Sunday, August 29, 2010

125 Filipinos convert to Islam in Dubai

A total of 122 ladies and three men, all expatriates from the Philippines, converted to Islam in Dubai, after a lecture by popular Muslim Filipino orator and preacher Omar Penalbar.

Penalbar was lecturing on tolerance in Islam and the message of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

The lecture was organised in the Al Twar area in Dubai by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

The preacher said the previous largest number of people to convert to Islam in the Philippines in one night with his help was 99. A new record has been set today when 125 individuals declared their conversion to Islam, he added.

Emirati families played a role in this when they accompanied the Filipino individuals to the forum, according to Mohammed Al Hashimi, who oversees the forum, organised during Ramadan.

Sharia law threatens Moscow control in Muslim Chechnya

By Amie Ferris-Rotman
MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) - Aspects of sharia law imposed in Muslim Chechnya in recent months are inching the republic closer to autonomy and posing a renewed threat to Kremlin control, analysts say.

The Kremlin relies on its hardline Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to maintain order in the violent region in the North Caucasus, where separatists were driven from power a decade ago after two wars.

Analysts say Kadyrov's methods to tame the region include a crackdown on opponents and imposing his radical vision of Islam, which could push Chechnya again towards separatism.

Kadyrov, who fought Russian forces during the first Chechen separatist war in the early 1990s but switched to Moscow's side when the conflict reignited in 1999, says the claims are an attempt to blacken his name.

"Kadyrov has espoused sharia law. He has effectively achieved a level of Chechen independence that 15 years of rebellion and insurgency have failed to do," Matthew Clements, Eurasia analyst at IHS Jane's Information Group in London, told Reuters.

Earlier this month Chechnya's spiritual leader successfully ordered the shutting down of all eateries during the holy month of Ramadan. Separately, many women said they had been harassed by men for not wearing headscarves in what some of the assailants said were instructions from religious authorities.

The Ramadan orders followed words of praise from Kadyrov who told state TV he was grateful to attackers who targeted women with paintball pellets in June for not wearing headscarves.

Clements said that while Moscow has tolerated Kadyrov's enforced view of Islam in return for dampening militant activity, the balance could tip if he oversteps his authority.

The Kremlin is battling a spreading Islamist insurgency across the North Caucasus, where rebels angered by poverty and fired by the ideology of global jihad are fighting for a pan-Caucasus independent state governed by sharia law.

The region's proximity to Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is particularly alarming as rebels hide in the very same mountain range where the snow-based sports will be held.
Kadyrov, a devout Sufi Muslim, has said publicly he believes sharia law trumps Russian, but has also repeatedly said he is committed to Russian rule in Chechnya. The ambiguity has led some to say the region is morphing towards autonomy.
Kadyrov's spokesman Alvi Karimov denied sharia law had been imposed in Chechnya.
"Come down and see for yourself how everything we have works perfectly," he said by telephone.
With the exception of neighbouring Ingushetia's ruling in July to triple the pricetag on a bride, imposed sharia law has been limited to Chechnya so far in the North Caucasus.
The region's spiritual leaders have also said they are aiming to install the basis for sharia.
Vakha Khashkanov, the head of Chechnya's Centre for Spiritual-Moral Education, which Kadyrov set up, has told Reuters that anything allowed by sharia and the Koran, Islam's holiest book, should take priority over Russia's constitution.
Kadyrov has amassed a personal militia of at least 5,000 who at times act like religious police some Muslim countries have.
Rights groups say the police enforce Kadyrov's view of Islam in Chechnya, where alcohol sales are highly restricted, women must wear headscarves in public buildings and polygamy is encouraged by authorities.
Kadyrov has said they are simply maintaining order.
While 90 percent of Chechnya's 1.1 million people are Muslim, with most ordinary citizens identifying themselves as believers, the fact sharia is being forcefully applied could stir tension within the population.
Minkail Ezhiev, rights activist and founder of the Chechen Civil Society Forum, said such unease could pull society apart.
"Morality and ethics should be nurtured from within a family, not imposed on the street," he told Reuters in the Chechen capital Grozny.
Several years ago Kadyrov embarked on a Sufi revival, the mystical branch of Islam that emphasises a personal union with God. Chechens have strongly identified themselves with Sufism since they adopted Islam 200 years ago. Soviet authorities had forced it underground, as they had with almost all religion.
Kadyrov built Europe's largest mosque, which glistens in central Grozny atop the grounds where the Communist party had its headquarters before the Soviet Union fell in 1991.
Some say Kadyrov must now please Chechnya's Sufi spiritual authorities in order to maintain his grip on power.
"The Sufi orders are mixed with tribal structures inside Chechnya that have been there for a long time. Kadyrov must rely on them and that is why he is producing so many religious (rules)," said Murad Batal al-Shishani, an independent analyst focusing on Islam and terrorism in London.

PAKISTAN: Ummah urged to stand united against anti-Islam forces

LAHORE - The protest demonstrations were held in various cities including the provincial metropolis against the announcement of burning the Holy Quran by American Church and the incident of making caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

A statement issued by the Jamat-ud-Dawa stated that the protests were held in various areas of Lahore including Darogha Wala, Shad Bagh, Begum Kot, Town Ship, and at Karachi, Jhang and other cities.

Hundreds of people participated in protests and condemned the church' announcement besides they held banners and placards carrying slogans against the US and western governments.

The speakers on the occasion said that Muslims would not tolerate such shameful acts and they would not sit silent against such shocking incidents. They at the same time demanded of the government to send the shut up calls to the responsible and put ban on the products of those countries whose citizens were involved in such acts.

They asked the Ummah to be united and stand above sectarianism, as this was the only solution to end the notorious propaganda against Islam.

China to hold war games in Yellow Sea

China has said that its navy is preparing to hold a military exercise in the Yellow Sea next week, condemning recent and planned US-South Korean joint drills.

A naval fleet will stage the drill this week from Wednesday to Saturday in the sea between China and the Korean peninsula, the official Xinhua news agency quoted the Chinese military as saying on Sunday.
"This is an annual routine training exercise, mainly involving the firing of shipboard artillery," it added.

The announcement comes shortly after South Korea and the US wrapped up a joint military exercise in the same area.

Earlier, China said the recent US-South Korea joint naval drills in the Yellow Sea risked heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula and ignored China's objections to any foreign military exercises off its coast, AP reported.

Nevertheless, the United States plans to go ahead with an anti-marine warfare exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea in early September.

In July, the US and South Korea conducted massive joint sea and air drills in the Sea of Japan off the Korean peninsula, prompting condemnation from China.

The July drill was initially scheduled to take place in the Yellow Sea, but was moved to the other side of the Korean peninsula after objections from Beijing.

Eight days after the exercises, Seoul launched its largest-ever anti-submarine drills near the disputed Yellow Sea border with North Korea.

For Obama, Steep Learning Curve as Chief in Time of War

WASHINGTON - President Obama rushed to the Oval Office when word arrived one night that militants with Al Qaeda in Yemen had been located and that the military wanted to support an attack by Yemeni forces. After a quick discussion, his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, told him the window to strike was closing.

"I've got two minutes here," Mr. Brennan said.

"O.K.," the president said. "Go with this."

While Mr. Obama took three sometimes maddening months to decide to send more forces to Afghanistan, other decisions as commander in chief have come with dizzying speed, far less study and little public attention.

He is the first president in four decades with a shooting war already raging the day he took office - two, in fact, plus subsidiaries - and his education as a commander in chief with no experience in uniform has been a steep learning curve. He has learned how to salute. He has surfed the Internet at night to look into the toll on troops. He has faced young soldiers maimed after carrying out his orders. And he is trying to manage a tense relationship with the military.

Along the way, he has confronted some of the biggest choices a president can make, often deferring to military advisers yet trying to shape the decisions with his own judgments - too much at times for the Pentagon, too little in the view of his liberal base. His evolution from antiwar candidate to leader of the world's most powerful military will reach a milestone on Tuesday when he delivers an Oval Office address to formally end the combat mission in Iraq while defending his troop buildup in Afghanistan.

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

Where George W. Bush saw the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as his central mission and opportunities to transform critical regions, Mr. Obama sees them as "problems that need managing," as one adviser put it, while he pursues his mission of transforming America. The result, according to interviews with three dozen administration officials, military leaders and national security experts, is an uneasy balance between a president wary of endless commitment and a military worried he is not fully invested in the cause.

"He's got a very full plate of very big issues, and I think he does not want to create the impression that he's so preoccupied with these two wars that he's not addressing the domestic issues that are uppermost in people's minds," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview. Mr. Obama, though, has devoted enormous time and thought to finding the right approaches, Mr. Gates added. "From the first, he's been decisive and he's been willing to make big decisions," he said.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sometimes advises Mr. Obama, said the president was grappling with harsh reality. "He came into office with a very sound strategic vision," Mr. Reed said, "and what has happened in the intervening months is, as with every president, he is beginning to understand how difficult it is to translate a strategic vision into operational reality."

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama's relationship with the military was "troubled" and that he "doesn't have a handle on it." The relationship will be further tested by year's end when Mr. Obama evaluates his Afghanistan strategy in advance of his July deadline to begin pulling out. As one administration official put it, "His commander in chief role is about to get tested again, and in a very dramatic way."

Beyond the Vietnam Debate
Mr. Obama was an 11-year-old in Hawaii when the last American combat troops left Vietnam, too young to have participated in the polarizing clashes of the era or to have faced the choices the last two presidents did about serving. "He's really the first generation of recent presidents who didn't live through that," said David Axelrod, his senior adviser. "The whole debate on Vietnam, that was not part of his life experience."

Running for president of a country at war, he had plenty to learn, even basics like military ceremonies and titles. His campaign recruited retired generals to advise him. But it still took time to adjust when he became president. The first time he walked into a room of generals, an aide recalled, he was surprised when they stood. "Come on, guys, you don't have to do that," he said, according to the aide.

Perhaps his most important tutor has been Mr. Gates, the defense secretary appointed by Mr. Bush and the first kept on by a president of another party. They are an unlikely pair, a 49-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer turned community activist and a 66-year-old veteran of cold war spy intrigues and Republican administrations. But they are both known for unassuming discipline, and they bonded through weekly meetings and shared challenges.

Mr. Obama has relied on Mr. Gates as his ambassador to the military and deferred to him repeatedly. When Mr. Gates wanted to force out Gen. David D. McKiernan in May 2009 as commander in Afghanistan in favor of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Mr. Obama signed off. Likewise, cognizant of Bill Clinton's ill-fated effort to end the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers, Mr. Obama let Mr. Gates set a slow pace in overturning the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, even though it has disappointed gay rights advocates.

Even on his signature campaign promise to pull out of Iraq, Mr. Obama compromised in the early days of his tenure to accommodate military concerns. Instead of the 16-month withdrawal of combat forces he promised, he accepted a 19-month timetable, and he agreed to leave behind 50,000 for now rather than a smaller force.

But as he grows in the job, Mr. Obama has shown more willingness to set aside Mr. Gates's advice. When General McChrystal got in trouble in June for comments by him and his staff in Rolling Stone magazine, Mr. Gates favored reprimanding the commander. Mr. Obama decided instead to oust him and replace him with Gen. David H. Petraeus, who led the troop increase in Iraq.

"My first reaction was if McChrystal with his experience and his contacts and his knowledge were pulled out, that could have real consequence for the war," Mr. Gates said. "It never even occurred to me - I kicked myself subsequently - to move Petraeus over there. When the president raised that with me in a private meeting, it was like a light bulb went on - yes, that will work."

Just as keeping Mr. Gates provided political cover against the weak-on-defense Democratic image, Mr. Obama surrounded himself with uniformed officers. He kept Mr. Bush's war coordinator, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, and tapped Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser. "Picking General Jones was in part inoculation," said Bruce O. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who led Mr. Obama's first Afghanistan review.

But they were not always in control. General Jones has often been eclipsed by younger foreign policy advisers with closer relationships with the president. Mr. Obama ended up pushing out Adm. Dennis C. Blair as director of national intelligence, and approved the Afghan troop increase despite the warnings of Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, his ambassador to Kabul.

Although General McChrystal was described in Rolling Stone as calling Mr. Obama intimidated in meeting with military commanders early in his tenure, other attendees disagreed. "He didn't look to me like he was one bit intimidated," Mr. Riedel said. "He did look like someone who was taking it all in and a bit frustrated that what seemed for him to be simple questions he was getting complicated answers to - like how many troops do you really need?"

Wars as a Distraction
With the economy in tatters and health care on his agenda, Mr. Obama was determined to keep the wars from becoming a major distraction. When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: "Guys, before you start, there's one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up."

But while he had given much thought to ending the war in Iraq, he had not spent as much time contemplating Afghanistan despite a campaign promise to send more troops. When he took office, he found an urgent request to reinforce the flagging effort. Warned by the generals that he could not wait to study the issue, he overruled Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and sent 21,000 more troops. "Both he and I frankly thought at that point we were done," Mr. Gates recalled. Within months, though, General McChrystal asked for 40,000 more troops. "I certainly was surprised when General McChrystal came in with the request," he said, "and I think the president was as well."

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush's practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars.

So General McChrystal's request for even more reinforcements exposed the mutual mistrust, particularly after it was leaked to the news media. The president complained he was being boxed in while the military worried whether politics would drive the decision. At one point Denis R. McDonough, deputy national security adviser, pressed Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about stopping leaks by the military, according to people informed about the conversation. Admiral Mullen asked pointedly if that would also apply to the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who was skeptical of the troop increase request.

"If I had been in the White House, I would have been suspicious," Mr. Gates said. "The leak of McChrystal's assessment was obviously very damaging in the assessment process because it put the president on the spot." He added: "My position was this is not a deliberate attempt to jam the president. It's indiscipline."

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. He would start pulling troops out in July, on the grounds that if there was not visible progress by then, it would mean the strategy was not working. Some saw that as a sop to his antiwar base. Others considered it his way of reasserting control over a military that knows how to outmaneuver the White House.

"He didn't understand or grasp the military culture," said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. "He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I'm giving you 18 months.' "

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. "Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics," the adviser said. "He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration."

White House officials reject the linkage, but said Mr. Obama believed that the wars should be judged against other priorities. Preparing to announce his decision last December, he read Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address and included a line in his own speech at West Point: "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Hungry for Information
Mr. Obama has made a point of seeking his own information, scribbling questions in memo margins and scouring the Internet. At one meeting, he surprised the generals by citing a study of post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers serving repeat tours.

"He reads a lot," said General Jones, the national security adviser. "He studies issues before he comes to the table. That's another thing the military mind, if there is such a thing, appreciates. When he sits down to talk about an issue, he's done his homework."

Facing relentless and elusive foes, Mr. Obama has turned increasingly to the sort of strikes he authorized in Yemen and the drones in Pakistan, a form of warfare with little risk to American lives even though critics question its wisdom, effectiveness or even morality.

But Mr. Obama also confronts the consequences of the direct combat he has ordered. Last year, he flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to greet soldiers' coffins. During a later meeting with advisers, Mr. Obama expressed irritation at doubters of his commitment. "If I didn't think this was something worth doing," he said, "one trip to Dover would be enough to cause me to bring every soldier home. O.K.?"

In March, during his only trip to Afghanistan in office, he met a wounded soldier, maybe 19, who had lost three limbs. "I go into a place like this, I go to Walter Reed - it's just hard for me to think of anything to say," an emotional Mr. Obama told advisers as he left.

The moment stuck with him. Three months later, after ousting General McChrystal, Mr. Obama marched into the Situation Room and cited the teenage triple amputee as he reprimanded advisers for the infighting that had led to the general's forced resignation. "We have a lot of kids on the ground acting like adults and we have a lot of adults in this room acting like kids," he lectured.

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street.

The sensitivities about calling attention to the unpopular war in Afghanistan, and particularly America's problematic partner, played out when President Hamid Karzai visited last May. General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry wanted to take Mr. Karzai to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to honor troops leaving for Afghanistan, but the White House objected that it sent the wrong message, as if Americans were fighting for Mr. Karzai. They compromised by having Mr. Gates go as well, but without his Washington press corps.

"From an image point of view, he doesn't seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it," said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. "There's deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion."

Much of the public too is confused about the president's Afghan strategy, as White House aides and their critics acknowledge. "There have only been a few moments when he's tried to focus the nation's attention on Afghanistan because, quite frankly, it's competing with the other priorities," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who opposes the strategy. "It's probably one of the reasons public support has fallen, because they see the costs but they don't know his thinking about it."

If the flap over General McChrystal underscored the tensions, Mr. Obama's response may have actually helped ease them. "Ironically enough, the McChrystal firing helped a lot because Obama handled it exactly the way most senior military officers would have handled it if they had been in his shoes," said Stephen Biddle, a critic of Mr. Obama's withdrawal deadline at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Perhaps more important was his selection of General Petraeus to take over. The choice brings Mr. Obama full circle. As a senator, he opposed the Iraq troop increase led by General Petraeus, and the two had a wary encounter in Baghdad when Mr. Obama visited as a candidate in 2008. After Mr. Obama came to the White House, General Petraeus no longer had the regular interactions he had with Mr. Bush.

But Mr. Obama came to appreciate General Petraeus's intelligence and dedication. He invited the general to fly on Air Force One with him to West Point for his speech announcing the Afghanistan troop increase. Six months later, after ousting General McChrystal, the president sent his personal aide to find General Petraeus and bring him to the Oval Office for a one-on-one talk. The general accepted the appointment without even a chance to call his wife.

"It's an extraordinary irony," said Mr. Riedel, the former Obama adviser. "He, like Bush before him, has put all his bets down on the table on one guy - and it's the same guy."

Upstarts Chip Away at Power of Feudal Pakistani Landlords

MUZAFFARGARH, Pakistan - In Pakistan, where politics has long been a matter of pedigree, Jamshed Dasti is a mongrel. The scrappy son of an amateur wrestler, Mr. Dasti has clawed his way into Pakistan's Parliament, beating the wealthy, landed families who have ruled here.

In elite circles, Mr. Dasti is reviled as a thug, a small-time hustler with a fake college degree who represents the worst of Pakistan today. But here, he is hailed as a hero, living proof that in Pakistan, a poor man can get a seat at the rich men's table.

Mr. Dasti's rise is part of a broad shift in political power in Pakistan. For generations, politics took place in the parlors of a handful of rich families, a Westernized elite that owned large tracts of land and sometimes even the people who worked it. But Pakistan is urbanizing fast, and powerful forces of change are chipping away at the landed aristocracy, known in Pakistan as the feudal class.

The result is a changing political landscape more representative of Pakistani society, but far less predictable for the United States. Mr. Dasti, 32, speaks no English. His legislative record includes opposition to a sexual harassment bill. He has 35 criminal cases to his name and is from the country's conservative heartland, where dislike of America runs deep.

How this plays out is crucial to Pakistan's future. The country's fast-expanding, flood-weary population needs local government as never before, but with political power shifting and institutions stillborn, the state has never been less able to provide it.

"You have scarcity arising everywhere," said Ali Cheema, chairman of the economics department at the Lahore University of Management and Science. "Scarcity creates conflict. Conflict needs mediation. But the state is unable to do it."

In Mr. Dasti's area, one of the hardest hit by the recent flooding, the state has all but disappeared. Not that it was ever very present. In the British colonial era, before Pakistan became a separate country, the state would show up a few times a month in the form of a representative from the Raj dispensing justice.

Later, the local landowner took over. For years, feudal lords reigned supreme, serving as the police, the judge and the political leader. Plantations had jails, and political seats were practically owned by families.

Instead of midwifing democracy, these aristocrats obstructed it, ignoring the needs of rural Pakistanis, half of whom are still landless and desperately poor more than 60 years after Pakistan became a state.

But changes began to erode the aristocrats' power. Cities sprouted, with jobs in construction and industry. Large-scale farms eclipsed old-fashioned plantations. Vast hereditary lands splintered among generations of sons, and many aristocratic families left the country for cities, living beyond their means off sales of their remaining lands. Mobile labor has also reduced dependence on aristocratic families.

In Punjab, the country's most populous province, and its most economically advanced, the number of national lawmakers from feudal families shrank to 25 percent in 2008 from 42 percent in 1970, according to a count conducted by Mubashir Hassan, a former finance minister, and The New York Times.

"Feudals are a dying breed," said S. Akbar Zaidi, a Karachi-based fellow with the Carnegie Foundation. "They have no power outside the walls of their castles."

Mr. Dasti, a young, impulsive man with a troubled past, is much like the new Pakistan he represents. He is one of seven siblings born to illiterate parents. Despite his claims of finishing college, he never earned a degree, something his political opponents used against him in court this spring. One of the 35 criminal cases against him is for murder, a charge he said was leveled by his political opponents. Detractors accuse him of blackmailing rich people in a job at a newspaper. He said he was writing exposés.

"I have more enemies than numbers of hairs in my head," he said, bouncing down a road in a borrowed truck. "They don't like my style, and I don't like theirs."

Whatever the case, he is deeply appealing to Pakistanis, who have chosen him over feudal lords for political seats several times. Local residents call him Rescue One-Five, a reference to an emergency hot line number and his feverish work habits. Constituents clutching dirty plastic bags of documents flock to his small office for help, and he scribbles out notes for them on his Parliament letterhead like a doctor in a field hospital.

"The new faces have to work much harder because their survival depends on it," said Sohail Warraich, chief political correspondent for Geo TV. "If they lose an election, they're finished."

He wields his lower-class background like a weapon, exhorting local residents to oppose the rich elite and the mafias of landlords, bureaucrats and other petty power brokers who support them.

"This was not an election," he shouted at a sweaty crowd, referring to a race he won against an aristocrat in May. "This was a fight between the poor and the rich, between the public and the powerful classes."

Graffiti nearby said: "Give us electricity and we'll give you a vote."

Lineage alone is no longer a winning strategy. Ahmed Mehmoud, an aristocrat in South Punjab, lost both Parliament seats he contested in 2008 and had to settle for a provincial assembly seat.

"The seats are no longer so safe," said Nusrat Javed, a journalist who is an expert on politics in Punjab. "You can't survive as a mere feudal anymore."

Mr. Mehmoud, 48, is a wealthy man of leisure, who spends more time relaxing in his house - a pink replica of a Rajasthani palace with a hand-carved facade - than on his job as a lawmaker. Sometimes he talks to his constituents, but more often he watches them go by from the window of his speedy, white Hummer.

For years, people voted for him anyway, partly out of habit. His ancestors were considered to be distant relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, which inspires awe and respect. But more important, his constituents were tied to him economically. His family owned the land they worked and often their houses. His carpet has a worn patch where generations of peasants sat in supplication.

But now, said Shama Andleep, a local voter: "On election day, people are asking questions. People are calculating: how much has he done for us?"

Private television stations, which exploded onto the scene eight years ago, have also had an effect. Khusro Bakhtyar, a landowner in the area, said the women who were baking bread in his house were so affected by the coverage of the 2007 death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that they voted for her party, not his.

The changes have steered Pakistan into uncharted territory, and the effect for the United States is unclear. Unlike Mr. Mehmoud, who is unabashedly pro-American, newcomers like Mr. Dasti are more skeptical. Mr. Dasti opposes the American drone program that is used to attack militants in Pakistan, but he is not as virulently anti-American as many in his country.

The changes also leave room for Islamists. In the neighboring district of Dera Ghazi Khan, a hard-line mullah, Hafiz Abdul Karim, came within a few thousand votes in 2008 of unseating Farooq Leghari, a former president of Pakistan. His weapon? Efficient, Islamist campaign workers and free water pumps.

So far, Islamists have not tapped popular frustration in a systematic way at the ballot box, and the military, the country's oldest, strongest institution, would probably put down any broader uprising, analysts say.

But the floods and the misery they have brought have raised the stakes.

"If you don't give the common man justice, there will be more terrorism and even bloody revolution," Mr. Dasti said. "This is the need of the hour."

Waqar Gillani contributed reporting.

UAE raises more than 20 million dollars for Pakistan

DUBAI: A nationwide fundraising campaign in the United Arab Emirates has so far raised more than 20 million dollars of aid for Pakistan flood victims, the official WAM news reported.

The campaign, launched by the UAE Red Crescent under the slogan "Your Help," raised more than 75 million dirhams (20.4 million dollars) over its first four days and will carry on until Monday, WAM said late on Saturday.

It said a live TV fundraising campaign was being run on several Emirati television channels.

Pakistan has a close ties with the oil-rich Emirates, where hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis live and work, mostly labourers.

For nearly a month, torrential monsoon rain has triggered massive floods in Pakistan steadily moving from north to south, affecting a fifth of the country - an area roughly the size of England - and 17 million people.

A senior US official said last week that countries worldwide have pledged a total of more than 700 million dollars toward flood relief in Pakistan.

But reconstruction efforts must begin immediately to prevent the flooding disaster from becoming a long-term catastrophe, aid agency Oxfam said Sunday.

It said billions of dollars would be needed to start rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and hospitals immediately, adding that the aid effort was struggling to respond.

Moroccan held in Spain over 'extremist' website

Spanish police have arrested a Moroccan man suspected of recruiting Islamic extremists over the Internet and raising funds for terror groups, the interior ministry said Saturday.

Faical Errai, 26, was detained on Friday in the town of Poble Nou de Benitatxell, near the eastern coastal city of Alicante, it said in a statement.

He is suspected of running a website aimed at the "indoctrination and recruitment of supporters with the ultimate aim of encouraging the most extremist and violent interpretation of jihad."

He is also alleged to have helped raise money for terror groups and helped send Islamic extremists to conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Chechnya.

After his arrest, police searched three houses and seized computers.

In its investigation leading to the arrest, Spain's Civil Guard paramilitary police force received cooperation from the police forces of Belgium, the United States, France, Jordan and Morocco, the ministry said.

Ethiopians build First Hijrah mosque in America

WASHINGTON (Ahmed al-Shiti)
After being denied official construction permission back home, Muslim Ethiopians in the United States built the First Hijrah mosque and community center to commemorate the first immigration in the history of Islam and counter discriminatory practices by the Ethiopian government.

The First Hijrah mosque, literally meaning the mosque of the first immigration, is located in Washington, D.C., almost two miles from the White House.

" It is extremely ironic that in Washington we are granted our rights while this is not the case in our homeland "

Mosque muzzein Moftah Saeid The name of the mosque refers to the immigration in year 615 of a group of the prophet's followers, the first to enter Islam, to the northern Ethiopian city of Axum, seeking refuge from the persecution of the Quraish tribe in Mecca.

They lived there under the protection of the Christian Emperor Ashama ibn Abjar, also called al-Najashi, who denied Quraish's request to hand the refugees.

To commemorate the first immigration in the history of Islam, Muslims in the city of Axum tried to build their own mosque and were denied permission by the Ethiopian authorities.

Only when Christians are allowed to build a church in Mecca would Muslims in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government is reported to have stated.

Muslim Ethiopians finally got the chance to realize their dream in the United States where they built the First Hijrah mosque.

The mosque serves 20,000 Muslims who live the neighborhood, said Sheikh Naguib Mohamed, 57, head of the Ethiopian community in Washington.

"We used to pay rent for that mosque then we bought it," he told Al Arabiya.

Muslims in Ethiopia
The mosque commemorates the first immigration in IslamMohamed complained of discriminatory practices against Muslims in Ethiopia in general and Axum in particular.

"Not only are we not allowed to build a mosque in the first land that championed the cause of Islam, but we also don't have a cemetery. When Muslims die we have to walk 15 kilometers outside the city to bury them."

The mosque's muzzein, caller for prayers, Moftah Saeid said that he and his fellow Ethiopian Muslims perform their rituals freely unlike in Axum.

"It is extremely ironic that in Washington we are granted our rights while this is not the case in our homeland," he told Al Arabiya.

Belal al-Habashi, 13, is another member of the Muslim Ethiopian community. He learnt the Quran by heart within one year in the Virginia Islamic Center.

"Based on what I hear about the situation of Muslims there, I don't think I could have learnt the Quran had I lived in Axum," he told Al Arabiya.

The First Hijrah mosque consists of two floors, the first for men and the second for women. During the holy month of Ramadan, the mosque organizes banquets so that members of the community can break their fast together and also organizes courses that teach the Quran and the rules of Islam.
The mosque coordinates with several Islamic organizations like the Badr Islamic Association and has a website on the social network Paltalk where it holds cultural and religious dialogues.

It is noteworthy that members of the Ethiopian Muslim speak fluent Arabic. Their recitation of the Quran and call for prayers are not, in fact, different from those in Arab countries.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Islamist charities gain goodwill in flood calamity

By Michael Georgy
MARGALA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hadiya Bibi sits paralyzed in a wheelchair donated by an Islamic charity, its wheels coated in mud caused by flooding.

Over a year ago she was paralyzed by a shell she said the army fired at militants. The government never provided compensation, and now Bibi is turning to Islamist parties and charities to help her cope after raging waters swept away her meager belongings.

"I registered for help with authorities because of my injury and nothing happened. Now everything is gone. They (Islamists) will help me," she said, as members of the Al Khidmat Islamic charity spoke with flood victims about their needs.

Pakistan's worst-ever natural disaster has made more than six million people homeless and now fears are growing that disease and malnutrition will inflict more suffering and add to a death toll of around 1,600.

And while floodwaters might be receding, anger continues to rise over the government's slow response. Authorities are still absent from many towns and villages one month after the monsoon floods struck.

The speed and efficiency with which Islamist charities, some with suspected links to militants, have helped flood victims worries government officials and the United States, which wants a stable Pakistan because of its role as a frontline state in the war on militancy.

Officials from both governments have warned the Taliban will try to exploit the disorder and misery to gain recruits.

The success of Islamist parties in providing aid points out the failures of Pakistan's government, which like many before it, is widely viewed as corrupt, inefficient and neglectful.

Al Khidmat is linked to Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the most influential Islamist party in Pakistan. JI members fought in the jihad against Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan.

But it is not believed to have ties with the Taliban or other banned groups. Nevertheless, its relief efforts have helped discredit the government because of its relative efficiency.

Al Khidmat rushed to villages like Margala after floods flattened two-storey concrete homes like pancakes and filled shops with five feet of mud even though they were shuttered.

Approximately every two days, the group provided sacks of sugar, rice, cooking oil, flour and tea to families of six, enough for a week, part of a highly organized relief campaign.

So far, the foundation has helped about 4,000 flood-affected families, with only 120 volunteers and money from Pakistanis in the country and abroad.

Its provincial leaders last week held a meeting and decided they would also provide reconstruction support to poor families.

Judging by the mood in villages like Margala, the government may have lost any public goodwill gained after an army offensive pushed the Taliban out of Swat valley over a year ago.

"We don't want politicians. We want the Islamic groups in power. The government just steals and the al Khidmat is pure." said Hadar Ali, a college student whose life has been reduced to laying bricks all day in stifling heat.

Swat, home to about 1.3 million people, is still recovering from hard times when the battle between the army and Taliban militants brought destruction.

The government promised to invest heavily to rebuild, create jobs and boost security forces and police, plans that have been suspended because of the flood catastrophe.

Few people expect the Taliban to return and impose their harsh rule, including Khidmat leaders. But some predict trouble if the government doesn't improve its image.

"The government has no credibility. There is going to be lots of unrest in Swat," said Al Khidmat's Swat president Akhtar Ali.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Taiwan trader jailed for forcing Muslim staff to eat pork

TAIPEI: A Taiwanese garment factory owner was sentenced to six months in jail for forcing three Muslim women on her staff to eat pork, but she could escape prison by paying a fine, a court official said today.

Chang Wen-lin was sentenced for coercion after she confessed to pushing the three women, all from Indonesia, to eat the meat, which is considered strictly taboo in Islam, according to the Panchiao district court in Taipei.

However, in light of her confession and her decision to compensate the women, she will be allowed to pay a fine of 60,000 Taiwan dollars (USD 1,875) in exchange for a two-year suspended sentence, said a court spokesman.

Chang initially defended herself by saying she thought that eating pork would provide the women with energy, but later agreed to give each worker 150,000 Taiwan dollars.

The case stirred an outcry in Taiwan and abroad when the three women complained that Chang threatened to cut their salaries if they refused to eat the meals she provided, including pork.

They also filed a complaint to the Taipei county government saying that they were overworked and had not been paid for around eight months.

There are around 350,000 foreign labourers in Taiwan, largely from Southeast Asia including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Living with the Taliban on the Afghan frontline

By Alex Thomson
Channel 4 News has obtained rare film of Taliban fighters on the Afghanistan frontline, including footage of their attacks on US forces. Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson looks at what the film tells us about the insurgents and their tactics.

Even if I did want to do it, I would not be allowed to by ITN. Nor would anybody here. But out there in the wide open world of the freelancer, Paul Refsdal did it. He did it brilliantly well.

If he hadn't slightly overplayed his hand at the last moment, he would have got away with it unscathed and pulled the whole thing off. But even as it is, he has emerged from Afghanistan with footage the like of which has not been seen I will bet, in nine years of war.

Because that's what it's like if you want to seek out the Taliban or other insurgent groups across Afghanistan and set up what the west would call an "embed" with them. It's a helluva risk.

Paul is at least alive to tell the tale and sell his story. Though not without a six day kidnapping under murky circumstances. The Norwegian cameraman insists that no ransom was paid.

Armed fighters
It all starts with the moment when you move beyond the point of return. When the RV finally takes place up some distant mountain track in the east of the country in this case, Kunar Province.

Unsmiling, heavily armed fighters suddenly materialise and then there you are, out there, on your own, with nothing but trust to keep you going. From behind their turban-masked faces they are smirking, saying quietly to each other, "He's really scared of us, isn't he?" And so it went on for the whole of the first day as they trekked back up to their command post.

Day two and things had calmed a little. Commander Dawran - who set the whole thing up - made it plain that Refsdal is a guest. And that is that. Under Afghan custom they will now pretty much lay down their arms to protect him. Rather, on this occasion, than shoot or behead him as a suspected spy.

And by the second day the faces are being revealed, they are laughing around and joking: "If I appear in this people are going to say 'Who's the country boy?'" His mate laughs and adds: "He's filming us all to say look here - these are the bad guys." And things begin to fall into something of a routine.

The men have a heavy machine gun of fairly ancient origin placed to cover an ambush point on a road used almost daily by the US military. There is no problem filming them as they discuss ambush plans, set it up and execute it. There is much celebration when they claim to hit an American vehicle with a short burst from their primitive gun emplacement high above the snaking mountain road.

But, try as I do, I see no vehicle hit on the camera, at any rate. Commander Dawran lectures his men saying: "During the Russian invasion, someone asked me when the victory will come? The answer was, if the holy warriors are honest and fight only for the sake of God, then victory will come soon. If not, it will take more time."

He compares the motives for the insurgents fighting with those of the west, the Americans - for this is both a US dominated war and they are in a US area of operations: "We fight for our freedom, our religion and we fight for our holy land. We are fighting for these goals. What are their goals? For what are they fighting us? Are they oppressed? Have they been treated unfairly? Are they living in a dictatorship?"

With their trust in their God, their belief is absolute that their day will come against the Americans as it did against the Russians. History, they sense, is on their side. Time, they know, certainly is. But with shortages of weaponry and ammo there is plenty of time, up here in the hills of Kunar, for Commander Dawran to be with his wife and their three children.

Or to play their favourite pastime of rock throwing - see who can hurl the boulder the furthest. Commander Dawran of course, seems to win all the time, though not without loud allegations of cheating. With every day comes the ambush. It is almost routine. And ultimately that is their problem. You can obviously only ambush the Americans for so long until their Special Forces or air attack will seek you out.

So many Nato soldiers on the other side have been puzzled at the insurgents' habit of going for the same ambush points time after time after time. The dangers of this are obvious. And so it happened. One night they had to get out and run up the mountains immediately for cover. Special Forces duly attacked Assad - their second in command - the fighters said he, several soldiers and 13 family members were killed. The game was up. Their war in this area had ended.

Those same Special Forces would surely come calling at another of their houses that night, or the night after. They had to leave that day and Paul had to get out, back to Kabul. Just before he left, Omar, one of this group's up and coming fighters, gave Paul his mobile number and said to call in two weeks and he could come and film with him at another location.

It proved to be a trap. Omar would then kidnap Paul Refsdal, holding him for six days. As ever with these things, precisely what happened is murky and mysterious. Though Paul insists no ransom was paid after he converted to Islam.

As for Commander Dawran, his prediction was deadly accurate. The Americans did subsequently attack his house. He survived. Two of his three young children, did not.

Libyan cash may help Italian town beat recession

Antrodoco, ITALY (Reuters)
Like countless other small towns across Italy suffering from the economic downturn, Antrodoco has long prayed for an investor with deep pockets to help revive its fortunes.

For a town in the shadow of a mountain where a pine grove spells out "DUX" -- for 20th century fascist dictator Benito Mussolini -- hope has come from an unexpected source: Libya.

" It's something Gaddafi can say: 'After all the Italians have done to us, now they're dependent on us' "

Dirk VandewalleLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has demonstrated a growing interest in Italy for some time and will be visiting Rome for talks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday.

Set in green hills on a road between Rome and the Adriatic, the unremarkable town of 3,000 caught Gaddafi's eye when he was on his way to a Group of Eight summit in L'Aquila last year.

Antrodroco's Mayor Maurizio Faina said a Libyan delegation returned later to say Gaddafi, known for his apparently spontaneous decisions, was bowled over by local hospitality and wanted to do something for the town.

The delegation said Libya wanted to invest as much as 15 million euros ($19 million) to build a luxury hotel and a bottled water plant in the town, said a delighted Faina.

This was music to the ears of the mayor, whose town has struggled with rising unemployment, lack of investment and an exodus of its young people.

"The economic crisis is massive at the moment so this is just huge for us. It could really put us on the tourist map," he said, showing photos of Gaddafi in dark glasses surrounded by smiling residents when he stopped here last year. "We were so surprised. Investors are so hard to find these days."

At the Gelateria Bruno ice cream parlor in the main square, Rina Boni has prepared an iced concoction with chunky dates to honor Gaddafi. She calls the new flavor "Taste of the East".

"I thought we should make a gelato that pays homage to the leader," she said. "How I wish we could present him with this ice cream to taste! But protocol will not allow him to taste anything not approved (by his entourage)."

Growing influence
The palpable excitement in Antrodoco at a rosy future backed by Libyan money illustrates the growing influence the former pariah state wields in its former colonial ruler Italy, where it has snapped up stakes in major companies such as UniCredit bank.

While the United States and Britain grapple with difficult ties with Libya, strained further by outrage over the release from a Scottish prison last year of a terminally ill Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Italy has embraced Gaddafi.

Residents may be wondering what exactly the Libyan leader saw in their town -- "Perhaps he was taken in by the fresh air and greenery here," muses Deputy Mayor Armando Nicoletti -- but some Libya watchers are not surprised.

"The leader suddenly taking a fancy to a village and then deciding to turn its fortunes around -- a lot of planning in Libya was done like that," said Dirk Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth College in the United States and a Libya expert.

Still, there may be nothing arbitrary about the political dividends the wily Libyan leader stands to gain.

"The irony of a small village in what used to be a colonial power being helped out by Libya, it makes for a lot of political capital at home for Gaddafi," said Vandewalle.

"It's something quite symbolic. It's something Gaddafi can say: 'After all the Italians have done to us, now they're dependent on us'. Nothing escapes Gaddafi from the point of view of portraying himself in the way he is."

Indeed, when Tripoli flew Antrodoco officials to Libya in June to meet Gaddafi in his tent, Italian media reported the event made it on to the front pages of Libyan newspapers, with one, Al Manara, headlining its story: "Gaddafi saves an Italian village from unemployment".

At his office, Faina showed photos of him meeting Gaddafi and visiting a site bombed by the United States. Other officials recall staying at a luxury waterfront hotel and being whisked through VIP airport facilities.

Initially, the town presented three potential projects that included a soccer stadium, but the Libyans opted for a hotel next to a thermal spa complex and the bottling plant, said Faina. Details of the deal remained unclear, but Libya had promised work would start soon, he said.

Symbiotic ties
Rome and Tripoli kept up business ties even in the years when Gaddafi lambasted Italy over its colonial rule, but deals have accelerated recently while political ties have warmed.

Mindful of the $65 billion Libyan sovereign wealth fund's spending power at a time of recession and Italy's own reliance on Libyan oil imports, Berlusconi signed a friendship treaty with Libya in 2008 which includes a $5 billion reparations deal over colonial misdeeds.

Italy has since rolled out the red carpet for Gaddafi during multiple visits in the space of a year, even allowing him to address Romans from the Michelangelo-designed Campidoglio square, an occasion he used to rail against elected government.

Libya, meanwhile, has made bought minority stakes in UniCredit and the oil company Eni, and has expressed interest in others such as power company Enel.

Economic analysts say Libya's investment drive in Italy has only just begun, while Italian firms such as defence giant Finmeccanica and builders like Impregilo stand to gain lucrative contracts in Libya as it improves its infrastructure.

Gaddafi's visit to Italy on Monday marks the second anniversary of the friendship treaty and among those invited to attend a dinner in his honour are Mayor Faina and his entourage.

The invitation signed by Berlusconi has been tacked on to the notice board in the main town square as a matter of pride.

"So many people ask, 'Why did Gaddafi stop in Antrodoco?' said Faina."We're very lucky indeed."

Hardliner leads Turk military in testing times

ANKARA (Reuters)
Turkey's new military chief, a quiet, hardline secularist, takes command on Friday of a force that sees itself cornered by EU-driven reforms and an emboldened government with roots in political Islam.

The change of command in NATO's second biggest army comes as the ruling AK Party takes on the judicial establishment, another bastion of the secularist opposition, in challenges analysts say will define the future of the Muslim democracy.

General Isik Kosaner, who was trained as a commando officer and worked in intelligence, will be tested among other things by trials of senior military officers charged with plotting to overthrow the government and a surge in a decades-long separatist conflict in the southeast.

His appointment as chief of staff this month came at the end of several days of tension in the Supreme Military Council, a body dominated by generals but chaired by the prime minister, in which the government blocked the promotion of some top officers.

"He has a difficult job ahead of him," said analyst Wolfango Piccoli from the Eurasia consultancy group.

"There is discontent in the ranks at government-military relations and PKK violence is on the rise," Piccoli said, referring to an increased campaign of violence by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatist guerrillas.

" I don't think there will be a conflict with the government. He's a democrat and he will try to protect the armed forces through democratic ways "

Necati Ozgen, a retired generalThe military, self-appointed guardians of secularism, has toppled four governments but reforms carried out as part of a bid for membership of the European Union have curbed its power.

The "Pashas" have also been humbled by AK, which first swept to power in 2002 and is backed by a rising conservative middle-class that has challenged the old secularist elite.

Despite unprecedented setbacks that have discredited the soldiers' image, experts expect ties between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government and the military to be smooth, although not without moments of tension.

Kosaner's predecessor, General Ilker Basbug, has said repeatedly that the days of coups are over.

"I don't think there will be a conflict with the government. He's a democrat and he will try to protect the armed forces through democratic ways," Necati Ozgen, a retired general, said of Kosaner.

He takes the top job after being promoted from land forces commander. Known as an old-school secularist, he has shied away from public statements in the past, preferring a quiet approach.

Kosaner is expected to formally take command at a ceremony in the general staff headquarters in Ankara at 5:30 p.m. (1430 GMT) which will be attended by Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.

" The government and the military need to find a normal, democratic relationship like in the rest of Europe "

A European diplomat Turks will vote in a referendum on Sept. 12 on constitutional reforms proposed by the government.

If approved, the changes would further assert civilian control over the military, including limiting the jurisdiction of military courts and calling for military officers accused of coup-plotting to be dealt with exclusively by civil courts.

Other contentious elements of the package are articles related to the appointment of senior judges and prosecutors.

Erdogan's AK, which evolved from an Islamist party though it eschews that label, says the reforms are needed to end Turkey's military "tutelage".

Observers will also be watching out for any grumbling in the barracks under Kosaner over the "Sledgehammer" case, in which prosecutors say officers discussed a plan to destabilise the government during a war-game seminar seven years ago.

Last month, warrants were issued for the arrest of 102 retired and serving officers, including a former commander of the First Army, though those warrants were later dropped.

The case, which critics say is part of a government campaign to undermine the military, is due to go to trial in December.

Observers say the military is aware that its loss of influence is inevitable, but say the government must be careful not be perceived as acting out of revenge.

"Every country needs a military," a European diplomat said.

"The government and the military need to find a normal, democratic relationship like in the rest of Europe."

US-led troops killed in dispute over veil

A media report says that an Afghan soldier killed two US-led soldiers in a shoot-out when they tried to remove an Afghan woman's veil by force.

An exchange of fire between two Spanish soldiers and an Afghan police trainee left all three killed in northwestern Afghanistan's Badghis Province on Wednesday.

Informed sources told the Pashtun language Benava website on Thursday that the deadly incident took place after soldiers were disrespectful to the women and insulted Afghans' cultural and Islamic values.

Thousands of Afghan protesters subsequently staged a rally outside a Spanish base in the region.

The protesters also called on the Afghan government to send Spanish troops to their country.

Protesters set fire to parts of the base and were met by bullets from the foreign troops. US-led troops reportedly opened fire at demonstrators, killing dozens of people and wounding more than 20 other civilians.

More than 800 Spanish soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan within the framework of NATO forces.
Some 140,000 US-led troops are currently deployed in the war-ravaged country.
A further 10,000 are expected to be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the security situation is believed to have been deteriorated in Afghanistan with US-led forces being killed by Taliban militants on a nearly daily basis.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

US-led airstrike kills 6 Afghan children

A US-led airstrike has killed six children and injured another child in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan, amid growing public discontent over civilian deaths.

The children were killed on Thursday afternoon local time after US-led forces bombarded a civilian house, a local police chief said.

The US-led forces launched the airstrike in response to Taliban mortar fire on their base.

The Taliban attack is also said to have killed one and injured another child, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Civilians have been the main victims of violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the country's troubled southern and eastern provinces, where they are killed by both militant and foreign fire.

The UN has put the number of civilian casualties at nearly 1,300 so far this year. It blames a quarter of the deaths on foreign troops.

The issue of civilian casualties has long been a source of friction between Kabul and Washington.

France's ban on the Islamic veil has little to do with female emancipation

A focus on women's rights is being used to justify intervention in religious and public life that would otherwise be unacceptable

Joan Wallach Scott
If there were any doubt about the motivation for the ban on Islamic face coverings passed by the French national assembly in July, the Sarkozy government's actions in August have laid them to rest.

The issue isn't women's emancipation, for all the pious rhetoric we've heard about equality being a "primordial value" of the French nation. It isn't the danger that terrorists and robbers will hide behind burqas in order to blow up buildings or rob banks - the exemptions in the law for motorcycle helmets, fencing and ski masks, and carnival costumes quickly dispel that argument. And it isn't about enforcing openness and transparency as an aspect of French culture.

Outlawing what the French call "le voile intégral" is part of a campaign to purify and protect national identity, purging so-called foreign elements - although many of these "foreigners" are actually French citizens - from membership in the nation. It is part of a cynical bid by Sarkozy and his party to capture the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim animus that has brought electoral gains to the rightwing National Front party and to disarm the Socialist opposition, which has so far offered little resistance to the xenophobic campaign.

The national assembly's action came on July 13, as the country prepared to celebrate the birth of republican democracy in the revolution of 1789. Banning the burqa on the eve of the Fête Nationale provided a clear affirmation of true Frenchness.

It followed a year in which President Sarkozy included a minister of immigration and national identity in his cabinet. The title of the new post conveyed the message that if national identity were in trouble immigrants were the source. The president and his minister called for a countrywide conversation on the meanings of national identity. There were to be contests and town-hall meetings to articulate what it meant to be truly French. When that effort fizzled, they came up with more draconian measures. Sarkozy proposed, this month, to take away the citizenship of foreign-born French citizens if they were convicted of crimes such as threatening the life of a police officer. Children born in France to foreign parents (once presumed to automatically qualify for citizenship) would be denied citizenship if there were any evidence of juvenile delinquency.

This month, too, began the expulsion of the Roma, said to be illegally camped throughout the country and responsible for all manner of crimes. Despite an outcry from those who denounced the expulsions as echoes of Vichy (the government that collaborated with the Nazis in the 1940s), these activities have made "security" a prime focus for politicians and public opinion pollsters. Whether it will deliver another term to Sarkozy in 2012 remains to be seen.

The immediate effect is to conjure a fantasy spectre in which foreigners endanger France and are made to take the blame for all its economic, social and political problems. Instead of real solutions to economic stagnation, high unemployment, discrimination against minorities, violence in the banlieue, and a deteriorating educational system, to name a few, the country is offered a nightmare vision of veiled women and their male handlers, an enemy within the borders who must be uncovered and, in this way, disarmed.

That only a few thousand women wear face coverings in a country that has 4-6 million people from Muslim countries in its population raises the question of why this issue has become the focus of nationalist campaigns, not only in France, but in other western European countries as well. What is it about covered women that so draws the ire and fear of so many, some western feminists included? How have politicians, many of whom have worked hard to keep women out of political office, been able to use feminist themes of emancipation and equality in the politics of the "clash of civilisations"? Why has it been so easy to identify the veil as an instrument only of oppression, even when ethnographers and historians tell us it has multiple meanings, and when some women who wear it insist that they have chosen it because it positively signifies their femininity and their devotion to God?

One answer - and there are many more to be explored - is that the focus on Muslim women's rights covers over some of the dangerous elements of the "security state". The claim to be protecting women justifies state intervention in religious, family, and public life that would otherwise be unacceptable.

The same politicians who have long resisted laws on sexual harassment and the punishment of domestic violence become advocates for women when these are identified as Muslim offences. This puts aside the continuing issue of gender inequality as a national problem. And politicians demonstrate their prowess to their national constituencies by acting to protect these supposedly vulnerable women from the men who are said to violate their rights: the proposed law levies a small fine of €150 on a woman wearing a burqa in public, while the men presumed to have forced her compliance get a year in prison and a fine of €30,000.

The state's role is figured as the protection of its citizens (the analogy is to gallant men protecting the weaker sex), even if that requires the suspension of liberties in the name of security - now the country's highest priority.

Joan Wallach Scott is Harold F Linder professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study (US). She is the author, most recently, of The Politics of the Veil.

US: Drunk shouts 'terrorists,' urinates on mosque rugs

NEW YORK - In the latest in a spate of anti-Muslim incidents over the last two days, an intoxicated man entered a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and proceeded to urinate on prayer rugs, New York police officials said.

The man, identified as Omar Rivera, reportedly shouted anti-Muslim epithets and called worshippers who had gathered for evening prayer "terrorists." One witness told the New York Post the man was "very clearly intoxicated" and had a beer bottle in his hand at the time.

"He stuck up his middle finger and cursed at everyone," Mustapha Sadouki, who was at the mosque at the time, said. "He calls us terrorists, yet he comes into our mosque and terrorizes other people."
Rivera has been charged with criminal trespassing.

A recent string of incidents - including the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver and the desecration of a California mosque - has some members of the Muslim community worried that crimes against Muslims could reach crisis levels.

"Without a significant response by mainstream political leaders, this disturbing trend will only continue to grow," said Faiza Ali, a New York spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Around 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, a drunk 21-year-old student named Michael Enright allegedly attacked a cab driver in midtown Manhattan who had identified himself as a Muslim.

The cab driver told police that the two struck up a conversation in Arabic before Enright turned on him, screaming "This is a checkpoint, mother----er! I have to put you down." Enright reportedly proceeded to stab the driver's neck and face with a Leatherman knife.

Earlier this week, a mosque in Madera, Calif., had been vandalized with signs referring to the controversial plan to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to CAIR.

"No temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero," one sign read. "Wake up America, the Enemy is here," read another. Both were signed "ANB," reportedly standing for the American Nationalist Brotherhood.

Imbrahim Hooper, another spokesman for CAIR, told that it is only after "times of severe crisis" like the Oklahoma City bombing or September 11 terrorist attacks that the organization has seen such an uptick in hate crimes against the Muslim community.

"I think we're beginning to see the result of this manufactured controversy about the Islamic community center in Manhattan," Hooper said. "I hope this is not an indication of a trend."

Hooper said the organization attributes the increasing number of incidents involving anti-Muslim rhetoric to an "Islamaphobia machine" that includes right-wing news, blogs and other media outlets.
When asked to specify exactly what media outlets are to blame, Hooper responded, "We don't need more enemies right now."

According to the organization's most recent Civil Rights Report, New York is among the five locations in the United States with the highest number of CAIR civil rights complaints. Most of these complaints, moreover, are made as a result of occurrences in a Muslim location or mosque.

Hate crimes represent a very small number of the overall complaints filed by CAIR since it first began recording data on Muslim civil rights in 1995.

Since 2004, the percentage of complaints that were classified as "hate crime" has been on the steady decline, according to the report.

The New York Police Department was not immediately available to comment on the state of crimes against Muslims in New York in recent weeks.'s Ryan McCartney contributed to this report.