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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Will Women Prevent Bangladesh's Descent to Islamism?

Full Article - January 2, 2009

Friday, January 2, 2009

Muslims Around the World Protest Israeli Assault

From the Associated Press - January 2, 2009

Muslims around the world protest Gaza assault

TEHRAN, Iran - Thousands protested Friday against Israel's air offensive targeting the Hamas rulers of Gaza at demonstrations in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.

Similar protests have been held daily across the Middle East since Israel launched the bombing campaign last Saturday. But these gatherings held mostly after Friday prayers were larger - mainly because Friday prayers are a traditional gathering opportunity for Muslims - and seemed to be more far-reaching in the number of countries where protests occurred.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 400 Palestinians and sparked outrage among the Arab public. Israel says its offensive is aimed at silencing Hamas rockets.

In Tehran, a crowd of about 6,000 stretching for a half-mile (kilometer) marched from prayers at Tehran University to Palestine Square, chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" and burning Israeli flags.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned Israel that entering Gaza "by land will be the biggest mistake of the Zionist regime." He vowed Israel would be "defeated" in a ground attack.

Iran is a major backer of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, giving it millions of dollars - and weapons and rockets, according to the U.S. and Israel, though Tehran denies arming Hamas.

In Egypt, authorities clamped down hard to prevent protests Friday. Hundreds of riot police surrounded Cairo's main Al-Azhar Mosque, where a rally had been called, and scuffled with would-be protesters, keeping most from approaching.

Police also arrested 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition group that had called for pro-Gaza rallies.

More than 3,000 people marched in solidarity with Gaza in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish, Egypt's closest city to Gaza.

Many governments in the Arab world such as Egypt have been wary about protests at home over Israel's Gaza assault lest the protests spiral out of control.

In Jordan, police fired volleys of tear gas and scuffled with dozens of protesters who tried to push through barriers to reach the Israeli Embassy in Amman. A few of the protesters threw stones at police, but the security forces dispersed the group, arresting several.

About 30,000 Jordanians gathered at a stadium in Amman shouting their support for Gaza and calling for the abolition of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty signed in 1994.

More than 10,000 Muslims marched through Indonesia's capital Jakarta to protest the ongoing bombing raids in Gaza, aiming fake missiles labeled "Target: Tel Aviv, Israel" at the U.S. Embassy.

Protests were also held after Friday prayers in other cities in the world's most populous Muslim country, in what was the largest turnout since Israel began the operation.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul, about 3,000 people gathered outside a prominent mosque, according to police estimates. Men in the crowd threw stones and shoes at an effigy of President George W. Bush.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in the Philippines capital Manila, carrying placards saying Israel is a "butcher of children" and accusing it of war crimes.

In Turkey, Israel's closest ally in the region, some 5,000 people denounced the Israeli raids outside a mosque in Istanbul, burning Israeli and U.S. flags and reciting funeral prayers for the victims. The state-run Anatolia news agency says similar protests were held in several other Turkish cities.

In Syria, some 2,000 marched in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, carrying Palestinian flags and chanting "jihad will unite us," and later burned an Israeli flag.

In Sudan, thousands marched in downtown Khartoum from mosques to the main Martyrs Square, urging Muslims to jihad and denouncing Israel and America.

Small protests erupted as well in the Palestinian territories.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands demonstrated in solidarity with Gazans, calling for Palestinian unity and accusing Arab leaders of silence over Israel's bombardment.

Ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and other celebrities, including activist Bianca Jagger, comedian Alexei Sayle and politicians including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, held a press conference in London demanding Israel halt the onslaught.

In Bern, Switzerland, hundreds of people marched, calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and demanding that the international community impose sanctions against Israel.

Russian authorities detained about 37 people after a small protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Moscow demanding an end to attacks on the Gaza Strip. The protests included members of Russia's many Muslim minorities.

Hundreds of Muslims held a rally at the main mosque in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi after prayers, hoisting banners that said "Palestinian Blood Is Human Blood" and shouting for Kenya to sever ties with Israel.

By NASSER KARIMI Associated Press Writer

Video: West Bank Anger Over Gaza Raids

From the BBC. - January 2, 2009

Preaching Moderate Islam and Becoming a TV Star for Youths

From the New York Times - January 2, 2009

Generation Faithful

Preaching Moderate Islam and Becoming a TV Star for Youths

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Ahmad al-Shugairi, host of a TV show on religious themes, with students at his cafe in Jidda.

Full Article.

Video from the NY Times.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Robert Fisk: The self delusion that plagues both sides in this bloody conflict

From the Independent - December 31, 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Robert Fisk: Why Bombing Ashkelon is the Most Tragic Irony

From the Independent - December 30, 2008

Johann Hari: The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling

From the Independent - December 29, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kids Traumatized as Israeli Bombs Rain Down

From - December 31, 2008

Kids traumatized as Israeli bombs rain down
GAZA CITY: "We are scared ... that we can die at any moment," said 11-year-old Mohammed Ayyad, still terrified hours after a massive Israeli bombardment of Hamas government buildings next to his house in Gaza.

Like the rest of Gaza's children, he has been traumatized by the four-day assault on Islamist Hamas targets which has transformed many areas of the overcrowded territory into piles of rubble and shattered glass.

"As they were hitting the center (of Gaza City), we heard an enormous explosion and our house was filled with dust," he said. "We immediately ran toward the ground floor." His six-year-old brother Ahmad "peed his pants. We were all scared because the planes are in the sky all the time and we could die at any moment."

Schools in Gaza have been closed since the Israeli strikes began on Saturday and children have passed the time examining the damage caused by the raids.

Near Ayyad's home, a group of children milled around rubble that used to be Hamas government buildings. One shrugged off the danger of being outside as the Israeli warplanes continued their sorties overhead. "I run the same risk if I am at home or in the street," he said.

Another boy, Mohammed Bassal, said he and his brothers were shaken awake by explosions in the night. "Debris from the broken windows fell on our heads, the electricity was cut off and we started screaming," he said. "My mother came and hugged us."

His 12-year-old brother Nidal added: "We're still scared. The Jews are crazy and they don't spare anyone, even children." Iyad Al-Sayagh, a mother who lives in the area, called the bombardment "a night of horror, the way the earth shook."

After the strikes began "I immediately got my kids down to my father's, who lives on the ground floor," she said. "With each missile the little ones became hysterical." The overnight raids "turned the night in Gaza into hell," said Sarah Radi, a 29-year-old teacher. "They say that they want to destroy Hamas, but it's not true. They want to annihilate the Palestinian people. What did the women and children do that they destroy their houses?"

According to Gaza medics, at least 39 children under 16 years of age have died as a result of the Israeli savage bombardment that have killed at least 367 Palestinians in Gaza since Saturday.

Among the latest victims were two sisters aged four and 11. "What's happening is a massacre that Gazans will remember for always," warned Samir Zaqut, a psychologist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP).

"When 360 people die under the bombs and the missiles, this causes post-traumatic stress amid children and adults, like depression, insomnia and schizophrenia," he added. The UN children's agency UNICEF has said it is "deeply concerned about the impact of the current violence in Gaza on children."

It urged "all parties to the conflict to abide by their international legal obligation to ensure that children are protected and that they receive essential humanitarian supplies and support."

Fires continue to burn across the Gaza Strip's main city, where five government buildings were badly damaged in air attacks. Rescue workers said 40 people were injured yesterday when warplanes dropped more than a dozen bombs on the government compound.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross says a delegation that visited Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa, has found conditions there had stabilized. "The situation is difficult but increasingly under control," Florian Westphal told The Associated Press.

CAIR says Israel Has Turned Gaza into a Giant Jail

From - December 31, 2008

Full article.

UN Slams Israel's "Shocking Atrocities"

UN Slams Israel's "Shocking Atrocities"

"The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants," Falk said.

Full article.

Gaza By the Numbers - from Amnesty International

Gaza By The Numbers

Middle East | Posted by: Zahir Janmohamed, December 30, 2008 at 3:25 PM

A snapshot of Gaza by the numbers:

Humanitarian Assistance

  • Movement in and out of Gaza is all but impossible and supplies of food, water, sewage treatment, basic health care have been drastically affected by the blockade of aid. Food prices are rising and wheat, flour, baby milk, and rose 34%, 30%, and 20.5% respectively during the period May-June 2007 alone.
  • Prior to the blockade (implemented after Hamas took over total adminstration over Gaza in June 2007), around 250 trucks carrying aid entered Gaza each day.
  • As of March 2008, that number was reduced to 45.
  • According to UN figures reported in the Guardian, that number dropped to just 5 in December.
  • Most recently, the Israeli government prevented a Libyan ship carrying 3000 tons of aid from entering Gaza.

Poverty and Dependency on Food Aid

  • Number of people living in absolute poverty in Gaza in 2008: 80%
  • Number of people living in absolute poverty in Gaza in 2006: 63%
  • In 2007, households were spending 62% of their income on food.
  • In 2004, households were spending 37% of their income on food.
  • As of March 2008, there were over 1.1 million people—three quarters of Gaza—who are dependent on food aid. In less than ten years, the numbers of families who depending on UNRWA food aid has increased ten-fold


  • In June 2005, there were 3,900 factories in Gaza employing 35,000 people.
  • In December 2007, there were just 195, employing only 1,700.
  • Unemployment is close to 40%.
  • 40,000 agriculture works who depend on cash crops now have no income.
  • In September 2000, 24,000 Gazans crossed into Israel to seek cheap labor. Now that number is zero.

Schools, Electricity, Medical Supplies

  • In January 2008, UNICEF reported that schools in Gaza had been cancelling classes that required high energy consumption like IT, science lab, and extra-curricular classes.
  • Hospitals cannot generate electricity to keep lifesaving equipment working or to generate oxygen, while 40-50 million liters of sewage continues to pour into the sea daily.
  • Hospitals are currently experiencing power cuts lasting for 8-12 hours a day.
  • There is currently a 60-70 percent shortage reported in the diesel required for hospital power generators.
  • According to the World Health Organization, the proportion of patients given permits to exit Gaza for medical care dropped from 89.3% in January 2007 to 64.3% in December 2007.
  • Many of those who are given permits are blocked at the crossing itself. In October 2007 alone, the WHO confirmed that 20 patients died because they were denied access to refereal services. Five of these deaths were children.

In speaking about the current wave of violence, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev pledged that Israel will "destroy completely" the "terrorist gang."

But the facts show that much more than a "terrorist gang" is being destroyed in Gaza.

(Unless otherwise indicated, all facts in this post are from the report "The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian implosion" co-authored by Amnesty International, Oxfam, Medcins de Monde UK, CAFOD, Save the Children UK, TroCAIRE, CARE, and Christian Aid).

Al-Jazeera Broadcasts Live from Gaza to Satellite & Internet Viewers Around the World (Except the US)

Al-Jazeera has also just become available to computer users ... in every country except the US, where it is blocked.

Al-Jazeera sees off satellite rivals

Millions of Arabs across the Middle East and north Africa are watching vivid and often shocking coverage of the Israeli military onslaught on Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Arabic satellite TV channels, with al-Jazeera again leading the field.

Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, has four correspondents in Gaza and its bulletins are broadcasting graphic images that would never find their way on to western TV screens. "It's very dangerous inside Gaza for our people, but they are trying to focus on humanitarian issues," said Ahmad Jaballah, the channel's deputy editor.

On Saturday, the first day of Israel's Operation Cast Lead, it broadcast live from Gaza City's Shifa hospital as the victims of the first bombing raids were being treated. Yesterday much of the footage was of funerals. Precise audience figures are hard to come by, but al-Jazeera claims it has a regular audience of 50 million, rising during a crisis of this magnitude. Anecdotal evidence suggests that from Yemen to Morocco it is easily beating its nearest satellite rivals, the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya and the BBC Arabic TV, launched this year.

Al-Jazeera pictures are now also available free on its YouTube site. Its sister English-language channel ensures they have a global reach, though the Arabic channel and website show the bloodiest pictures: one yesterday featured a dead Palestinian toddler over the caption: "Children of Gaza: for what sin were they killed?"

Al-Jazeera has also just become available to computer users live over broadband on the Livestation Network in every country except the US, where it is blocked.

The Gaza violence is being covered intensively by al-Manar, the TV station of Lebanon's militant Shia Hezbollah movement. Coverage elsewhere on Arab state-run TV channels reflects the views of individual governments, with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia openly critical of Hamas as well as Israel. Syria, Iran's only Arab ally, highlights Palestinian resistance.

In this febrile atmosphere, everything is intensely political: Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, this week attacked al-Arabiya by dubbing it "al-Ibriya," a pun suggesting it is serving Jewish interests.

Al-Jazeera, sensitive to charges of partisanship, has interviewed Israeli ministers and officials as well as the exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus. But it has been unable to interview Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, who is presumably in hiding in Gaza. It has reported from Sderot and other Israeli towns hit by Palestinian rocket and mortar fire.

On Monday it interviewed Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister and prime ministerial hopeful, who criticised the channel. But its coverage is controversial in the Arab world too. The western-backed Palestinian Authority has accused it of being biased in favour of Hamas.

British MPs: Growing Horror at the Bloodletting in Gaza

Growing Horror at the Bloodletting in Gaza - from the Guardian in UK - December 31, 2008

Israel's continuing massive military strikes on Gaza are an outrage that the international community must not allow to continue (Reports, 30 December). Palestinian rocket attacks that traumatise the lives of communities in southern Israel are also utterly unacceptable. Both sides must cease fire. Israel's actions are disproportionate and counterproductive to achieving either security for the people of Israel or peace in the Middle East. Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) have warned that "targeting of civilians and of medical facilities is a breach of international humanitarian law. The targets chosen by the Israeli military include also clearly civilian installations."

Gaza is one of the poorest and most densely populated places on Earth. For the past two years, the blockade and previous Israeli strikes had already disrupted electricity supplies and access to clean water. Even before the current attack, Gaza's health system was near collapse. Hospitals are short of medicines, blood and essential equipment. Only half of Gaza's 58 ambulances are functioning.

We call on the international community, and especially the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva convention, to intervene to stop the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties and for an embargo on the supply of military equipment to both sides. The international community must also assert unambiguously that there is no military route to peace in the Middle East and redouble its efforts to create a secure and independent state of Palestine alongside a secure and independent Israel.

Richard Burden MP, Lyn Brown MP, Peter Bottomley MP, Sir Gerard Kaufman MP, John Hemming MP, Martin Linton MP, Karen Buck MP, Nia Griffith MP, Natascha Engel MP, Martin Salter MP, Paul Flynn MP, Rob Marris MP, Andy Love MP, David Drew MP, Neil Gerrard MP, Hywel Francis MP, Clive Efford MP, Ian Taylor MP, Phyllis Starkey MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Jim Devine MP, John McDonnell MP, Frank Cook MP, Tom Levitt MP, Michael Connarty MP, Chris McCafferty MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Simon Hughes MP, Danny Alexander MP, Sarah Teather MP, Madeleine Moon MP

We write to express our disgust, condemnation and concern at the attacks by Israel on the Gaza Strip killing over 350 people - including women and children. There is little doubt civilian deaths will continue to rise as Israel shows no signs of stopping its offensive on the people of Gaza. The situation is bleak, with hospitals running out of medical supplies as the Israeli blockade continues to suffocate the people of Gaza. The region's power and infrastructure networks are on the verge of collapse with more than 85% of Gazans depending on UN food aid - which is at critically low levels.

We call on the Scottish and UK governments to do all they can to pressure the Israeli government to halt attacks on the Gazan people who are being collectively punished for the actions of a minority. While we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and its civilians from rocket attacks, it cannot be allowed to collectively punish, maim and kill innocent Palestinian civilians in the process. When the assault first began, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said the action would not be short and would become increasingly intense. We believe that a strong statement of condemnation of Israel's actions must be forthcoming from world leaders and political institutions before the air attacks escalate and ground troops sent into Gaza.

We urge our leaders to do all they can to halt the killing of innocent lives and send a strong message of condemnation to the Israelis for their current attacks.

Mohammad Sarwar MP, Katy Clark MP, Angus Robertson MP (Westminster SNP Leader), Jim McGovern MP, Jim Sheridan MP, Russell Brown MP, Mike Weir MP, Angus MacNeil MP, Anne Moffat MP, Tom Clarke MP, Mark Lazarowicz MP, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Alyn Smith MEP, Pauline McNeill MSP, Sandra White MSP, Jamie Hepburn MSP and 23 others

We are horrified by the bloodletting and destruction in Gaza, but we cannot ignore that it was Hamas that called an end to the ceasefire last week and escalated its rockets, mortars and missiles launched at Israeli civilians.

Following years of attack and with hundreds of thousands of Israelis - both Jew and Arab - unable to go about their daily lives due to this intolerable threat, Israel has been left with very few options. Hamas shows no interest in peace. Not only is it unwilling to seek reconciliation with Israel, it torpedoed Egyptian-brokered talks to bring about reconciliation with their fellow Palestinians.

It is therefore Hamas, and its Iranian sponsors, who must answer to their own people, as to why they brought this destruction on Gaza.

Louise Ellman MP, Andrew Dismore MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, Eric Joyce MP, Baroness Meta Ramsay

Thousands Protest Against Israeli Raids in Gaza

A protester joins a coalition of groups calling for an end to Israeli attacks in Gaza at the New York Israeli Consulate

Thousands of Protestors Demand End to Israeli Raids in Gaza - from AFP

Hundreds of Arab-Americans and others gather in Dearborn, Mich, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 during a protest against Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Hundreds in Michigan, NYC Protest Strikes in Gaza
- from the AP

Israel, Palestinian Protesters Face Off in Los Angeles - from the San Jose Mercury News

Jewish Organizations (in US) Call for End to Gaza Bombings

From IPS - December 30, 2008

Jewish Organisations Call For End to Gaza Bombings

By Ali Gharib

WASHINGTON, Dec 30 (IPS) - With a fresh outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, a battle of a different sort is being waged in Washington between various interests in Mid- East policy circles.

As Israeli air strikes continue to pummel the Gaza Strip for a fourth day and crude home-made rockets launched by Palestinian militants land in Israeli towns near the densely populated and besieged Strip, Jewish groups in the U.S. are taking two distinctly differing tacks at addressing the latest Middle East bloodshed.

Some of what are traditionally thought of as pro-Israel groups are undertaking a major public relations campaign to support the bombing runs against Hamas that have claimed more than 370 Palestinian lives -- largely parroting the Israeli government that the attacks are a justified defence of Israelis.

The American Jewish Committee "expressed strong support for Israel… in its military operation aimed at terrorist targets in Gaza."

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) urged U.S. leadership to "stand firmly with Israel as it strives to defend itself…."

In addition to a flurry of press releases, officials from the groups are making regular appearances in the media and organising conference calls.

But, rather than unquestioning support of Israel's latest military venture in the decades-long conflict, four major Jewish organisations here are calling for an immediate end to the bombings, and for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip.

One of the groups, Americans for Peace Now, the sister organisation of the Israel-based Peace Now, called for "the government of Israel to end its military operation in the Gaza Strip and to act toward achieving a ceasefire."

And Bit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, called on the outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush administration "to initiate an international effort aimed at negotiating and immediate ceasefire."

These strong statements, along with ones from J Street (the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement) and the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), are in sharp contrast to many of the more hawkish traditional pro-Israel groups, who make no mention of a cessation of armed hostilities. The confident assertions from the four groups are a relatively new sort of campaign.

"You see a voice that is increasingly clear and has a significant resonance in the American Jewish community, and beyond the Jewish community, that takes a position, stakes it grounds and won't be intimidated," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator and the director of New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, one of the four groups.

"This is an important position to be taking," he told IPS. "It's moving the ball forward on redefining the parameters of the debate on what it means to be responsibly and thoughtfully -- rather than reflexively -- pro-Israel."

The move by the groups is in many ways the culmination of a public relations effort of its own that seeks to establish a strong pro-peace, pro-Israeli voice that is not afraid to depart from the line of the Israeli government.

The groups are expressing a position that they, too, appreciate and support Israel and believe in its right to defend itself, just like their counterparts in the traditional, more powerful, so-called pro-Israel groups.

But Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, says that the issue does not lie in a right to self-defence -- a given -- but whether an operation like the attacks on Gaza will even work.

"While… air strikes by Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza can be understood and even justified in the wake of recent rocket attacks," according to Ben-Ami, "we believe that real friends of Israel recognise that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability."

J Street echoed its director's statement with a press release declaring that the recent massive escalation was "pushing the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict further down a path of never-ending violence."

Therein lays the crux of these groups' assertions. While many of the other Jewish groups have been at best lukewarm on the peace process and the two-state solution, the peace groups see them as essential to the continued existence of Jewish state.

By encouraging steps that they see as contributing to peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians, they contend they are helping Israel in the long run.

Levy said that the groups are essentially saying, "We love Israel too, but it doesn't do us or Israel any good to be the mouthpiece for the talking points of the Israeli foreign ministry."

Levy also pointed to the peace groups' statements as an indication of a U.S. Jewish perspective, rather than strictly an Israeli one.

Indeed, the J Street release stated that re-establishing the ceasefire and making a concerted, international-led effort towards a sustainable resolution to the broader conflict "is a fundamental American interest."

"We too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined," said the statement, speaking from a U.S. perspective.

J Street is circulating a petition that has already garnered 14,000 signatures and which the group says it is already using to lobby President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and congressional leaders.

The petition calls for "strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza." Those actions, it says, are "in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States."

The intense pressure from both sets of groups is very much aimed at the transition team, with Obama just three weeks away from being sworn into office, said an analysis of varying views in Jewish Week, a New York-based newspaper.

Obama and his transition team have been very cautious in their brief statements about the escalation, often repeating a talking point that there is only one president at a time.

But Obama campaigned on a renewed and vigorous attempt at Israeli-Arab peace, and he reiterated his commitment when announcing his foreign policy team last month.

Iranian Security Services Arrest Five Dervishes

December 30, 2008

Iranian Security Services Arrest Five Dervishes

RFE/RL - Iranian security services recently arrested five dervishes -- members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi Muslim community -- without any official charges in southern Hormozgan Province.

Sources close to the Gonabadi community told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that security officers also confiscated the dervishes' computers, discs, and books.

Rights groups say state intolerance for dervishes has increased in Iran in recent years. In 2006, some 1,200 Sufis were arrested in a major crackdown after police sought to close a Sufi house of worship in the holy city of Qom. 

A number of Gonabadi dervishes have been arrested this year in other Iranian cities, including Esfahan and Karaj.

The UN General Assembly recently adopted a resolution expressing deep concern at serious human rights violations in Iran, citing among other violations state pressure on the dervish community and other minority groups. 

Sufism is not illegal in Iran, but many clerics regard the practice as an affront to Islam.

Earlier this year, conservative clerics in Qom accused dervishes of opposing Islamic ideas, a claim the Sufi community vehemently rejects. Sufis insist that they strictly observe Islamic beliefs and principles.

(by RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah)

Op-Ed: Injustice of Israel's Heavy Hand

Injustice of Israel's heavy hand

Amin Saikal | December 31, 2008

Article from:  The Australian

ISRAEL'S response to rocket attacks by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip - one of the world's most densely populated and squalid places - can only fuel the cause of Islamic radicalism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The killing and injuring of hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, and the bombing of Hamas political and security infrastructure as well as mosques and Gaza's Islamic University, have the potential to play into the hands of al-Qa'ida and its supporters.

Israel could not have chosen a more inappropriate time to attack than the period between Christmas and New Year, when the world's attention is focused on messages of peace and goodwill, and when the US presidency is in a transitional mode. This is precisely the time the Soviets chose when they invaded Afghanistan nearly 30 years ago. For this, the Soviets were roundly condemned, but one wonders whether Israel will be criticised.

Israeli leaders have tried to be too clever by half. They preceded their onslaught by opening the Gaza crossing into Israel to allow some humanitarian aid to get through to the besieged and starving people of Gaza.

The purpose was to cast Israel as a compassionate actor in international eyes, and then to pound the territory so intensely that Gazans could not benefit from the aid. The result is even greater shortages of food, medicine and essential services, endangering the lives of many more Gazans.

Meanwhile, like the former right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon - who took advantage in 2002 of George W. Bush's declaration of war against al-Qa'ida and its Taliban allies to punish the Palestinians as terrorists - Israeli spokesman Mark Regev has equated Hamas with the Taliban. The intention is to impress on the US and its allies that Israel is as justified in fighting Hamas as they are in their struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already blamed Hamas for the present situation. This is despite the fact that the primitive Qassim rockets fired by Hamas militants last week, in response to the Israeli killing of three Hamas figures at a time when there was supposed to be a ceasefire in place, has taken only three Israeli lives.

The Hamas leadership has vowed not to surrender and has called for a third intifada (Palestinian uprising) against Israel, while the Arab and Muslim world has rallied in support of the Palestinian cause. The Israeli leadership seems to have learned little from the history of Israel's application of excessive force. Since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, Israel's military might has not succeeded in suppressing the Palestinian nationalist movement.

At first, Israel targeted the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation as a terrorist group and even supported Hamas when it came into existence in the late 1980s as a counter to the PLO. However, when it realised that an increasing number of Palestinians was turning to Hamas for salvation, it adopted the PLO as a partner in peace to combat Hamas as a terrorist group. What Israeli leaders do not want to acknowledge is that the issue is not Hamas or the PLO, but the demand of the Palestinian people for justice, freedom and independence.

As long as this demand remains unfulfilled, neither Israel's partnership with the PLO nor its military assaults against Hamas will work.

The PLO has gained nothing from its partnership to make it credible in the eyes of a majority of Palestinians, while Hamas has proved resilient enough to make an Islamist imprint on the nationalist movement and become a popular force capable of fighting for the Palestinian cause.

The branding of Hamas as a terrorist group has been a strategic mistake on the part of Israel and some of its international backers, especially the now widely discredited Bush administration. This much is now recognised across the world, including by former US president Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who have strongly urged a dialogue with Hamas as a necessary and reasonable step toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If Israel and its international supporters fail to move in this direction, there is little hope of peace in the Middle East. Just as Israel's disproportionate attack on Lebanon against Hezbollah in mid-2006 failed to achieve its objectives and resulted in enhancing rather than diminishing Hezbollah's credibility, Israel's military onslaught carries the risk of making Hamas stronger and providing the forces of radical political Islam with more oxygen.

Such a legacy would not help US president-elect Barack Obama in his desire to improve America's standing in the Muslim world.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University inCanberra.

Violence Against Women in Balochistan (Pakistan) Increased in 2008

From the Daily Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Violence against women in Balochistan increased in 2008

* NGO says 115 of 600 cases were of 'honour' killing
* Dialogue participant says nationalist and communal sentiments, colonial mindset confront those protesting against violence

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Aurat Foundation, a non-governmental organisation working for women's rights, has said violence against women in Balochistan intensified in 2008, but Baloch society still adopts a defensive attitude and justifies the killing of women in the name of honour and tradition.

In a dialogue with media representatives on 'Problems in accessibility of information about violence against women' on Monday, the organisation said Baloch women were victims of violence due to widespread illiteracy, entrenched tribal traditions, distorted interpretation of Islam and economic dependence of women on men.

Cases: The organisation said around 600 cases of violence against women were reported in 2008, which included the murder of 89 women in the first nine months of the year. At least 115 women were murdered in cases of honour killing. The reported cases included 255 incidents of women being subjected to domestic violence. People are unwilling to discuss the violence as a majority of Balochistan people justify such acts in the name of tradition, it said. In some other cases, violence against women in rural areas remains unreported in media because of inaccessibility of the area as well as the dominance of men in society, who believe the publication of reports of violence against women amounts to the disrepute of their respective tribes.

The year's most disturbing news concerning the plight of women came from Naseerabad district in Balochistan, where five women were allegedly buried alive by tribal elders in the name of honour. Federal Minister Mir Israrullah Zehri and Senate Deputy Speaker Jan Muhammad Jamli defended the incident on the Senate floor and called it "a part of Baloch traditions" and the government failed to expose the culprits and the motives behind the killings. The Naseerabad killings still remain a mystery. "Violence against women is a global phenomenon. It takes place in different parts of the world under varying pretexts," Aurat Foundation Balochistan Co-ordinator Saima Javaid said. She said, "Our biggest concern is that such violence is unabated, rampant and unnoticed." Dostain Khan Jamaldini, a researcher, said various hurdles hindered objective reporting of women's issues in the province. He said violence against women is not taken seriously or addressed at the community level.

Confront: Nationalist as well as communal sentiments and a colonial mindset confront those protesting violence against women. Political leaders remain defensive on the issue, and describe media and NGO reporting as an intrusion in internal matters and traditions. Similarly, communal segments of society dismiss such reports as Western propaganda against Islam. "We need to set our house in order before becoming defensive. The poor state of women's rights is a bitter reality in our society and we cannot ignore this serious matter for long under different subterfuges," Jamaldini said. The participants of the day-long dialogue agreed that print and electronic media could best highlight violence against women by describing it as a practice being promoted in the name of Islam and tribal traditions. Journalists and scholars should not use unqualified religious leaders as their primary source in write-ups and reports. Those who contend that Islam is responsible for the suppression of women and violence against women are oblivious to the true teachings of the religion. Islam gives equal status to women in the social, educational and economic spheres, according to one of the speakers.

Illahuddin Khilji, another Aurat Foundation representative, said gender discrimination towards women by male lawmakers, journalists and religious scholars contributed to 'biased reporting' of events, while their female counterparts often exaggerated the issues in their reports.

CAIR: U.S. Muslims Urged to Speak Out on Gaza Crisis

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR) today called on American Muslims and other people of
conscience to contact public officials and urge them to condemn Israeli
attacks on the Gaza Strip that have killed almost 300 people and injured
hundreds more, including women and children. In its bombardment of Gaza,
Israel has targeted at least one mosque, a university and a warehouse for
medical supplies.

SEE: Israel Pounds Gaza for Second Day, 296 Killed (Reuters)
SEE: Gaza Humanitarian Plight 'Disastrous,' U.N. Official Says (CNN)

[NOTE: U.S. Muslim Leaders to Address Gaza Crisis - On Monday, December 29,
the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition
of 12 major Islamic organizations, will hold a 10 a.m. news conference at the
National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to release an open letter to
President-elect Obama outlining suggested domestic and foreign policy
priorities for the new administration. At that news conference, the Muslim
leaders will also address the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. CONTACT:
CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or
202-744-7726, E-Mail:]

CAIR also called on anyone concerned about the "disproportionate and
counterproductive" Israeli attacks to call radio talk show programs, write
letters to the editor and use social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube
and Twitter to voice their concerns.

Those contacting the media or using social media networks are being asked to
offer support for the Palestinian right to freedom from occupation, to call
for an end to the Israeli blockade of humanitarian supplies to Gaza and to
demand a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Washington-based group's "action alert" also stated: "Point out that such
attacks block efforts to bring peace with justice to the Middle East, harm our
nation's image and interests worldwide and strengthen voices of extremism in
the region. Ask your elected officials to adopt an ever-handed Middle East
policy that is in our nation's, not Israel's interest."

CAIR's alert listed other points to be raised when communicating with public

* The Palestinian people must be given some hope of freedom from Israeli
occupation and domination.
* Israel's immoral and illegal collective punishment of the Palestinian people
living in the Gaza Strip must end.
* America must support a just and comprehensive resolution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict that takes into account the rights and
responsibilities of all parties.

Yesterday, CAIR issued a statement condemning the Israeli attacks and calling
on President-elect Obama to speak out on the crisis. Today's action alert
asked American Muslims to contact the Obama transition team.

CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 35 offices and
chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding
of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American
Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or
202-744-7726, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina
Rubin, 202-488-8787, E-Mail:

SOURCE Council on American-Islamic Relations

CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, +1-202-488-8787 or
+1-202-744-7726,; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina
Rubin, +1-202-488-8787,

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Premarital Sex on Rise as Iranians Delay Marriage, Survey FInds

From the Guardian

Premarital sex on rise as Iranians delay marriage, survey finds

   * Robert Tait
   * The Guardian, Monday 29 December 2008

Rising numbers of Iranians are spurning marriage and having sex illegally outside wedlock, Iran's state-run body for youth affairs has said.

A survey by the national youth organisation found that more than one in four men aged 19 to 29 had experienced sex before marriage. About 13% of such cases resulted in unwanted pregnancies that led to abortions. Sex outside marriage and abortion are outlawed under Iran's Islamic legal code.

The survey also revealed that the average marrying age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women, a blow to the government's goal of promoting marriage to shore up society's Islamic foundations.

The statistics were disclosed by the national youth organisation's social-cultural deputy, Ali Alkbar Asarnia, at a conference celebrating family values and were widely reported in Iranian media. However, the organisation later attempted to dismiss the findings as based on an unrepresentative sample and attacked media outlets that reported them.

Asarnia said Iran had around 15 million single young people and that 1.5 million more were becoming eligible for marriage each year. Seven million were already past the government's recommended marrying guideline age of 29. The trend was producing the "unpleasant and dangerous social side effects" of premarital sex, Asarnia said.

The government has already tried to boost the marriage rate, which had an unprecedented 1.2% decline in 2005. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced a £720m "Reza love fund" - named after one of Shia Islam's 12 imams - to provide marriage loans. Plans have been announced to establish marriage bureaux to help people find partners.

Many blame economic circumstances for their failure to marry, citing high inflation, unemployment and a housing shortage along with cultural traditions that expect brides' families to provide dowries and husbands to commit themselves to mehrieh, an agreed cash gift.

However, Hojatoleslam Ghasem Ebrahimipour, a sociologist, told Shabestan news agency that the trend was due to the availability of premarital sex, and feminism among educated women. "When a woman is educated and has an income, she does not want to accept masculine domination through marriage," he said.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)