Friday, August 13, 2010

Afghan clerics seek return to Islamic law

KABUL: Afghanistan's largest gathering of clerics, who met to discuss reconciliation with the Taliban, has called for the revival of strict Islamic law as the country seeks ways to win militants away from a growing insurgency.

About 350 of the Islamic clerics, or ulema, met for three days this week, the meeting ending with a declaration calling on President Hamid Karzai to enact sharia, or Islamic law, including punishments such as stonings, lashing, amputation and execution.

"The lack of implementation of sharia hodud (punishment) has cast a negative impact on the peace process," said a 10-point resolution issued after the meeting.

"We the ulema and preachers of Afghanistan ... earnestly ask the government not to spare any efforts in the implementation of sharia hodud."

The resolution was sent to Karzai's government.

The ulema have a long-standing and deep influence in traditionally conservative Afghanistan and have often stepped in to back uprisings or been used to bolster past governments.

The head of a government council of religious leaders, separate to the gathering this week, has been asked to find ways to make peace with the Taliban after almost 10 years of war since the militants were ousted by US-backed Afghan forces.

The head of that government council, Mawlavi Qiyamuddin Kashaf, attended the meeting of clerics and scholars this week, which included representatives from both the majority Sunni Muslim sect and minority Shi'ites.

"This (gathering) was very new for the peace efforts and the biggest yet. They will go and preach for peace in their respective regions," Kashaf said yesterday.

However, there has so far been no reaction from Karzai's government to the council's resolution.

After years of conflict in Afghanistan, Karzai has sought to soften perceptions of his deeply religious country through programmes such as moderate Islamic schools.

But at the same time he has been pushing reconciliation with the Taliban as violence continues to rise, raising concerns among some of his backers in the West.

Karzai called a major tribal "peace gathering" in June to win support for his plan to offer an amnesty, cash and job incentives to Taliban foot soldiers while arranging asylum for top figures in a second country and getting their names struck off a UN and US blacklist.

The Taliban were notorious for their harsh punishment of offenders during their rule from 1996 to 2001 and staged public stonings, floggings, amputations and executions.

In a reminder of their harsh rule, a woman received dozens of lashes before she was publicly executed by a Taliban commander in a remote district of northwest Badghis province this week, officials have said.

The clerics' resolution also urged foreign forces, who number more than 140,000, to stop unnecessary air strikes and searching of Afghans' homes. While military deaths have reached record proportions this year, Afghan civilians bear the brunt of the conflict and civilian casualties have long been an irritant been Karzai's government and its backers in the West.

Such concerns have led to a tightening of tactical directives twice in the past year, under the former head of Nato and US forces, General Stanley McChrystal, and his successor General David Petraeus in June.

The council also pushed for a crackdown against corruption - one of the major Western complaints against Karzai's government - and social immorality and "cultural invasion".

The latter two are indirect references to the airing of immodest Indian and Western songs and films by the growing number of private cable and satellite television networks in Afghanistan. Such entertainment was banned under the Taliban

Malaysian state starts Islamic currency

A Malaysian state is allowing people to use gold and silver coins at shops and restaurants to revive a practice from early Islamic societies, an official says.

The gold dinar and silver dirham coins provide an alternative to Malaysia's currency, the ringgit, in northeastern Kelantan state, which is governed by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, a conservative opposition group that promotes religious policies in its rule.

The gold dinar was the official currency of Muslim societies for centuries. The value of the coins used in Kelantan can fluctuate according to market prices, but officials say it remains a better alternative to currency affected by the US dollar and other foreign currency.

Advertisement: Story continues belowKelantan authorities also say the use of such coins is encouraged in the Koran.

State officials have produced coins worth about $US630,000 ($A703,000) for use at about 1000 outlets in Kelantan's capital, said Nik Mahani Mohamad, executive director of Kelantan Golden Trade, which mints the coins.

"It's a great, great moment for Muslims," Nik Mahani said. "We are providing an alternative means for the people to trade with."

The coins came into circulation on Thursday and can be purchased at various locations in Kelantan. Their worth is currently about $US180 ($A200) per dinar and $US4 ($A4.50) per dirham.

The state government also plans to give employees the option of receiving part of their salary in this currency, as well as introduce gold bars for large investments. Muslim alms can also be paid with the coins.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has governed Kelantan since 1990. Some of its policies over the years include banning gambling, nightclubs and rock concerts, and requiring Muslim female state employees to wear headscarves at work.

UK: Anti-terrorism law arrests fail to secure convictions

By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor

Just one person in eight arrested under anti-terror laws is eventually found guilty and the proportion was even lower last year, new research has disclosed.

The low conviction rates prompted calls last night from lawyers and civil liberties groups for the "draconian" and "overbroad" legislation to be overhauled. The coalition Government has promised to review its anti-terror measures, including the controversial power to hold suspects for up to 28 days before they are charged.

In the 10 years since the Terrorism Act came into force, 22 per cent of suspects arrested under its provisions were charged, and less than 13 per cent were subsequently convicted. The ratio fell further last year, according to the statistics compiled by the legal information service Sweet & Maxwell. In 2009 the number charged was 11 per cent and the conviction rate was down to less than 4 per cent.

Sweet & Maxwell said there have been 1,817 arrests under the Terrorism Act which have led to 402 charges - a rate of 22 per cent that compares with 31 per cent for all indictable offences among adults.

A total of 235 were found guilty of terrorism-related offences, a conviction rate of 12.9 per cent. There were 207 arrests in 2009, which led to 23 charges and eight convictions, although the latter rate could eventually increase because prosecutions are yet to come to court.

Stephen Grosz, head of public law and human rights at the law firm Bindmans LLP, said: "The concern has always been that most individuals arrested under the draconian powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 could have been dealt with just as effectively under other areas of criminal law.

"These statistics do suggest that the police may have been far quicker to make use of powers of arrest under the Act than was necessary."

But Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said a relatively high proportion of suspects taken to court were convicted. He said: "It is inevitable that the comparison between arrest and conviction is rather different. In terrorism cases the police almost always arrest early because they cannot run the risk of a terrorist act being carried out."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "There is a widespread concern that counter-terrorism laws have gone too far, that they are being misused and that they are eroding important civil liberties.

"We want laws that are effective but which are also proportionate, focused and transparent - that strike the right balance between security and civil liberties."

Lawyer faints as Khadr trial opens

Guantanamo Bay's youngest detainee has told interrogators he was a member of al-Qaeda and described pulling the pin of a grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan, a prosecutor told a military tribunal at the detention facility in Cuba.

But Omar Khadr's defence lawyer said those were the words of a scared child whose interrogators frightened him into giving a false confession by making up a tale of a young boy gang-raped and killed in prison.

"It is only after that story is told to Omar Khadr that he admits to throwing anything.  He told them what they wanted to hear," Army Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson said on Thursday.

The first day of testimony ended early and dramatically when Jackson fainted in the courtroom. He was questioning a witness, asked for a recess and then fell to the floor.

Jackson suffered complications related to recent gall bladder surgery and was in the base hospital.
Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from Guantanamo Bay, said that a dramatic situation unfolded when Jackson fainted.

"He was taken out of the building and onto a stretcher. We really don't know what his condition is, and it is still unclear whether the trial will resume tomorrow."

Toronto-born Khadr was 15 when captured during a gunfight at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.

He is the first person since World War Two to face trial in a military tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a minor.


The United Nations said earlier this week that the trial at the Guantanamo Bay naval base was of dubious legality and could set a dangerous precedent for child soldiers worldwide.

Now 23-years-old, Khadr is accused of killing a US soldier with a grenade during the battle and making roadside bombs to target US troops.

Prosecutor Jeff Groharing said Khadr was raised in a family of "Islamist extremists" who spent holidays with Osama bin Laden, trained their son to use bombs and guns and encouraged him to kill Americans.

"I am a terrorist trained by al-Qaeda -- those are Omar Khadr's own words," Groharing told the seven military officers on the jury.

"Those words were confirmed by his acts."

He said Khadr described in detail pulling the pin of a grenade and lobbing it over his shoulder at US special forces who entered the mud-walled compound.

However, Jackson said Khadr was in the compound with three "bad men" and that one of them threw the grenade that killed the soldier before being fatally shot himself by the US troops.

Military commissions

"Omar Khadr did not kill Sergeant Speer. He has been waiting eight long years to tell you that. To tell somebody who can finally listen and who can finally make a difference," Jackson told the jury.

Khadr was in the compound only because his father, Ahmed Khadr, took him there to translate for the bomb-makers, he said.

Khadr's case is the first to go to trial under the system of military commissions for detainees captured by US forces in a global campaign following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

Obama had sought to close the detention centre that has been the object of international condemnation, but he has faced congressional opposition on transferring the detainees to US soil.
The president has introduced some changes designed to extend more legal

Saudi king limits clerics allowed to issue fatwas

RIYADH (Agencies)

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz on Thursday ordered that public religious edicts, or public fatwas, be issued only by clerics he appoints, in the boldest measure the monarch has taken to organize the religious field.

Timid efforts by the absolute monarchy to modernize the deeply conservative country have led to profusion in fatwas from scholars and mosque imams in the country, who use the Internet to publicize them as they fight what they perceive as the westernization of the country.

This abundance depicted growing divisions among pro-reformist clerics and more conservative clerics, a trend which diplomats say was bound to worry Saudi authorities seeking to fight militancy and the ideology that breeds it.

The ruling comes during the first week of Ramadan, the holy fasting month for Muslims worldwide.
Because Saudi Arabia hosts Islam's holiest shrines, fatwas from the Saudi clerics are often revered and followed by clerics in other parts of the Muslim world.

Limiting fatwas

"We have noticed some excesses that we can't tolerate, and it is our legal duty to stand up to these with strength and resolve to preserve the religion, the dearest of our belongings," the monarch said in a royal order sent to the kingdom's Grand Mufti.

"We urge you ... to limit fatwas to the members of the High Scholars Authority and to advise on those among them who are wholly...eligible to be involved in the duty of fatwa so that we allow them to carry out fatwas," he added.

The Permanent Committee of Scholarly Research and Iftaa, which is affiliated to the scholars authority, can also be used as a pool for the selection of scholars authorized to issue public fatwas, the king added.

The royal order, a copy of which was sent to the interior and justice ministers, did not explain how authorities would prevent other scholars from issuing public fatwas on the Internet.

The order excludes however personal fatwas. These refer to requests by Muslims for advice from a scholar about personal or religious matters.

The High Scholars Authority comprises 20 members who are appointed by the king.

The limitation is necessary because many individuals have started surpassing the authority of official religious bodies and have issued fatwas that cause disputes and dissent among Muslims, the decree said.

"All those who violate this order subject themselves to accountability and punishment, whoever they are, because the interests of the religion and the nation are above anything else," the king warned in the decree.

Who can issue fatwas?

In recent months, one Saudi cleric saying music is not un-Islamic and another endorsing breastfeeding for grown men sparked a pitched battle in the ultra-conservative kingdom over who can issue fatwas.

Riyadh cleric Adel al-Kalbani said that "there is no clear text or ruling in Islam that singing and music are haram" or religiously forbidden.

Aside from some folk music, public performances of music are banned in Saudi Arabia, and conservatives say it is haram even at home.

A more senior cleric, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen al-Obeikan, raised hackles with two of his opinions, both of which could be considered to be fatwas.

First, he endorsed the idea that a grown man could be considered the son of a woman if she breast-feeds him.

The issue, based on an ancient story from Islamic texts and source of a furore last year in Egypt, is seen by some as a way of circumventing the Saudi religious ban on unrelated men and women mixing.

Obeikan also angered conservatives when he said the compulsory midday and mid-afternoon prayer sessions could be combined to help worshippers skirt the intense heat of summer.

The country's grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, has warned of a fatwa crackdwn, saying late June that "if a person comes out (with fatwas) and he is not qualified, we will stop him."

India Faces Intifada-Like Revolt in Kashmir


SRINAGAR, Kashmir - Late Sunday night, after six days on life support with a bullet in his brain, Fida Nabi, a 19-year-old high school student, was unhooked from his ventilator at a hospital here.

Mr. Nabi was the 50th person to die in Kashmir's bloody summer of rage. He had been shot in the head, his family and witnesses said, during a protest against India's military presence in this disputed province.

For decades, India maintained hundreds of thousands of security forces in Kashmir to fight an insurgency sponsored by Pakistan, which claims this border region, too. The insurgency has been largely vanquished. But those Indian forces are still here, and today they face a threat potentially more dangerous to the world's largest democracy - an intifada-like popular revolt against the Indian military presence that includes not just stone-throwing young men but their sisters, mothers, uncles and grandparents.

The protests, which have erupted for a third straight summer, have led India to one of its most serious internal crises in recent memory. Not just because of their ferocity and persistence, but because they signal the failure of decades of efforts to win the assent of Kashmiris using just about any tool available - money, elections and overwhelming force.

"We need a complete revisit of what our policies in Kashmir have been," said Amitabh Mattoo, a professor of strategic affairs at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and a Kashmiri Hindu. "It is not about money - you have spent huge amounts of money. It is not about fair elections. It is about reaching out to a generation of Kashmiris who think India is a huge monster represented by bunkers and security forces."

Indeed, Kashmir's demand for self-determination is sharper today than it has been at perhaps any other time in the region's troubled history. It comes as - and in part because - diplomatic efforts remain frozen to resolve the dispute created more than 60 years ago with the partition of mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Today each nation controls part of Kashmir, whose population is mostly Muslim.

Secret negotiations in 2007, which came close to creating an autonomous region shared by the two countries, foundered as Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan's president, lost his grip on power. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital, by Pakistani militants in 2008 derailed any hope for further talks.

Not least, India has consistently rebuffed any attempt at outside mediation or diplomatic entreaties, including efforts by the United States. The intransigence has left Kashmiris empty-handed and American officials with little to offer Pakistan on its central preoccupation - India and Kashmir - as they struggle to encourage Pakistan's help in cracking down on the Taliban and other militants in the country.

With no apparent avenue to progress, many Kashmiris are despairing that their struggle is taking place in a vacuum, and they are taking matters into their own hands.

"What we are seeing today is the complete rebound effect of 20 years of oppression," said Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the chief cleric at Srinagar's main mosque and a moderate separatist leader. Kashmiris, he said, are "angry, humiliated and willing to face death."

This summer alone there have been nearly 900 clashes between protesters and security forces, which have left more than 50 civilians dead, most of them from gunshot wounds. While more than 1,200 soldiers have been injured by rock-throwing crowds, not one has been killed in the unrest, leading to questions about why Indian security forces are using deadly force against unarmed civilians - and why there is so little international outcry.

"The world is silent when Kashmiris die in the streets," said Altaf Ahmed, a 31-year-old schoolteacher.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an emotional appeal for peace.

"I can feel the pain and understand the frustration that is bringing young people out into the streets of Kashmir," the Indian prime minister said in a televised speech. "Many of them have seen nothing but violence and conflict in their lives and have been scarred by suffering."

Indeed, there is a palpable sense of opportunities squandered. Despite the protests of recent years, the Kashmir Valley had in the past few years been enjoying a season of peace.

The insurgency of the 1990s has mostly dried up, and elections in 2008 drew the highest percentage of voters in a generation. High expectations met the new chief minister, Omar Abdullah, a scion of Kashmir's leading political family, whose fresh face seemed well suited to bringing better government and prosperity to Kashmir.

But election promises, like repealing laws that largely shield security forces from scrutiny and demilitarizing the state, went unfulfilled. After two summers of protests on specific grievances, this summer's unrest has taken on a new character, one more difficult to define and mollify.

That anger has led to a cycle of violence that the Indian government seems powerless to stop. Events that unfolded last week in Pulwama, a small town 20 miles from Srinagar, illustrate how the violence feeds itself.

It began on Monday, Aug. 2, when a young man, Mohammad Yacoub Bhatt, from a village near Pulwama was shot dead during a march to protest the earlier killings of other young protesters.

Four days later, a procession set off to protest his death. Soon it swelled into the thousands. The police blocked the road and refused to let the marchers pass, worried that the crowd would burn down government buildings, as previous crowds had.

What happened next is disputed. Protesters claimed that when they tried to surge through a barricade, the police opened fire.

"We did not think they would open fire," said Malik Shahid, 17, who had joined the march. "There was no violence. It was a peaceful protest."

First the police fired in the air, witnesses said, then into the scattering crowd. A bullet felled Mr. Shahid's uncle, Shabir Ahmed Malik, a 24-year-old driver, and killed him on the spot.

Mr. Shahid, a 12th grader who hopes to become an engineer, said the latest violence was evidence to him that remaining part of India was impossible.

"If India took steps against those who kill us, maybe the people of Kashmir would be willing," he said. "But when there is no justice how can we remain with India? They are not doing anything but killing. So we will just go for freedom."

Commandant Prabhakar Tripathy, spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force, the main paramilitary force trying to keep order in Kashmir, declined to comment on the episode but said that the protests were not as spontaneous as they appeared.

"Militants are just mingling with the crowd, firing bullets from the crowd," Mr. Tripathy said. "Now they are trying to raise this confrontation between the public and the security forces."

"We are charging them with tear gas, rubber pellets, firing in the air, nothing works here," he said. "When a crowd of thousands attacks the camp, what can you do?"

Indian officials have tried to portray Kashmir's stone-throwing youths as illiterate pawns of jihadist forces across the Pakistan border and have suggested that economic development and jobs are the key to getting young people off the streets.

But many of the stone throwers are hardly illiterate. They organize on Facebook, creating groups with names like "Im a Kashmiri Stone Pelter." One young man who regularly joins protests and goes by the nom de guerre Khalid Khan, has an M.B.A. and a well-paying job.

"Stone pelting is a form of resistance to their acts of repression in the face of peaceful protest," he said in an interview. "I would call it self-defense. Stones do not kill. Their bullets kill."

Each death seems to feed the anger on the streets, creating new recruits for the revolt. Fida Nabi's brother, Aabid, 21, watched over him as he drifted toward death this week, his head swathed in white bandages, his chest rising and falling to the ghostly rhythm of the ventilator.

Aabid thought he had his life all mapped out - making more than $200 a month as a news photographer. But since his brother was shot his priorities have changed. "I used to cover the protests," he said. "But now I will join them."

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

David Cameron comments hindered Pakistan aid, says ambassador

Abdullah Hussain Haroon tells Radio 4 that prime minister's words have added to Pakistan's 'suffering'

Alexandra Topping

The rift between Britain and Pakistan showed signs of reopening last night after Pakistan's ambassador to the UN claimed that comments by David Cameron in which he said Pakistan must not look "both ways" on terrorism had affected its efforts to raise funds for its flood-stricken people.

Days after the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, stood with Cameron at Chequers and declared the two countries shared an "unbreakable relationship", Abdullah Hussain Haroon told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight that the prime minister's comments had added to Pakistan's "suffering".

Asked if disputes such as the one sparked by Cameron's comments had caused Pakistan to suffer, he said: "Yes, indeed Pakistan has suffered because of what Mr Cameron has said, because the British people will listen to their prime minister."

He argued that a negative perception of Pakistan could be preventing the public from giving more aid. "The world has been slow," said Haroon. "It could be because of donor fatigue in terms of what's happening around the world, but also I don't think the international press, until now, has portrayed what is happening."

If more aid was not forthcoming, he warned of a risk that the Taliban could flourish in areas where they had previously been defeated by the Pakistani army. "The Taliban has been [...] flushed out [and] are now running back to these areas and trying to reinvest themselves into them," he said.

"There is going to be a fight over who helps who at this grievous time, and if the international community does not take this as its responsibility [...] I'm afraid there will be repercussions much beyond what is happening just now."

Cameron caused anger in Islamabad two weeks ago when he said during a trip to India that elements in Pakistan should not be allowed to "promote the export of terror, whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world".

His remarks followed the leaking of US military documents on the Wikileaks website in which Pakistani intelligence was accused of secretly helping the Taliban.

Ground Zero mosque plans 'fuelling anti-Muslim protests across US'


Religious leaders warn of Islamophobia surge with hate speech and opposition to new Islamic centres across America

The battle over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York is fuelling a surge in anti-Muslim protests across the US, including opposition to new Islamic centres from California to Georgia.

Religious leaders and civil rights activists warn that a tide of Islamophobia that has swept the country since the destruction of the twin towers is being heightened by political exploitation of the New York dispute before nationwide elections and is increasingly bound up with hostility to immigrants and other forms of racism.

They say the outpouring of condemnation at the "outrage" of a mosque close to the "hallowed ground" of the World Trade Centre site also goes hand in hand with the increasing acceptability of what they describe as hate speech.

A Florida church, Dove World Outreach Centre, is planning a "burn the Qur'an" day on September 11 and has already outraged Muslims by planting a sign on its front lawn that reads: Islam is the Devil.

The church's senior pastor, Terry Jones, has said he is "exposing Islam for what it is".

"It is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to masquerade itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society," the church said. "Islam is a lie based upon lies and deceptions and fear. In Muslim countries, if you preach the gospel or convert to Christianity – you will be killed. That is the type of religion it is."

A leading Muslim educational institution, al-Azhar's Supreme Council in Egypt, has accused the Florida church of "stirring up hate and discrimination" and called on other American churches to condemn it.

Many religious leaders have spoken out against Muslim-bashing, including rabbis in New York who have defended the plans for the mosque two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, which would not be visible from Ground Zero.

But John Esposito, director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said many Americans shared Jones's views. He said the dispute over the proposed mosque had given cover for more open hostility unleashed after the 9/11 attacks that was evident during the last presidential election when some of Barack Obama's opponents attempted to portray him as a Muslim.

"The World Trade Centre thing has shown that what has been up to now seen as a local issue has gone global and provided an umbrella so that suddenly people feel freer to go public with their objections to Muslims," he said.

"Historically we've had problems in Mississippi or Georgia or New York or wherever when someone wants to establish a mosque.

"The cover for opposition used to be that people will say: we're not really prejudiced but it'll affect the traffic in the area, not facing the fact that it is very common if you have a significant number of Jews or Protestants or Catholics to expect that they're going to want to have a synagogue or a church and chances are the town's going to go along with it."

But today, Americans increasingly no longer shy away from saying they oppose mosques on the grounds that Muslims are a threat or different.

In New York, a group called the American Freedom Defence Initiative is placing adverts on New York buses showing a plane flying into one of the World Trade Centre towers and what it calls a "Mega Mosque" and asking "Why There?".

Azeem Khan, of the Islamic Circle of North America, said the bus adverts promoted fear and hatred. "People want Islam and Muslims to be the bogeyman right now," he said.

The issue is increasingly being exploited by politicians in the run-up to November's mid-term elections. Opposition to a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, intensified after Republican candidates for Congress and state governor made opposition part of their campaigns.

Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, has been a vocal opponent of the controversial New York mosque.

Other prominent politicians have cast the net wider. Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is thought likely to make a run for president, has warned that Muslims are attempting to impose sharia law in the US and that it poses a "mortal threat to freedom" in America.

Gingrich said that he would push for legislation to prevent states from adopting sharia law even though none are proposing it and there is no likely prospect of it happening.

Esposito said politicians' fearmongering over Muslims was similar to exploitation of fears that the country was being swamped by a tide of illegal immigrants.

"Islamophobia is not just about religion. It's about people who are of colour and a whole set of presuppositions about these people," he said.

"You can see it not only with Muslims but with Mexicans, people who look Hispanic. Now we have hard data from Gallup and Pew that demonstrate in America how integrated the vast majority of Muslims are – economically, politically and religiously. And yet a significant number of Americans can be appealed to in what is nothing less than hate speech, the same hate speech directed against immigrants."

Hostile messages

• Members of an evangelical church in Texas travelled to Connecticut to verbally attack worshippers leaving a mosque in Bridgeport, carrying signs reading: "Jesus hates Muslims"

• In Tennessee, Republican politicians have condemned plans to build a large Muslim centre in Murfreesboro. Hundreds of people have joined protests

Pakistan president visits flooded regions as official response criticised


Asif Ali Zardari makes trip to Sukkur as aid agencies ask why state of emergency has not been declared by government

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan today made his first visit to an area ravaged by the country's worst ever flood disaster amid mounting criticism of his lack of leadership in the two-week-old crisis.

Two days after returning home from a European tour, Zardari ventured to the city of Sukkur on the banks of the Indus river in the southern province of Sindh. Wearing a traditional white cap, Zardari travelled along the one-mile (2km) long Sukkur barrage, surveyed the churning Indus waters and met flood victims.

Television showed him comforting a sobbing elderly woman as children sat on the floor nearby. Villagers beseeched him for help.

As he witnessed the devastatation first hand, Zardari faced renewed attacks for not signalling clearly to the international community the enormity of the disaster. Aid agencies have expressed surprise at the government's failure to declare a national state of emergency, which might have galvanised the international community.

"It has been a confusing response," said an aid official on the ground. "A number of provinces have declared a state of emergency, the national government has appealed for international assistance but it has not declared a state of national emergency.

"It sends out mixed messages on the government's capacity to cope. Where you had a clear message such as in the Haiti earthquake or the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, there was a strong international response."

The military, which has ruled for more than half of Pakistan's 63-year history, has taken the lead in relief efforts, highlighting its relative efficiency in contrast to that of the civilian authorities.

UN aid agencies and their partners have requested almost $460m (£295m) to help Pakistan, but relief organisations have been perplexed by the sluggish international response. Total commitments plus pledges so far amount to $157.8m. "The scale of response is still not commensurate with the scale of the disaster," the UN said.

Based on the latest estimate of 14 million people affected, the UN said this meant $4.11 has been committed for each affected person, just over 10 days into the response. After the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, which left 2.8 million people needing shelter, $247m was committed in the first 10 days – $70 per person. Ten days after the Haiti earthquake, $495 had been committed for each person affected.

Aid officials have also noted the absence of substantial commitments from the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, which responded generously to past emergencies in Pakistan, most recently when millions fled their homes to escape a government offensive in the Swat valley last year. In the Kashmir earthquake, the Gulf states gave $200m in five to six days.

"A declaration of a national emergency would help," said Mohammed Quasilbash, country director of Save the Children, "and we're hoping that it will happen ... we are providing water purification tablets and jerry cans but we just don't have enough money to buy on the scale we need."

An Oxfam aid worker back from Swat in the hard-hit north-west said aid was beginning to get out, "but we need to do much more. It is a massive emergency and it needs a huge effort".

British donors have so far given £10.5m to help flood victims, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee, which said the money had helped provide more than 500,000 survivors with emergency care, clean water, food or shelter.

People have been jostling for food at distribution points throughout the disaster area, with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan adding to people's anxiety.

"The government ... should provide clean water and clean food," Mohammad Ali, a baker scrambling for supplies in the north-west, told Reuters. "Ramadan has arrived, but we see no sign of the government giving us any of these things."

Aid agencies are warning that 6 million children are at risk of malnutrition, diarrhoea and pneumonia as the polluted waters reach densely populated urban areas in the south, where poverty is worse than in the north.

"Outbreaks of cholera and malaria are a big concern," said Quasilbash. "In southern Punjab and Sindh, there are vast numbers of people living right along the water, some in makeshift houses with very poor hygiene and sanitation at the best of times.

"Children are drinking, washing in and going to the toilet in the same river water. If this sanitation crisis is not tackled now, in six months time, millions and millions of children will be suffering potentially deadly diarrhoea and other diseases."

The floods, triggered by torrential monsoon downpours, have killed more than 1,600 people, forcing 2 million from their homes and disrupting the lives of about 14 million people, or 8% of the population. Hundreds of roads and bridges have been destroyed from northern mountains to the plains of Sindh, where the waters have not yet peaked.

"Make no mistake, this is a major catastrophe," UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said when he launched the appeal. "We have a huge task in front of us. The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, but the numbers affected are extraordinarily high."

Top Islamic institution slams Quran-burning plan


CAIRO — The world's pre-eminent Sunni Muslim institution of learning has condemned a Florida church's plans to host a Quran-burning ceremony on Sept. 11. In a statement carried by local media on Thursday, Al-Azhar's Supreme Council in Egypt accused the church of "stirring up hate and discrimination" and called on other American churches to condemn the event.

The Dove World Outreach Center is planning to burn the Islamic holy text on church grounds in rememberance of the victims of 9/11. Organizers are using its website and social-networking sites like Facebook to promote the event.

The Gainesville church, which also campaigns against homosexuality, made headlines last year after distributing T-shirts that read "Islam is of the Devil."

Pain of 1990 Muslim 'massacre' lingers in Sri Lanka

 BBC News

An apology has been issued by Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka to the country's Muslim minority for "massacres" allegedly carried out by the Tamil Tiger rebel group during the civil war 20 years ago. The rebels have been blamed for shooting dead more than 300 Muslims inside two mosques in the eastern town of Batticaloa in August 1990, and of attacking others in surrounding areas.

The killings were part of a series of tit-for-tat attacks by the local Tamil and Muslim communities between July and September 1990.

The Tamil Tigers never admitted responsibility for the deaths and, because they were defeated by government forces in May 2009, seem unlikely to have the opportunity to do so.


Efforts for reconciliation have gathered pace since the civil war came to an end, but the aftermath of the Batticaloa killings means there remains much mutual distrust between Tamils, who are mostly Hindus, and Muslims.

"The killings of Tamils and Muslims were not spontaneous," says Yuvi Thangarajah, an anthropologist and Sri Lankan analyst. "They were well planned and executed."

Mr Thangarajah says the question of land ownership was a major issue in eastern Sri Lanka during the early 1980s and still remains a major cause of friction between the communities - even though today some of that antipathy appears to be disappearing.

While Tamil youths were largely drawn towards militancy throughout the mid-1980s, the Muslim community did not hurl itself into the fight for a separate homeland with the same enthusiasm - even though they spoke the same language.

The largest Tamil political party in Sri Lanka, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) - widely seen as sympathetic towards the rebels - has now condemned the killings as "totally unacceptable".

"I have to regret that the Tamil Tigers did not apologise for the mosque massacre," TNA leader R Sambandar told the BBC Tamil service.

"That was a mistake, but we have no hesitation whatsoever in apologising to our Muslim brethren for what happened 20 years ago.

"One cannot explain all the actions of the Tamil Tigers. Some of their actions were quite irrational, and the mosque massacres were one such example of that."

Mr Sambandar points out that while there is no excuse for the killings, they have to be seen in the context of the tense situation at that time.
'Forget but not forgive'

However, Nisam Kariappar, a senior leader of the country's largest Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), says that the killings sent a very clear message from the Tamil Tigers which lingers to this day.

"What they were saying is that although we speak the same language, the Muslim community are aliens to this area," he says.

Muslims argue that the 1990 killings amounted to "ethnic cleansing" and that the community still bears the scars, which is why their leaders remain cautious about discussing Tamil issues today.

Mr Kariappar says the rebels were determined to carve out a separate homeland in the north and east at any cost, despite the fact that Muslims were the single largest community in the east.

V Ameerdeen, a senior lecturer in post-conflict studies at the University of Peradanya, lost 13 members of his family, including his parents, in the attacks.

He says that Muslims in the east want to "forget, but not forgive".

"After the Tamil Tigers, reconciliation must take place; it's unavoidable," says Mr Ameerdeen.

"There are signs of that happening, but it will take some time before it does."

Most agree that until such healing process can take place, a lasting solution to Sri Lanka's troubles will continue to elude the country.

Fury as Dawkins compares burka to 'bin-liner'


Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has re-ignited the debate over Muslim headscarves in Britain by referring to the burqa as a "full bin-liner thing". The 69-year-old British author and scientist made the controversial remark in an interview with a radio station.

He also spoke of his "visceral revulsion" when he sees women wearing the traditional Islamic clothing, he told Radio Times during the interview.

Professor Dawkins later refused to retract his comments, claiming that the burka represents "a symbol of the oppression of women", the Daily Mail reports.

He did not call for the UK to follow the French in banning the burka, as he said such legislation would not be in Britain's tradition of individual liberty and freedom of choice.

The French parliament voted last month to ban the burka and the niqab, a piece of cloth which covers the face, from public places.

Muslim groups have slammed Dawkins' claims.

"i think it is ignorant and Islamaphobic," a spokesman from the Muslim Association of Britain was quoted as saying.

"It is a woman's choice if she wishes to wear a burka, a niqab or not. Why does it matter to this man what a woman is wearing?"

It is not the first time Professor Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, has attracted criticism for his views on Islam.

In 2008 he said: "It's almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country, because you are accused of being racist or Islamaphobic."

The radio interview was conducted ahead of the release of his new documentary arguing for the abolition of faith schools in Britain, entitled Faith Schools Menace?

Israeli suspected of Palestinian killings 'freed'


JERUSALEM — An Israeli court on Thursday ordered the release to house arrest of a former settler suspected of killing four Palestinians and wounding seven others more than ten years ago, Israeli media reported. Haim Pearlman, 29, a former West Bank settler now living in central Israel, was arrested in mid-July in connection with a string of stabbings during the late 1990s.

But on Thursday a court in Petah Tikvah near Tel Aviv ordered his release to house arrest, denying repeated requests by prosecutors and the police to extend his remand in custody, Israeli public and army radio said.

He will have to observe the house arrest order for just two weeks before being totally freed, although he is barred from leaving Israel for six months, public radio said.

The Israeli courts administration refused to confirm any information about the decision to release him, telling AFP it was "a confidential file."

Pearlman was initially arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons, police said.

But a judge at Petah Tikvah Magistrates' Court said earlier this week that police had insufficient evidence to file an indictment against him, the Haaretz daily reported.

"These are serious allegations of murder, and the suspect has been held for a month," Judge Nahum Sternlicht was quoted as saying. "Evidence that led to his arrest has been assembled but it was not sufficient to file an indictment."

Media reports said Pearlman was a member of the banned anti-Arab Kach movement, a racist group which advocates the forcible expulsion of all Arabs from the area known as "Greater Israel," which includes Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

They said he had served jail time in the past for assaulting Palestinians.

Settlers frequently clash with Palestinians in the West Bank but killings are rare. The most infamous incident was the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians by a radical American-born settler in a mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Anti-terror hotline advert banned

 A police advert encouraging the public to report suspected terrorists has been banned for potentially causing "serious offence" to law-abiding citizens, a watchdog has said. The radio advert for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline listed "suspicious" behaviour worth reporting to the police as: "The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route."

It continued: "This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline. If you suspect it, report it."

The campaign by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) drew 18 complaints, including 10 from listeners who said it was offensive for encouraging people to report law-abiding citizens who acted in the ways described.

Others said it could encourage people to harass or victimise their neighbours and made an undue appeal to fear.

The Metropolitan Police (MPS), on behalf of Acpo, said the advert addressed the issue that terrorists lived within communities, "and sometimes what appeared to be an insignificant behaviour could potentially be linked to terrorist activities".

The behaviour listed in the advert was based on trends identified by police and had been included in evidence given at recent terrorism trials, the service said.

Talksport, which broadcast the avert, said the script avoided stereotyping and made no appeals to prejudice, instead focusing on activities which "together" could "add up" to indicating illegal activity.

The MPS added that the purpose of the campaign was not to raise fear or paranoia but to raise awareness of the hotline in the context of the current "severe" threat level from international terrorism.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the ad could describe the behaviour of a number of law-abiding people within a community.