Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Fellow Arabs

My Fellow Arabs

by Sami Alrabaa

Arab regime leaders and their affiliates swim in wealth (luxury private palaces with the finest and mot expensive man has ever produced, private jets, i.e. flying palaces), ignore the poor, repress the population, blame local backwardness on the West, and support fundamentalist Muslims.

Arab regimes have always been despotic and totalitarian. They have never believed in egalitarianism, economic opportunity, religious tolerance, and self-criticism. They have used medieval forces of governance: tribalism, especially in the Arabian Peninsula, authoritarian traditionalism, and most recently Islamic fundamentalism. Arab schools and universities turn out more graduates in Islamic studies, falsified history, and void nationalism than in science, engineering, and medicine. Critical studies and scientific research have screeched to a halt. The majority of Arab professors translate works and research done in the West and claim they are their own. Empirical work is almost non-existent. Students graduate without having the slightest clue about what is really going on in the Western world. The only things the majority of them know about the West is that it produces good car, but it is decadent; people drink much alcohol and women sleep with everybody.

Billions of barrels of oil, fertile land along the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates valleys, which in the past helped creating great civilizations, yield an excess of misery rather than riches like in North Korea or Hong Kong, for instance. Billions of dollars are squandered on armament and a lavish life-style enjoyed by corrupt despotic rulers of the Arab world and their affiliates. Totalitarian oil rich Arab grandees from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, and Qatar, who plunder their countries' resources, invest their billions of dollars in the West. Countries like Egypt and Jordan, which receive billions of dollars as aid from the America and Europe, spend the money on strengthening their regimes.

Tragically, prospects of improvement are dismal. Arab government spokesmen and the predominantly state-owned media entertain the illiterate and semi-literate population with anti-Western and anti-Israel propaganda.

The Arab media are a great charade and a simulacrum of the West. They lack life-giving spirit and self-criticism. The state-controlled media and the private ones, owned by rich Arabs affiliated to Arab regimes, like the Saudi tycoon Al Waleed Bin Talal, give the appearance of being modern and Western. But their reporters and anchormen and women are by no means journalists by Western standards of free and truthful inquiry.

For example, while BBC makes a point of talking to the victims of a suicide bomber in Baghdad and Kabul, al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and the other Arab TV stations would never interview the mother of an Israeli blown apart by a Palestinian terrorist. To add insult to injury, Arab journalists call Palestinians who clash with Israeli forces and die: Martyrs.

Most Arab television stations would never broadcast freewheeling debates, like Meet the Press style talk show permitting criticism of the government, or critical, liberal interpretation of Islam. Commercial TV stations quibble over a high degree of anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism and obfuscate criticism of official Islam.

Creative novelists, cartoonists, and bloggers like Najeeb Mahfouz, Salman Rushdie, Flemming Rose, and Alaa Fattah received death Fatwas (ruling) for blasphemy. Four Egyptian editors of four Egyptian newspapers, Ibrahim Issa, Adel Hammouda, Wael el-Ebrashi and Abdel-Halim Qandil were sentenced to a year's hard labour for offending the president, Hosni Mubarak. Instead of getting a prize for literary creativity and civic courage, critics receive a prison or death fatwa and a mob at their courtyard.

No wonder that a culture of zero-creativity and silence is pervading the Arab world. On the other hand, a culture of demagogy is spreading across the Arab world. Prime examples are the Islamist preacher Amr Khaled and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darweesh. The Arab current furor is scripted, whipped up, and mercurial.

The Arab regimes and their media focus on and exaggerate the number of Arabs killed in clashes with the Israeli army and the coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, they deliberately ignore the thousands of Shiites, and Kurds butchered by Saddam Hussein and Hafez Asad of Syria.

The murder of some100.000 Muslims in Algeria by fellow Muslims, not by infidels, did not provoke so much indignation and violent demonstrations among Muslims as the so-called "Mohammed cartoons" did, although according to the holy Koran, "If someone kills a human being, it is as if he had killed the whole mankind."

All the conferences held in the Arab world about alleged Western bias and media distortion, and all those open-letters signed by Muslim leaders to Christians for dialogue cannot hide the self-inflicted catastrophe – and the growing ostracism and suspicion towards Arab regimes and evil forces in the Middle East. The Arab-Muslim message: "You accept our Shari'a or die" will never be accepted by the world community. The gloat over that Islam is engulfing the world is mere self-deception, vulgar and hallucination, at best. What is engulfing the world is extremism and terrorism. And the world will never accept a religion that approves of bloodshed and carnage.

Yet, in sum, Arab regimes remain objectively powerful, at least in one respect, not because of greater courage, higher IQs, or stronger economy, but because of their unique skills in cultivating fanatics and breeding terrorists. The cultivated West has not yet been able to find an antidote to the culture of terrorism. That is an area where Arabs and Muslims have proved to be superior.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

U.S. Muslim women fight for rights

NEW YORK, Mar 11 (IPS) - It's Ramadan, and Sara Elghobashy and a group of her women friends, having broken their fast, are looking for a mosque where they can hear the recitation of Koran.
"We could go to Medina," said one, suggesting a mosque nearby, in New York's East Village.
"No, don't go to Medina. They don't like women there," Elghobashy says, and laughs loudly.
There is an awkward silence. The other girls blink and change the subject.
Elghobashy doesn't really think mosques' treatment of women as second-class citizens is funny. In fact, she finds it absurd and depressing - but also motivating.
Elghobashy wants to crash what she calls the boys' club of Islam. She wants to lead congregations of both men and women - a rare thing in the Muslim world, where mosques often have separate, distinctly inferior seating for women, and the few women who do rise to positions of religious authority tend to lead only other women.
She aspires to become a certified Islamic scholar, or a sheikha. It's a serious undertaking. After graduating from New York University, she plans to devote a year to memorising the 114 chapters of the Koran. There is a specific art to reciting them correctly, in the rhyme and rhythm, in the intonation and pronunciation. Only upon mastering this would she have the chance to join the ulama, the community of religious scholars.
The most prestigious place to study is Al-Azhar in Cairo, the world's oldest university and the Harvard of Islamic sciences.
Elghobashy recently passed the first cut toward admission. But she's troubled.
Though Al-Azhar started admitting women in the 1970s, its classes are gender-segregated, and the quality of both professors and lessons for women is notoriously inferior. Al-Azhar is a beacon of Islamic orthodoxy, a place where tradition is cherished and protected, and part of what Elghobashy wants to do is change those traditions - the ones that say that the role of religious authority is Islam is reserved for men.
Muslim women have served as chaplains, publishing their own interpretations of the Koran, even issuing fatwas, or religious rulings. But they rarely command as much respect as their male counterparts.
"Gender segregation is at the heart of every function" at the mosque, argued Asra Nomani, an Afghan-American author and journalist who leads a controversial Muslim feminist movement she calls her "gender jihad." Traditionally, "women aren't allowed in the front of the mosque, not allowed to lecture, not allowed to speak for the community."
Nomani and her colleagues have organised mixed-gender prayers led by female imams, shocking to most Muslims.
A few women do lecture to mixed groups, and Muslim-American groups often let women lead. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest Muslim organisation in North America, elected its first female president in 2006.
But it's much rarer for a woman to lead a mixed-gender congregation in the mosque; in fact, mosques seem to be growing more conservative in this regard. In 66 percent, women pray in separate sections, where they sometimes cannot even see the imam, according to a 2001 study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). That was up from 54 percent in 1994. And in 31 percent of the mosques surveyed, women were barred from serving on executive boards.
The problem does not just lie with the men. Too few women have spoken up, many activists complain.
"Women have to come forward and say, 'we are knowledgeable and we have a right and a responsibility to our community to share our knowledge'," said Mohamed Elsanousi, ISNA's communications director. "Women have to step up and help educate men on these cultural misperceptions."
Women like Nomani and Elghobashy are trying to do that, but disagree on how to break up the men's club.
Nomani wants to shock the mainstream Muslim community into change. She set off a fierce debate in her small community of Morgantown, West Virginia, by walking into the local mosque and praying in the men-only main hall - an act meant to be as provocative as U.S. civil rights icon Rosa Parks taking a seat in the front of the bus.
The mosque tried to ban her, but this only egged her on. Soon afterward, she launched a "Muslim Women's Freedom" campaign, and has been traveling to mosques across the United States.
"Images matter, shock blasts matter, because you end up with a tremor and then change," Nomani said. "We have to upset the status quo, because we've had to wait long enough. Shock waves are a good thing, because maybe they will help jolt us into the 21st century."
Elghobashy, though, advocates a gentler approach.
"A larger crowd of people will feel more compelled to take your views in, and you can affect more people if you're not completely ostracising yourself from the rest of Muslim society," she said.
The female scholar Duha Abd El-Hakim, who studied at Al-Azhar, was dissatisfied with her experience there. She felt compelled to look for traditional Islamic learning in other ways.
"In Cairo, it was difficult to find male tutors who were willing to work with me, because they didn't want to be alone with a woman," she said. She joined a study group in a sheikh's home, but the women were asked to sit in a separate room where they couldn't see him, and could barely hear the lesson.
Yet Abd El-Hakim likewise opposes Nomani's shock approach. She compares it to "a teenager rebelling against her parents."
"It's not that there shouldn't be change," Abd El-Hakim said, "but change should be more reasonable. The best way to open up eyes as a woman is to prove yourself by learning and being as well-rounded as possible. There are so many different groups of Muslims out there, and you need to be aware of all of them and be able to communicate with all of them. Start small and grow from there."
To Nomani, this is just naïve. "Talk to me in 15 years after you try to change the community that way," she says. "Go to Al-Azhar and you'll still come back and be stuck preaching to women in the cubicle space in the 96th Street Mosque," she said, referring to a large gender-segregated mosque on New York City's Upper East Side.
"If you live long enough, you recognise that you have to work from the outside to some degree. Because who in power wants to give it up?"

Monday, March 9, 2009

Prostitiution in the Middle East: Mothers pimp daughers in Iraq

We could predict that a repressed society would produce prostitution. Time magazine is shocked at the Iraqi sexportation industry, but in fact it is a staple of the Arab and Muslim world.
Here's an excerpt from Time's article on Iraq: Iraq's Unspeakable Crime: Mothers Pimping Daughters
By Rania Abouzeid / Baghdad
She goes by "Hinda," but that's not her real name. That's what she's called by the many Iraqi sex traffickers and pimps who contact her several times a week from across the country. They think she is one of them, a peddler of sexual slaves. Little do they know that the stocky, auburn-haired woman is an undercover human rights activist who has been quietly mapping out their murky underworld since 2006.
That underworld is a place where nefarious female pimps hold sway, where impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters into a sex market that believes females who reach the age of 20 are too old to fetch a good price. The youngest victims, some just 11 and 12, are sold for as much as $30,000, others for as little as $2,000. "The buying and selling of girls in Iraq, it's like the trade in cattle," Hinda says. "I've seen mothers haggle with agents over the price of their daughters." The trafficking routes are both local and international, most often to Syria, Jordan and the Gulf (primarily the United Arab Emirates). The victims are trafficked illegally on forged passports, or "legally" through forced marriages. A married female, even one as young as 14, raises few suspicions if she's travelling with her "husband." The girls are then divorced upon arrival and put to work.
Nobody knows exactly how many Iraqi women and children have been sold into sexual slavery since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, and there are no official numbers because of the shadowy nature of the business. Baghdad-based activists like Hinda and others put the number in the tens of thousands. Still, it remains a hidden crime; one that the 2008 US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report says the Iraqi government is not combating. Baghdad, the report says, "offers no protection services to victims of trafficking, reported no efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and does not acknowledge trafficking to be a problem in the country."
But it is not much different in other Arab and Muslim countries. Those that have stricter laws and better policing form lucrative export markets for their neighbors.

Islam - Religion of Peace? Fair Enough - prove it

Before you get yourself in an uproar about neocon Zionist propaganda - the article was written by a Muslim, and is worth considering. At least consider carefully what the man has to say.
Islam Should Prove It's a Religion of Peace
Muslims can start with better Quranic scholarship
The film "Fitna" by Dutch parliament member Geert Wilders has created an uproar around the world because it links violence committed by Islamists to Islam.
Many commentators and politicians -- including the British government, which denied him entry to the country last month -- reflexively accused Mr. Wilders of inciting hatred. The question, however, is whether the blame is with Mr. Wilders, who simply exposed Islamic radicalism, or with those who promote and engage in this religious extremism. In other words, shall we fault Mr. Wilders for raising issues like the stoning of women, or shall we fault those who actually promote and practice this crime?
Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion -- while at the same time expecting the world to respect Islam as a religion of peace, love and harmony.
Scholars in the most prestigious Islamic institutes and universities continue to teach things like Jews are "pigs and monkeys," that women and men must be stoned to death for adultery, or that Muslims must fight the world to spread their religion. Isn't, then, Mr. Wilders's criticism appropriate? Instead of blaming him, we must blame the leading Islamic scholars for having failed to produce an authoritative book on Islamic jurisprudence that is accepted in the Islamic world and unambiguously rejects these violent teachings.
While many religious texts preach violence, the interpretation, modern usage and implementation of these teachings make all the difference. For example, the stoning of women exists in both the Old Testament and in the Islamic tradition, or "Sunna" -- the recorded deeds and manners of the prophet Muhammad. The difference, though, is that leading Jewish scholars agreed to discontinue these practices centuries ago, while Muslim scholars have yet to do so. Hence we do not see the stoning of women practiced or promoted in Israel, the "Jewish" state, but we see it practiced and promoted in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the "Islamic" states.
When the British government banned Geert Wilders from entering the country to present his film in the House of Lords, it made two egregious errors. The first was to suppress free speech, a canon of the civilized Western world. The second mistake was to blame the messenger -- punishing, so to speak, the witness who exposed the crime instead of punishing the criminal. Mr. Wilders did not produce the content of the violent Islamic message he showed in his film -- the Islamic world did that. Until the Islamic clerical establishment takes concrete steps to reject violence in the name of their religion, Mr. Wilders's criticism is not only permissible as "controversial" free speech but justified.
So, Islamic scholars and clerics, it is up to you to produce a Shariah book that will be accepted in the Islamic world and that teaches that Jews are not pigs and monkeys, that declaring war to spread Islam is unacceptable, and that killing apostates is a crime. Such a book would prove that Islam is a religion of peace.
Mr. Hamid, a former member of an Egyptian Islamist terrorist group, is an Islamic reformer and senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Long arm of the Ayatollahs reaches Argentina

AMIA investigator tortured in Argentina

Mar. 8, 2009 Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

Argentinean Jewish community leaders were demanding an immediate probe Sunday into the kidnap and torture of one of the senior investigators in the 1994 Iranian-Hizbullah bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

The investigator, Claudio Lifschitz, said masked attackers nabbed him from his home on Friday night, threw him into the trunk of a van and violently interrogated him for several hours.

The men identified themselves as members of the Argentinean intelligence service and demanded to know if Lifschitz had any case material that wasn't presented in court regarding several Iranian suspects, he said.

The assailants also burnt the letters AMIA into Lifschitz 's back and arm before releasing him near the police academy premises in Buenos Aires.

"They made me get out of my car, get into a van and they took me away," Lifschitz said. "They put a plastic bag over my head and with a blowtorch, they burnt the letters AMIA on my arm and my back."

Argentinean Jewish community leader José Scaliter was quoted on the local Jewish News Agency Web site as saying that "we have called for an immediate probe of the incident."

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee expressed its outrage over the assault.

"We trust Argentine authorities will quickly find those who carried out this brutal attack on Mr. Lifschitz," AJC Executive Director David A. Harris was quoted on its Web site as saying. "This awful incident undermines Argentina's important progress to bring to justice those responsible for the murderous attack on AMIA's headquarters."

Eighty-five people were killed and more than 200 were wounded in the July 18, 1994, bombing, the single worst terrorist attack on Argentinean soil.

The blast leveled the seven-story building, a symbol of Argentina's 200,000-strong Jewish population.

Late last year, a 10 million pesos civil suit was filed in an Argentinean court by the family of one of the victims, in the wake of an Argentinean prosecutor's report linking Iran to the bombing.

Since the report was released, a series of international arrest warrants were issued against Iranian officials for the attack.

Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report

International Women's day - Middle East

It's International Women's day today, but there will not be much cheering in the Middle East. If you are a woman and live in most of the Muslim Middle East, this is what you can look forward to:
Driving and Voting - If you live in Saudi Arabia, forget about driving and voting.
Honor killings - If you are suspected of hanky panky by members of your family, you will end up dead for dishonoring the family.
Female Genital Mutilation - practised in much of North Africa and parts of the Middle East.
Burqa - This is the style in Afghanistan.
Women's Rights Muslim Burqa
Hijab - This is the style in many Muslim countries. Iran and Saudi Arabi have stricter garments.
These styles are not options. They are enforced by brutal religious police.
If you are a woman, you'll be happy to know that Sharia law protects you - a bit. The bad news is that husbands have a duty to beat disobedient wives. The good news is that they are not supposed to leave a mark. That's fair, isn't it? Owning property and getting citizenship is sometimes a bit tricky for women too in this party of the world.
Getting Stoned - And If you like getting stoned, Iran is the place to be. This woman is about to be stoned for adultery:
Iran - stoned for adultery 
There's only one place in the Middle East where women are protected - "Apartheid" Israel.