Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Muslims cope in touchy-feely Cuba


By Shasta Darlington

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Every Friday, Pedro Lazo Torres, clears the furniture out of his second-storey apartment in a potholed Havana suburb and lines the floors and balcony with carpets.

For Havana's Muslims, he is Imam Yahya, and the home that he shares with his wife and two adult children, is their place of worship.

"You can be a Chinese, Cuban or Russian Muslim and the laws are the same for everyone," Yahya told CNN. "The cultures can be different, but someone who embraces Islam must accept what Allah orders, it's that simple."

There are about 1,500 Muslims in Cuba, but no mosques. That's why, at the end of each week, Yahya, dressed in an immaculate white cap and tunic, welcomes people for Friday prayer. Women head inside, sitting on the living room floor, while men tend to kneel on the shady balcony.

Gallery: Being Muslim in Havana Most Muslims in Cuba are international college students from countries like Pakistan and Indonesia. Three medical students from Guyana were among those gathered at Yahya's house for Friday prayer.

Cuba is traditionally Catholic, but many don't actively practice the religion and others adhere to Afro-Caribbean beliefs like Santeria.

Yahya was introduced to Islam by exchange students and converted more than a decade ago.

Cubans are generally very tolerant of religions, Yahya told CNN. But Muslims do sometimes encounter some of the same prejudices found in other countries.

"Sometimes even friends say things jokingly, like 'terrorist,'" Yahya said.

Muslims in Cuba also face some unique challenges. Pork, for example, is the most popular meat here. "Pork has the problem that it's very attractive," Yahya said. "Just like all things that are bad."

The faithful say they have to be flexible. Before Friday prayer, they perform ablutions, or cleansing of the body, in Yahya's small bathroom. But the water supply is often turned off in Havana and adherents have to scoop water out of buckets filled in the shower for these kinds of emergencies.
Noalia Gladys Carmen Perez, who wears a headscarf, told CNN she and other adults have encountered some resistance to their faith.

"I've had good reactions, people who greet with you respect, and people who don't like it," she told CNN. "They'll say, 'It must be so hot,' [and] comments like that as a form of criticism."

Headscarves have never been an issue in schools, in part because Islam is relatively new in the country. However, few can pray at work, either because their schedules or social norms won't allow it.

Many also find it hard to adopt certain Muslim customs here in the touchy-feely tropics. In Cuba, men and women usually greet each other with a kiss.

Ibrahim Kinsan, a physical therapist, says most of his co-workers are women. "Now I've converted to Islam, but I can't just turn into an alien," he told CNN. "Most of them greet me with a kiss and that tradition isn't going to disappear."

Many Muslim countries have offered to donate the money for a mosque, but Yahya wants the gesture to come from Cuba. The country inaugurated its first Russian Orthodox Church in 2008.

"I think we could see something similar for Muslims in the near future," he said.

The ban on face-covering veils from the West to the East

Ali Bulaç
Modernization and development programs that the West imposes on countries like Turkey are not simply harmless projects intended to address our needs. They are also the outcome of the West's desire to maintain its prosperity and military-political hegemony and assimilate the entire world.

" The struggle in Turkey to drive Islam out of the political and social sphere has a century-long past "Governments, nongovernmental organizations and elites that highlight these policies benefit from the West's patronage and financial support. Aysel Ekşi, a co-founder of the Support for Modern Life Association (ÇYDD), wrote that the objective of the association was to have headscarves and long beards banned across the country.

"Surely, we have all seen mosques and Quran courses mushrooming everywhere, the countless number of religious books in stores, the abundance of covered women and bearded men on the streets and covered women being educated under the name of ‘sohbet.' I called my friends who are sensitive like myself and for a while we discussed what we could do.

We decided the best option was to unite under the umbrella of an association and we set up the Support for Modern Life Association in 1989. This was followed by the ‘Walk for Secularism' at Çağlayan Square in which thousands of women from academia and the business world participated.

Any time we had the opportunity, we invited speakers and organized meetings, we visited Anıtkabir and tried to attract the public's attention to the concept of secularism and the politicization of religion" (Yeni Şafak daily, July 23, 2010).

The struggle in Turkey to drive Islam out of the political and social sphere has a century-long past. In the first decade of the last century, the first task of the Committee of Union and Progress, which seized control of the country in a bloody coup, was to alienate Islam both politically and culturally and isolate religious people from social life by making them the "other" on the grounds that they were "elements that would cause society to regress (reactionaryism)."

" When we study the nature of the attacks and pressure that Muslim societies face, many people become confused "This cruel process continues today. Just this month, the wife of a military officer attacked a teacher who wanted to go swimming in an outfit that covered her body. "You are polluting the sea and the country," the wife of the military officer yelled, adding, "Let's drown these [women]."

When we study the nature of the attacks and pressure that Muslim societies face, many people become confused.

Certainly there have been severe political and military forms of pressure in history, but almost all forms of pressure that have existed after the first four caliphs have been militaristic and political. The essence of the policies of the Umayyad dynasty's first caliph, Muawiyah I, who chose former Damascus Governor Servilyanus as his adviser, introduced Byzantine political and administrative life to Islam and turned the caliphate into a sultanate, was this: "Everyone can do as they wish as long as no one uses a sword or takes to the pulpit."

By the sword Muawiyah meant military rebellion and by the pulpit he meant political opposition. Socio-cultural difference and diversity -- in other words, a kind of pluralism -- was possible as long as there was no rebellion or opposition. Certainly that was not enough and was not Islam's will. Yet compared to modern countries it was not that bad an idea for those who wanted to live their daily lives according to religion.

This system lasted until the mid-19th century. The Umayyad, Abbasid, Seljuk, Safavid and Ottoman administrations were "centralized" in terms of politics, but "decentralized" in terms of socio-cultural life. In other words, they were pluralist. The state began restraining society and changing and transforming civilian life in a totalitarian way once it decided to modernize and become more Western. The example the state took was the modern nation-state and the inspiration for this model was the West.

It is for this reason that there has always been a historical and intellectual alliance between Western forces and ruling elites who want to change the Muslim world. They have always met each other with understanding. This is the reason why Western states do no object to rights violations and legal violations in the Muslim world. Turkish Muslims have been suffering because of this for 100 years.

In the Middle East, since the historical Ottoman model is partially still in effect, the administrations are authoritarian but society is based on pluralism and diversity. That is why it's not a problem if women wear a headscarf or do not wear a headscarf. But as Middle East countries move to the West, they are going to want to extend their rigid administrative-political centralism to social life and deepen the pressure socio-culturally. We see the first signs of this in the bans on face-covering veils that are being implemented in Damascus and Cairo, where, according to Ridwan al-Sayyid's figures, 90 percent of women wear a headscarf and of them 20 percent also wear face-covering veils.

*Published by the Turkey-based TODAY'S ZAMAN on Aug. 17, 2010

US confirms interrogation tapes

The CIA does indeed have videotapes of the interrogation of a man suspected of helping to plot the September 11, 2001, attacks, despite twice telling the US justice department those tapes had been destroyed.

Ramzi Binalshibh was detained in Pakistan in 2002; the CIA said tapes of his interrogation were destroyed in 2005, when the agency destroyed dozens of other recordings.

But the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported on Tuesday that two videotapes and one audiotape still exist. They were discovered in 2007 under a desk at the CIA's counterterrorism centre and leaked to the news agency.

The recordings were made at a Moroccan detention facility near Rabat; intelligence officials told the AP that the facility was used to interrogate CIA prisoners.

The facility - part of the CIA's network of secret so-called "black prisons" - was reportedly financed by the CIA but managed by Moroccan authorities.

The Yemen-born Binalshibh remains a prisoner in the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thomas Durkin, his civilian lawyer, called the tapes "extremely relevant" to his client's case.

One other suspect - Binyam Mohamed, detained in Pakistan in 2002 - is known to have been transferred to a Moroccan jail.

'No evidence' of torture
American officials said the tapes do not show evidence of torture, and the fact that the CIA confirmed the tapes' existence suggests they do not contain any incriminating footage.

Morocco does have a history of rights violations against detainees, however: The US state department's latest human rights report on Morocco documents numerous allegations of "security forces [who] tortured and abused individuals in their custody".

Some of the tapes destroyed in 2005 do show agents waterboarding two other alleged al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri. A federal prosecutor is investigating the destruction of those tapes.

"Today's report is a stark reminder of how much information the government is still withholding about the Bush administration's interrogation policies," Alexander Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

George Little, a CIA spokesman, declined to comment on the Moroccan facility.

Massive anti-US rally held in Afghanistan

 Press TV

In eastern Afghanistan, hundreds of people have taken to the streets to protest against the mounting civilian death toll in US-led raids in the war-torn country.

Some 600 demonstrators blocked the main highway linking the Capital, Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad on Wednesday.

The protesters were chanting slogans against the growing foreign presence in the country and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

An Afghan father and his son were killed when their house in Nangahar Province was stormed overnight by NATO soldiers, triggering an outcry that led to the demonstrations.

The US-led forces in the country say they killed two militants in the operation, a claim local villagers have firmly rejected.

Earlier this week, a similar rally was held in the eastern province of Wardak.

A UN report published earlier this week said that 386 civilians were killed by NATO or Afghan forces in the first six months of 2010.

On Monday, at least five Afghan civilians, including a woman and her three children, were killed after a NATO supply vehicle hit their motorcycle in southern Afghanistan.

According to Afghan officials, the accident took place on a road in Helmand province, a Press TV correspondent reported Sunday.

Civilians have been the main victims of violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the country's troubled southern and eastern provinces.

The issue of civilian casualties has caused friction between Washington and the Karzai government in Kabul.

Afghanistan disbands security firms

The Afghan president has officially disbanded all domestic and foreign private security firms operating in the country effective within four months.

"I approve the full disbandment of private security companies, both national and international, within four months," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a decree on Tuesday.

The order follows a recent speech in which Karzai condemned foreign interference in Afghan affairs.
Karzai said no Afghan administration would be successful as long as it has foreign advisers instead of aboriginal advisers, emphasizing that the Afghans have the ability to rule and govern the country on their own.

The Afghan president had earlier accused foreign security contractors in the country of operating as militias, saying that these firms are only worsening the security situation in Afghanistan.

The move spotlights misconduct of US mercenaries, who are contracted to protect the western embassies and companies in central and remote regions of Afghanistan.

Kabul has confirmed the presence of 52 foreign private security companies, including notorious American security firm Xe Services LLC -- formerly known as Blackwater -- in Afghanistan.

Most of the security contractors are believed to have close ties with Afghan warlords and are also accused of contributing to the rising number of civilian casualties in the country.

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley reacted to Karzi's orders with caution, saying that US officials are studying the presidential decree.

"Well, at this moment, we believe that there is still a need for private security companies to continue to operate in Afghanistan. We certainly agree that over time this responsibility should transition to the government of Afghanistan," he said

"I think we have a shared goal of improving oversight and management. We will continue to work with the government of Afghanistan as a deliberate process to kind of -- to move to where this responsibility can transition to the government of Afghanistan," CNN quoted Crowley as saying.

Islam-bashing undermines U.S. domestic counterterror efforts

By David H. Schanzer
As one who has being studying for several years why homegrown terrorism occurs and how some Muslim-Americans become so radicalized, I'm disturbed by the recent controversy over whether to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero.

Far from enhancing security in New York and across the country, the controversy may contribute to the next homegrown terrorist attack.

To prevent such attacks, we need a tip from someone in the community who knows an individual who is becoming radicalized. We also need to counteract the social conditions that lead to radicalization in the first place.

Both counterterrorism strategies are being undermined by the virulent anti-Islamic attitudes now spreading through America - no longer confined to the fringes of society, but becoming acceptable, mainstream thought. The rise of such intolerance is always of grave concern, but is particularly dangerous now because it is likely to inhibit intelligence collection from Muslim-Americans and may contribute to the radicalization process.

Law enforcement officials occasionally receive information about a suspicious person from a fertilizer vendor or some other person in a position to observe potential terrorists. But authorities agree such tips are most likely to come from the community in which the homegrown terrorist lives, which in this day and age is frequently the Muslim-American community.

In the years since the 9/11 attacks, officials have made many constructive efforts to engage and foster information exchanges with Muslim-Americans. These efforts, which make us all safer, are now being severely undercut by the attitudes the Ground Zero debate is laying bare for all to see.

As recent reports on protests against mosque-building around the country make clear, these attitudes cannot be written off as being motivated merely by concerns over the sanctity of Ground Zero. Rather, they have become a full-fledged critique of Islam itself. Now joined by mainstream politicians and commentators, the protestors portray Islam as inherently violent, intolerant of other religions, aggressively expansionist and abusive to women. An inflammatory YouTube video on Muslim demographics, which has received 12 million hits, has persuaded many of the absurd claim that immigration and high fertility rates will lead to Muslim majorities in western European countries and the United States in this century.

It is difficult to overestimate the impact this sentiment is having on Muslim-Americans. Two Muslim women told me how they and most of their friends feel they now have to send their children to Muslim day schools to avoid being abused. The Muslim chaplain at Duke University told me of hate mail opposing his delivering the opening prayer in Congress, which he did eloquently. A Muslim psychoanalyst lost long-term patients who felt she might be associated with terrorism.

They are hardly alone. My sense is that many Muslim-Americans are sincerely questioning whether they have a place in post-9/11 America. Fierce and heated opposition to building peaceful houses of worship will only deepen this concern and hinder the outreach efforts law enforcement believes are crucial to counterterrorism.

There is also danger this open hostility to Islam may lead some alienated Muslim youth to seek a sense of value and purpose through violence. We do not know precisely why a small number of Muslim-Americans have become radicalized, but most research suggests they latch on to radical Islam because they are disaffected and conflicted about their place in American society.

The ultimate irony is that critics of Islam consistently call for the development of what they term "moderate" Islam that is tolerant, nonviolent and respectful of women. But of course, that is just the type of Islam practiced here in the United States, setting an example for the rest of the world. The claim that even this conception of Islam is unacceptable to America surely will lead some Muslims to question the benefits of moderation.

This terrible public discourse is providing a free recruitment tool for those who wish us grave harm. It echoes the very message that al Qaeda and its acolytes have been propagating to Muslim-Americans through the Internet: "You can't be a good Muslim and be an American. The only way to follow true Islam is to join the jihad." Bin Laden must be chuckling at us.

David H. Schanzer is the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

The Muslims Are Coming!

by Kelley B. Vlahos

Neoconservative hawks and requisite jihad watchers on the Right have been sounding the alarm on the coming "Islamofascist" invasion at the country's southern border since 9/11.

Now they see an opportunity to exploit the growing intensity of the immigration issue within the Tea Party movement and among Red State Republicans in order to advance their own agenda, which is, as Newt Gingrich said last month, a "long struggle against radical Islamists" or simply put, an ideological, if not armed, conflict with Iran, Islam and the greater Arab world.

But will this new political gambit work - or is it as desperate as the war hawks have become, trying to keep our giant military boot print firmly planted in the Middle East?

"The hysteria over terrorism infiltration on the border ... is an attempt to merge and consolidate the prejudices of some conservatives and Tea Party members whose agendas might not automatically overlap (anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant factions)," offered M. Junaid Levesque-Alam, who writes and publishes the Crossing the Crescent blog.

Tom Barry, who runs the TransBorder Project for the Center for International Policy, said he's been talking to property owners and law enforcement on the border for years. He insists the Muslim invasion talk is more hot air than a reality.

"There is nothing to base it on, there is nothing but exaggeration here," he told

But there he was in a debate last month, right wing radio jock and Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner, talking about the "thousands of prayer rugs and Korans" found strewn along the southern border, presumably left in haste by Islamic terrorists-to-be.

Even the believers know this is baseless bluster. And Kuhner is by no means a Minute Man. He is a hyperbolic pro-Israel bulldog who has used his soapbox in the media not only to castigate Muslims, but to call out non-Muslim Americans who don't get with the program - particularly on war with Iran. "I believe deep down (President Obama) wants the Jewish state to be extinct, I believe that secretly he wants the Israelis and Jews to be wiped off the face of the earth ... if Obama is doing nothing to stop this Hitler of our time, draw your own conclusions," Kuhner raged on the radio in June.

So it is no surprise that Kuhner is trying to leverage the ferment among conservatives on the volatile border security issue. Demagogues like Kuhner who are committed crusaders against global jihad have never been at the forefront of the anti-illegal immigration movement, but they now recognize an opportunity to employ it as the ultimate wedge. And the political climate, well, it's sizzling like an isotope.

So not surprisingly, after invoking prayer rugs and Korans strewn about the border, Kuhner says to his audience, "the issue is then, do we fight them there or so we fight them here?"

Alison Weir, who has made it her life's work to counter such provocations, says much of the rhetoric is targeted at "Israel's neighbors," particularly in defense of Israel against Iran, though it does not serve America's interest to make what's happening on the border today a reflection of the crises in the Middle East nor any broader global terrorist threat.

"That agenda ... portrays all Muslims and Arabs as the enemy, the enemy of the United States," said Weir, a former journalist and author who is now the president of the Council for the National Interest. "All of us want to protect our families and our country - it's a natural response - but they are trying to manipulate that natural and decent response into having us pursue policies that are not natural and not decent and are not in our national interest."

But in fairness, it's not too difficult for Kuhner and others to manipulate and find common cause with the neo-liberty movement, because many of those conservatives, particularly in the Red States, have been hyping the threat of radical Islamists jumping the border since 9/11. They also get plenty of help from politicians and federal and local law enforcement officials who have their own agendas, like keeping their jobs and attracting more federal resources.

Republican pols are particularly good at this. J.D Hayworth, who is running in a bitter primary race with Sen. John McCain in Arizona, was quoted back in May about "people who definitely mean to do us harm who have crossed that border." Others are still referring to a 2006 report commissioned by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, entitled, "A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border," which suggests that "members of Hezbollah" have been smuggled into the country, citing two incidents since 9/11, one in 2005 involving a certain Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, who later pled guilty to fundraising for Hezbollah while hiding out in Dearborn, Michigan.

Most of the support for the report's section on "vulnerability to terrorist infiltration,"however, is based on "statements made by high-ranking Mexican officials prior to and following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks" and disputed government reports about the level of Islamic influence in Latin America.

"There is a lot of self-interest in mind," among the various charges, pointed out Barry. The nexus of all of these varying interests couldn't be more acute: the hawks are worried about waning national interest in war. The Tea Partiers are engaging in major political warfare in which they must make the administration and controlling Democratic Party look weak on security ahead of key elections. Then there is the government bureaucracy, i.e. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Agency, the military and county sheriff's offices, which take advantage of these political struggles to seek more attention and funding amid a highly competitive fiscal atmosphere.

But where does that leave the American public? Woefully uninformed, as usual.

No one doubts that since 9/11, individuals with less than noble intentions have attempted and succeeded to enter the United States illegally from Muslim countries connected to terrorism. There just isn't a lot of hard data on how many. According to statistics provided by the CBP to Homeland Security Today Magazine, nearly 6,000 "Special Interest Aliens" (SIA) "from just a handful of Muslim countries" were apprehended trying to sneak into the U.S between 1999 and 2010. The largest number were from Pakistan (1,222), followed by Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Considering that at its apparent peak in 2005, the CBP apprehended some 500,000 individuals in one year coming into the country illegally (most of them Mexican), the Muslim contribution to this equation doesn't appear too menacing. Especially since there is no way to know how many of those 6,000 Muslim SIAs were actually trying to get away from religious and political violence in their homelands, rather than pursue it here.

But thoughtful parsing seems to have no place in this debate. So when there is news about an illegal Somali with purported al-Shabaab connections on the loose, it merely ratchets up the talk about 9/11 and Holy War, rather than sparking real questions, like, does al-Shabaab pose a direct security threat against America, or is it here to recruit soldiers for its own fight against the government in Somalia? Should we pursue their border incursions and smuggling schemes as criminal acts or military/ terrorist incursion?

Members or affiliates of al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist organization that has been fighting the internationally-imposed central government in Somalia while terrorizing the Somali people with draconian religious laws and violence, have indeed made concerted efforts to enter this country, according to CBP and the U.S Justice Department. In May, authorities were looking for a Somali with supposed "al-Qaeda ties" who skipped the border. At the same time, the CBP were looking for an al-Shabaab-connected American who allegedly smuggled more than 200 Somalis into the country. The justice department announced just this month that it had charged 14 Somalis with aiding the organization.

But even STRATFOR, a private intelligence service with normally hawkish inclinations, warns against jumping the gun on al-Shabaab's intentions.

"Somalis have also been involved with the al-Qaeda core for many years, and al-Shabaab has sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden - the reason we consider them an al-Qaeda regional franchise group.

"That said, we have been watching al-Shabaab closely this year to see if they follow in the footsteps of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and become a transnational terrorist group by launching attacks against the West rather than just a group with a national or regional focus. While some al-Shabaab members, like American-born Omar Hammami - who sings jihadi rap songs about bringing America to its knees - have threatened the West, it remains unclear whether this is rhetoric or if the group truly intends to attack targets farther afield. So far, we have seen little indication that al-Shabaab possesses such intent.

"Due to this lack of demonstrated intent, our assessment at the present time is that al-Shabaab has not yet made the leap to becoming transnational."

Such nuance doesn't matter in an emotional debate, however. CBP officials recently told Homeland Security Today magazine that al-Shabaab is "very active [in Texas]" which sounds pretty scary (though interestingly, none of the 14 Somalis charged in the August sting were allegedly based in Texas). Kuhner, on the other hand, suggested in the aforementioned debate that al-Shabaab had planted a July bomb in Uganda to target Christians, which is a bald-faced deceit. Al-Shabaab targeted the Ugandans because Ugandans have been serving in African Union peacekeeping forces against al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Nonetheless, "we have no choice but to operate on the very real likelihood that some of [the Somalis who were smuggled into the country] are terrorists who are loose here right now!" exclaimed an unidentified counterterrorism official in the Homeland Security Today report.

Individual CBP sources seem pretty assured of the threat, and being on the border everyday gives them an authentic perspective others do not have. But officially, the reality is less definitive. While top intelligence officials and even a 2009 GAO report have strongly suggested otherwise over the years, grumbling arose from the right wing in April when the US Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center hedged on the issue, saying that even though people from special interest countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been smuggled in, "none have been documented to be known or suspected terrorists."

The findings also contradict notions in a parallel narrative that al-Qaeda is working with narco-terrorists in Mexico and America's socialist enemies in Latin America, including the FARC and even the Venezuelan government, to raise money and smuggle agents into the U.S. But again, a closer look there reveals that much of the evidence for that is largely circumstantial. So many agendas, particularly among competing federal agencies, counter-terror groups and politicians, hew to a murky and inconclusive trail at best.

Federal officials, when put to the question, seem alternatively provocative and coy, but ultimately non-committal about the extent of the problem. You have former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who told congress in 2005 that law enforcement "is concerned about special interest aliens entering the United States" (meaning al-Qaeda), though notice he did not say it was actually happening. More recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as a former governor of Arizona knows best the volatility of the border security issue, admitted that terrorists could "potentially" enter the U.S from Mexico, but still would not conclude they already have.

But this is a leap that jihad hunters like Kuhner and the self-described civilian defense forces and Tea Party activists now manning the southern border are willing to make themselves. They embrace any evidence - whether it be first (and more likely, second and third) hand accounts of left-behind Korans and prayer rugs, or Islamic jacket patches or Arabic tattoos found on Latin American gang members - as proof of an "invasion" we ignore at our own peril.

So it is up to the rest of America to get the facts and maintain some equanimity over what is a valid but emotionally charged debate about immigration and border security. Most importantly, we must resist this latest contrivance by the war hawks to keep us pinned down and looking for more war overseas.

Militants Overtake India as Top Threat, Says Pakistan's ISI


Pakistan's main spy agency says homegrown Islamist militants have overtaken the Indian army as the greatest threat to national security, a finding with potential ramifications for relations between the two rival South Asian nations and for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

A recent internal assessment of security by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful military spy agency, determined that for the first time in 63 years it expects a majority of threats to come from Islamist militants, according to a senior ISI officer.

The assessment, a regular review of national security, allocates a two-thirds likelihood of a major threat to the state coming from militants rather than from India or elsewhere. It is the first time since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 that India hasn't been viewed as the top threat. Decades into one of the most bitter neighborly rivalries in modern history, both countries maintain huge troop deployments along their Himalayan border.

"It's earth shattering. That's a remarkable change," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism specialist and professor at Georgetown University. "It's yet another ratcheting up of the Pakistanis' recognition of not only their own internal problems but cooperation in the war on terrorism."
Pakistani soldiers honor comrades killed in a May battle against Taliban forces in the country's northwest.

.It is unclear whether the assessment of the ISI-a powerful group largely staffed by active military officers-is fully endorsed by Pakistan's military and civilian government. The assessment's impact on troop positioning and Pakistan's war against militants remains to be seen.

The assessment reflects the thinking in the mainstream of the ISI. But U.S. officials worry that elements of Pakistan's military establishment, which they say includes retired ISI officers, continue to lend support to militants that shelter in Pakistan's tribal regions, an effort these people say is aimed at building influence in Afghanistan once the U.S. pulls out.

India Real Time
India Doubts ISI is Shifting Focus to Militants

.The U.S., which gives between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan annually, is particularly concerned about one of these groups, the Haqqani network. U.S. military officials recently stopped asking the Pakistanis to take action against the group, which has strong ties to al Qaeda, because they concluded pressuring the Pakistanis on the issue wasn't working.

Gen. Athar Abbas, the chief Pakistan military spokesman, said he wasn't aware of the assessment. He said India remained a threat but confirmed that it is the ISI's role to draw up security assessments.

A spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs didn't return calls seeking comment. Over the weekend, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged Pakistan to crack down on militants. "If this is not done, we cannot progress far in our dialogue with Pakistan," Mr. Singh said.

Pakistan's admission that domestic militants are its No. 1 enemy could reinvigorate stalled peace talks with India.

."It's a good sign, but one has to wait and watch" whether it will lead to sterner action by Pakistan against militants, says Naresh Chandra, a former Indian ambassador to the U.S. and chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, which advises the government on security policy.

The assessment has the potential to shift Pakistan's Afghan policy, which has been driven by the belief that India is seeking influence there in order to encircle its traditional enemy.

While the jostling for influence in Afghanistan between Pakistan and India isn't likely to diminish, the ISI's assessment could push Pakistan to take even stronger action against Pakistani and Afghan militants operating from the porous mountain region along the country's border with Afghanistan. Such action, U.S. officials have said, is a key to winning the Afghan war.

Hindu-majority India and largely Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars over territory since 1947. Both sides are nuclear armed and have historically regarded the other as a pre-eminent threat to security.

The U.S. has been playing a behind-the-scenes role to dial down tensions between the nations. Washington wants Pakistan to redeploy more troops from its eastern frontier with India and send them to Pakistan's western border regions, which Taliban militants use as a base for attacks on U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces inside Afghanistan.

Peace talks began in 2004 but India pulled out in November 2008 after 10 Pakistani gunmen killed more than 160 people in an attack on Mumbai, India's financial capital. The sides started talking again in February but have so farmade little progress amid Indian accusations that Pakistan hasn't moved firmly enough against the attacks' perpetrators.

The significance of the ISI's assessment will hinge on exactly which militant groups it considers a threat, said Georgetown's Mr. Hoffman.

The Pakistan Taliban and its allies have unleashed a wave of suicide bombings across Pakistan, killing almost 7,000 civilians since 2003. These attacks have turned public sentiment against the Pakistan Taliban.

The U.S. has praised the military's war against the Pakistan Taliban, begun in earnest two years ago. , which has led to the death of more than 2,000 Pakistani soldiers.But it has been frustrated by Pakistan's failure to broaden the war to go after other al Qaeda-linked militant groups that use Pakistan's tribal regions to launch attacks on U.S. forces. Some U.S. officials believe elements of the military continue to fund the Haqqani network, which doesn't attack Pakistani forces and could be useful allies in Afghanistan when the U.S. pulls troops out.

India says it believes the ISI retains ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba, which New Delhi blames for carrying out the Mumbai attacks.

The ISI, whose links with militant groups dates to the U.S.-backed war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, says it has now severed relations with groups including the Haqqanis and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The ISI's new assessment is at odds with the projection of India inside Pakistan. Politicians and the media regularly hold up India as working to undermine Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan. Others believe India is stealing water from Pakistan by building dams on shared rivers. And many Pakistanis blame India for funding a separatist insurgency in Baluchistan province. India denies the charges.
A recent report by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., found that 53% of Pakistanis polled considered India the biggest threat to national security versus 23% for the Taliban and 3% for al Qaeda.

Pakistan became especially focused on the threat from India after losing East Pakistan, now the independent nation of Bangladesh, after a war between the two nations in 1971. Some 80,000 Pakistani soldiers were taken prisoner by India and Pakistan lost half of its territory.

Although there has been no formal war since then, Pakistan trained and armed Islamist guerrillas-including militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba-in the 1990s to fight Indian troops in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory that was split between India and Pakistan in 1948 and is claimed in its entirety by both countries.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. pressured Pakistan to ban Lashkar-e-Taiba and a number of other Islamist militant groups, leading to a drop in militant infiltrations into Indian-held Kashmir. But many of the Punjab-based militants continued to operate, finding shelter with Taliban fighters in the tribal areas.

Gen. Abbas, the military spokesman, says Pakistan plans to mount a campaign against the Haqqanis in North Waziristan, the group's mountainous base in the tribal regions. But the operation has been delayed as the Pakistan Taliban has recently staged a comeback in other tribal areas that the military had earlier secured, he added.

Pakistan has about 150,000 soldiers fighting on its western border, with an additional100,000 in reserve to rotate with those troops, the senior ISI officer said. The country's remaining 350,000 soldiers are focused on the border with India, including the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. "The direct threat from India has reduced considerably but that's not to say it's diminished entirely," the ISI officer said.

Obama administration officials have expressed fears Pakistan could move troops back to the Indian frontier if relations with India deteriorate. In April, Michèle Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy, told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee that "Pakistan's strategic concerns about India remain pre-eminent" despite the redeployment of troops to fight militants.
"Any significant escalation of tensions between Pakistan and India could cause Pakistan to shift its large military presence in the western border areas back toward its eastern border with India," Ms. Flournoy said. "We must continue to reassure Pakistan that as it combats the threats posed by its domestic terrorists, it is not exposing itself to increased risk along its eastern border."

Halal holidays in the sun

Mizan Raja and Nazma Begum talk about their experience of a 'halal holiday'
By Shaimaa Khalil

BBC News, Alanya

If you see a veiled Muslim woman sitting on a beach watching her husband and children splashing in the waves, don't assume it's her religion that keeps her from joining in the fun.

Muslim women can often be seen swimming while veiled - though they may not want to on beaches where most women are wearing bikinis.

The problem also occurs in some resorts in Muslim countries with an international tourist trade.

Expensive hotels in some Arab countries actually ban veiled women from their pools so that Western guests feel at home.

One answer for Muslim families who want to play in the water together is Halal tourism.

The idea took off several years ago, as hotel companies witnessed the success of the Sharia-compliant banking and investment sector and saw their opportunity.

It encompasses the main aspects of Sharia-compliant living such as no alcohol, Halal food, separate mosques for prayer and modest dressing.

And with nearly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the potential market is huge.

I find it very alarming - cultural racism or religious racism, which is what this to me is, is saying there is no common humanity

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Mizan Raja, his wife Nazma Begum and their four children travelled this summer from the UK to Alanya, on Turkey's southern, Mediterranean coast, for a beach holiday.

They had been to British resorts before - such as Brighton and Southend-on-Sea - but Nazma was could only watch while the others played.

"I really thought I was missing out to be honest, like I was held back from doing something that was really fun and enjoyable.

"But here, everybody has been getting involved and having lots of fun," she said.

Women-only facilities
Large screens in the reception area of the family's four-star hotel advertised the hotel's facilities, without using female models.

Between enjoying the beach, the restaurants, the segregated spa facilities and pool areas, guests hear the call to prayer five times a day.

Another feature that many women consider the highlight is an open-air women-only swimming pool on the sixth floor, at the very top of the hotel.

Even the elevator accessing the pool is for women alone.

Before Nazma and I got into the pool we were both checked for cameras and mobile phones.

Nazma's experience of women-only pools in England was quite different, she said.

"I've actually been to a women-only pool session and all of a sudden a man walked in and he was going to be the lifeguard, which contradicted what it was all about," she said.

A remarkable thing about the women-only pool area is how relaxed the women look.

Most of the women in the hotel were covered. They either wore a headscarf (hijab) or full-face veil (niqab).

In the ladies' pool however, none of the women were covered, and some were wearing regular swimming costumes.

"One person, the other day, I didn't recognise her!" Nazma said. "She was wearing the burkini but she looked so different because she (normally) wears the niqab.

"I could see her face and she was smiling. You could tell she felt safe and secure in this environment," Nazma added.

Growing market
On the beach I met Thuraya Al Haj Mustafa, a Palestinian-German who has been coming to Turkey with her family for the past five years.

They were one of the first families to try the Halal beach holidays.

"What I enjoy myself is being able to go to the beach with my whole family, not just my husband, to go to the sea. I can go as well. I can swim with my children," she said.

"I can have fun with them... you know in Arab countries like Palestine it's normal for ladies to sit by the beach but not to swim. Here I can do everything I like," Thuraya said.

With countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia leading the way in Halal tourism, the Middle East has yet to exploit this young, growing market.

Only a handful of Sharia or Halal hotel developments have so far materialised in the region - yet the World Tourism Organisation says Gulf travellers spend $12bn (£7.7bn) annually on leisure travel.

Abdul Sahib Al Shakiry, an Iraqi tourism expert and founder of Islamic Tourism Magazine, said that a good chunk of this money could be channelled into the Halal tourism industry.

"People want to spend money and if you give them what they want, they'll spend money in this direction and there will be business," he said.

But while some welcome the arrival of the Islamic beach holiday, others see it as a form of isolationism.

'Double standards'
"I find it very alarming," says Muslim writer and columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

"Cultural racism or religious racism, which is what this to me is, is saying there is no common humanity. That we have to, even on holiday, be apart from the rest of you.

"You can go on holiday anywhere in the world and you don't have to drink, nobody forces you to drink.

A sense of freedom: Burkini-wearing is the norm on a Halal beach holiday

"I accept the Halal food argument but there are always other thing you can eat.

"How would we feel if there were Christian-White only holidays advertised?" she said.
"We would be appalled. You can't have double standards."

Thuraya, on the other hand, said that such holidays are not isolating but rather bring people together.
"You see Muslim people from all over the world. You have Muslim people from China, Russia, Belgium, France.

"The other thing is that when I go to any other normal vacation or hotel they wouldn't accept me wearing the burkini," she added.

"They don't make me feel comfortable so why should I go there?

"I'm not searching for isolation but there's no other possibility for me as a Muslim lady," she said.

Whether or not Halal tourism drives people apart, or brings them together, one thing is for sure - Mizan, Nazma and their children had a fantastic time on this beach holiday.

On their last day in Alanya, Nazma told me that the one thing that has given her a sense of freedom she had not had before, is the burkini.

"I'm not held back any more. I've been able to go in the sea and take part and not think twice.
"Everyone I've seen has been wearing burkinis, so I don't feel like the odd one out," she said.

"It's been a really good experience and something that we want to come back and enjoy next year."

Palestinian girl was killed by border guards' rubber bullet, judge rules

Court rules 10-year-old's death 'unjustifiable', dismissing original police claims that it was caused by youths throwing stones

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
A 10-year-old Palestinian girl was killed by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli border guards, a Jerusalem court has ruled, dismissing police claims that the child was hit by a stone thrown by youths.
Abir Aramin's death in January 2007 was "totally unjustifiable", according to the civil court's ruling. The court said border guards had either been negligent or had disobeyed instructions, and it ordered the government to compensate the family.

"There is no debate over the conclusion that Abir was injured by a rubber bullet shot by border guards, which in turn leads to the conclusion that the shooting of Abir occurred out of negligence, or in violation of the rules of engagement," said Judge Orit Efal-Gabai.

"Abir and her friends were walking down a street where there were no rock-throwers, therefore there was no reason to shoot in their direction."

Abir was struck as she walked with her sister and friends to buy sweets in the West Bank town of Anata after a maths exam. Bleeding heavily from a head wound, she was taken to hospital but died two days later.

The Israeli border police investigated the incident but, citing the autopsy which said it was possible that Abir's injuries could have been caused by a stone, concluded there was not enough evidence to proceed.

Abir's family filed a civil suit against the state, on which the court ruled yesterday.

Bassam Aramin, the girl's father, said that he still hoped those responsible for firing the bullet would be brought to justice. "I cannot blame an 18-year-old boy for shooting an innocent 10-year-old girl," he told the Ynet website. "There is something behind this, and it's the government's policies and the narrative his state has instilled in him. But still, I want them to be punished."

Aramin is a former Fatah militant who renounced violence while serving a prison sentence in an Israeli jail. He is one of the founders of Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers who promote peaceful dialogue between the two sides of the conflict.

Pakistan's president Zardari visits a 'show camp'

 Channel 4

While filming on the Sukkar barrage bridge built across the Indus river, President Asif Ali Zardari arrived on his first visit to flooded areas since the catastrophe enveloped Pakistan two weeks ago, reports Jonathan Miller from the southern province of Sindh.

The only TV cameras accompanying the president were from state TV - it was a carefully stage-managed event. He briefly got out of his car to look at the water before being briefed by provincial officials.

President Zardari went on to visit a camp for displaced people but locals who we've spoken to insist that what he actually saw a "show camp". And yet all over this city of Sukkar there are encampments of people living rough all along the roadside.

We visited a camp wedged between a road and a canal and open to the elements. It is a unhealthy place with sick people and no hygiene to speak of. Today Save the Children warned that if this health crisis in Sindh is not tackled fast, millions of children will contract deadly diseases.

The government has said it will compensate flood victims but what's on offer wont match the value of homes, livestock and lost crops.

Crime rates in England and Wales 'worse than US'


England and Wales has one of the worst crime rates among developed nations for rapes, burglaries and robberies, a United Nations report found.

The study for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime found England and Wales had more burglaries and robberies per 100,000 people than the United States in 2006.

But offenders were locked up for shorter periods than in comparable countries, the research showed.

In an analysis of the figures by think-tank Civitas, which compared only those countries which were members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), England and Wales was ranked fifth for burglaries, with a rate of 1,157.7 per 100,000 people.

This compared with 714.4 for the US, and was worse than Slovenia (902.9), the Czech Republic (523.3), and Turkey (216.9).

The figures also showed England and Wales had a worse robbery rate (188.7 per 100,000) than the US (146.4), Poland (92.2), Slovenia (31.5) and Turkey (28.5).

For rapes, England and Wales (25.6) was ranked eighth, worse than Norway (18), Germany (9.9) and Poland (5.2).

And for car thefts, England and Wales (360) was seventh - worse than the Czech Republic (205), Greece (139), Mexico (137), Chile (57.9) and Slovenia (42.5).

But England and Wales fared better when it came to "intentional homicides" and major assaults, being ranked 15th and 18th respectively.

The figures are from 2006, the latest year for which comparable statistics are available, and draw together crimes recorded by police in the countries studied.

The study also showed that England and Wales had a low "punitivity ratio" compared with other countries because shorter sentences were being handed down by judges.

The ratio was calculated by contrasting the number of people convicted in a year per 100,000 population with the number of prisoners in jail.

England and Wales had a ratio of just 0.04, compared with 0.06 for France and 0.11 for Germany.

A Home Office spokesman said: "This data is now more than four years old, but highlights that we have a high level of crime compared to other countries. This backs up the perceptions of many communities who have real concerns about stubbornly high levels of serious crimes.

"This Government will reform the police to make them more accountable to their communities and cut bureaucracy to get officers on to the beat and fighting crime."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman added: "Between 1995 and 2009, the prison population in England and Wales grew by 32,500 or 66%. But this rise has not had a comparative effect either on public confidence in the criminal justice system, or on reoffending.

"Nearly half of all offenders sent to prison are reconvicted within a year of release, creating a revolving door of crime.

"The Government will tackle this by conducting a full assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending.

She added that the Government was "committed to intelligent sentencing which ensures appropriate punishment, rehabilitation and the protection of the public".

:: The figures also reflected badly on the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

For rapes, Northern Ireland (26.2) ranked seventh, Scotland (18) tenth, and Ireland (10) 18th.

For burglary, Northern Ireland (663.9) ranked 13th, Scotland (597.6) 19th, and Ireland (567.9) 20th.

For robbery, Northern Ireland (90.4) ranked 14th, Scotland (69.9) 17th, and Ireland (55.7) 21st.

And for car theft, Ireland (326) eighth, Scotland (293) ranked 11th, and Northern Ireland (196) 19th.

Scotland ranked ninth for its rate of "intentional homicides" (2.1), compared with Ireland (1.6) in 14th, England and Wales (1.4) in 15th, and Northern Ireland (1.3) in 19th.

Cursed by the Bhuttos


Why is a country with disaster on its hands stuck with a disaster of a leader, too? It seems almost absurd to take Pakistan's 20 million uprooted by flood and measure their plight against the political skills of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Can one man's ineptitude make so much of a difference? And yet – in response to profound crisis, in winning more than 20% of the aid the UN says it needs – Zardari has found a defining moment and come up short again.

How on earth did he tramp round Britain, trading terrorism talk with David Cameron, making party speeches in Birmingham, when the depth of the tragedy was already clear? Why on earth is he jetting off to Moscow this week? Leadership is a matter of mood and symbolism as well as constitutional authority, but Zardari just hasn't got it.

Alas, there's more here to lament than simple frailty. There's a thesis of power that holds the whole subcontinent in thrall. D is democracy, to be sure, but D is also for dynasties (and their right to go on governing). Who is prime minister of Bangladesh? Why, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who founded the country four decades ago. And leader of the opposition? Why, the widow of President Zia Rahman, murdered three decades ago. Who is president of India's ruling Congress party? Why, Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi – another assassinated leader, dragooned into taking the helm after his mother, Indira, was shot by her guards. Indira, of course, was Nehru's daughter.

Forget Sri Lanka and the Bandaranaikes: the Bhuttos of Pakistan take the dynastic biscuit. Here's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who I first knew as the dictator Ayub's foreign minister, and then as elected prime minister. Another military dictator, the appalling Zia, hangs him and ensures the martyrdom of the memory. Benazir Bhutto, his daughter, is prime minister twice amid more bouts of military rule and too many charges of corruption. She returns from exile in 2007 and is swiftly, too swiftly, killed.

With her brothers dead (poisoned in Nice, gunned down by police in Karachi) there is a distinct shortage of Bhuttos to carry the name, and their Pakistan Peoples party, forward. Bilawal, Benazir's son, is only 18 and going to Oxford, so it's back to Asif Zardari, who's spent over a decade in and out of prison for corruption. He was Benazir's husband in an arranged marriage. And now it's arranged that he be president.

Zardari was in Birmingham to highlight Bilawal's availability for political service. We haven't even begun to shake off the dynasts yet. But as the man they used to call Mr Ten Per Cent quails before a raging flood, maybe there's a chance to pause and reflect. Sometimes, in history, blood lines come up trumps. But usually, from the Kennedys to the Bushes, two generations at most kill warm expectation. You're highly unlikely to find the next great leader in a nursery or a marriage procession.

And here is one tragedy among many more for Pakistan. Its civil society is weak, no match for an overweening army, because its political leaders grow from such withered roots. Its reverence for democracy is rooted in cults of personality, not ideas. When there's a test of inspiration, of the ability to transform a national tragedy into a triumph of national resilience, then the test seems barely realised, let alone failed.

Too much blame for Zardari? Perhaps. He can't pull many more levers in Islamabad than Brum. But when it's all over, with only more memories of suffering left, then wonder what might have been if this wasn't the end of the line.