Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pakistan to clamp down on charities linked to militants

Pakistan has threatened to arrest charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their role in delivering aid to flood victims could undermine the fight against extremists.

By Rob Crilly, Islamabad
Islamist charities, some with alleged links to terrorists who carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, have moved swiftly to fill a void left by a government overwhelmed by a disaster that has left eight million people in desperate need of help.

The floods began three weeks ago leaving about 1,600 people dead and millions homeless. Health officials believe a second wave of death may now follow, as infectious diseases spread rapidly through dirty water.

In many places, Islamist charities are providing front line food and health services raising fears that organisations linked to terrorist groups were using the floods to raise their profile and gain support.
"The banned organisations are not allowed to visit flood-hit areas," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said. "We will arrest members of banned organisations collecting funds and will try them under the Anti-Terrorism Act."

Meanwhile, Pakistan has accepted $5 million (£3.2 million) in aid for flood victims from India, a rare expression of goodwill between the feuding neighbours.

It would not be the first time the government has announced restrictions against charities tied to militant groups. Critics say any banned organisations often re-emerge under new names, with authorities unable or unwilling to stop their operations.

The banned charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa has been openly distributing food and medicine to flood victims. The United Nations believes it to be a front for militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which trained 10 gunmen for their assault on Mumbai. Some 166 people died in a wave of attacks.

During the 2005 Kashmir earthquake its men were first on the scene, beating government rescuers and aid agencies to distribute £5 million.

Blackwater Reaches Deal on U.S. Export Violations

WASHINGTON - The private security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide, long plagued by accusations of impropriety, has reached an agreement with the State Department for the company to pay $42 million in fines for hundreds of violations of United States export control regulations.

The violations included illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers, according to company and government officials familiar with the deal.

The settlement, which has not yet been publicly announced, follows lengthy talks between Blackwater, now called Xe Services, and the State Department that dealt with the violations as an administrative matter, allowing the firm to avoid criminal charges. A company spokeswoman confirmed Friday that a settlement had been reached. The State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said he could not immediately comment.

The settlement with the State Department does not resolve other legal troubles still facing Blackwater and its former executives and other personnel. Those include the indictments of five former executives, including Blackwater's former president, on weapons and obstruction charges; a federal investigation into evidence that Blackwater officials sought to bribe Iraqi government officials; and the arrest of two former Blackwater guards on federal murder charges stemming from the killing of two Afghans last year.

But by paying fines rather than facing criminal charges on the export violations, Blackwater will be able to continue to obtain government contracts. While the company lost its largest federal contract last year to provide diplomatic security for United States Embassy personnel in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government was incensed by killings of Iraqis in one highly publicized case, it still has contracts to provide security for the State Department and the C.I.A. in Afghanistan.

Blackwater, its reputation tainted in part because of the excessive use of force by some of its personnel in Baghdad, sought for years to extend its reach far beyond the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

For a time, the company's founder, Erik Prince, had ambitions to turn Blackwater into an informal arm of the American foreign policy and national security apparatus, and proposed to the C.I.A. to create a "quick reaction force" that could handle paramilitary operations for the spy agency around the world. He had hopes that Blackwater's military prowess could be an influential force in regional conflicts around the world.

Mr. Prince, a former Navy Seals member and the heir to an auto parts fortune, took an interest in Africa, particularly Sudan, and he is said to have wanted Blackwater to step in to help the rebels in southern Sudan, which is predominantly Christian and animist, fight the Sudanese government and the Muslim north, despite United States economic sanctions.

Blackwater's ambitions in Sudan were described in detail by McClatchy newspapers in June.
The settlement with the State Department, involving practices from the days before Blackwater was rebranded as Xe Services, comes as Mr. Prince is trying to shed his ties to Blackwater and its past activities.

He overhauled the company's management in 2009, changed its name, and has now put the privately held company up for sale. He has just moved with his family to Abu Dhabi from the United States, a move that colleagues say was a result of his deep anger and frustration over the intense scrutiny he and his firm have received in recent years.

The State Department export controls require government approval for the transfer of certain types of military technology or knowledge from the United States to other countries. But Blackwater began to seek training contracts from foreign governments and other foreign organizations without adhering closely to American regulations.

The company also shipped automatic weapons and other military equipment for use by its personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan in violation of export controls, and in some cases sought to hide its actions, according to the government. In one incident, Blackwater shipped weapons to Iraq hidden inside containers of dog food.

A federal investigation into the company's weapons shipments to Iraq led to guilty pleas on criminal charges by two former Blackwater employees who are believed to have cooperated with a broader federal inquiry.

Investigators reportedly looked into whether some of the weapons that were shipped to Iraq were sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or P.K.K., which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Turkish officials reportedly complained to the United States about American weapons seized from the group.

In 2008, after a federal investigation of Blackwater's actions was begun, the company admitted "numerous mistakes" in its adherence to export laws and created an outside board of experts to supervise the firm's compliance.

Current and former government officials say that the government's inquiry into some of Blackwater's export control violations began as part of a federal grand jury investigation in North Carolina, where Blackwater is based. But the matter was apparently shifted to the State Department when the criminal investigation in North Carolina narrowed its focus.

That grand jury handed down the indictments of the five former Blackwater executives earlier this year. That indictment includes charges that Blackwater executives sought to hide evidence that they had given weapons as gifts to King Abdullah of Jordan.

Despite the fines and investigations that have plagued Blackwater, the firm has continued to win contracts from the State Department and the C.I.A.

In June, the State Department awarded Blackwater a $120 million contract to provide security at its regional offices in Afghanistan, while the C.I.A. renewed the firm's $100 million security contract for its station in Kabul. At the time, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, defended the decision, saying that the company had offered the lowest bid and had "cleaned up its act."

Tunisia show creates uproar over kissing scenes

Amal al-Hilali (Al Arabiya)
An unprecedented Tunisian series, Casting, has caused uproar among many Tunisian families for its flagrant and explicit airing of kissing scenes in Tunis' public TV.

Some angry viewers formed groups on the social networking site Facebook campaigning to ban the series that they claim have ‘assaulted' Tunisian traditions of family-values and crossed all red lines with repeated kissing and bedroom scenes in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In Ramadan, families in the Arab World are entertained by the many TV series produced by competing countries mainly Egypt and Syria.

Other Arab series also deal with subjects generally considered taboo in the Arab world, most notably the famous Egyptian series is "Zuhra and her five husbands", but Casting has this Ramadan been in the forefront of provoking reactions. 

Touched a nerve
A scene from the tenth episode of the show has touched a nerve of many viewers who that uphold family-values and tradition.

The episode shows a teenage girl spending the night with a man in his thirties who later asks the young girl if he was the first person to ‘sleep' with her.

In the past two years a new culture has emerged in Tunisian series which includes previously prohibited subjects such as sex, drugs and rape, a far cry from previous themes Tunisians were used to watching, including rural life and patriotism.

Some viewers have also expressed concern that the series will tarnish the image of young Tunisian women

The series have also focused on the aesthetics as it has chosen models as caste members to attract viewers.

(Translated from Arabic by Dina al-Shibeeb)

Morocco reaffirms autonomy plan for Western Sahara

Morocco's King Mohammed VI said Friday that his government's proposals for autonomy for the Western Sahara had "more international support" than "the despairing maneuvers" of its adversaries.

The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The Algerian-backed Polisario Front is demanding independence for the region.

"In as much as international support is growing in favor of this courageous initiative, recognized by the U.N. as serious and credible, so our adversaries persist in their despairing maneuvers trying in vain to block it," the king said in a broadcast to the nation.

"The obstinacy of the enemies of our territorial integrity only reassures Morocco in its march towards democracy and development," he added.

The Polisario Front has rejected the Moroccan proposal for self-government and insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to a referendum on self-determination, but it laid down its arms after a 1991 ceasefire.

The day Mohammed VI gave his speech, Spanish daily El Pais reported that a top U.N. envoy is doubtful a settlement can be reached on the Western Sahara and wants Madrid, Paris or Washington to intervene with Morocco and the Polisario.

The U.N. special envoy to the region, Christopher Ross, said in a letter obtained by El Pais that neither Rabat nor the Polisario "possess the political will to enter into genuine negotiations on the future of the Western Sahara or to give priority attention to confidence-building measures."

Ross called for help from the U.N. Security Council and the so-called Group of Friends that is trying to resolve the conflict -- Britain, France, Russia, Spain and the United States.

Gilani taken in by another ‘relief camp'

By Iftikhar A. Khan and Mohammad Irfan Mughal
DERA ISMAIL KHAN: The embarrassment faced by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after a recent visit to a flood-hit area over reports about ‘fake medical camps' set up for his ‘photo sessions' was clearly not enough to deter those who choreograph such events.

During his visit to Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday, it once again transpired that desperate and hungry flood-affected people had been brought there at the last moment to a hurriedly established relief camp surrounded by a few new ones, unused tents given to some individuals on the same day to put up a perfect picture in Shorkot area near the airport.

The camp was set up hours before the prime minister's visit. Hundreds of people had to wait for a long time in searing heat to get their share from a truck loaded with flour parked right in front of them on the other side of the road.

The prime minister visited the camp for a few minutes, asked an old man a few questions about the estimated cost of construction of a two-room house and left without distributing any cheque or announcing any package for the affected people.

The camp, as expected, was wound up soon after the departure of the prime minister. People at the camp confirmed that it had been set up early in the morning and they were told that they would get some help from the prime minister if they went there. They said they waited for hours to get some goods.

Mohammad Shafi, an old man, said he was living in the open in a miserable condition near his destroyed house, like many others. "At times there is no food and we starve." Other people said there was an urgent need for 4,000 to 5,000 tents, but only about 100 people had been able to get these.

Some unidentified men were seen speaking in whispers to people who were talking to reporters in an apparent attempt to prevent them from revealing ‘secrets'.

Khursheed Bibi, a widow, got the much-needed tent late on Monday night after struggling for some 20 days. She has three children. The prime minister's announced visit enabled her to get the tent and later officials also distributed tents among some other people.

A close relative of the woman alleged that tents were being given only to people favoured by influential people, adding that some of them got more than one tent.

Adam Sher, who has eight daughters and a son, said he had not received any tent. He said his house had been destroyed and he was living in the open with his family.

A number of other people said the situation was getting worse for them with each passing day. There are certain areas where thousands of people are still stranded.

Earlier, Director General of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Shakeel Qadir Khan briefed the prime minister and ministers accompanying him on the flood situation.

Reporters were not allowed to cover the event. Local journalists held a demonstration in the parking area of the airport in protest against the ban and the fake relief camp.

The PDMA chief said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had received 3,462mm of rains between 28 July and Aug 3 which was several times more than the annual rainfall of 962mm. Over 1,014 people have been killed in KP. About 283 roads and 282 bridges have been destroyed or damaged.

Mr Qadir said that there was an urgent need for 75,383 tents and 31,567 tons of food. Only two per cent of the required hygiene kits, 14 per cent of blankets and 46 per cent of drinking water are available.

The prime minister said the government was alive to the situation and was taking all possible steps to provide relief to the affected people. He said he would discuss with the Ministry of Finance a uniform policy to write off agricultural loans in the flood-hit areas.

Mr Gilani said that 50,000 tents were being acquired for distribution among the affected people. He said that 1,000 tons of food from the Utility Stores Corporation would be provided to people.


Prime Minister Gilani handed over a cheque for Rs50 million to KP Chief Minister Ameer Haidar Khan Hoti. He said that despite its meagre resources the federal government would extend all possible assistance to the provincial government for rehabilitation of the affected people.

The prime minister was accompanied by federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, Law Minister Dr Babar Awan, Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Senator Waqar Ahmad Khan and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi.

Airbase near Jacobabad under US control, Senate panel told

By Imran Ali Teepu
ISLAMABAD: Health relief operations in Jacobabad are not possible because the airbase in the area is controlled by the US.

The stunning statement was made by Health Secretary Khushnood Lashari during an appearance at the Senate Standing Committee on Health on Wednesday.

"Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States," Mr Lashari said while answering a question asked by Senator Semeen Yusuf Siddiqui of PML-Q.

Dr Jahanzeb Aurakzai, coordinator of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Centre, said: "Foreign health teams could not start relief operations in remote areas because there are no airstrips close to several areas, including Jacobabad."

The town has been evacuated and 500,000 to 700,000 people have been affected. People displaced from Jacobabad, Thul, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Ghouspur and Karumpur are camping in Dera Allahyar.

"It is very unfortunate that Americans can launch a drone attack from Shahbaz airbase but the government is helpless even in using the country's base for relief operations," Senator Semeen said while talking to this correspondent.

She said the health ministry should have requested the army to ask the US to allow relief operation from the base.

"I don't know why the health minister failed to report the matter to the quarters concerned, specifically the Pakistan Army.

"The airbase, which I think the government has given on lease to the Americans, should be used to provide immediate health relief to the flood-affected people."

The committee, headed by Senator Kulsoom Parveen, was briefed by officials on health-related operations in the affected areas.

APP adds: Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman has ordered PAF to form an air bridge of relief supply for Jacobabad which has been cut off from the rest of the country and make operational an airfield near Sibi for immediate supply of relief goods to flood-hit areas in the vicinity.
Presiding over a meeting, he asked the air staff to use all available human and material resources to provide timely relief to the affected people.

'Ground Zero' Imam: 'I Am a Jew, I Have Always Been One'

Jeffrey Goldberg
The right-wing campaign against the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" includes vicious personal attacks on the Muslim cleric who leads the Cordoba Initiative, the organization behind the plan. I know Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and I know him to be a moderate, forward-leaning Muslim -- yes, it is true he has said things with which I disagree, but I have never expected him to function as a member of the Zionist Organization of America.

In 2003, Imam Rauf was invited to speak at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. The service was held at B'nai Jeshurun, a prominent synagogue in Manhattan, and in the audience was Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father. In his remarks, Rauf identified absolutely with Pearl, and identified himself absolutely with the ethical tradition of Judaism. "I am a Jew," he said.

There are those who would argue that these represent mere words, chosen carefully to appease a potentially suspicious audience. I would argue something different: That any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, "I am a Jew," is placing his life in danger. Remember, Islamists hate the people they consider apostates even more than they hate Christians and Jews. In other words, the man many commentators on the right assert is a terrorist-sympathizer placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism. You can read the full text of his remarks on the B'nai Jeshurun website, but here is an especially relevant portion:

We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one Mr. Pearl.

And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different.

It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values

U.S. Anti-Islam Protest Seen as Lift for Extremists


WASHINGTON - Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.

Opposition to the center by prominent politicians and other public figures in the United States has been covered extensively by the news media in Muslim countries. At a time of concern about radicalization of young Muslims in the West, it risks adding new fuel to Al Qaeda's claim that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended with violence, some specialists on Islamic militancy say.

"I know people in this debate don't intend it, but there are consequences for these kinds of remarks," said Brian Fishman, who studies terrorism for the New America Foundation here.

He said that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric hiding in Yemen who has been linked to several terrorist plots, has been arguing for months in Web speeches and in a new Qaeda magazine that American Muslims face a dark future of ever-worsening discrimination and vilification.

"When the rhetoric is so inflammatory that it serves the interests of a jihadi recruiter like Awlaki, politicians need to be called on it," Mr. Fishman said.

Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks militant Web sites at the security consulting firm Flashpoint Global Partners, said supporters of Al Qaeda have seized on the controversy "with glee." On radical Web forums, he said, the dispute over the Islamic center, which would include space for worship, is lumped together with fringe developments like a Florida pastor's call for making Sept. 11 "Burn a Koran Day."

"It's seen as proof of what Awlaki and others have been saying, that the U.S. is hypocritical and that most Americans are enemies of Islam," Mr. Kohlmann said. He called the anti-Islam statements spawned by the dispute "disturbing and sad" and said they were feeding anti-American sentiment that could provoke violence.

While some critics of the Islamic center have carefully limited their objection to its proximity to the site of the Sept. 11 attacks, and have rejected any suggestion that they are anti-Muslim, the issue has tapped into a well of suspicion and hostility to Islam across the country.

Many Republican politicians, including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, have said that the proposed location of the center showed insensitivity to the victims of 9/11.

Others political leaders, including President Obama, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Gov. Christopher J. Christie of New Jersey, have defended the right of Muslims to build the center or warned against anti-Muslim hysteria.

The dispute has tapped strong emotions in the wake of a series of terrorist plots and attacks over the last year aimed at American targets, several of them inspired or encouraged by Mr. Awlaki. The events included the killing of 13 people in November at Fort Hood, Tex., by an Army psychiatrist, Nidal Malik Hasan; the failed attack on a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25 by a young Nigerian man; and the attempted bombing of Times Square in May by Faisal Shahzad, a financial analyst who had worked for a Connecticut cosmetics company.

Mr. Awlaki, whose Web diatribes calling for attacks on the United States have turned up repeatedly in terrorism investigations, has sought to counter the notion that American tolerance extends to Muslims.

In a March posting, Mr. Awlaki, who lived in the United States for nearly 20 years, predicted that America would become "a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps."

"Don't be deceived by the promises of preserving your rights from a government that is right now killing your own brothers and sisters," he wrote. "Today, with the war between Muslims and the West escalating, you cannot count on the message of solidarity you may get from a civic group or a political party, or the word of support you hear from a kind neighbor or a nice co-worker. The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!"

Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies said the outcry over the proposed center "plays into Awlaki's arguments and Osama bin Laden's arguments" by suggesting that Islam has no place in the United States.

She said that extreme anti-Muslim views in the United States ironically mirror a central tenet of extreme Islamists: "That the world is divided into two camps, and they're irreconcilable, and Muslims have to choose which side they're on."

Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker and a potential 2012 presidential candidate, said in a Fox News interview that "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington," a comment that drew criticism for appearing to equate those proposing the Islamic center with Nazis.

Asked about the view that such remarks could fuel radicalism, Mr. Gingrich sent an e-mail response on Friday that did not directly address his critics but said that "Americans must learn to tell the truth about radical Islamists while being supportive of and inclusive of moderate Muslims who live in the modern world, respect women's rights, reject medieval punishment and defend American laws and the American Constitution." He added that he believed "it is possible to be a deeply religious Muslim and a patriotic American."

Muqtedar Khan, an associate professor of political science at the University of Delaware, said he was not sure the Islamic center dispute alone would radicalize anyone. But he said it was "demoralizing" for Muslims like him who defend the United States as an open and tolerant society.

"For the first time, anti-Islamic rhetoric has gone mainstream," he said. "What this really does is weaken the moderates and undermine their credibility."

The US blogger on a mission to halt 'Islamic takeover'

New York blogger Pamela Geller is a key force in the campaign to stop Islamic centre near Ground Zero 

Chris McGreal in Washington
Pamela Geller is on a mission to save the free world and she's doing it, on this occasion, in a bikini as she writhes around in the sea.

"Here I am in my chador, my burka," Geller jokes to the camera in one of a string of video blogs campaigning against Islamic "world domination" shortly before kicking back in the waves. "There is a serious reality check desperately needed here in America and I'm here to give it to you, but I'm just not ginormous enough. What can I say? And on that note I'm going to go swimming in the ocean, and visit my mama, and fight for the free world."

This strange performance might suggest that Geller is a figure consigned to the margins of the widening and increasingly heated debate about the role of Muslims in America. Far from it.

The flamboyant New Yorker, who appears on her own website pictured in a tight fitting Superman uniform, has emerged as a leading force in a growing and ever more alarmist campaign against the supposed threat of an Islamic takeover at home and global jihad abroad - and never more so than in the present bitter dispute over plans to build an Islamic centre near the site of the World Trade Centre, brought down by al-Qaida.

Geller has been at the forefront of drumming up opposition to the centre, two blocks from Ground Zero, through an array of websites such as the Freedom Defence Initiative (FDI) and Stop Islamisation of America (SIOA). They have become increasingly influential as conservative politicians exploit anti-Muslim sentiment before November's congressional and state elections.

SIOA is behind a series of advertisements opposing the "Ground Zero Mega Mosque", as Geller calls it, which appeared on the sides of New York buses this week picturing a plane flying into one of the World Trade Centre towers and a mosque divided by the question: Why Here?

Geller's answer is that the planned centre is viewed by Muslims as a "triumphal" monument built on "conquered land".

As extreme as that may seem, Geller and her views have been embraced by leading politicians such as Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, and John Bolton, the conservative former US ambassador to the UN, who are scheduled to speak at a rally against the controversial New York Islamic centre organised by Geller for September 11.

Gingrich this week likened the planned centre to putting Nazi signs outside the Holocaust museum.
The campaign against the centre also has the backing of Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice-president and prominent conservative activist in her own right.

But while Geller has inserted herself into mainstream politics in America, she has also aligned herself with far-right causes across the globe including the English Defence League in Britain, white supremacists in South Africa and Serbian war criminals.

Geller says that after the September 11 attacks she "began to immerse herself in gaining a full understanding of geopolitics, Islam, jihad, terror, foreign affairs and the imminent threats to our freedoms that the mainstream media and the government wouldn't cover or discuss".

Civil rights groups have accused Geller of "hate speech" for her repeated warnings ofa looming threat of "Islamic domination", including a claim that Muslim groups in America are working to impose sharia law on the entire population, and her assertions that the 9/11 attackers were practicing "pure Islam".
Geller has also compared the proposed mosque to a building a Ku Klux Klan shrine next to a black church in Alabama.

But she vigorously denies she is hostile to Muslims. "I'm not anti-Muslim. That's a slanderous slur and it's unfair," Geller said this week. "Secondly, I'm not leading the charge [against the Islamic centre near Ground Zero]. The majority of Americans - 70% - find this deeply insulting, offensive. To call it anti-Muslim is a gross misrepresentation and to say that I'm responsible for all this emotion, again a gross misrepresentation."

Geller, a former associate publisher of the New York Observer, is often found in the professional company of Robert Spencer, a bestselling author who is less generally visible but is taken more seriously as a scholar among conservatives.

Spencer, who describes himself as a consultant to the US military, the FBI and the government's joint terrorism taskforce, is the author of several books, including Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs. He also runs a high-profile website, Jihad Watch, which helped raise some of the tens of thousands of dollars to pay for the New York bus poster campaign.

Together the pair launched several organisations including the FDI, which says it is fighting "specific Islamic supremacist initiatives in American cities" and hunting down "infiltrators of our federal agencies", and SIOA, which calls itself a human rights organisation and is tied to a similar group, Stop Islamisation of Europe, which goes by the motto: "Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense".

One member of the board of the Freedom Defence Initiative is John Joseph Kay, who has written that all Muslims are out to kill ordinary Americans: "Every person in Islam, from man to woman to child may be our executioner. In short, that there are no innocents in Islam ... all of Islam is at war with us, and that all of Islam is/are combatant(s).(sic)"

Geller and Spencer wrote a book, The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America, for which Bolton provided the forward.

Geller writes for an Israeli media network based in the occupied territories that is the voice of the Jewish settler movement and runs another website, Leave Islam Safely, which claims to offer guidance on how to escape the religion without being killed.

But her principal outlet is her blog, Atlas Shrugs, named after the philosophical novel by the arch-conservative Russian emigre, Ayn Rand, which promoted "the morality of rational self-interest".

In Atlas Shrugs, Geller lays bare her sympathies with extremist groups across the globe. She has vigorously defended Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president who died while on trial at The Hague for war crimes, and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps in the 1990s.

She has allied herself with racist extremists in South Africa in promoting a claim that the black population is carrying out a "genocide" of whites.

The website also carries a picture of Geller hugging Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician who advocates banning the Qu'ran and the construction of new mosques, and runs a support campaign for him as he faces trial for incitement to hatred.

Geller has also spoken out in favour of the English Defence League. When the anti-Islamic organisation was planning a rally outside parliament earlier this year, she wrote: "How I wish I could be there to stand with the English Defense League".

Geller has claimed regular contact with the EDL leadership and recently published a screed by the organisation's spokesman, Trevor Kelway. She said in one of her blogs: "I share the EDL's goals ... We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamisation of the West and not leave it solely to fringe groups like the BNP."

Geller has also said the EDL is misrepresented. "The EDL is routinely smeared in the British media, as the Tea Party activists are smeared in the US media ... There is nothing racist, fascist, or bigoted about the EDL," she wrote.

While mainstream politicians in Britain and other parts of Europe generally steer clear of the likes of the EDL, Wilders and Serbian war criminals, Geller is providing a bridge between foreign extremists and prominent politicians in the US.

Wilders is scheduled to appear on stage at the September 11 anti-mosque rally alongside Gingrich, Bolton and Gary Berntsen, a candidate for the US Senate.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, the most prominent hate monitoring group in America, said that the campaign against the Islamic centre near Ground Zero had mixed political exploitation with hate-mongering.

"The politicians and other opportunists are stoking the fires," said Marc Potok, who heads the centre's operation to monitor the extreme right. "The politicians are in it because they want to win more seats. The Pamela Gellers of the world apparently will do anything they can to attack Islam and this Islamic centre has provided them with a very large opening."

Potok says that Geller and others have crossed the line from legitimate debate.

"I think we have seen a great deal of hate speech. It is one thing to talk about the sensibilities of New Yorkers and of survivors and relatives of those who died.

"It is quite another to talk about conspiracies on the part of Muslims to dominate the United States, plots to insert sharia law into American statute books, and the idea that Islam is in of itself a great evil. Those things seem to be clearly over the line and we're hearing more and more of that," he said.

Geller did not respond to requests for an interview. But the American Civil Liberties Union, which has spoken out forcefully in support of the right to build the Islamic centre and mosque, said that Geller and others campaigning against the centre were equally protected by the constitution.

"Just as religious liberty is a core American value so too of course is free speech," said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU's freedom of religion programme.

"It's clear that many are exploiting this issue and the deep-seated anti-Muslim bigotry that underlies much of this controversy for bare political gain [but] there certainly is a constitutional right to speak out against this or any other project.

"We have a robust protection of free speech in this country including the right to speak hatefully."

Last sultan gets a modern makeover

By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - For the past year, sporadic articles have appeared in the Arabic press debating the life and policies of Sultan Abdulhamid II, the last absolute monarch of the Ottoman Empire, who ruled from 1876 until forced to abdicate in 1909.

For decades after the collapse of the empire, especially when Arab republics were in their infancy, Abdulhamid II was blamed for much of the difficulties that crippled Arab provinces of the empire, especially Ottoman Syria.

In TV soap operas or novels he was always portrayed as an autocratic despot who managed a wide array of corrupt Arab officials and a massive network of spies who reported directly to him behind the high walls of his Yildiz Palace in Istanbul. But a more balanced appraisal of his actions and legacy is emerging as Arab scholars revisit that period of their modern history.

In recent articles, plenty of light has been shed on the sultan's refusal to sell land in Palestine to Zionists, prior to World War II. After turning down the offer, Abdulhamid famously refused to meet Mizray Qrasow, the Jewish banker who had offered to pay off the Empire's debts and build a navy in exchange for the right to buy land in Palestine. Abdulhamid - according to the Arab and Turkish version of events - told one of his aides, "Tell those impolite Jews that I am not going to carry the historical shame of selling holy land to the Jews and betraying the responsibility and trust of my people!"

Once seen as the source of all things evil, Abdulhamid is now revealed as a farsighted ruler who suffered his throne because of his defiance of Zionist ambitions in Palestine. The passing of time has enabled scholars to quietly take a long hard look at their history away from emotional bolts of Arab nationalism. The warming of Arab ties under Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man who very clearly is proud of his Ottoman past, has also contributed to this revisionist history.

On August 11, a mega-Arab TV drama depicting the life and career of Abdulhamid began airing on Arab satellite networks. Suqut al-Khilafa (Fall of the Caliphate) paints a rosy picture of the sultan and is a far cry from a 1994 epic, Ukhwat al-Turab (Brothers of Soil) which focused on the hardships, famine, torture, and arrests of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

The handwriting for positive treatment has been on the wall for years. Two years ago, popular Turkish soap operas, with handsome men and attractive women, broke into Arabic TV, dubbed into Syrian dialect, bringing down decades of Arab stereotypes against Turks. Now comes Suqut al-Khilafa, an Egyptian work produced by Iraqis starring the popular Syrian actor Abbas al-Nouri as Abdulhamid. The Ottoman sultan is now portrayed as a warm, firm, charming and dedicated Muslim nationalist who had tremendous care for all his subjects, be they Ottoman Turks or Ottoman Arabs.
Meanwhile, Arab and Turkish scholars are debating - at forums and in private discussions - the past 10 years of the Ottoman Empire, reasoning that neither the Ottomans were 100% correct in how they dealt with the Arabs during World War II, and nor were the Arabs.

The warming of political ties between the Arab world and Turkey have indeed begun to reap serious cultural engagement. In addition to boosting trade with the Arab world and coordinating policies vis-a-vis Palestine, Turkey has lifted visa requirements with six Arab countries, being Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunis and Jordan. Erdogan best described it saying that a "regional Schengen" system, similar to the agreement signed between European countries in Luxembourg in 1985, was now in operation.

Effectively, this makes Turkey and Arab countries closer to how they had been under the Ottoman Empire than ever before since its collapse in 1918. Over the past eight years, Erdogan has reminded Arabs that despite a very rough history - during the final decade of the Empire and ever since - Turkish influence, and the Ottoman legacy as a whole, is not as bad as Arab history has labeled it.

Erdogan has said repeatedly that he feels defending Turkish national interests is no different from defending those of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, given their common geography, history, social, religious and cultural proximity. Many of the finest buildings in Damascus and Beirut, after all, were constructed during the Ottoman era, and the Syrian capital's great bazaar, al-Hamidiya, is named after Sultan Abdulhamid's predecessor, Abdulhamid I.

So were many of the codes, laws of commerce and aspects of civil administration, which lasted well into the 20th century. The Ottoman influence on Arab language, heritage, music, and cuisine, cannot be ignored - despite years of attempts to write off any Ottoman influence as destructive to Arab culture.

With one or two exceptions, all those who lived the era of Abdulhamid II have passed on. But due to his commanding personality much is still known. The sultan's son-in-law briefly served as prime minister of Syria in the mid-1920s, while members of his immediate family continued to commute back and forth to Damascus well into the 1960s.

Many family members of the sultan's entourage, the Abids, the Azms, the Yusefs, went on to dominate Syrian politics up to 1963. Seeing the sultan on screen has sparked off a healthy historical debate on where to place Abdulhamid II on the spectrum of Arab and Muslim history. His image reminds both his admirers and critics that, whether they like it or not, Arab countries and Turkey are inseparable.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine.

£300m earthquake aid 'misused by Zardari’


More than £300 million in foreign aid for victims of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake has been diverted by President Asif Zardari's government to other causes, officials have told The Daily Telegraph.

They now fear that the alleged diversion of funds will deter donors from giving further aid after the country's devastating floods.

According to senior officials, schools, hospitals, houses and roads planned with money given by foreign governments and international aid groups remain unbuilt almost five years after the earthquake which killed 80,000 and left four million people homeless.

International donors gave £3.5 billion to rebuild vast swaths of Pakistan's Kashmir and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces after the earthquake destroyed the region's infrastructure.

However, senior Pakistani officials yesterday said more than £300 million given in aid has yet to be handed over to the country's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA).

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's opposition leader, last night said suspicion among potential donors was hampering the fund-raising effort to help more than 14 million people displaced by the floods which have swept away buildings, bridges and roads in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab provinces.

"There's reluctance, even people in this country are not giving generously into this flood fund because they're not too sure the money will be spent honestly," he told The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Zardari has already been criticised for his handing of the floods after failing to cancel his foreign trip, which included a meeting with David Cameron at Chequers, despite scale of the disaster. So far 14 million people need help and 1,600 have died, making it the world's worst humanitarian disaster, according to the UN.

Mr Zardari has now failed to cancel a trip to Russia next week but has scaled it down from a two-day visit to a one-day visit.

Earthquake reconstruction directors were first told their budgets were being cut in March 2009 when 12 billion Pakistan Rupees (£90 million) was diverted from their budget to other government projects. They were told: "When we have the money we will pay you," said one senior official. "All the money was given by Western governments, but they said 'we have so many other problems,'" he added.

In June this year, ERRA staff were told their 2010-2011 budget of 43 billion Pakistan Rupees (£322 million) had been but down to just 10 billion Rupees (£75 million).

In Balakot, where 5,000 of the town's 25,000 people were killed in the earthquake, thousands of families were told their entire town would be rebuilt six miles away because it stood directly in the 'red zone' directly above the fault line.

But despite promises that the new town would be completed by last month, not a single new road has been completed nor a building construction begun on the site of "New Balakot". When the Telegraph visited the "new town" this week mechanical diggers stood rusting and security guards said there had been no work on the site for more than a year. Officials said contractors had not been paid since April and were still owed £22.5 million. Kamal Nawaz,30, of Gairlat Village, where families of 14 are living in tiny two room temporary huts, said:"they told us they could build three new Balakots but we're still waiting for one." A minute of an ERRA meeting to discuss the funding crisis earlier this month decided there would be "no further work on all on-going projects," while an internal letter dated August 6th explained that as a result of the "rationalization exercise" several offices would have to be closed and assets auctioned. Plans have also been made to cut its 3000 staff down to 800.

Officials said as all the earthquake reconstruction projects had been identified and budgeted for with funds donated by foreign governments and aid agencies, there was no justification for the cuts.

Pakistan's finance secretary Salman Siddiq said the government had rejected requests for extra funds because of the country's fiscal deficit but denied any foreign aid funds had been diverted. "No cuts were imposed last year," he said.