Friday, September 18, 2009

Ahmadinejad Unwelcome at New York Hotel

This is somewhat remarkable, since NY hotels have put up with a variety of unusual and unsavory characters including King Saud and Fidel Castro.

New York's Helmsley Hotel said on Friday it canceled a banquet set for next week when it learned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was on the guest list, saying the man who called the Holocaust a lie was not welcome.
Ahmadinejad was due in New York next week to attend the UN General Assembly, and his public appearances outside the meeting have generated controversy in recent years.
"As soon as Helmsley corporate management learned of the possibility of either the Iranian mission or President Ahmadinejad holding a function at the New York Helmsley Hotel, they immediately ordered the cancellation of that function," hotel spokesman Howard Rubenstein said in a statement.
"Neither the Iranian mission nor President Ahmadinejad is welcome at any Helmsley facility," the statement said without saying why.
A group called United Against Nuclear Iran told the hotel that Ahmadinejad was on the guest list, he said.
The New York Post reported the banquet was booked months ago by an Iranian student group.
Ahmadinejad on Friday called the Holocaust "a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim" in comments to worshipers at Tehran University

U.N. Disgraces Itself Again; Obama Helps

By Mona Charen | The United Nations Human Rights Council, a putrid perversion of every high ideal upon which it was founded, has issued a report calling the Israelis war criminals. The HRC has also, in obedience to the wishes of Chavez and Castro, ejected the representative from Honduras. In the very week it has committed these outrages, the Obama administration has announced that the United States, which quit the organization in 2006, will rejoin. Brilliant.

The Human Rights Council is the successor to the thoroughly discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, which boasted such members as China, Zimbabwe, Russia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. In 2004, the commission unanimously accepted membership for Sudan, a state actively engaged in genocide in Darfur. (That was when the U.S. walked out.)

Changing one word in its name, the Human Rights Council instantly resumed its former practices: ignoring massive human rights violations around the globe and condemning Israel. Anne Bayefsky of Eye on the UN summarizes:

"The council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. members combined. The council has one (of only ten) formal agenda items dedicated to criticizing Israel. And one agenda item to consider the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population. ... It has terminated human rights investigations on Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And all investigations of 'consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms' in such states as Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been 'discontinued.'"

The council's "investigation" of war crimes in Gaza, published this week, is everything we have come to expect from an organization that gives Cuba a pass and welcomes Sudan to monitor human rights violations.

In the first place, the mission's mandate was slanted from the start. It was tasked with investigating violations of international law by "the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people." One of the mission's four members, Christine Chinkin, signed a public letter denouncing Israel for "war crimes" before the investigation got under way. For this reason, Mary Robinson, former high commissioner for human rights (and no great friend of Israel) refused to participate. She said the mandate was "not balanced because it focuses on what Israel did, without calling for an investigation on the launch of the rockets by Hamas." She might have added that Israel is not the "occupying" power in Gaza, having withdrawn in 2005.

While the report accuses "both sides" of committing war crimes (and mentions those rockets, in passing), the bulk of the 575 page report addresses supposed Israeli offenses. The mission's capacity to hear impartial testimony was hampered by its willingness to permit Palestinian witnesses to be accompanied by Hamas officials. Call it the Middle Eastern version of Card Check. Nor could they expect to hear a balanced presentation from the representatives of radical non-governmental organizations within Israel who routinely side with the Palestinians. Without offering evidence for its conclusions, the mission denied widespread reporting that Hamas combatants dressed in civilian clothing, hid in hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, and used ambulances for military transports.

Seated comfortably in Geneva, the mission denounced Israel for failing to take more precautions to protect civilians. It acknowledged neither Israel's extensive use of warning leaflets and phone calls, nor the culpability of Hamas in placing rocket launchers in civilian areas. But above all, the report turned reality on its head by conceiving of Israel, the target of 12,000 rockets fired directly into civilian areas, as the aggressor, and of Hamas, a terrorist gang behaving as terrorists do, as the victims. After enduring the terror of rocket attacks for eight years, Israel defended herself militarily. Now Israel stands morally condemned by the United Nations for doing so. Hamas, whose unrelenting aggression provoked a response, and whose use of human shields should be regarded as a war crime, is given a pass.

The U.N. scored a public relations coup in getting South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who is Jewish, to chair the panel. He must answer to his own conscience, but his participation does point up some of the bald contrasts in the world. While there are any number of Jews and even Israelis who side with the Palestinians, or whose longing for international respectability causes them to lean over backwards in criticizing Israel, there are no Palestinians who openly sympathize with Israel. Where do you find Palestinian moderates? In the graveyards.

Just as the U.N. Human Rights Council is besmirching itself in this way, the Obama administration elects to lend it the prestige of American membership. Shame appears to be in season.

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Obama's Middle East Policy

Does the Obama administration have a plan B ??? When pursuing a high risk policy, there always has to be a plan B, doesn't there? Wouldn't it be better for Israel to go along with the American administration's demands and let the Palestinians bear the onus of responsibility for failure?
Stuck in the Middle East
Obama's go get-'em diplomacy with Israel and Iran is on a collision course with failure.
Eight months into his presidency, Barack Obama is fast approaching his first real moment of truth on the Middle East. At the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session next week, the U.S. president will host a ceremonial summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of launching talks to achieve a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then, a week later on Oct. 1, Undersecretary of State William Burns will join representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China for the first talks with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator to see whether an agreement can be reached to curtail President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear weapons program.

This is the diplomatic offensive that Obama promised the U.S. public last year -- the investment in "soft power" that the president's supporters deemed lacking during the George W. Bush administration. But the White House is facing tough prospects on both fronts. All that fantastical thinking about the transformative power of diplomacy is now headed straight for the iceberg that is the Middle East.
One immovable object is Abbas, who has participated in hundreds of peace negotiations over 15 years with six previous Israeli governments -- all while Israeli settlement construction was proceeding at a brisk pace. Now, Abbas says that he won't accept the partial freeze that Netanyahu has declared; he'll wait to join peace talks until Israel bows to Washington's unprecedented demand for a total freeze on construction, including in Jerusalem. But that is a condition that no Israeli government is going to accept. Even if Abbas softens his stand and agrees to begin talks, negotiations will still be in their throat-clearing phase when the Palestinian president's term ends Jan. 10. With Hamas controlling Gaza there is no agreed electoral mechanism to empower a successor Palestinian president to make concessions on behalf of the Palestinians. Far from achieving transformative success, Obama will be lucky if he can just keep negotiations alive for more than a few weeks.
The Iranian talks look even more likely to end without resolution. On what seems like a daily basis, Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirm their determination to accelerate Iran's nuclear program and add to the rapidly growing stockpiles of low-enriched uranium. The talks are not likely to throw them off this path.
When both of these diplomatic initiatives grind down, then, and hopes for change fade, the U.S.-Israel relationship will face new strains. Obama can tolerate an impasse on the Iranian front for some time, but Netanyahu cannot. Although Obama and his advisors certainly do not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran, some find the prospect of an attack against the Islamic Republic even more frightening. As the countdown to a nuclear Iran draws ever near, many top Netanyahu advisors have a different view.
On the Palestinian file, the opposite is true: It is Obama who cannot live with an impasse and the Israelis who can. Since 2005, when Israel withdrew every soldier and 8,000 settlers from Gaza, only to be rewarded by a Hamas coup and thousands of Qassam rockets, Israelis have been skeptical that further Oslo Accords-type agreements can enhance their security. The idea of negotiating with the Palestinians to pull the Israeli army out of the West Bank, for example, doesn't inspire much public enthusiasm. Trouble is, many Americans do still believe in the Oslo idea. And a breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian talks would put enormous strains on Washington's relations with Arab countries like Saudi Arabia that need diplomatic movement to quiet domestic tensions. Allowing the talks to fail would also be unacceptable to the European Union and profoundly unsettling to important parts of Obama's own political coalition. Without a peace process, there will be more pressure for anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, leaving Obama with a bitter choice between using the U.S. veto to prevent them or allowing them to pass, imperiling an ally and inflaming demands for U.S. sanctions against Israel.
There is yet one more wild card in all of this: Obama's door is open to advisors who want to break with Israel. Many on the left of the Democratic Party believe that Israel is the obstacle to peace and that a breakthrough could be achieved if Obama just twisted Israel's arm. Of course, this was always the view of some of the storied Arabists in the State Department, but today, it comes more influentially from Jewish American critics of Israeli policy who depict themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace. Faced with the reality that only the 3 percent of Israelis who vote Meretz share such views, and that the dovish camp led by Yossi Beilin has no prospect of winning an election in the actual Jewish state, the Beilinist Israeli left has moved to Washington. Their goal is to lobby the U.S. president to "save Israel from herself" by imposing terms on Israel that the great majority of Israelis would reject.
Obama is poorly positioned to reach over Netanyahu's head to persuade the Israeli people to embrace this agenda. A Sept. 12 poll put Bibi's approval rating at 65 percent, while similar polls by Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post found that only 12 and 6 percent of Israelis, respectively, think that Obama is pro-Israel. If elections were held today, Likud would gain five additional seats, and Bibi's coalition would grow at the expense of the left, which has already been decimated by a public rebuff.
Some Netanyahu advisors think that Obama is himself a man of the left and that top aides like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod are closet J-Streeters in the White House. Instead, however, Obama and his top advisors are instinctively drawn to the center-left, like Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is more likely to take advice from the National Security Council's Dennis Ross than from more-leftist deputy Mideast peace envoy Mara Rudman or the ubiquitous peace pundit Daniel Levy.
In short, all that is clear is that Obama's big Mideast moment is coming. Now the world waits to see what kind of U.S. president he wants to be.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gay bashing on the rise in Muslim countries

It's not politically correct to talk about this, is it? So the article blames homophobia on the West. But homosexuality was always forbidden in Islam and homophobia was always part of the culture - and yet homosexuality flourished, a common enough phenomenon in repressive societies.
Wave of Homophobia Sweeps the Muslim World
By Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Daniel Steinvorth
In most Islamic countries, gay men and women are ostracized, persecuted and in some cases even murdered. Repressive regimes are often fanning the flames of hatred in a bid to outdo Islamists when it comes to spreading "moral panic."
Bearded men kidnapped him in the center of Baghdad, threw him into a dark hole, chained him down, urinated on him, and beat him with an iron pipe. But the worst moment for Hisham, 40, came on the fourth day of his ordeal when the kidnappers called his family. He was terrified they would tell his mother that he is gay and that this was the reason they had kidnapped him. If they did he would never be able to see his family again. The shame would be unbearable for them.
"Do what you want to me, but don't tell them," he screamed.
Instead of humiliating him in the eyes of his family, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $50,000 (€33,000), a huge sum for the average Iraqi family. His parents had to go into debt and sell off all of their son's possessions in order to raise the money required to secure his freedom. Shortly after they received the ransom the kidnappers threw Hisham out of their car somewhere in the northern part of Baghdad. They decided not to shoot him and let him go. But they sent him on his way with a warning: "This is your last chance. If we ever see you again, we'll kill you."
That was four months ago. Hisham has since moved to Lebanon. He told his family that he had decided to flee the violence and terror in Baghdad and that he had found work in Beirut. Needless to say he didn't disclose the fact that he is unable to live in Iraq because of the death squads who are out hunting for "effeminate-looking" men.
In Baghdad a new series of murders began early this year, perpetrated against men suspected of being gay. Often they are raped, their genitals cut off, and their anuses sealed with glue. Their bodies are left at landfills or dumped in the streets. The non-profit organization Human Rights Watch, which has documented many of these crimes, has spoken of a systematic campaign of violence involving hundreds of murders.
Restoring 'Religious Morals'
A video clip showing men dancing with each other at a party in Baghdad in the summer of 2008 is thought to have triggered this string of kidnappings, rapes, and murders. Thousands of people have seen it on the Internet and on their cell phones. Islamic religious leaders began ranting about the growing presence of a "third sex" which American soldiers were said to have brought in with them. The followers of radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, in particular, felt the need to take action aimed at restoring "religious morals."
In their stronghold, the part of Baghdad known as Sadr City, black-clad militiamen patrol the streets, on the lookout for anyone whose "unmanly appearance" or behavior would make it possible to identify them as being homosexual. Often enough long hair, tight-fitting t-shirts and trousers, or a certain way of walking were a death sentence for the persons in question. But it's not just the Mahdi army who has been hunting down and killing gay men. Other groups such as Sunni militias close to al-Qaida and the Iraqi security services are also known to be involved.
Homosexuals in Iraq may be faced with an exceptionally dangerous situation but they are ostracized almost everywhere in the Muslim world. Gay rights organizations estimate that more than 100,000 gay men and women are currently being discriminated against and threatened in Muslim countries. Thousands of them commit suicide, end up in prison, or go into hiding.
Egypt Starts to Clamp Down
More than 30 Islamic countries have laws on the books that prohibit homosexuality and make it a criminal offense. In most cases punishment ranges from floggings to life imprisonment. In Mauritania, Bangladesh, Yemen, parts of Nigeria and Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iran convicted homosexuals can also be sentenced to death.
In those Muslim countries where homosexuality is not against the law gay men and women are nonetheless persecuted, arrested, and in some cases murdered. Although long known for its open gay scene, Egypt has recently started to clamp down hard. The lives of homosexuals are monitored by a kind of vice squad who tap telephones and recruit informants. As soon as the police have accumulated the kind of evidence they need they charge their victims with "debauchery."
In Malaysia homosexuality has been used as a political weapon. In 2000 opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly committing "sodomy" with his wife's chauffeur as well as with a former speechwriter. In 2004 the conviction was overturned on appeal and he was acquitted. In the summer of 2008 charges were filed against him in a similar case when a male aide accused him of sodomy. The case is still ongoing.
For a while Anwar was the favorite of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and was being groomed to succeed him in that office until they had a falling out in 1998. Ten years and some prison time later, on August 28, 2008, Anwar managed to be sworn in again as a member of the Malaysian parliament. But that's as far as he has got with his political comeback.
Even in liberal Lebanon homosexuals run the risk of being sentenced to a year in prison. On the other hand, Beirut has the only gay and lesbian organization in the Arab world (Helem, which means 'dream' in Arabic). There are posters on the walls of the Helem office in downtown Beirut providing information on AIDS and tips on how to deal with homophobia. The existence of Helem is being tolerated for the time being but the Interior Ministry has yet to grant it an official permit. "And it's hard to imagine that we ever will be given one," says Georges Azzi, the organization's managing director.
Islamists Are the Dominant Cultural Force
In Istanbul there is a free gay scene, a Christopher Street Day, and even religious Muslims are among the fans of transsexual pop diva Bülent Ersoy and the late gay singer Zeki Müren. But outside the world of show business it is considered both a disgrace and an illness to be a götveren or "queen." In the Turkish army homosexuality is cause for failing a medical test. To identify anyone trying to use homosexuality as an excuse to get out of military service, army doctors ask to see photos or videos showing the recruits engaging in sex with a man. And they have to be in the "passive" role. In Turkey being in the active role is considered manly enough not to be proof of homosexuality.
It looks as if a wave of homophobia has swept over the Islamic world, a place that was once widely known for its openmindedness, where homoerotic literature was written and widely read, where gender roles were not so narrowly defined, and, as in the days of ancient Greece, where men often sought the companionship of youths.
Islamists are now a dominant cultural force in many of these countries. They include figures such as popular Egyptian television preacher Yussuf al-Qaradawi who demonizes gays as perverse. Four years ago Shiite grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa saying that gays are to be murdered in the most brutal way possible. These religious opinion leaders base their hatred for gays on the story of Lot in the Koran: "Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds." Lot's people suffered the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins. The Prophet Muhammad has a number of dicta in which he condemns these acts by Lot's people and in one of them he even goes as far as to call for punishment by death.
European Prudery Exported to the Colonies
The story of Lot and related verses in the Koran were not interpreted as unambiguous references to homosexual sex until the 20th century, says Everett Rowson, professor of Islamic Studies at New York University. This reinterpretation was the result of Western influences -- its source was the prudery of European colonialists who introduced their conception of sexual morality to the newly conquered countries.
The fact of the matter is that half of the laws across the world that prohibit homosexuality today are derived from a single law that the British enacted in India in 1860. "Many attitudes with regard to sexual morality that are thought to be identical to Islam owe a lot more to Queen Victoria than to the Koran," Rowson says.
More than anything, it is the politicization of Islam that has led to the persecution of gays today. Sexual morals are no longer a private matter. They are regulated and instrumentalized by governments.

'Regimes Want to Control the Private Lives of Citizens'
"The most repressive are secular regimes such as those in Egypt or Morocco which are under pressure from Islamists and so try to outdo them with regard to morals," says Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. "In addition the persecution of homosexuals shows that a regime has control over the private lives of its citizens -- a sign of power and authority." For several years now a sense of "moral panic" has been systematically fomented in many Muslim countries.
Iran is a case in point, where homosexuals have been persecuted on a more or less regular basis since the Islamic revolution. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in office there has definitely been an increase in this persecution despite the fact that Ahmadinejad never grows tired of emphasizing that there are no homosexuals in his country.

The mere suspicion that someone may have committed "unnatural acts" is enough for that person to be sentenced to a flogging in Iran. If caught more than once, the person in question can be sentenced to death. According to official statistics, 148 homosexuals have been given a death sentence and executed thus far. The true figure is doubtless much larger than this. The last case of this kind to attract public attention was that of 21-year-old Makwan Moludsade, who was hanged in December 2007. He was accused of having raped three boys several years earlier. Homosexuals are almost always charged with other crimes such as rape, fraud, or robbery in order to be better able to justify their execution.
'If I Had Stayed, They Would Have Killed Me'
As a result of this situation thousands of gays and lesbians have fled Iran. For most of them the first port of call is Turkey. "I had no choice but to flee," says Ali, a 32-year-old physician. "If I had stayed, they would have killed me."
Ali was careful. He rarely went to parties, he used different Internet cafés for online chat sessions, and he didn't let anyone in on his secret, not even the members of his family knew. Everything went well until one day his friend's father caught them kissing. Two days later Ali lost his job at the hospital and then he was hit by a car, in what seemed to be a deliberate attack. Shortly after that he received a telephone call telling him: "We want to see you hang."
What he hadn't known was that his friend's father was a high-ranking member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Ali went to the bank, withdrew his savings, and took a train to Turkey, where he applied for asylum. Since then he has lived in a tiny apartment in Kayseri, Central Anatolia, one of 35 gay Iranian exiles in that city.
Arsham Parsi, 29, from Shiraz, fled Iran four years ago. A slight man with a fluffy beard and glasses, he was one of the most wanted men in Iran for several years after creating the country's first gay network in 2001. Its members only communicated with each other by e-mail and very few people knew his real name. But in the end his identity was still revealed. Parsi managed to get away but it was a close call. He got a visa for Canada, where he founded the "Iranian Queer Organization", which now has 6,000 members in Iran. They include numerous transsexuals or persons who consider themselves to be transsexuals. Parsi estimates that "Nearly half of all sex-change operations are requested by homosexuals."
Sex-Change Operations Booming in Iran
The persecution of gays has led to a boom in demand for sex-change operations in Iran. More operations of this kind are carried out in the Islamic Republic than anywhere else in the world apart from Thailand. These procedures were approved by Ayatollah Khomeini himself in 1983. Khomeini defined transsexuality as a disease that can be healed by means of an operation. Since then thousands of people have requested this kind of treatment and the Iranian government even covers part of the costs.
"Family members and physicians urge homosexuals to have operations to normalize their sexual orientation," Parsi says. This way it was possible for a high-ranking Shiite religious scholar to finance his secretary's physical transformation into a woman and then to marry him.
The archconservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country where sharia law is the sole legal code, under which homosexuals are flogged and executed. "homosexuals are freer here than they are in Iran," says Afdhere Jama, who traveled through the Islamic world for seven years doing research for his book "Illegal Citizens."
Gay men and women have a surprising amount of space in Saudi society. Newspapers print stories about lesbian sex in school lavatories, while it is an open secret that certain shopping centers, restaurants, and bars in Jeddah and Riyadh are gay meeting points.
"There are numerous Saudi men who have sexual relationships with youths before they are married or when their wives are pregnant," Jama says. In these cases having sex with another male is often the only way of having sex at all. Extramarital affairs with women are nearly impossible. "In the West the men in question would be considered gay, but in countries like Saudi Arabia it is harder to categorize them," Jama notes. Most Muslims have trouble understanding the Western concept of "gay identity." In their countries there is no such thing as a gay lifestyle or a gay movement.
Cultural and Political Factors
Daayiee Abdullah, 55, is an imam. He wears a prayer cap, has a beard -- and is gay. He is one of only two imams in the world who are openly gay. He voluntarily chose to follow the path of Islam. Raised as a Baptist in Detroit, he made friends with Chinese Muslims while studying in Beijing and then converted to Islam. "They told me it would be no problem for me as a gay man to be a good Muslim."
Imam Abdullah and many others along with him have a somewhat different interpretation of the story of Lot. According to them, those whom God condemned were not homosexuals but rapists and robbers. It is not homosexuality that the Koran prohibits but rather rape. "The rejection of gays is a result of cultural and political factors," he says. "Just like honor killings and arranged marriages. They're not in the Koran either."
Abdullah lives in the US capital, Washington D.C., and says prayers at the funerals of gay persons, particularly if they died of AIDS, something no other imam is willing to do. He officiates at same-sex marriages and, for the past 11 years, has provided religious advice in an on-line forum entitled "Muslim Gay Men."
He regularly receives death threats but now laughs them off, saying: "How can two loving men pose a threat to the foundations God has laid?"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All about Jews in Bangladesh

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury: All about Jews in Bangladesh

I thought you would be interested in this facebook note from a friend in Bangladesh.

Ami Isseroff

Amongst South Asian nations, Jewish population in India is above 15,401 while Jewish population in Bangladesh is 175 which is 0.00011 of the total population of the country. Number of Jews in Pakistan is 200, while there is no official record of any Jewish population in Sri Lanka.

Although the number of Jews in Bangladesh is shown to 175 in various information sites, including Wikipedia, according to Bangladeshi scholars, the real number of Jewish population in Bangladesh is above 3,500, while the Jews in Bangladesh are afraid of disclosing their religious identity fearing persecution of the anti-Semitic people.

According to information, fearing religious persecution, Jews in Bangladesh mostly identify themselves as 'Jehova's Witness', while most of the Jews in the country are in textile related business as well as business in grocerries.

There is special congregassion of Bangladeshi Jews on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah. But, according to Bangladeshi scholar and Head of Dhaka University's Public Administration Department, Professor Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, Pakistani government grabbed the only Jewish synagogue, which was located in Dhaka and the building is now being used as one of the offices of the government of Bangladesh.

Professor Dr. kalimullah demanded immediate returning of the Jewish synagogue to country's Jewish population as well stop all forms of repression on Jews in Bangladesh.

There was another Jewish humanitarian group active in the then Pakistan with a huge office at Dhaka's Purana Paltan area [near Central Post Office]. But, that organization was also forced to seize operations by the Pakistani government and that building has also been grabbed by the government, which presently houses one of the offices of the republic.

Persecution of Jews continue in Bangladesh because of spread of religious hatred, mostly by fanatic Muslim clergies, who term the Jews as 'enemies of Islam'. They encourage elimination of Jewish population from the country. That is why, although there is Jewish population in Bangladesh, none of the official records will presently show about their existence in the country. Jews were prevented from declaring their religious identity both in the National Identity Card as well as Passports issue by Bangladeshi government.

Bangladeshi continues to hold state policy of demonizing Israel and the country maintains total ban on the Jewish state for decades. Travel by any Bangladeshi citizen to Israel is seen as an offense according to Bangladeshi law.

Meanwhile, persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh has been harshly criticized in the world by a number of scholars, although the situation is yet to change.

Eminent Indian writer and journalist M J Akbar speaking as keynote speaker at a seminar titled 'Meaning of Minority Politics' organised by Bangladesh Enterprise Institute [BEI] in the city in December 2007, said he was saddened that Bangladesh's birth principle of 'language-centred nationhood' "was incapable of finding a polity." and said stay true to the country's founding principles.

"Out of all the countries in the Muslim world, Bangladesh had the greatest opportunity to build a modern Muslim country," he said, adding that the question of Biharis and the gradual assimilation of Jamaat-e Islami into national politics have to be addressed.

Otherwise the results will be felt long into the future, he added. Akbar disagreed with the dominant view that a minority is a group of people who are demographically outnumbered in a particular area, stressing that the category is based on perceptions. Outlining the history of Bengali Muslims to illustrate his point, he said they were affected the most as a 'minority' in the last century that have transformed their history, and in effect their lives.

In Bangladesh, there is no Committee for minorities in the country to identify the issues facing 20 million minorities. In Bangladesh, being a minority means being a victim of oppression, torture and discrimination.

My submission is that the word minority has its own connotation and definition. By 'minority' today we mean a disadvantaged group of citizens, who are not the privileged ones, at the top, but the under-privileged at the bottom. [Atlantes Magazine, 29th January 1975]. It was thought that the Liberation of Bangladesh marked the end of a chapter of communal politics, opening up newer possibilities for the Hindus and other ethnic minorities and they would be able to play a more effective role in the political process. Minorities had also thought that Bangladesh would put an end to discrimination against them, and their loyalty to the country would no longer be questioned. But in the present-day Bangladeshi the Hindu's loyalty to the state is very much questioned. On the other hand, Bangladeshi state policy considers Jews as 'Enemies', which is extremely sordid and unacceptable.

I strongly urge the Bangladeshi government to immediately return the Jewish synagogue to the country's Jewish population as well allow the Jews in the country to live in peace by openly expressing their religious identity. And good news is, despite series of repressions and persecutions both by the government and religious fanatics, Jewish population in Bangladesh presently is increasing for past several years.
In defense of Bangladeshi persecuted Jews

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yemeni child bride, 12, dies in labor

Abolishing child marriage, he says, "is an idea whose time has come."

Actually, the time for this idea came several centuries ago, but some places seem to have missed it. Muhammad's wife Aisha was apparenlty about 9 years old when the marriage was consummated.

The Painful Death of a Yemen Child Bride
Yemeni Girl, 12, Dies in Childbirth After 3 Days of Labor

After days of struggling through labor a 12-year-old "child bride" has died in Yemen, her baby a stillborn.
Fawziyah Abdullah Youssef was married last year at the age of 11 to a 24-year-old. In a custom that is common in Yemen, her parents pulled her from school so that she could be given to her betrothed.
"Families think child marriage is a good thing&that it comes directly from Islam. They don't understand the dangers," Ahmad Al-Qureishi of Seyaj, a Yemeni children's rights group, tells ABC News.
The dangers are apparent in statistic gathered by the United Nations. Yemen has a high maternal death rate of 430 women per 100,000 births  more than 20 times that of its neighbor, Saudi Arabia -- and is in the top 50 countries ranked for high infant mortality.
Most of the maternal deaths are for early pregnancy, according to UNICEF.
"It's a deeply embedded social habit. For every one child marriage we can stop there are five more," said Naseem Rehman, a UNICEF spokesman in Yemen's capital of Sana'a.
Rehman says child brides in Yemen face a "triple disadvantage," having to cope with a lost childhood, a pregnancy their bodies aren't ready to handle, and often forced to give birth at home, far from any health facility.
An estimated 50 percent of women in Yemen are married before age 18, some as young as eight. In recent years Yemen's civil society and women's rights activists have pushed back against the practice, which is prevalent in what has long been the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.
Calls For New Law
In February Yemen's parliament passed a child marriages law setting a minimum age of 17, but it has yet to be enacted. The bill has long been challenged by conservative lawmakers who say it would contradict the laws of Islam.
The law also challenges rural and tribal customs. Marriages are often arranged by parents to serve the family's interests; a child marriage can bring a dowry payment, and relieves a household from having to feed one more child.
Earlier this year Seyaj, the children's rights group, documented the case of Rahmanah Ali Al Shayef, 10, whose father traded her hand in marriage in exchange for a bride for his son. When a local official refused to issue the marriage contract because of the bride's young age, Al Shayef's father took her to another district, where the marriage officer was more compliant.
The issue of child marriage in Yemen rose to prominence in 2007 after an 8-year-old bride, Nojoud Ali, was granted a divorce from her abusive husband.
At the time her lawyer, Shatha Nasser, told ABC News that the young girl left her home and walked to the local court, asking staff there for help. They put her in touch with Nasser, who handles cases of abuse against women and children, and the two successfully fought for an annulment.
Together they were honored by Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year Award in 2008; Nojoud Ali has since been banned from traveling outside of Yemen.
Since then human rights activists have stepped up their efforts, led by Yemeni women and civil society groups.
"We have young girls speaking out against the practice, which injures the child, the family, and the community," said Rehman of UNICEF.
Abolishing child marriage, he says, "is an idea whose time has come."

Indonesia's Aceh to Allow Stoning for Adulterers

Indonesia's Aceh to Allow Stoning for Adulterers
Lawmakers in a devoutly Muslim Indonesian province vote that adulterers can be stoned to death

The Associated Press
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia
Lawmakers in a devoutly Muslim Indonesian province voted unanimously Monday that adulterers could be sentenced to death by stoning, just months after voters overwhelmingly chose to throw conservative Islamic parties out of power.
Only weeks before the new government, led by the moderate Aceh Party, is set to take over, the regional parliament still controlled by hard-liners pushed through steep punishments for adultery and homosexuality.
The chairman of the 69-seat house asked if the bill could be passed into law and members answered in unison: "Yes, it can." Some members of the moderate Democrat Party voiced reservations, but none of them voted against the bill.
Human rights groups said the law violates international treaties signed by Indonesia. The province's deputy governor also opposed the legislation, saying it needed more careful consideration because it imposes a new form of capital punishment.
The Aceh Party is also believed to have a less strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, and some activists expressed hope that once in power, they would amend or tone down the law. Others were considering contesting the bill in court in the capital, Jakarta.
Aceh, where Islam first arrived in Indonesia from Saudi Arabia centuries ago, enjoys semiautonomy from the central government. A long-running Islamic insurgency in the province ended in 2005 in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 130,000 there.
A version of Shariah that was introduced in Aceh in 2001 already bans gambling and drinking alcohol, and makes it compulsory for women to wear headscarves. Dozens of public canings have been carried out by the local Shariah police against violators of that law.
The majority of Indonesia's roughly 200 Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith, and surveys suggest they do not support such hardline interpretations of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
Stoning is legally sanctioned in varying forms in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and parts of Nigeria. Illegal stonings have also been reported in recent years in Iraq and Somalia. But its use is a point of contention among Islamic scholars.
The most notable example in modern Islam was that of Amina Lawal, a young woman who was sentenced to death in a Nigerian state in 2002 for having sex outside marriage, but was later released.
The new Indonesian law also imposes tough sentences and fines, to be paid in kilograms of gold, for rape and pedophilia, but the most hotly disputed article was on adultery and states that offenders can be punished by a minimum of 100 lashings and a maximum of stoning to death.
"The stoning to death is the toughest punishment included in the (new) Shariah law," Bahrom Rasjid, one of the drafters and a member of the United Development Party, said after its passage.
It also imposes severe prison terms for other behavior considered morally unacceptable, including homosexuality, which will be punishable by public lashings and more than eight years in prison.
The bill violates national and international treaties signed by Indonesia protecting the rights of minorities and women, said a gay rights activist in Aceh who requested anonymity because he feared for his safety.
"It's discriminatory, and it's saddening, but we are quite sure members of civil society who are concerned with human rights will not sit by silently," the activist said, adding that he hopes the new moderate leadership in the province will overturn the law after taking power next month.
Aceh Vice Governor Muhamad Nazar said that even though his office opposed the clause on stoning to death it has no legal power to block it. "Whatever law is passed we have to enforce it," he said.
Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus and Anthony Deutsch contributed to this article from Jakarta.