Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ex-Muslim preacher exposed as fake

A prominent Christian preacher that reportedly converted to Christianity from Islam has come under fire for making suspicious claims about his Muslim past.

Ergun Caner, the dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, claims that he was a radical Muslim teenager before immigrating to the US from Turkey and discovering Jesus Christ at a church in the US state of Ohio.

Soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, DC, Caner and his brother, Emir, published a book labeled Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs.
In the book, Caner portrays himself as a one-time extremist who received terrorist trainings in Turkey.

The publication of the book quickly propelled this unknown Baptist minister to the heights of fame, and in 2005 granted him his current post as the dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Since then, Caner has established himself as a leading Christian critic of Islam using his stature as the dean of one of the most prominent Evangelical theology schools.

However, Caner's contradictory stories and remarks have cast doubt on his past.

Recent reports show that he and his family had moved to Ohio when he was just a child -- before being able to receive terrorist training -- and that some "Arabic" phrases he had uttered in some of his speeches were actual gibberish.

Following the revelations, Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has initiated a probe into Caner's behavior, with results due later this month, the Associated Press reported recently.

Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder and former chancellor of the Liberty University who died in 2007, was an outspoken rhetorical critic of Islam that lacked little scholarly knowledge of the religion. On numerous occasions he had made offensive remarks regarding the Prophet of Islam (PBUH).

Many critics regard Caner to be just an opportunist who has sowed tension between the world's two largest faiths.

"He's done enormous harm ... To listen to someone like Caner, you'd think house meetings to decide what to blow up next are daily fare for all Muslims," said Charles Kimball, director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Analysts say that Caner's climb to fame, however, illustrates how important Muslim conversion stories are among American Christian communities today.

It also brings back to mind the longstanding fascination of the American society -- dating back to the colonial period -- with tales of Muslims converting to Christianity.

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan


WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.

American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.

Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.

“No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces,” observed Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.

At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. “The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Mr. Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”

With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. “They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan.”

The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.”

Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings, and then briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

For the geologists who are now scouring some of the most remote stretches of Afghanistan to complete the technical studies necessary before the international bidding process is begun, there is a growing sense that they are in the midst of one of the great discoveries of their careers.

“On the ground, it’s very, very, promising,” Mr. Medlin said. “Actually, it’s pretty amazing.”

Kandahar strategy draws criticism


US plans to turn the course of the Afghan war with a large-scale operation to secure Kandahar risk driving more people into the arms of the insurgents, a senior United Nations official has warned.

Richard Barrett, who heads a UN team tracking the Taliban and al-Qaeda, also said it was nonsense to suggest the war in Afghanistan was protecting Britain from terrorism.

The critique of western strategy delivered by Mr Barrett, a former UK counter-terrorism chief, will sharpen the dilemma faced by David Cameron, the prime minister. The British government wants to reconcile its commitment to Afghanistan with its pledges to deal with a large budget deficit.

Mr Barrett’s comments underline the concerns shared by many western and UN officials about the counter-insurgency strategy of General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander in Afghanistan. The scale and complexity of the approach was underlined last week when Gen McChrystal announced a delay in the planned operation to secure Kandahar city, the Taliban’s spiritual home.

Gen McChrystal said Nato would take a “more deliberate” approach towards Kandahar because it was learning lessons from its operation in the town of Marjah, the Taliban stronghold in central Helmand that was cleared by alliance troops in February.

But Mr Barrett warned that deploying more troops risked sparking more conflict in previously calm areas. “Putting more troops in is in danger of making things worse . . . If you push troops into these areas, then clearly they are no longer going to be quiet,” he said. “This idea that they can clear up Kandahar, take control of Kandahar, and that would really weaken the Taliban, I think it’s mistaken.

“The US cannot be seen to lose a big, well advertised operation as planned for Kandahar,” he said. “It would be very difficult to recover from such a setback . . . It’s altogether on a different scale from Marjah. Gen McChrystal has to make the objectives achievable without looking as if he has already retreated from his original plan because it was beyond him. I think he got a bit carried away and over-optimistic, ambitious.”

Mr Barrett noted that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, had been “notably lukewarm about the whole Kandahar thing”.

US officials hope the Kandahar operation will force the Taliban on to the defensive, allowing Mr Karzai to negotiate some form of political settlement that would allow an exit for the 140,000 western troops now in the country.

But Mr Barrett said Afghanistan’s western allies lacked a coherent approach for ending the conflict. “I don’t think western states have a clear policy; they don’t know, they just don’t know, what to do,” he said.

Mr Barrett, who formerly headed counter-terrorism for the Secret Intelligence Service, dismissed the argument advanced by British ministers that the presence of 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan would reduce the threat to the UK. “That’s complete rubbish. I’ve never heard such nonsense,” he said, warning that the presence of foreign troops risked inflaming anti-western sentiment among British Muslim communities.

“I’m quite sure if there were no foreign troops in Afghanistan there’d be less agitation in Leeds, or wherever, about Pakistanis extremely upset, or suspicious about what western intentions are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Mr Barrett also warned that the Taliban did not appear inclined to respond to overtures made by Mr Karzai at a three-day peace meeting in Kabul two weeks ago. “There are huge ... hurdles to overcome before you can get any sort of effective reconciliation,” he said.

The question of the right circumstances in which to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table appeared to be a matter of great confusion. “They’re not going to negotiate from a position of weakness,” he said. “They’re more likely to negotiate, I think, from a position of strength, when they feel they can get a really good deal ... But we’ve got to be clear on what do they want, and I’m not even sure that we know what the Taliban really want.”
.Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

US plans audit office in Islamabad to monitor aid


WASHINGTON: The Obama administration would set up a separate auditing office in Islamabad to monitor financial assistance provided to Pakistan, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

The office will monitor all assistance programmes under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and the Pakistan Counter-Insurgency Capability Fund (PCCF). The office will report to the Office of Inspector General in Washington and would employ two auditors, programme analysts and the local staff recruited in Islamabad. The Obama administration has set up a similar office for Afghanistan as well.

“It is part of their internal process,” said a Pakistani diplomat when asked for comments. “Their programme for Pakistan is America’s largest civilian aid package, so it is only natural that they would like to monitor it.”

US officials, when contacted by this correspondent, also said they had similar accountability processes for other recipients as well. “Pakistan is not being singled out,” one of them added.

However, last month, Senator John Kerry, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, sent a letter to the US State Department, saying that he feared the massive civilian aid flowing into Pakistan would be squandered or stolen. He argued that the high level of corruption in that country would make effective aid distribution a challenge.

Partly reported by Boston Globe and Dawn last month, Senator Kerry’s seven-page letter to Richard Holbrooke, the Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, is now widely available on the internet.

“Among the Pakistani population there is already a fear that the funds will merely enrich the corrupt elite. Channelling so much of the money through untested institutions so quickly could serve to confirm these suspicions,” he wrote.

Senator Kerry highlighted the need for long-term development progress, more transparency and policy reforms in key sectors like energy.

“This administration should be as transparent and specific as possible as how US funds will be spent in Pakistan. To date, this process is largely opaque to the broader public, including our Pakistani friends and partners.”

The lack of transparency could generate suspicion and distrust, defeating the core intent of the act to help build stronger ties with the Pakistani people, Senator Kerry said.

Weekend emergency patients 'have higher death rate'


Study shows death rate among emergency hospital admissions increases by 7% at the weekend Patients admitted to hospital as an emergency at the weekend have a higher chance of dying than those who are brought in during the week, according to a study published today.

The death rate among emergency admissions increased by 7% at the weekend, according to a paper published in the journal Quality and Safety in Healthcare. The authors, from Dr Foster Intelligence and Imperial College, calculate that 3,369 more deaths occurred at the weekend in 2005/06 than would have been expected.

"This is more than the 3,201 killed in road accidents in Great Britain in 2006," they write, although they add: "We acknowledge that this is perhaps an unfair comparison, as it is likely that people dying on the roads are from a much younger age group and will be generally healthier compared with the population of people admitted as an emergency to hospital at the weekend."

Dr Paul Aylin, the senior author of the study, said this was clearly a significant number of people. "We need to get to the bottom of what this means.

"Staffing levels are often lower at weekends, with fewer senior medical staff around, and some specialist services are less available. We believe this may be contributing to the increase in mortality rates on Saturdays and Sundays but we would like to see more research.

"Hospitals have been reassessing the working hours and rotas of their doctors and, considering the impact that staff availability may be having on mortality rates, this is a timely reminder to hospitals that they must take care not to jeopardise the quality and standard of patient care available at weekends when devising new staffing rotas."

The researchers looked at administrative data on 215,054 deaths out of the 4.3 million emergency admissions in 163 hospital Trusts in 2005/6. They found that overall death rates were 5.2% for people admitted at weekends and 4.9% for those admitted on a weekday.

There were higher proportions of deaths at the weekend for patients with conditions including heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, some cancers and aortic aneurysms.

As well as lower staffing levels in hospitals, there may be a reduced service in specialist community and primary care services at the weekend, which the authors say may result in some terminally ill patients being admitted to hospital and dying there at the weekends.

Professor Derek Bell, another of the authors, said: "Clinicians and senior healthcare managers must begin to recognise and address these issues to improve patient care."

But the authors say more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn about the reasons for the increased rate of deaths at the weekend

Abbas and Egypt Against Lifting Naval Blockade on Gaza


In a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last Wednesday (June 9), Abbas told the U.S. President that he opposes lifting the naval blockade in the Gaza Strip, since such a move would "bolster Hamas." Abbas stated that it should not be lifted at this stage, and any reduction of restrictions should be gradual and cautious to prevent a perceived victory for Hamas. Egypt is also in favor of maintaining the naval blockade because of arms smuggling concerns should it be lifted.[1] Iran-backed Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 in a violent coup against the forces of the Palestinian Authority, controlled by President Abbas.[2]

Israel and the international community have repeatedly called on Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and release abducted soldier Gilad Shalit in order to ease the blockade but Hamas has refused to meet these terms.[3]

Hamas has also refused to allow new presidential and legislative elections to be held which are now overdue. A recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center For Public Opinion in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in March 2010 found that if new legislative elections were held, Hamas would likely lose with Fatah receiving 42 per cent of the vote while Hamas would get just 28 percent. Hamas would also lose a presidential election. The same Palestinian poll showed that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would take 40 percent of the vote and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas would get 50 percent.[4]

Abbas also said to Obama that more goods and aid should be brought through the Israel-Gaza border crossings.[5] On Wednesday, June 9, Israel eased a number of restrictions and allowed previously banned goods to enter Gaza.[6]It was stressed that this step was part of a policy initiated over the past six months in which Israel has gradually allowed more goods to enter the territory. Since December 2009, the quantity of goods entering Gaza has increased by 20 percent and the range of items allowed in has also been expanded.[7]

Despite the pre-meditated attack by pro-Palestinian extremists against Israeli soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31, which was en route to Gaza, many Israeli leaders expressed sorrow for the loss of life that resulted from the incident.[8]

"Israel regrets the loss of life," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Aharon Leshno-Yaar stated, "The results of yesterday's events are tragic and unfortunate, and Israel regrets any loss of life."[9]

On Sunday (June 13), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Tirkel would head the Israeli investigative committee which would look into the Israeli army operation to intercept the flotilla.[10]

Hamas continues to illegally hold abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He has been held in captivity for almost four years and Hamas have denied him access to Red Cross visits, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.[11]


[1]Ravid, Barak, "Abbas to Obama: I'm against lifting the Gaza naval blockade," Haaretz, June 13, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/abbas-to-obama-i-m-against-lifting-the-gaza-naval-blockade-1.295771

[2]"Angry Egypt says Hamas' Gaza takeover was a coup," Reuters, June 23, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL23637408

[3]Hadid, Diaa, Karin Laub, "Ordinary Gazans hurt most by 3-year blockade," The Associated Press, June 12, 2010, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gXp6fvvgQLELYgmlMBK-EaQ8A1WQD9G947T81

[4]"Poll Number 35," Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Match 4, 2010, http://www.pcpsr.org/survey/polls/2010/p35e.pdf "Hamas to ban elections in Gaza," RFI, October 28, 2009, http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/118/article_5656.asp

[5]Ravid, Barak, "Abbas to Obama: I'm against lifting the Gaza naval blockade," Haaretz, June 13, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/abbas-to-obama-i-m-against-lifting-the-gaza-naval-blockade-1.295771

[6]Keinon, Herb, Yaakov Katz, and Tova Lazaroff, "Israel lets snacks, juices, spices, shaving cream into Gaza," Jerusalem Post, June 9, 2010, http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=177929

[7]Keinon, Herb, Yaakov Katz, and Tova Lazaroff, "Israel lets snacks, juices, spices, shaving cream into Gaza," Jerusalem Post, June 9, 2010, http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=177929

[8]"Flotilla leaders stated violence was premeditated," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 31, 2010, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Hamas+war+against+Israel/Flotilla_leaders_violence_premeditated_31-May-2010.htm; "Amb Leshno Yaar addresses UN Human Rights Council," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 1, 2010, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Foreign+Relations/Israel+and+the+UN/Speeches+-+statements/Amb_Leshno-Yaar_UN_Human_Rights_Council_1-Jun-2010.htm; "Close-Up Footage of Mavi Marmara Passengers Attacking IDF Soldiers," IDF Spokesperson's Unit YouTube Channel, May 31, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk#p/c/D367B77C57326D3E/2/gYjkLUcbJWo; "Flotilla Rioters Prepare Rods, Slingshots, Broken Bottles and Metal Objects to Attack IDF Soldiers," IDF Spokesperson's Unit YouTube Channel, June 2, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk#p/u/8/HZlSSaPT_OU

[9]"No Love Boat," Israel's Prime Minister's Office, June 2, 2010, http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/PMSpeaks/speechmashat020610.htm; "Amb Leshno Yaar addresses UN Human Rights Council," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 1, 2010, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Foreign+Relations/Israel+and+the+UN/Speeches+-+statements/Amb_Leshno-Yaar_UN_Human_Rights_Council_1-Jun-2010.htm

[10]"Netanyahu: Gaza flotilla probe to be headed by former justice," *Haaretz, *June 13, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-gaza-flotilla-probe-to-be-headed-by-former-justice-1.295865

[11]Pfeffer, Anshel; Khoury, Jack; Issacharoff, Avi, "Local fleet sets out to counter Gaza-bound ships from Turkey" Haaretz, May 23, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/local-fleet-sets-out-to-counter-gaza-bound-ships-from-turkey-1.291599; Khoury, Jack, "Shalit's father to address UN council on son's release," Haaretz, March 17, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/shalit-s-father-to-address-un-council-on-son-s-release-1.264913