Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan 2010 USA: From Miami to Mecca, how 1.6 billion Muslims celebrate

Ramadan 2010, USA-style, includes streaming footage of Friday prayer sermons as Muslims seek to counter rising anti-Islamic sentiment. Saudi Arabia unveils a new clock, while Morocco makes do with makeshift tents after 1,256 mosques were closed.

By Christa Case Bryant, Staff writer


Ramadan 2010 USA began Wednesday as Muslims from Miami to Mecca began the month-long fast to mark what they believe was Allah's revelation of the Koran 14 centuries ago. This is the first time in nearly 30 years that Ramadan, whose timing depends on the lunar calendar, has corresponded with the hot summer months of the Gregorian calendar.

In addition to the heat, Muslims - who now comprise roughly a quarter of humanity - face unique challenges and perks depending on whether they're celebrating in America, Arab countries, or as far north as the Arctic Circle:

In Jerusalem, considered the third holiest city in Islam, West Bank Palestinians will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount compound without permits. But there's a catch to visiting the area, which is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock: Men must be over age 50 and women over the age of 45. For married individuals, the age limit drops to 45 and 30, respectively.

Many Muslims in Morocco will be forced to congregate in makeshift tents after the government announced this week that it is closing 1,256 mosques. The move came after the religious affairs ministry inspected nearly 20,000 mosques for safety standards in the wake of a minaret's collapse that killed 41 people in February.

Iraq is bracing for an uptick in attacks, as US combat troops withdraw by Sept. 1 and temperatures of 120 degrees - coupled with a dire lack of electricity - agitate an already tense situation.

Indonesia ushered in the holy month by banning pornographic websites, prostitutes, and firecrackers - "things that can distract Muslims from faithfully observing Ramadan in peace," deadpanned the Jakarta Globe. (In addition to abstaining from food and water during daylight hours, Muslims are also to refrain from sex.) Some 80 percent of porn sites had been blocked by the government, said Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, unveiled an $800 million clock that rises high above Mecca's Grand Mosque, the destination for Muslim pilgrims and the direction in which the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims face in prayer five times a day. The devout are concentrated not only in majority Muslim countries; in fact, a recent Pew study found that China had more Muslims than Syria, and Russia a larger total than Jordan and Libya combined.

Each of the four faces of the Mecca clock, which is still under construction, has a diameter of roughly 130 feet. People 16 miles away will be able to see its lighted face, according to the Associated Press.
Egypt, meanwhile, is keeping time in a rather unorthodox way - turning the clock back an hour so that the Ramadan fast ends earlier in the day. Some Muslims worried that the special Ramadan time zone might violate Islamic law, reported NPR. But most carried on with preparations for nightly feasting that causes Egypt to triple its food consumption during the month - a tradition one Egyptian compared to 30 Christmas Eve dinners.

In New Jersey, school administrators decided to cancel classes on the culminating day of Ramadan - part of a controversial move by 10 of the state's school districts to incorporate Muslim holidays into the school calendar.

To counter what many see as increasing anti-Islamic sentiment in America, such as that surrounding the Ground Zero mosque, Muslims at a storefront mosque in the Miami area have decided to broadcast their Friday sermons live.

In Egypt, Turning Back The Clock For Ramadan


by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

Most Muslims around the world begin observing the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday, a time when they reflect on what it's like to go hungry. They fast from dawn to dusk, and break the daily fast by sharing food and charity with those less fortunate, as well as celebrating with family and friends.

Ramadan celebrations are especially famous in Egypt. But this year, the Egyptian government has added a new twist to the holiday by turning back the clock just for Ramadan. That way, people end their fast an hour earlier than they would otherwise, even though the total number of hours they fast will not change.

Daylight savings time will return once Ramadan ends.

The time change makes spice salesman Hossam Adin Mohammed uncomfortable. He wonders why Egypt is the only country creating a time zone for the holiday. Mohammed also hopes it doesn't violate Islamic law.

Nevertheless, he is certain he and other Egyptians celebrate Ramadan the way the Prophet Muhammad intended.

"Of course we eat a lot, but that is part of the family spirit," he says. "One night it's at my place, the next night at my sister's, and another night at my mother-in-law's house."

All the feasting and socializing lead to another less desirable tradition - the "Ramadan Effect."

Each year, the Egyptian economy slumps during the holy month. Workdays are cut short, and production and stock performance drop. At the same time, public consumption skyrockets, meaning more imports. Some of the additional goods go to the needy, as Islam prescribes.

All over the city, private individuals and charities set up colorful tents packed with free food. Yet too many Egyptians have turned Ramadan into an exercise in excess, says sociologist Said Sadek.

"We have 30 days of Christmas Eve full of banquets and food," he explains. "Egypt consumes three times its normal food consumption during the month of Ramadan."

He adds: "They are semi-drugged by media, by food, banquets that are being held because religion advises that it is better that people eat together."

But even conservative religious groups support the Egyptian festiveness - within limits.

"Certainly our message to Egyptians during Ramadan is no excessive food and no excessive partying or staying up way too late, because that's hated by Islam," says Ali Abdel Fattah, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement that is officially banned in Egypt.

But he says Egyptians are more pious during Ramadan now than in years gone by. Even the belly dancers who used to dance for tourists during Ramadan now abstain, he says, choosing instead to sponsor food tents for the poor on the streets.

Poverty robs Yemeni children of their childhood


After their father died two years ago, Raseel and Anwar left their family to work in a car garage, joining the millions of Yemeni children forced into the impoverished country's labour market.

Eleven-year-old Raseel al-Khameri and his eight-year-old mute brother Anwar spend their days working in the garage in Sanaa in an attempt to sustain a needy family in the village of Al-Akhmoor, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital.

"I work day and night. You'll find me here (in the workshop) anytime from 9:00 am until 4:00 am," Raseel says shyly, as his small hands skillfully work with various car parts.

" There are more than 200 children used in drug trafficking into Saudi Arabia... in return for small amounts of money given to those children "

Ahmed al-Qurashi, head of SEYAJWith an innocent smile never leaving his face, little Anwar closely follows his older brother's moves as he also tries to master the job.

A study carried out in 2010 by the US-based aid group CHF International revealed that out of Yemen's 11 million children, five million are currently employed.

Three-fifths of those do not receive an education while the remaining two million both study and work at the same time.

CHF said that 40 percent of Yemeni children are drawn into the labor market between the ages of seven and 13.

According to the study, 10 percent of the country's children start working when they are nine years old. By the age of 12, the number doubles to 20 percent and reaches 40 percent as they reach 13

CHF said that 80 percent of those children are involved in hazardous and arduous jobs, while over 60 percent use dangerous tools and over 30 percent said that they were injured or have fallen ill due to their jobs.

Twenty percent of Yemen's working children were physically and emotionally abused, while 10 percent were sexually abused, the study found.

And some parents try to have their children smuggled into neighboring Saudi Arabia, where they can earn 1500 Saudi Riyals (about 400 dollars) a month -- a large amount compared to salaries in Yemen, according to the study.

Yemeni rights group SEYAJ says hundreds of children in the provinces of Hajja and Al-Hudaydah, in northwest Yemen, were involved in drug trafficking into neighbouring countries.

"There are more than 200 children used in drug trafficking into Saudi Arabia... in return for small amounts of money given to those children," Ahmed al-Qurashi, head of SEYAJ, told AFP.

The Sanaa government is aware of the problem of child labor.

Adel al-Sharaabi, director of social defense at the ministry of social affairs and labor, said "the reason behind child labor is the increase in poverty in the country."

" The only solution to this problem is to improve Yemen's economy "

Ahmed al-Qurashi"The only solution to this problem is to improve Yemen's economy," he added.

But with the impoverished country facing a range of severe economic challenges, and struggling to maintain security and political stability as it cracks down on extremist networks, the plight of Yemen's children does not appear to be a high government priority.

A study carried out by the social affairs ministry's child labor unit in June said that "192,000 children are currently working in the farming sector," and that due to the continuous use of pesticides, these children are prone to developing skin rashes, blindness, asthma and bronchitis.

Nearly half of the children working in agriculture suffer from skin infections, while 30 percent complain of mild purulent inflammations and 20 percent face intestinal infections, the government study said.

Fifty thousand work as farmers in Hajja, 38,000 in Ibb, 27,000 in Zamar, 28,000 in Amran, and 20,000 in Al-Hudaydah, it added.

"Agriculture, which was once considered one of the safest jobs, has now become one of the most dangerous due to the poisonous and cancerous pesticides used," Qurashi said.

After farming, auto repair shops employ the largest number of child laborers, according to the government study.

"There is a significant rise in child labor" due to the rise in rates of poverty and unemployment, Qurashi said. In such circumstances, "more children will do any job regardless of how dangerous it is."

Children are also paid to work as "hired fighters" in Yemen's tense north, either to fight with government-backed tribes against Zaidi Shiite rebels or vice-versa, in the rebels' Saada stronghold, Qurashi said.

"The government knows this," he added.

In addition to working from a young age, Yemen's children face dangers from hunger.
"Half of Yemen's children are chronically malnourished and one out of 10 does not live to reach the age of five," according to the World Food Program.

"Such emergency levels of chronic malnutrition -- or stunting -- are second globally only to Afghanistan, the proportion of underweight children is the third highest in the world after India and Bangladesh," it says.

Kashmir rejects partial autonomy offer

Pro-independence groups in Indian-administered Kashmir are rejecting an offer of political autonomy for the region from India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Several senior separatist politicians in the disputed region have rejected Singh's initiative. The groups say they are fighting for independence, not autonomy.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a Muslim cleric and an influential moderate separatist said on Wednesday that Kashmiris' right to self-determination should be respected.

"Our struggle is not for restoration of autonomy. It is to seek our right to self-determination," AFP quoted Farooq as saying.

"We should be allowed to decide whether we want to remain with India, accede to Pakistan or carve out an independent state," he said.

Kashmir lies at the heart of more than 60 years of hostility between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in full but have partial control over it.

Javed Mir, a former militant commander turned separatist politician, has also pledged to continue his struggle for independence through peaceful protests.

"We will continue our fight for our goal through peaceful protests."

Mir has been among the first Kashmiris to take up arms in 1989 when a full-blown insurgency broke out against the New Delhi rule over the valley.

Singh offered to grant Kashmir political autonomy after months of anti-India protests in Kashmir, which left dozens of protesters killed.

The Indian premier said on Tuesday that New Delhi will consider any consensus proposal for autonomy as long as it does not violate India's constitution.

Singh also promised to create jobs for the region, where unemployment runs rampant and has fuelled resentment against the New Delhi rule.

Meanwhile, Indian police said on Wednesday that militants had killed three policemen in an attack about 50 km (30 miles) north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir.

In another separate attack, a woman was killed and eight other people were injured when their bus was caught in cross-fire between militants and Indian soldiers during an ambush.

UK: Why are we less generous towards Pakistan than we were to Haiti?

By David Hughes

Sir Nick Young, chairman of the British Red Cross, was the soul of discretion on the Today programme this morning when discussing the Disaster Emergency Committee's fund-raising for the Pakistan flood disaster. Pressed repeatedly on whether the public was proving less generous over this disaster than it has been in the past, he refused to rise to the bait and insisted that the public response was immensely generous.

In fact, the figures tell a very different story. The DEC has raised £7 million for Pakistan in the first week of the appeal. That is an impressive figure - until you compare the donations made after the Haiti earthquake early this year. In the first week, the British public raised £42 million, precisely seven times as much. Why the discrepancy? The scale of the destruction and the death toll in Haiti were both immense while in Pakistan the death toll has been far, far lower. Yet the UN has classified it as the biggest natural disaster ever recorded in terms of the number of people affected. AP carried this report on Monday:

The number of people suffering from the massive floods in Pakistan exceeds 13 million - more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the United Nations said Monday. The death toll in each of those three disasters was much higher than the 1,500 people killed so far in the floods that first hit Pakistan two weeks ago. But the U.N. estimates that 13.8 million people have been affected - over 2 million more than the other disasters combined.

There can be no doubting the biblical scale of the disaster - so why the relative reluctance to give? There's no doubt that a big part of the problem was the shockingly crass behaviour of Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari who was swanning around Europe while his country was struggling with its biggest ever crisis. If he couldn't be bothered to do anything, then why should we?

But I suspect it runs deeper than Zardari's spectacular stupidity. The image of Pakistan in this country has never been lower. The 7/7 bomb attacks of 2005 and the foiling of numerous subsequent plots has inextricably linked Pakistan with terrrorism. Could this have led people to turn a deaf ear to appeals for help?

Azerbaijan bans prayers in barracks

Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense has reportedly banned the overwhelmingly-Muslim country's soldiers from performing the daily prayers in their barracks.

According to Azerbaijan's Center for Protection of Freedom of Conscience and Faith (DEVAM), army officials in Goranboy city have banned the daily prayers based on a verbal decree from the country's Defense Ministry.

"Bravery of the faithful Muslim soldier Mubariz Ibrahimov showed that performing religious duties does not stop them from serving their country and furthermore adds to their bravery and patriotism," said head of DEVAM center Haji Ilgar Ibrahimoglu.

Ibrahimov, the national Hero of Azerbaijan, was a Warrant Officer, who was shot in the back and killed by Armenian forces in June 2010 after he killed four enemy soldiers and wounded five others.

Although some 98 percent of the Azerbaijani population is Muslim, the country has imposed various limitations on performing religious duties.

Two TV channels say shut over anti-Zardari reports

KARACHI: Two key Pakistani television channels were shut in southern Pakistan on Tuesday amid protests by ruling party workers over reports against the country's embattled president, the channels said.

"Geo television remains off the air in Karachi and other parts of Sindh province," its managing director, Azhar Abbas, said.

Workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) staged a protest outside its office in Karachi, he said.

A graffiti campaign has also been launched against Geo in Karachi while bundles of the Jang daily and English language The News owned by the same group were snatched and burnt in other cities and towns, he added.

"The cable operators have been threatened, their offices have been attacked, while hawkers have been warned that copies would be torched if they sell our newspapers," he said.

"It is all being done by PPP activists and I am 100 per cent sure the government is behind this campaign," Abbas said. It happened only in Sindh, President Asif Ali Zardari's home province.

The government denied involvement, saying it opposed such attacks.

"This is a conspiracy against our government, this is a media campaign against us," provincial information minister Jamil Soomro told AFP.

"We will offer protection if cable operators asked," he said.

Abbas said he believed the action followed a report Geo broadcast about a protestor who threw a shoe at Zardari during his just ended tour of Britain.

His trip despite devastating floods at home came under intense criticism from the media and opposition leaders.

Abbas said he believed the government was using the shoe-throwing incident as a pretext.

"In fact, it was planning a crackdown since long. They are unhappy because we have been highlighting corruption cases against government leaders," he said.

Mohsin Raza, news director at ARY channel, said cable operators had blacked out his channel because it also reported the incident.

"The cable operators have told us they cannot broadcast our service because of threats from PPP workers," he said. "They are using their party activists against us," he said.

"We are consulting our lawyers to take up the matter to the Supreme Court." - AFP

Israel bulldozes Muslim graveyard

Israeli construction crew members bulldoze their way through a Muslim burial ground, reportedly removing hundreds of gravestones and injuring a protesting Arab.

The team on Monday rampaged through graves in the ancient al-Quds (Jerusalem) Maaman Allah cemetery, carrying on until Tuesday, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported.

"The destruction is related to the issue of renovation. The Israeli establishment does not want us to renovate the graves so it is destroying them," said Mahmud Abu Atta of the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage, which is responsible for the oversight of Muslim religious sites, AFP reported.

A bulldozer hit and moderately injured Ali Abu Sheikha, a local sheikh, who had stood up to the act of desecration, Ma'an said.

The incident marked the most destructive of its kind since 2009, when 1,500 bodies were exhumed for the construction of the controversial Museum of Tolerance. The planned building is to be built by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a US-based Jewish human rights group.

Alongside vast expanses of other Arab territories, Israel occupied al-Quds during full-fledged military operations in 1948.

In 1967, the regime went on to annex the eastern part of the city, which is hailed as the capital of any potential Palestinian state, and later defied the international community's condemnation of its act.

Saudi Arabia's pre-Islamic treasures come to the Louvre

Artefacts reveal the archaeology and history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from prehistoric times to the modern era

Florence Elvin

Almost nothing is known about the anthropomorphic stele of Saudi Arabia that Béatrice André-Salvini, head of the oriental antiquities department at the Louvre, refers to as the Suffering Man on account of his look of resigned pain. The only certainty is that it dates from the fourth millennium BC, was found near Ha'il in the north and has never been exhibited. That is true of two-thirds of the 320 items on show at the Louvre. With good reason. The "official" history of the country starts in the seventh century with the coming of Islam. The Suffering Man and two similar stelae, regarded as representations of the idols the Prophet destroyed, are a revelation.

The exhibition (until 27 September), reflects the wish to establish closer cultural, political but also financial links between France, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates, exemplified by the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre, due to open in 2013. Cultural exchanges started when President Chirac visited the kingdom in 2004. "It is the result," says André-Salvini, "of an understanding between Henri Loyrette, the head of the Louvre, and Prince Sultan, the nephew of King Abdullah, who heads the Saudi commission for tourism and antiquities.

They put the seal on the partnership in 2005 when Prince al-Waleed donated $23m to the Louvre's department of Islamic art. An exhibition at the National Museum in Riyadh followed in 2006 featuring 150 masterpieces from the Louvre's Islamic collection.

The Louvre has cleaned, restored and mounted all the artefacts loaned to France. Three polished red-sandstone colossuses standing 2.5 metres high are among the works that have regained their former glory - sandalled feet in one case, its head in another. With an Egyptian-style head-dress and a loincloth, the most elegant figure is a king belonging to the Lihyan dynasty, which ruled three or four centuries ago. The statues were recently recovered after an earthquake at the old town of Dedan, near al-Ula.

Two jars and an astonishing frieze originated in Mada'in Saleh, the Hegra of ancient times, 18km to the north of al-Ula. The frieze, perhaps a minimalist reference to the Corinthian style, was part of a tomb in the vast Nabatean burial ground, which was added to the Unesco World Heritage list in 2008. Mada'in Saleh is coming back to life thanks to a Franco-Saudi dig, partly funded by Total.

About 140 tombs carved out of the hillside are scattered over 175 hectares of sand, with sculpted cornices and pediments reflecting the various influences adopted by local artists. Mesopotamian suns, Greek Gorgons, Nabatean eagles symbolising the god Dushara, and Babylonian lions happily coexist on the lintels.

A flourishing trade route crossed the desert controlled by the Nabateans at the beginning of our era. At the foot of sandstone citadels shaped by the wind one may easily imagine caravans of several hundred dromedaries carrying incense and myrrh, precious stones and spices from India. They stopped here to sell their goods and stock up with water and food. At the intersection of several routes Mada'in Saleh connected the Mediterranean world and the Orient, Egypt, Greece, Persia, Mesopotamia and India.

In April Béatrice André-Salvini and Françoise Demange, the exhibition's joint curators, made one last trip to the most remarkable sites to settle the final list of exhibits. At Tayma, an oasis ringed by fortifications from the third millennium BC, they selected several remarkable stelae with cuneiform characters. One represents Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom, with his headdress and sceptre. He spent 10 years at Tayma.

The exhibition is illustrated with panoramic views of the desert and maps, taking us on a chronological tour, from the first hewn stones of the early stone age to the establishment of a unified Saudi kingdom in 1932. Much of the show is devoted to antiquity but it also focuses on the Islamic period: the pilgrim trails follow old trading routes to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The exhibition's highlight is a monumental door from the Ka'ba, made of silver embossed with gold, the gift of an Ottoman sultan, which guarded the entrance to the sanctuary in Mecca for three centuries. The sanctuary contains a black stone set in silver, believed to be the remains of the sacred enclosure given by the Almighty to Adam to protect him from the flood. It is a powerful reminder that the Arabian peninsula is the birthplace of Islam.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde

Geo blocked over news of shoe hurling at Zardari

 The News

KARACHI: The transmission of Geo News has been blocked overnight in various parts of country after it aired news regarding hurling of shoes at President Zardari during his party address in Birmingham, Geo News reported cable operators sources as saying.

Meanwhile, many offices of cable operators in Karachi have been set ablaze by angry activists of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Some of PPP’s leaders and government officials have issued threats and warnings to cable operators across country against continuation of Geo News transmission, pressurizing them to shut Geo News transmission but most cable operators refused to do so, sources said.

However, a private company namely World Call and another one by the name KMPC blocked Geo News signals as late as 2am in morning.

Newspapers’ vendors have been robbed of copies of Jang and Thenews newspapers upon direction of President Asif Ali Zardari and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira from London, besides, the PPP workers were accompanied by police officials in posing threats to cable operators and hawkers, sources told media.

Following the blockage, a large number of people registered a massive protest against closure of Geo News transmission across country and rampage, arson and riots triggered by workers of PPP, sources said.

Meanwhile, many a Geo News’ workers have decided to register a protest against government in reaction against blockage of Geo News transmission over keeping people updated with facts and truths.

People and Geo News employees have resolved staging a massive string of demonstrations against stoppage of Geo News transmission and burning of Jang and Thenews newspapers by PPP workers, sources said.

The Demos will be staged outside President House, Prime Minister House, in front of Oman Embassy in Islamabad, outside CM, Governor Houses, Press Clubs and offices of cable operators all over country.

Most copies of Jang and Thenews newspapers have been burnt to ashes after robbing them of hawkers at gunpoint in Karachi.

A meeting of journalists, and Geo News employees has been convened in this connection, which will decide further course of action over this issue, journalists told Geo News.

People were of the view that Geo/Jang Group is being penalized over revealing of facts and speaking the truth. They said the ruling elite is angry over reporting of news regarding controversial visit of president Zardari in face of worst floods in country.

President was not only being criticized in country but international media were also grilling him due to massive human crisis in country while he refused to call off his UK visit.

Protestors heckled President Zardari during British rally


BIRMINGHAM: President Asif Ali Zardari rounded off a trip to Britain by addressing a political rally Saturday, facing criticism and protesters for touring overseas as floods killed more than 1,500 people in his country.

One heckler threw a shoe at Zardari during the event, missing the president, while outside the convention center police cordoned off more than 100 protesters.

Zardari told supporters his trip to Britain had been a success, and that he had raised tens of thousands of pounds for flood victims at home. Thousands crowded into the convention center in the English city of Birmingham to listen to the visiting leader and other speakers from his Pakistan People’s Party.

Some protesters placards that read “USA out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Many Pakistanis are angry about US-led forces within Pakistan and increasing military operations in the frontier and tribal border areas. Others held banners complaining that Zardari chose to continue on his foreign trip at a time of national disaster.

“Too many Pakistani civilians have lost their lives because of this foreign-led war,” said a protester who identified himself as Iqbal Najid, 32.

Earlier in the day Zardari’s son and co-chairman of the PPP, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, appealed for donations to help Pakistani flood victims in London.

Many had expected Zardari’s son to join him at the rally and use the occasion to launch his political career, but the 21-year-old angrily rejected such speculation. Instead, he only appeared before the media briefly at Pakistan’s High Commission in London, where he accepted donations for flood victims and defended his father's trip abroad during the disaster.

“My father's doing all that he can to aid the people of Pakistan. His personal presence inPakistan could not have done there what he did here,” Bhutto Zardari told reporters.

Pakistani officials estimate that as many as 13 million people have been affected in the floods and some 1,500 have died. More rain is expected in the coming days as the bloatedKabul River surged into Pakistan's northwest.

“This is not a time to play politics. We need to do what is necessary to help our brothers and sisters in Pakistan,” Bhutto Zardari added.

Although his father said it was only a matter of time before his son carried on the family’s political dynasty, Bhutto Zardari became irritated at reporters’ suggestions that he was using his father’s visit for his political gain and said he never intended to join the rally.

He would not launch his political career “until I complete my education, as I promised my mother,” he said. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a political rally in late 2007. Her father, the founder of PPP, was hanged in 1979.

Bhutto Zardari said he would focus on raising money for flood victims in Britain and had no plans to travel to Pakistan soon. Still, many party supporters at the rally Satruday were more interested in talking about the young Oxford graduate than about his father.

“We want Bilawal to pick up where his mother left off,” said Samina Mohammed, 25. “He can give us the best hope for this country.”

Plagued by allegations of corruption and money laundering, Zardari hasn’t enjoyed the same support as his slain wife or other members of the Bhutto clan.

The leader faced domestic criticism for going overseas while his nation battles deadly floods, and his trip had also been fraught because it came so soon after British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Pakistan of exporting terror. The remarks caused a diplomatic row, in part because they were made during Cameron’s visit to India,Pakistan's nuclear rival.

The Pakistani president rejected the criticism, saying that it was terrorists who killed his wife and who were terrorizing his country. Some 2,500 Pakistani security officials have been killed in battles with militants over the years, and many more civilians have been killed in attacks. On Saturday, the militant Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of eight foreign aid workers in neighboring Afghanistan.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Zardari also defended his trip, saying Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had been dealing with the floods. Prior to his British visit, Zardari was in France where he visited a family chateau and met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He will travel to Syria from Britain.

Analysts predict Zardari's PPP will suffer during the next national elections in 2013 because of Zardari's low approval ratings and the severe challenges currently facing the country.

Nearly 10,000 members of the party live in Europe, most of them in Britain.

Pakistan is one of Britain’s most important allies in fighting terrorism. Nearly 1 millionpeople of Pakistani origin live in Britain, and Pakistani intelligence has been crucial in several terror investigations, including the 2005 suicide attacks that killed 52 Londoncommuters and a 2006 trans-Atlantic airliner plot. The ringleader of the 2005 suicide bombings in London and several others reportedly received terror training in Pakistan.

Zardari has headed a coalition government since unseating Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The ex-military leader was in power-sharing talks with Bhutto shortly before her assassination at a political rally in December 2007. – AP

Man jailed for Muslim veil attack

 BBC News

A man who ripped a veil from a Muslim woman's face as she walked though Glasgow has been jailed for two years. William Baikie, 26, admitted racially assaulting 26-year-old Anwar Alqahtani by forcibly removing her niqab in the city's Hope Street on 27 April.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard how Baikie, who has previous convictions for racist behaviour, ran off but was later identified through CCTV footage.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Lindsay Wood branded the assault "shameful".

The court heard how Ms Alqahtani had come to Scotland from Saudi Arabia to study a masters degree.
'Absolute disgrace'

The 26-year-old, who wears the niqab to protect her modesty as part of her religion, was attacked as she walked to get a train from Central Station.

The force of Baikie's actions damaged Ms Alqahtani's niqab and she had to find another item of clothing to cover her.

Sentencing Baikie, Sheriff Lindsay Wood told him that what he did was an "absolute disgrace".

He said: "The offence you committed was a shameful one.

"You are a man who has a number of racist convictions and you knew full well how offensive the act would have been to the lady."

FBI defends guidelines on eve of Senate testimony


WASHINGTON — The FBI on Tuesday vigorously defended its domestic surveillance guidelines, under fire from civil liberties and Muslim groups who argue that people not involved in crime or terrorism could be unfairly targeted for investigation. On the eve of congressional testimony by FBI Director Robert Mueller, the bureau said that its procedures are designed to ensure that FBI probes don't zero in on anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or the exercise of any other constitutional right.

The FBI said its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide equips agents with lawful and appropriate tools so the agency can transform itself into an intelligence-driven organization that investigates genuine criminal and national security threats.

Last September, the FBI disclosed an edited version of the guide as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The manual was approved in December 2008, during the final days of the George W. Bush administration, and establishes policy that guides all the FBI's domestic operations, including counterterrorism, counterintelligence, criminal or cyber crime.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union asked FBI field offices in 29 states and Washington, D.C., to turn over records related to the bureau's collection of data on race and ethnicity.

According to the ACLU, the FBI's operations guide gives agents the authority to create maps of ethnic-oriented businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

While some racial and ethnic data collection by some agencies might be helpful in lessening discrimination, the FBI's attempt to collect and map demographic data using race-based criteria invites unconstitutional racial profiling by law enforcement, according to the ACLU.

Farhana Khera, executive director of the nonprofit group Muslim Advocates, said in an interview Tuesday the FBI has lowered the bar for sending undercover agents or informants into mosques and has enabled the gathering of data about Muslims' charitable giving practices, financial transactions and jobs.

"It's quite an invasive data collection system," Khera said. "It's based on generalized suspicion and fear on the part of law enforcement, not on individualized evidence of criminal activity."

Khera said the FBI is still keeping portions of the guide out of the public domain that deal with sending agents or informants into houses of worship and political gatherings.

The FBI has previously stated that the bureau would only go into a mosque if it had some reason to believe there was criminal activity, said Khera. If that is the standard, the FBI should have no problem actually disclosing that section of the document, Khera said.