Yesterday Dr Abdul Haqq Baker director of Street was forced to close a Street youth centre in Brixton as his reduced team of youth of workers struggled to keep pace with the task of tackling gang violence and its role in rioting and looting.

Confronting extremism

Significantly, the same potent mixture of Muslim street skills and bravery was evident last summer when the Islamophobic English Defence League (EDL) began to prepare for a violent demonstration in Whitechapel. On that occasion police commended the skills of Muslim youth workers who helped reduce tension and manage anger towards the EDL.

Two weeks ago, under the banner United East End neighbours of all faiths and none gathered at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel to express solidarity with their Muslim neighbours who are the target of another provocative English Defence League demonstration planned for 3 September. It is no co-incidence that Anders Breivik found common cause with the EDL.

The EDL regards the East London Mosque as the hub of the Muslim extremism it purports to oppose. Regrettably, EDL's hate-filled analysis of Muslims is based on the work of mainstream media commentators who should now reflect on the unintended if not unforeseeable consequences of their Islamophobic discourse.

It is also worthy of comment that Muslim bravery during this outbreak of looting has taken place during Ramadan when Muslims are fasting – without food or water – from sunrise to sunset. This is a hard enough regime when relaxing, but when taking part in dangerous operations against looters, it is worthy of special reward – no doubt something their religion caters for.

Today, as Muslims in Tower Hamlets and around the country continue to work with their neighbours to repair damaged shops and to restore public safety, it is important I conclude this article by paying special tribute to Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir, the three typically brave Birmingham Muslims who were killed while defending their neighbourhood on Tuesday night. I pray their legacy will be a wider appreciation of good Muslim citizenship, a reduction of media anti-Muslim denigration, and the elimination of EDL anti-Muslim intimidation and violence.


Wednesday 17 August 2011

Anti-Sharia Leader Yerushalmi Claims ‘I’ve Never Called For Discrimination Against Muslims’

On July 30, the New York Times profiled David Yerushalmi, the man behind the anti-sharia movement, looking into the hysterical claims of the “creeping sharia” crowd, as well as Yerushalmi’s own history of inflammatory and bigoted statements.
Yesterday, Yerushalmi responded in the American Thinker, accusing the writer Andrea Elliott of taking his words “out of context” (his standard claim whenever confronted with his own past writings) and insisting, “I have never written anything that calls for discrimination against…Muslims qua Muslims.”

Really? Here’s Yerushalmi on the very same website in 2006:
Islam was born in violence; it will die that way. Any wish to the contrary is sheer Pollyannaism. The same way the post World War II German youth were taught by their German teachers and political leaders to despise the fascism of their fathers, with strict laws extant still today restricting even speech that casts doubt on the Holocaust, so too must the Muslim youth be taught from the cradle to reject the religion of their forebears.

I’d say that advocating a legal regime that forces Muslims to reject Islam pretty clearly qualifies as “calls for discrimination against…Muslims qua Muslims.”
But if that’s not plain enough for you, Yerushalmi also heads an organization called Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), whose “draft law outlawing sharia” suggests the following measures for dealing with America’s alleged Muslim problem:

- It shall be a felony punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Islam.
- The Congress of the United States of America shall declare the US at war with the Muslim Nation or Umma.
- The President of the United States of America shall immediately declare that all non-US citizen Muslims are Alien Enemies under Chapter 3 of Title 50 of the US Code and shall be subject to immediate deportation.

- No Muslim shall be granted an entry visa into the United States of America.
Maybe Yerushalmi just has his own secret, magical definition of “discrimination.”
Fortunately, it seems that more people are getting wise to Yerushalmi’s scam. Yesterday, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League — which provided a good backgrounder on Yerushalmi — published an op-ed noting that “the threat of the infiltration of Sharia, or Islamic law, into the American court system is one of the more pernicious conspiracy theories to gain traction in our country in recent years”:
[Anti-sharia] measures are, at their core, predicated on prejudice and ignorance. They constitute a form of camouflaged bigotry that enables their proponents to advance an idea that finds fault with the Muslim faith and paints all Muslim Americans as foreigners and anti-American crusaders.

It is true that Sharia is being used elsewhere around the world in dangerous ways. While Sharia law can address many daily public and private concerns, it is nonetheless subject to radical interpretation by individuals or groups who subscribe to a more puritanical form of Islamic jurisprudence. Some individuals try to interpret Sharia law for their own radical agendas. It raises more serious concerns when it comes to implementing Sharia law in its entirety, as can be seen with the examples of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. But that certainly doesn’t apply to America, where concerns about a “creeping Sharia law” are the stuff of pure paranoia.


Tuesday 16 August 2011

In Pakistan, Birth Control And Religion Clash

In Pakistan, family planning is an uncomfortable topic fraught with religious overtones.

But in one of Asia's fastest-growing populations, a story of women giving birth challenges stereotypes, including what Islam has to say about women's health and family planning.

According to a new government survey, Pakistan is producing nearly 4 million babies every year, and most are born into poverty. The World Bank says 60 percent of Pakistanis live on less than $2 a day.

Yet clerics in religiously conservative Pakistan tell the Muslim majority that the Quran instructs women to keep bearing as many babies as possible. The message from the mullahs is that contraception is generally haram, or a sin.

'Family Planning Is Wrong'

Mohammad Zakaria, the mufti of Lahore's oldest Islamic religious school, Jamia Islamia, says modern family planning is a Western convention that offends Islam.

"Family planning is wrong and un-Islamic if it is practiced routinely," he says. "If it permanently stops a woman from becoming pregnant, it is harmful and illegal."

But a woman can temporarily put off becoming pregnant. The mufti says the Quran encourages mothers to space their pregnancies and to breast-feed their babies for prolonged periods. One verse states: "Mothers shall nurse their children two complete years for whoever desires to complete the nursing term."

If a new pregnancy would interfere with breast-feeding and the health of a nursing child, Islam allows a woman to temporarily stop having babies. The mufti says during that period Islam can be interpreted to mean the man may also use condoms and the rhythm method.

Zakaria says being poor should in no way limit having babies. Referencing the Quran, he says, "God will provide the resources and no one will starve."

"There are clear instructions in the Holy Quran, in which Allah says, 'We give you food, and we will also give food to your children. Food is not your responsibility, but God's,' " he says.

The mufti says the Quran also instructs that children must not be deprived of a proper upbringing. However, in Pakistan 38 percent of all children under 5 are underweight, and according to government data, malnutrition is widespread among mothers. The lack of resources in Pakistan today invites the question whether the mufti and his teachings are not consigning millions of people to misery.

The mufti answers: "Every society has its own value system. You should not judge us by yours. Children in the West lead a luxurious life. Earth is their heaven. Our children should not be compared with them," the mufti says. "Muslims don't pay much heed to the mundane pleasures of this world. Our reward will come in the next life."

The mufti adds that the West has taken modern contraception too far by removing the fear of getting pregnant and therefore removing women's sexual inhibitions. In Pakistan, "if a woman's fear is removed," says the mufti, she will stray into bad behavior "and offend God."

A 'Tragedy': Lack Of Education

Seventy percent of married women in Pakistan, according to the government, use no birth control method at all. And the government is ineffectual in promoting family planning, says Dr. Yasmin Raashid, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology in Pakistan. But she says if properly followed, the Quran's teachings about spacing pregnancies would automatically mean smaller families.

"And [ages] 20 to 30, of course, is the safest time to produce children," she says. "If you look at it, then, if you have a spacing between of let's say four years or three years between each child, they would not be producing more than three or four children."

Raashid says more than anything else illiteracy undermines family planning in Pakistan.

"Educated mothers limit their families. There's no problem," she says. "The tragedy in our country has been that the majority of women in Pakistan are not educated."

Raashid says educating young girls is the single best policy for reducing the country's high fertility rate and for achieving smaller, healthier families. She sites Sri Lanka where the literacy rate is 91 percent. There the fertility rate — or the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime — is 2.3, compared with Pakistan, where it is 3.9. In Pakistan, infant mortality is nearly six times as high as in Sri Lanka — a smaller, poorer country.

"And the only thing that you see different there is that women are educated there," Raashid says. "They know about their rights. They know what has to be done where their children are concerned. They know what to do where their own health is concerned. You educate the women of Pakistan and we would have the same results."

How To Reduce Maternal Deaths

In Pakistan, less than 1 percent of GDP is spent on health care. Government hospitals lack qualified staff and medicine. Private hospitals like the United Christian Hospital in Lahore, where Raashid is the chief physician, are underfunded. In her hospital nursery, soap is scarce. But a newborn baby boy, with a shock of black hair, does have the benefit of an incubator where he lies sleeping.

He's one of the fortunate few who could take advantage of being born inside a hospital, which is not the case for most children in Pakistan.

It's estimated that at least 70 percent of Pakistani children are born at home, many without a skilled birthing attendant. The result is that 12,000 mothers die in childbirth in Pakistan each year. To save more mothers, Raashid says, Pakistan must invest in more midwives.

"You really don't need hi-fi doctors everywhere," she says. "You need proper-trained midwives. Skilled birth attendants working in the villages — I mean skilled women — can go and deliver the patients at home. And at the moment we have only 25 percent of women being delivered by skilled birth attendants."

Raashid leaves the room to see a patient and perform an abortion.

In Islam, there is no strict, unanimous ban on abortion, but Muslim jurists agree that it is forbidden after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul. Islamic theologians differ on when that happens: The Hanafi School of Islamic law prevalent in Pakistan is among the least restrictive. It says the soul is deemed to come into the fetus at four months, and so up to four months, abortion may be induced for "good cause."

But Raashid says abortion has become a dangerous form of birth control as women submit themselves to unskilled practitioners.

"I know definitely that there is a very large number of women who die because of abortion-related complications," she says. "It's the fifth-leading cause of maternal death in Pakistan because of the infections related to incomplete abortions and septic abortions."

Pressure To Make More Babies

Raashid's hospital deploys female health care workers who go door to door counseling expectant mothers in neonatal care and family planning. They work the narrow warrens of distressed and dilapidated neighborhoods of Lahore. In one congested lane, children fight, toddlers frolic, and proud parents stand in doorways showing off their infants to a stranger. The pressure on women to keep producing babies is obvious.

Rani and Tariq, a young couple with seven children, are a case in point. The pair sits on a large bed in their three-room home with cranky babies splayed around them in the stifling heat.

Erum Ahktar, the health care worker, tells wife Rani about the importance of keeping her children healthy. In a barely audible voice, the diminutive mother with huge brown eyes says that she herself is sick — and that she wants to stop having babies, and told her husband so.

Rani says she had five sons in a row, but her husband wanted a daughter, so they had a sixth child — the hoped-for baby girl. But her husband, Tariq, who has held only sporadic jobs, wanted a second daughter. And Rani got pregnant again — and again. Now in her mid-20s, Rani is expecting her eighth baby. Tariq explains that he was obsessed with having daughters in a country obsessed with having sons because he came from a family of all boys and felt deprived with no sisters.

When pressed, Tariq acknowledges that he has compromised his wife's health. He says he understands how people could think he was irresponsible. He says has now gotten the daughter that he wants, and is reconciled with that.

"I've committed mistakes," Tariq says, adding, in this day and age "it is tough enough to raise two children," let alone the seven he has with another one on the way.

The Atypical Family

Three hundred miles away, the roles are reversed for another young couple.

Their village of Poukai, in Pakistan's North-West Frontier, is an impoverished place where children cool off in the dirty water of a local canal, their livestock swimming alongside them.

In their home shared with 12 relatives, 25-year-old Khasrat and her husband, Qadar Gul, are expecting their fourth child. Khasrat says she never went to school and cannot the read the Quran, but she listens to the clerics' sermons carried over loudspeakers equating contraception with sin, a restrictive interpretation of Islam that allows few choices in family planning. Khasrat is feeling unwell with undiagnosed pelvic pain. She is 8 1/2 months pregnant.

"I am the one who insisted on another boy," she says. "It was my husband who wanted to stop at three."

Qadar Gul is worried about his wife's health and about feeding more mouths — he's injured and cannot work. He is also atypical because unlike a lot of the men here, he does not reject family planning. He practiced abstinence, but his wife insisted that she wanted her older son to have a little brother.

He says he thought about the consequences of having more children. "We are poor," he says. He's unhappy with his housing, saying there's not enough room. He told his wife this, he says, but she persevered. And his wife said, "Let it be God's will."

This faithful Muslim man struggles to respect both his clerics' commands not to use contraception and his desire not to father more children. It's a deeply personal choice, with profound implications for his family — and that choice writ large has profound implications for the nation.


Monday 15 August 2011


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once slept on a reed mat and got up with the marks of it on his body. His companions saw the marks and expressed concern that they should have made him more comfortable. The Prophet replied: "What have I to do with this world? In relation to this world, I am like a rider who shades himself under a tree and then (continues on his way)."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1351

Sunday 14 August 2011

Nurit Peled-Elhanan of Hebrew University says textbooks depict Palestinians as 'terrorists, refugees and primitive farmers'

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli academic, mother and political radical, summons up an image of rows of Jewish schoolchildren, bent over their books, learning about their neighbours, the Palestinians. But, she says, they are never referred to as Palestinians unless the context is terrorism.

They are called Arabs. "The Arab with a camel, in an Ali Baba dress. They describe them as vile and deviant and criminal, people who don't pay taxes, people who live off the state, people who don't want to develop," she says. "The only representation is as refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists. You never see a Palestinian child or doctor or teacher or engineer or modern farmer."

Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the content of Israeli school books for the past five years, and her account, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, is to be published in the UK this month. She describes what she found as racism– but, more than that, a racism that prepares young Israelis for their compulsory military service.

"People don't really know what their children are reading in textbooks," she said. "One question that bothers many people is how do you explain the cruel behaviour of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, an indifference to human suffering, the inflicting of suffering. People ask how can these nice Jewish boys and girls become monsters once they put on a uniform. I think the major reason for that is education. So I wanted to see how school books represent Palestinians."

In "hundreds and hundreds" of books, she claims she did not find one photograph that depicted an Arab as a "normal person". The most important finding in the books she studied – all authorised by the ministry of education – concerned the historical narrative of events in 1948, the year in which Israel fought a war to establish itself as an independent state, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the ensuing conflict.

The killing of Palestinians is depicted as something that was necessary for the survival of the nascent Jewish state, she claims. "It's not that the massacres are denied, they are represented in Israeli school books as something that in the long run was good for the Jewish state. For example, Deir Yassin [a pre-1948 Palestinian village close to Jerusalem] was a terrible slaughter by Israeli soldiers. In school books they tell you that this massacre initiated the massive flight of Arabs from Israel and enabled the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. So it was for the best. Maybe it was unfortunate, but in the long run the consequences for us were good."

Children, she says, grow up to serve in the army and internalise the message that Palestinians are "people whose life is dispensable with impunity. And not only that, but people whose number has to be diminished."

Peled-Elhanan approaches her subject from a radical political background. She is the daughter of a famous general, Matti Peled, who became convinced that Israel's future lay in a dignified peace with the Palestinians. After leaving the army, he became active in the peace movement.

When Peled-Alhanon's only daughter, Smadar, was two, her face appeared on billboards in a political poster for Labour. It's message was that all children deserve a better future.

Then, in 1997, Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber while shopping in Jerusalem. She was 13. Peled-Elhanan declines to talk about her daughter's death apart from once or twice referring to "the tragedy".

At the time, she said that it would strengthen her belief that, without a settlement to the conflict and peaceful coexistence with Palestinians, more children would die. "Terrorist attacks like this are the direct consequence of the oppression, slavery, humiliation and state of siege imposed on the Palestinians," she told TV reporters in the aftermath of Smadar's death.

Her radical views have exacted a professional cost. "University professors stopped inviting me to conferences. And when I do speak, the most common reaction is, 'you are anti-Zionist'." Anybody who challenges the dominant narrative in today's Israel, she says, is similarly accused.

She hopes her book will be published in Hebrew, but is resigned to it being dismissed by many in the political mainstream.

Asked if Palestinian school books also reflect a certain dogma, Peled-Elhanan claims that they distinguish between Zionists and Jews. "They make this distinction all the time. They are against Zionists, not against Jews."

But she concedes that teaching about the Holocaust in Palestinian schools is "a problem, an issue". "Some [Palestinian] teachers refuse to teach the Holocaust as long as Israelis don't teach the Nakba [the Palestinian "catastrophe" of 1948]."

Perhaps not surprisingly for someone of such radical views, Peled-Elhanan is deeply pessimistic about her country's future. Change, she says, will only come "when the Americans stop providing us with $1m a day to maintain this regime of occupation and racism and supremacy".

She said that within Israel, "I only see the path to fascism. You have 5.5 million Palestinians controlled by Israel who live in a horrible apartheid with no civil and no human rights. And you have the other half who are Jews who are also losing their rights by the minute," she says, in reference to a series of attempts to restrict Israelis' right to protest and criticise their government.

She dismisses the Israeli left as always small and timid, but especially now. "There has never been a real left in this country." She believes that the education system helps to perpetuate an unjust, undemocratic and unsustainable state.

"Everything they do, from kindergarten to 12th grade, they are fed in all kinds of ways, through literature and songs and holidays and recreation, with these chauvinistic patriotic notions."