Sunday, September 12, 2010

English Defence League members attend New York mosque protest

At least seven EDL supporters take part in demonstration after far-right group's leader is reportedly turned away at airport

Robert Booth
Members of the far-right English Defence League protested in New York this weekend against plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near Ground Zero.

The group's leader, who goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, and at least seven other EDL 
supporters flew to the US to oppose the plans on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Robinson was refused entry at JFK airport, taken into custody and flown straight back to the UK, according to a report published on the anti-Islam Gates of Vienna website sourced to EDL activists travelling with him.

The rest of the delegation joined far-right leaders including Geert Wilders, the Dutch leader of the Freedom party, at the demonstration in lower Manhattan.

The contingent was pictured holding banners incorporating St George's cross, Israel's flag and the US stars and stripes, as well as the slogans "No Mosque at Ground Zero", "The more Islam, the less freedom", "No Sharia", and "No Surrender". They wore EDL T-shirts sporting the group's crusader shield logo.

Over the past 18 months in town centres across England the group has protested against the spread of Islamic institutions and in support of the armed forces. EDL demonstrators have been heard chanting racist slogans and have clashed with anti-fascist activists, and marches have been banned for fear of violence.

The decision to send protesters to America reflects the organisation's self-proclaimed "new phase of international outreach and networking", which began in April when supporters attended a Berlin demonstration in support of Wilders. The Dutchman said yesterday that New Yorkers must defend themselves against "the powers of darkness, the forces of hatred".

In June, the EDL sent delegates to speak at a "counter jihad" conference organised by the International Civil Liberties Alliance in Zurich, where they gave a presentation entitled The Anatomy of an EDL Demo.

Nick Lowles, of Searchlight, the anti-fascist monitoring organisation, said: "The EDL operates on two levels. There are the street activists such as the 120 that demonstrated in Oldham and 100 in London this weekend. But then there is the political agenda driven by a group of leaders whose ideas come from Christian fundamentalism. They are running a dual strategy and they see an international aspect to their goals where the uniting issue is anti-Islam."

The EDL is planning to join a far-right demonstration in Amsterdam on 30 October under the banner of the European Freedom Initiative. Organisations from Austria, Germany, Italy and France are also due to attend.

Turks vote in divisive referendum


By Sibel Utku Bila (AFP)
ANKARA - Turks voted Sunday in a referendum on bitterly divisive constitutional changes, seen as a key test of confidence in the Islamist-rooted government.

The core of the package, pushed through parliament in May by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), aims to restructure the higher echelons of Turkey's judiciary, a secularist bastion at loggerheads with the government.

The amendments also curb the powers of the once-untouchable military, already humbled amid sprawling probes into alleged plans to unseat the AKP that have landed dozens of soldiers in court.

The package has widened the rift between the AKP and its secularist opponents, who argue that the party, the moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist movement, aims to control the judiciary in a quest for authoritarian power.

Newspaper headlines Sunday reflected the polarisation: "The birthday of democracy" wrote the pro-government Sabah, while the generally critical Hurriyet said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to become an "elected sultan".

The package's approval would be a major boost for the AKP ahead of general elections next year, in which it will seek a third straight term in power.

The party, in power since 2002, insists the package will bring Turkish democracy closer to the norms of the European Union, which the country is seeking to join.

The opposition however charges that the AKP -- its democratic credentials under mounting criticism -- designed the amendments to propel cronies to senior judicial posts, control the courts and dilute the system of checks and balances.

Opinion polls have projected a tight contest to be decided by a small margin.

The results were expected several hours after polling stations close at 1400 GMT.

Some 50 million people were eligible to vote in the referendum that falls on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 military coup, which produced the current constitution, universally criticised for its oppressive spirit despite a series of amendments over the years.

The EU has welcomed the amendments as a "step in the right direction" but expressed reservations over arrangements that would increase government influence in a key body dealing with judicial appointments.

No major opposition party has lent support to the package: the main Kurdish party has called for a boycott, with the others urging a "no" vote.

The most controversial provisions modify the make-up of the Constitutional Court and the Higher Board of Judges and Prosecutors, and the way their members are elected.

The AKP narrowly escaped being outlawed by the Constitutional Court for undermining Turkey's secular system in 2008.

The top courts have also blocked a series of AKP-sponsored legislation, including a bill that would have abolished a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities.

Erdogan has slammed the senior judiciary as "shackles on our feet."

Proponents of the amendments say the judicial elite has become a dogmatic caste enforcing authoritarian, hardline secularist and nationalist values and must be reformed.

Some secular liberals also back the package, lured by provisions that would limit the powers of military courts and abolish an article providing a judicial shield for the 1980 coup leaders.

The package also gives civil servants the right to collective bargaining, but not the right to strike, and emphasises women's and children's rights.

Voters are required to decide on all amendments with a single "yes" or "no".

Erdogan has led an aggressive campaign to drum up support for the package.

In a memorable warning, he told Turkey's top business group after it declined to take a public stand on the vote that "those who do not take sides will be sidelined."

Such outbursts, coupled by his frequent attacks on opposition media and civic groups, have fanned fears that the AKP, which led a series of EU-sought reforms in its first years in power, is growing despotic.

Succession Gives Army a Stiff Test in Egypt

CAIRO - When a boiler at Military Factory 99 exploded in early August, killing one civilian worker and injuring six, a group of employees called a strike to demand safer working conditions, as they are entitled to do under Egyptian law.

Yet, before the month was out, eight of them were on trial - in a military court - for "disclosing military secrets" and "illegally stopping production."

The message was unmistakable: the rules that apply to the rest of Egypt do not apply to the military, still the single most powerful institution in an autocratic state facing its toughest test in decades, an imminent presidential succession.

President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt with dictatorial powers for 29 years but is ill and not expected to continue in office after his current term expires in 2011. Retired officers, political activists and other analysts here say that the military's show of force with the striking civilian workers was part of a concerted effort to put the military's stamp on the choice of the next president.

Technically, Egyptian voters will determine their next leader in the 2011 elections, but in practice the governing party's candidate is almost certain to win. The real succession struggle will take place behind closed doors, and that is where the military would try to assure its continued status or even try to block Mr. Mubarak's son Gamal.

Military officials have expressed reservations in interviews and in the Egyptian news media about Gamal Mubarak, one of the most frequently mentioned potential successors of the president. Retired officers and other analysts said the military would not support his candidacy without ironclad guarantees that it would retain its pre-eminent position in the nation's affairs. Retired officers circulated an open letter criticizing Gamal Mubarak's candidacy last month, and several retired Egyptian officers said in interviews that they were skeptical of hereditary succession.

The military has much to lose in the transition, these officers and analysts say. Over the years, one-man rule eviscerated Egypt's civilian institutions, creating a vacuum at the highest levels of government that the military willingly filled. "There aren't any civilian institutions to fall back on," said Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation who has written about the Egyptian military. "It's an open question how much power the military has, and they might not even know themselves."

The beneficiary of nearly $40 billion in American aid over the last 30 years, the Egyptian military has turned into a behemoth that controls not only security and a burgeoning defense industry, but has also branched into civilian businesses like road and housing construction, consumer goods and resort management.

The military has built a highway from Cairo to the Red Sea; manufactures stoves and refrigerators for export; it even produces olive oil and bottled spring water. When riots broke out during bread shortages in March 2008, the army stepped in and distributed bread from its own bakeries, burnishing its reputation as Egypt's least corrupt and most efficient state institution.

"In times of crisis, they are there," Salah Eissa, editor of a government-run weekly, Al Qahira, said in an interview. "That's why you see some people today go as far as to call for military rule."

To enhance their power and prestige, the armed forces cloak themselves in a veil of secrecy, answering directly to the president, not the prime minister or cabinet. They have ignored calls in Parliament for budget transparency. The names of the general officers are not published, nor is the military's size, which is considered a state secret (observers estimate the ranks at 300,000 to 400,000).

The military interprets its writ broadly. A retired army general, Hosam Sowilam, recently said the army would step in "with force if necessary" to stop the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, from ascending to power. He added that the military still considered Israel a primary threat, even though the two nations had been at peace for more three decades.

"We shall obey the president because he will be accepted by the people," General Sowilam said in an interview. "But we will not accept any interference by the political parties into our military affairs."
While the military is not expected to dictate the governing party's candidate, Egyptian political observers said it held an informal veto power over who rose to the top of the country's power pyramid. "The military is seen as the only institution that is able to block succession in Egypt," said Issandr el-Amrani, a close observer of Egyptian affairs who writes the Arabist blog.

At the same time, the military does not want to be seen as dictating political events. "They are the only and primary force in Egypt right now," said George Ishak, a member of the secular opposition group National Association for Change. "We do not wish for the military institution to play a political role in supporting anyone over anyone."

The defense minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, always appears on the very short list of possible successors to President Mubarak, along with another septuagenarian contender, the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. Nevertheless, Gamal Mubarak, who has risen quickly through the governing National Democratic Party, is presumed by many to be the heir apparent; speculation intensified last NY Timesweek when he accompanied his father to Washington for the opening of Middle East peace talks, even though Gamal Mubarak has no official government position.

But many in the military chafe at the idea of a Gamal Mubarak presidency, especially as he ascends to the office through the kind of heavily manipulated ballots to which Egypt has grown accustomed. If he wants to succeed his father, said Mohamed Kadry Said, a retired general, he must win in "clean elections."

Much of the military's distrust of Gamal Mubarak stems from his ties to a younger generation of ruling party cadres who have made fortunes in the business world. The military is tied to the National Democratic Party's "old guard," a substantially less wealthy elite who made their careers as ministers, officers and apparatchiks. Military officers said they feared that Gamal Mubarak might erode the military's institutional powers.

"Of course the military has become jealous they are not the only big bosses now," said General Said. "They feel threatened by the business community."

General Said, the military adviser to the government's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, still works closely with the defense establishment. He says that he believes a military coup is "not an option," but that he thinks that President Mubarak's successor, whether Gamal Mubarak or someone else, will have to convince the military that its position in the Egyptian power structure will remain secure.

And that is likely to include a place in the business affairs of the country. Military Factory 99, for example, produces a variety of consumer goods - stainless steel pots and pans, fire extinguishers, scales, cutlery - in addition to its primary function of forging metal components for heavy ammunition.
In the end, the military court dealt leniently with the strikers. After a quick trial, three were acquitted and the five others received suspended sentences.
But the military had made its point. "There are no labor strikes in military society," General Sowilam said. "If they don't want to obey our rules, let them try their luck in the civilian world."

Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting.

Media swamp Florida church at centre of Koran row

By Steve Kingstone
Gainesville, Florida

Reporters have grown used to Pastor Jones' sartorial variety Pastor Terry Jones shares a name with one of the Monty Python troupe, and the scene outside his Gainesville church is undoubtedly a circus.

In the searing Florida heat I counted at least 20 television satellite trucks (yes, including one used by the BBC); plus assorted technicians, camera crews and glistening correspondents (including me).

On the main road, a small group of banner-waving protesters denounced the pastor's views on everything from Islam to abortion to homosexuality. Inside, hardier members of Mr Jones' tiny flock strode around, with pistols hanging from high-waisted trousers.

The man himself was big of voice and moustache, but strikingly short on clarity of message - not to mention understanding of the Muslim religion which he considers the "devil's work."

We did, however, get a fuller understanding of Terry Jones' wardrobe. His increasingly frequent news conferences took place against various hues of shirt and tie. On Thursday, Pastor Jones appeared to have completely changed clothes between two press conferences, barely an hour apart.

Imam muddle

Not all church members have welcomed the media frenzy And then there were the self-styled peacemakers.

First, the local imam who brought the offer of a quid pro quo, in which the Korans would be reprieved in return for the relocation of a proposed Islamic centre near Ground Zero. A "deal" which rapidly unravelled, when it became clear that Imam Muhammad Musri had no authority to offer it. Hopelessly befuddled, Pastor Jones appeared not to know his imams from his Iman - at one stage suggesting he had struck a deal with David Bowie's wife.

Next up to the plate was Dr KA Paul, a Christian evangelist who previously defended the honour of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian leader currently on trial for crimes against humanity.

With no deficiency in self-assurance, Dr Paul issued an ultimatum to the Manhattan site developers - giving them two hours to formalise a meeting with Terry Jones. The "or else" was never made clear; and predictably, there was no outreach from New York.


The tiny Florida church has been surrounded by news crews As the sun finally eased, I took a walk around the site of the corrugated-iron church, which bears a striking resemblance to an exhaust factory just up the road. To one side was a children's climbing frame and paddling pool, and a basketball hoop under trees draped with Spanish moss. At the foot of the Church's locked, mirrored doors lay three dozen red roses, under a notice stating "expect a miracle."

When I wandered towards an out-building, a wispy-moustached youth barred my way, explaining that this was a "work area." Stacks of carefully-wrapped chairs and tables behind him seemed consistent with reports of Pastor Jones' sideline furniture business. Carpentry may be the only thing he has in common with Jesus.

With the threat of lighted match meeting holy book apparently receding, the Gainesville constabulary seemed to relax, and by day's-end there were no uniformed police officers on view. On Northwest 37th Street a lone protestor paraded a simple banner proclaiming "Shame on you" - drawing supportive toots from passing motorists.

Mirror of publicity

"Pastor Jones just wanted 15 minutes of celebrity whoredom," explained the protestor, aptly named Paula Pope. "He's a short-sighted, idiotic, fanatical narcissist."

Her remarks left me uneasy. Could this have been avoided, had we in the media denied the narcissistic Jones the mirror of publicity? Possibly - although I would argue it was the warnings from generals and politicians which transformed the Dove Outreach Center from obscurity into headline news. Warnings which the Obama administration clearly felt had to be made.

As I write, the battalion of satellite trucks is thinning, and Gainesville is turning its thoughts to this campus town's true religion - college football - ahead of a fiercely-anticipated local derby. Few here will mourn the fading of Terry Jones from the headlines.

The Karzai empire, villas in Dubai and fears over Afghan aid

The family of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has been linked to more than a dozen expensive homes in the Gulf, raising fears that Western aid money sent to Afghanistan is being misused.

By Richard Spencer in Dubai, James Kirkup and Damien McElroy

The Daily Telegraph today reveals a property empire in Dubai assembled at a cost of £90 million that is owned or occupied by close relatives and associates of Mr Karzai.

The property holdings emerged as Mr Karzai, who leads one of the world's poorest and most deprived countries, has struggled to salvage Afghanistan's biggest private bank, Kabul Bank, which bankrolled the purchases.

The centrepiece of the holdings is a portfolio of 14 villas on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's showpiece 
property development, registered in the name of Sher Khan Farnood, the former chairman of Kabul Bank. Kabul Bank also owns an apartment, two business plots and a loss-making airline, Pamir Airlines, in Dubai.

Mahmoud Karzai, President Karzai's brother and the third-largest shareholder in the bank, like Mr Farnood, 46, occupies a "Signature" villa valued at up to £4 million. Other properties are valued between £3 million and £1 million.

He also made a £500,000 profit following the sale of a Dubai bought with a loan from Kabul Bank.

Mahmoud Karzai is not the only member of an Afghan political family living in villas distributed across the development where David Beckham, Michael Schumacher, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are also owners.

Haseen Fahim, another Kabul shareholder and the brother of the ex-warlord vice-president, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, lives nearby.

Senior British government ministers are privately furious that Kabul Bank has been used to buy property in the Gulf.

Ministers will not directly comment on the Karzai family over its business interests, but MPs said the apparent corruption in Kabul is undermining Western attempts to stabilise the country.

Adam Holloway, a Conservative member of the Commons defence committee, said: "A lot of people have become very rich on money that was supposed to help Afghanistan."

The Afghan government relies on international aid to provide more than half of the revenues it uses to finance public sector wages. President Karzai ordered that all salaries of 250,000 government employees, including teachers, medical workers and security forces, would be paid by direct debit to accounts with Kabul Bank two years after it was established in 2006.

Mr Farnood occupies a grand villa adorned at the front with statues of Roman legionaries, manicured lawns on all sides, a sweeping beachfront and a swimming pool in the back garden.

A Mercedes SUV sits in the driveway.
His current status is unclear. The poker-playing former exile resigned last week under orders to hand back the Dubai properties but he has not been charged with any offence.

Kabul Bank, which runs the payroll for Nato-backed security forces, has been deserted by thousands of depositors since the country's Central Bank launched an investigation.

For his part Mr Karzai is thinking of moving on from the villa because his children have gone abroad to study and he is highly critical of his former partner's failure to avoid the pitfalls of the boom. "The property here in Dubai was another big mistake. Sher Khan did it single-handedly. The thing is, he's not sophisticated enough for today's global economy," he said.

There could be worse to come, he added, pointing to the still unvalued cost of the investment in Pamir Airlines and other ventures. "These two were running the bank," he said. "They made risky investments, lending over the limit... it was hopeless."

Muslims in America increasingly alienated as hatred grows in Bible belt

On the anniversary of 9/11, Chris McGreal reports from the Tennessee town where Muslims have lived in harmony with Christians for decades - but where they now feel under threat
Chris McGreal

Safaa Fathy was as surprised to discover that she is at the heart of a plot against America as she was to hear that her small Tennessee town is a focus of hate in the Muslim world.

The diminutive fifty-something physiotherapist, who has lived in Murfreesboro for most of her adult life, happens to be on the board of her town's Islamic centre. Now she finds herself accused of being a front for Islamic Jihad, of planning to impose sharia law on her neighbours, and of threatening the very existence of Christianity in Tennessee.

"There is something around the whole United States, something is different. I was here since 1982. I have three kids here and I never had any trouble. My kids, they go to the girl scouts, they play basketball, they did all the normal activities. It just started this year. It's strange, because after 9/11 there was no problem," said Fathy, who was born in Egypt. "In the past in America other people were the target. We are the target now. We have trouble in California, we have trouble in New York, we have trouble in Florida. It's a shame because Murfreesboro is a very nice town to live in."

As the US prepares to mark the ninth anniversary of the al-Qaida assault on New York and the Pentagon, the country's Muslims say they are enduring a wave of hostility and suspicion from some of their fellow Americans that they rarely encountered in the years immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

The increasingly bitter dispute over plans to build an Islamic centre and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York is part of it, fuelling a debate about whether Muslims in the US put their faith before their country. Opponents of the mosque plan to mark the anniversary with a rally in New York today led by a leading anti-Islamic activist, Pamela Geller, who has the support of prominent Republican politicians given to increasingly strident anti-Muslim rhetoric. Among those expected to speak is Geert Wilders, the virulently anti-Islamic Dutch political leader.

Even the possibly rescinded threat by a publicity-seeking pastor in Florida to burn hundreds of copies of the Qur'an played into the hands of Islam's foes in America, despite the fact it did not garner much popular support, when it drew threats of bloody retribution from some Muslim groups abroad. All this comes against a backdrop of growing numbers of Americans suspecting that their president is secretly a Muslim - nearly one in five say that he is and many more think it likely - and diminishing support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are still proving a heavy burden in blood and money. The charged atmosphere in which the terrorist attacks will be remembered this weekend has also penetrated deep into the heartland, where hostility has increasingly shifted inward to focus on America's own Islamic communities. "It really started in May," said Fathay. "I keep asking myself, why this year? Why are they suddenly lying about us now?"

Late last year Musfreesboro's Islamic leaders announced plans to build a new mosque because the 250 Muslim families in town had outgrown the existing one. The construction plans were approved. At first, no one in the town of about 100,000 people south of Nashville said much about it.

In February someone spray-painted over the sign: "Not welcome", with the letter t shaped like a Christian cross. Fathay put that down to one hostile individual. But by May protest meetings were organised, politicians were denouncing the plans and the loyalty of Muslims in the town was openly questioned. Critics did not pull their punches at a public meeting. Among those who spoke against construction of the new Islamic centre was Karen Harrell.

"Everybody knows they are trying to kill us. People are really concerned about this. Somebody has to stand up and take this country back," she said.

Speakers accused Muslims in the town of promoting polygamy and indoctrinating the young with hate, and questioned whether they adhered to the US constitution.

George Erdel, running for a seat in the US Congress as a "Tea Party Democrat", feared that the true intent of the mosque was to impose Islamic rule. "Islam is a system of government. Islam is a system of justice. We've got people here who remember September 11 2001. These people are scared," he said. "I'm afraid we'll have a training facility."

It did not go unnoticed by Islamic leaders that some of the fiercest criticism was whipped up by candidates in this year's elections. At the forefront was Lou Ann Zelenik, a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress who is a leader of the local Tea Party movement.

"This 'Islamic Centre' is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee," Zelenik said. "Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilisation and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them."

Alongside Zelenik was Laurie Cardoza-Moore, the founder of a group that rallies Christians in support of Israel. Cardoza-Moore describes herself as "a leader who successfully stewards masses toward her intended outcomes".

She told a Christian television station that the plan to build a new mosque in Murfreesboro was part of a plot to take over Middle Tennessee because it is the heart of the Bible belt:

"You have Bible book publishers. You have Christian book publishers. You have Christian music headquartered here. The radical Islamic extremists have stated that they are still fighting the Crusaders, and they see this as the capital of the Crusaders."

Similar warnings can be heard in other parts of Tennessee and in states from California to New England.

The imam of the Murfreesboro mosque, Ossama Bahloul, says others have been here before. A generation ago in Tennessee black activists were burned out of their homes for agitating against segregation and for civil rights, and Catholics and other Christian minorities were targets for the Ku Klux Klan.

"It's a cycle of life. If we are really dangerous, let them close this [existing] centre too. This community did not do a single act of violence," said Bahloul. "Maybe it has a relationship with the election, maybe with the economic problems we have in the country, maybe it was September 11, but I doubt this, because why did we have a fine time last year and the year before and before that when the memory of September 11 was still fresh in everybody's mind?"

Ron Messier, a professor of Islamic studies who lives in Murfreesboro, says the mood is driven by politics. "It's happened because this is an election year and I think there were some political candidates who thought that here in Middle Tennessee a lot of people have very right leanings and they could gain some political leverage by promoting fear about people who have been here for 20 years or more without ever being an issue," he said. Yet the politicians apparently did not have to drill deep to tap into fears of Muslims, who are subject to language that would not be acceptable when talking about almost any other minority. They are helped by parts of the media. Fox News leads the charge, routinely giving a platform to those who question the loyalty of Muslim Americans and to conspiracy theorists.

This week Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of New Republic, an influential Washington political magazine, wrote that Muslims were unfit for the protections of the US constitution. "Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf [of the proposed New York Islamic centre] there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood," Peretz wrote. "So, yes, I wonder whether I need honour these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."

Peretz was swiftly denounced by some prominent American bloggers, among them Glenn Greenwald, who writes for "Bigotry against Muslims and Arabs is one of the last acceptable forms of overt bigotry that is tolerated in American political culture. If you look at the things that he said and replace the word Muslim or Arab with Jew or even Christian, those comments would be completely career ending and reputation destroying," he said.

While Peretz was vigorously criticised on blogs, mainstream newspapers that regularly denounce racism and antisemitism stayed silent.

Two weeks ago someone set fire to construction equipment at the site of Murfreesboro's new mosque. Some in the town were outraged, but not Kimberly Kelly. "I think it was a piece of their own medicine. They bombed our country," she told The Tennessean newspaper. Two days later about 150 people turned out for a candlelight vigil in support of the Muslim community on the steps of the local courthouse.

Many in the town say they have no problem with the new mosque. Among them is a woman called Bonnie who works in a local bookshop and lost a stepbrother in one of the World Trade Centre towers.

"I don't have a problem with them opening a mosque in New York, just not two blocks from where my stepbrother died. But here doesn't bother me because everybody has a right to practise their religion. They've been here, they're quiet. They haven't bothered anybody," she said.

Muslim leaders are careful to say that the hostility has come from a vocal minority and has prompted an outpouring of backing from non-Muslims. The Islamic centre has a "wall of support" with messages from people who say they are Christian and have sons fighting in Afghanistan.

The burning question for many Muslims in Murfreesboro is whether, once the political calendar moves on, they will again be left in peace or whether relations have been poisoned for years to come. Perhaps they can draw comfort from August's primary election for Congress. Zelenick was defeated, along with most of the other politicians who made Islam an election issue in Tennessee.

Belgian child abuse report exposes Catholic clergy

Paedophilia expert unveils harrowing testimony and documents cases in almost every diocese
Ian Traynor in Brussels

Some of the most damning evidence of systematic child abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy to come to light was unveiled today by Belgium's leading authority on paedophilia, who published hundreds of pages of harrowing victim testimony detailing their traumas and suffering.

The explosive report by Peter Adriaenssens in the town of Louvain, east of Brussels, lists evidence of 476 instances of child abuse by priests and bishops going back 50 years.

Adriaenssens was appointed by the church last year to head an independent inquiry into the scandal. Since April, when Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of Bruges, resigned after admitting persistently molesting a nephew, the Adriaenssens commission has been inundated with evidence, with hundreds of victims coming forward.

He has since documented cases of abuse occurring in almost every diocese in the country and in virtually every school run by the church. "We can say that no part of the country escapes sexual abuse of minors by one or several [church] members," said Adriaenssens.

"This is the church's Dutroux dossier," he added in reference to the notorious Belgian paedophile serial killer, Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped, tortured, abused and murdered six girls in 1995-6.

Speaking of the victims, Adriaenssens said that 13 had killed themselves, according to relatives, and another six had attempted suicide.

The 200-page report includes copious anonymous testimony from 124 of the victims "to honour their courage" in coming forward.

"There are days when I thank God for having the chance to speak," testified one woman.

"Four years of psychotherapy have taught me that silence kills. I have had enormous depressions, going as far as attempted suicide. At other times I think it would be wise to let sleeping dogs lie. But in the end I've chosen to speak ... Since the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, I am living again in anxiety and fear. And I am far away. I've chosen to live far from my country, hoping that the past won't rejoin me."

This testimony was from a woman abused in the 1980s, but most of the cases concerned young boys and teenagers, as well a documented case of a two-year-old boy being molested.

Another victim told of being repeatedly sexually molested by his parish priest for five years from the age of seven.

"From being a violated child, I myself became, several years later, an abuser of adolescents and was sentenced to eight years in jail of which I served four and a half ... The priest's violations certainly strongly shaped my sexual identity and influenced my life choices."

The evidence presented, said the daily newspaper Le Soir, was of "immense persistent suffering which neither the church, justice, nor society have been able to assuage ... Adriaenssens has done what everyone else declined to do - listen to the victims, understand them, and give them the place they deserve."

The abuse went back to the 1950s, was most common in the 60s and was tailing off by the 1980s, Adriaenssens said.

"The exposed cases are old, of course," he said. "Society has developed. But there's nothing to indicate that the number of paedophiles has diminished. Where are they today?"

Most of the victims were now middle-aged, but remained traumatised. Around half of the abusers had died.

The expert unveiled his report today because yesterday a Belgian court ruled that the material, seized by police in a highly controversial raid in June, was inadmissible in court because of the "disproportionate" police action and ordered it returned.

Pope Benedict criticised the Belgian authorities for "deplorable" conduct when in June they seized the commission's files, raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic church, held cardinals and bishops for several hours, took their mobile phones, and carried away computers and documents.

They questioned Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who retired as head of the Belgian church and archbishop of Brussels in January.

Two weeks ago Belgian newspapers published tape recordings of Danneels seeking to hush up the case of Vangheluwe, the Bruges bishop.

Vangheluwe's nephew secretly recorded Danneels pressing him to keep quiet about his uncle at least until he retired next year.

"I don't think you'd do yourself or him a favour by shouting this from the rooftops," the cardinal warned the victim, who replied angrily that his uncle had abused him for 13 years from the age of five.

The recordings were made in April and the bishop resigned two weeks later, the most senior clergyman in the Catholic church to have quit after being exposed for child abuse.

Low-key Eid celebrations in Pakistan amid flood fallout


ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Muslims on Saturday took part in low-key celebrations for the Eidul Fitr festival, as millions still languish without shelter after the nation's worst-ever floods.

Eid is the most important festival in the Islamic calendar - marking the end of the fasting month of Ramazan - but celebrations were muted Saturday as the fallout from devastating floods continues.

The deluges have left 10 million people without shelter nationwide, according to UN figures, with UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano describing it as "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in UN history."
Some 21 million people have been affected by the floods, which began more than six weeks ago and have dragged on through Ramazan, with more than eight million reliant on aid handouts for survival.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani mentioned the "miseries and grief" of the flood victims in their separate Eid messages to nation.

"We cannot celebrate the day with traditional fanfare and festivities when millions of our countrymen have been rendered shelter-less as villages, towns and cities have been destroyed by the floods," Zardari said.

He said: "We bow our heads in gratitude to Allah on this day for blessing us with the bounties of the holy month of Ramazan."

"For the Muslims it is a thanksgiving day and I wish to greet all Muslims of the world on this occasion."

In his message, Prime Minister Gilani said: "This year's Eid festival is being celebrated on such a moment of history, when a large part of country is under the devastation caused by floods."

"Millions of fellow countrymen are homeless and facing severe difficulties."

He said the nation had demonstrated come together with generosity to lessen the hardship faced by the flood victims.

"No doubt, brave nations face the challenges with courage and mettle," he said.

Gilani will celebrate Eid with flood affected people in different camps all over the country on Saturday and Sunday, an official statement said.

The floods inundated vast swathes of Pakistan and killed 1,760 people but disaster officials have said the number of deaths is likely to rise "significantly" when the missing are accounted for.

Global cash pledges have been slow coming to bolster rescue and relief efforts and the UN warned it could impede relief operations as Pakistan faces a triple threat to food supplies - with seeds, crops and incomes hit.

Advancing floodwaters continue to threaten parts of Sindh province, with 19 of its 23 districts deluged and 2.8 million people displaced, according to provincial authorities.

Fresh rains have also hampered rescue efforts in Sindh as thousands of people trying to leave flood-threatened towns remained stranded.

Gazans ‘celebrate' Eid in nontraditional ways

Hiba Khalaf (Al Arabiya)
This Firday Gazans chose to ‘celebrate' the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of Ramadan, by visiting cemeteries to remember their dead, and prisons to see their close-ones in Israeli jails, shifting away from the conventional Eid celebration customs of gift giving and visiting relatives.

Four years of sanctions against the Gaza strip has left its toll of high unemployment and rising poverty amid rising prices.

Low income forced many Gazans to stay home to avoid the embarrassment of them not being able to cope with the expenses that come with the customary gift giving to female relatives and children.

Surprising high volume of goods
Markets in Gaza this Eid witnessed high volume stocks of goods on shelves despite the Israeli siege, however many sellers confirmed the low purchasing power of people in Gaza.

"The huge amount of goods do not indicate that the market is alive, many families cannot buy these goods," said Jamal Farhan.

"Four years of sanctions have tired the people in Gaza, and a lot of them are unable to fulfill their basic Eid celebration family needs. Many visitors to the market either buy very little or just ask about the price before they leave with a sad look on their faces," he adds.

Fahmi Taha, another seller confirms that the occasions such as Eid have increased the burden of many Gazans who already suffer from low salaries amid higher increasing prices.

"Eid is an important celebratory religious occasion, and such occasion should add on the happiness to our children...our situation is too bad, but we try our best to put on smiles on our children's faces."

Ten thousands of laborers have lost their jobs; also previous battles with Israel have left a surmountable amount of suffering that made many Palestinian families homeless and trodden with poverty.

At dawn this Friday Gazans woke up on the alarm of Israeli sirens. The Israeli attacks did not kill any Palestinian however left property damages.

Many Gazans believe that the real celebration is born when Fatah and Hamas reach reconciliation and end inner Palestinian division.

Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and head of Fatah resumed direct negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on September 2, 20 months after he broke them off when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

(Translated from Arabic by Dina al-Shibeeb)

Taliban says US is losing the war in Afghanistan

KABUL (Agencies)
The Taliban marked the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States on Saturday by calling on American forces to withdraw unconditionally and end the "illegal occupation" of Afghanistan.

In a statement that also coincided with the Eid holiday, marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the Taliban said the United States had no chance of bringing peace to Afghanistan after nearly nine years of war.

As NATO allies pulled out their troops, Americans had become targets both at home and abroad, said the statement, emailed to news organizations.

"Nine years after September 11, despite using all possible military solutions in Afghanistan, now they have lost any possible chance for peace," the statement said of the United States.

"They are left with only one option and that is to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan without any preconditions.

"They do not have the right to impose conditions and preconditions for leaving Afghanistan because, first, their occupation of Afghanistan was illegal and also, second, they have been defeated in this illegal invasion," it said.

The United States and NATO have 150,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting to quell the Taliban insurgency, which began soon after the Islamists' brutal five-year regime was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion.

Military leaders, including the commander of international forces U.S. General David Petraeus, agree that the Taliban's footprint has spread in recent years, especially to the once-peaceful north.

The insurgency is concentrated in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, populated largely by ethnic Pashtuns who are the bedrock of the Taliban and its fight against the Kabul government.

President Hamid Karzai, kept in power by the coalition forces, is trying to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership to bring the war to a speedy end, as United States troops are expected to begin drawing down next July.

The Dutch have already withdrawn and the Canadians are due to end their mission next year.

The Taliban has used U.S. President Barack Obama's deadline for the start of a drawdown against the coalition, saying it shows how the war has turned in its favor.

"The international coalition they (the United States) befriended at the beginning, now realizing the reality, have started to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan to free themselves from this problem," the statement said.

Kissinger urges regional engagement in Afghanistan
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Afghanistan's neighbors need to be engaged in order to find a long-term solution to the conflict there.

Pakistan, Iran, China and India all have an interest in preventing a Taliban victory and al-Qaeda from establishing itself in Afghanistan, Kissinger told an international security conference in Geneva on Friday.

"The presence of a terrorist, drug-producing state in that geographic location will affect every country," Kissinger said.

"For Pakistan it will undermine whatever order exists today," he said, adding that Shiite-majority Iran would also be threatened by a fundamentalist Sunni regime in Kabul.

"In many respects India will be the most affected country if a jihadist Islamism gains impetus in Afghanistan," said Kissinger. "Even China, with its problems in Xinjian, cannot be indifferent," he said, referring to China's northwestern province which has recently seen increased Muslim unrest.

The 87-year-old, who negotiated U.S. disengagement from the Vietnam conflict, said "an essentially unilateral American role cannot be the long-term solution" for Afghanistan.

Kissinger's speech prompted protests outside the conference venue by Chilean and Argentine groups angry at his support for military dictatorships there during his time as secretary of state in the 1970s.

British soldier shot in Afghanistan dies of injuries
A British soldier who was injured in southern Afghanistan last month has died in hospital in Birmingham, central England, the Ministry of Defense said Saturday.

The death of the soldier from the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, brings the total number of British soldiers who have died in operations in Afghanistan to 335 since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The soldier was shot in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province on August 23, and finally succumbed to his injuries at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Friday.

About 10,000 British troops are fighting in Afghanistan as part of a 150,000-strong international force battling Taliban militants.

Quran burning and US inconsistency


Why does the US government think burning Qurans is less civilised than drone attacks on civilian populations?

Barack Obama, the US president, has warned that threats to burn the Quran are a sure and effective way to swell the ranks of al-Qaeda. This may be true, but largely because such symbolic acts of ‘Islamophobia’ are widely viewed as verifying the perception that the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with its backing of Israel, are motivated by its hostility towards Muslims.

The previously unheard of pastor of a small Florida church may have scrapped his plan to publicly burn hundreds of Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but the threat alone has done untold damage to the already troubled relationship between the Muslim world and the West.

The US government’s reaction to the plan will not have gone unnoticed. But no matter how strong the words of condemnation, those on the receiving end of US occupation or air raids will be struck by the apparent inconsistency.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan, warned that burning the Quran could endanger the lives of US troops who might become the target of retribution. But why do Obama and Petraeus think that burning the Quran is any less civilised or more dangerous than their use of unmanned drones to target suspected Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters and the subsequent civilian casualties these attacks often entail?

Terry Jones, the pastor behind the planned Quran bonfire, may be insane, as some, including his own daughter, have suggested. But what excuse do sane and sophisticated people like Obama, Petraeus, and Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, have?

In his Cairo speech, Obama attributed the blame for some of the misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim world to the acts of terrorism carried out by a minority of Muslims. “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights,” he said. But he totally glossed over the fact that before – just as after – 9/11, the US engaged in unjust wars against mainly Muslim countries – a threat that is more potent than any plan to burn Qurans.

If it were not for these wars and a history of US support for the Israeli occupation and dictators in the region, the threat to burn Qurans – as ugly and offensive as it clearly is – would not have been anything more than the act of a small-time minister searching for attention and obsessed with his own prejudices.

But in an atmosphere of ‘Islamophobia’ – fed by a mistrust and ignorance of Islam – and US wars against Muslim countries, the suggestion of a Quran-burning day becomes something much more significant.

It also reflects the general dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs – particularly those who have been the victims of American and Israeli bombings – that has taken root, allowing some of the US public to become immune to the crimes committed by their own government or with their government’s backing.

Today, as Americans grieve the victims of the 9/11 attacks, it is important to recognise that sorrow is a shared universal sentiment that does not exclude religions or races.

In the weeks following 9/11, the American press devoted pages and air time to giving a human face to the victims of the attacks. It is not realistic or even right to expect the American media to give the exact same treatment to the victims of US wars. But, until very recently, the US media rarely even questioned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and when it did, the questions asked rarely centred on the civilian deaths, which were at best seen as inevitable incidents of war and, at worst, as necessary collateral damage.

Such a mentality is more damaging in the long run than any individual threatening to burn the Quran, because it plants the seeds of dehumanisation.

In the words of Kathy Kelly, an American peace activist who is currently facing trial for ‘trespassing’ in a drone-manufacturing plant during an anti-war protest, the mainstream media “does little to help ordinary [Americans] … understand that the drones which hover over potential targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen create small “ground zeroes” in multiple locales on an everyday basis”.

U.S. troops charged with murder of Afghan civilians


Twelve U.S. soldiers have been charged with gruesome crimes in Afghanistan ranging from murdering civilians to keeping body parts as war trophies — revelations that the Pentagon said on Thursday damaged America’s image around the world.

The infantry soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade based in Washington state deployed to Kandahar province a year ago and the murders occurred between January and March, according to charges by army prosecutors made public this week.

“Allegations like this are … very serious,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told a news briefing.

“Clearly, even if these allegations are proved to be untrue, it is unhelpful. It does not help the perceptions of our forces around the world.”

Morrell declined to comment on the specifics of the charges because the case is still in the military justice system.

Five soldiers were charged in June with the murder of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province.
But new charges disclosed to the media on Wednesday show seven others have also been charged in the case and face accusations that include conspiracy to cover-up the crime.

An Army spokeswoman said four of the soldiers have been charged for keeping body parts, which beyond finger bones and a skull include leg bones and a human tooth. It was unclear where the remains had come from based on the charge sheets.

Morrell said the allegations had yet to be proven, but were “serious nonetheless.”

“They are, I think you all would agree, an aberration in terms of the behavior of our forces, if true, around the world,” he said.

“We’ve got 150,000 men and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now whose mission is to protect the Iraqi and Afghan people,” he said. “They are risking their lives to protect the Iraqi and Afghan people.

“So I don’t believe the allegations here against those few individuals are representative of the behavior or the attitudes of the entire force,” Morrell said.

The charges, whether ultimately proven true or not, had already damaged the U.S. military’s reputation, he said.

Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role

 New York Times

A renegade pastor and his tiny flock set fire to a Koran on a street corner, and made sure to capture it on film. And they were ignored.

That stunt took place in 2008, involving members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan., an almost universally condemned group of fundamentalists who also protest at military funerals.

But plans for a similar stunt by another fringe pastor, Terry Jones, have garnered worldwide news media attention this summer, attention that peaked Thursday when he announced he was canceling — and later, that he had only “suspended” — what he had dubbed International Burn a Koran Day. It had been scheduled for Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Unlike the Koran-burning by Westboro Baptist, Mr. Jones’s planned event in Gainesville, Fla., coincided with the controversy over the proposed building of a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan near ground zero and a simmering summerlong debate about the freedoms of speech and religion.

Mr. Jones was able to put himself at the center of those issues by using the news lull of summer and the demands of a 24-hour news cycle to promote his anti-Islam cause. He said he consented to more than 150 interview requests in July and August, each time expressing his extremist views about Islam and Sharia law.

By the middle of this week, the planned Koran burning was the lead story on some network newscasts, and topic No. 1 on cable news — an extraordinary amount of attention for a marginal figure with a very small following. On Thursday, President Obama condemned Mr. Jones’s plan, and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that there were “more people at his press conferences than listen to his sermons,” in a bit of media criticism.

Mr. Jones’s plan, announced in July, slowly gained attention in August, particularly overseas. It became a top story in the United States this week after protests against Mr. Jones in Afghanistan and after the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, warned that the Koran burning could endanger troops.

“Before there were riots and heads of states talking about him, it could have been a couple of paragraphs in a story about Sept. 11 commemorations,” Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor of The Associated Press, said Thursday. “It’s beyond that now.”

In some ways, this week’s events were the culmination of a year’s worth of hateful statements and stunts by Mr. Jones and the few dozen members of his church.

Mr. Jones started to make noise in Gainesville in the summer of 2009, when he posted a sign outside his church that read “Islam is of the devil.” The Gainesville Sun (which is owned by The New York Times Company) wrote about the sign, under the headline “Anti-Islam church sign stirs up community outrage.”

He told The Sun that the sign would not be his last.

The newspaper soon published an investigation into what it called the church’s “financial abuses,” which included a profit-making eBay furniture sales business operating on the church’s property.
The congregation’s protests continued last fall, when some children from the church wore anti-Islam shirts to school, prompting another article by The Sun, which was picked up by The Associated Press and republished by outlets like USA Today and Al Arabiya, an Arabic language news network.

People with the same anti-Islam shirts sometimes roamed the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, said Fiona Mc Laughlin, a professor at the university, prompting a counterprotest with T-shirts that read, “Ignorance is of the devil.”

The church “never really rested after that first billboard,” said Jacki Levine, the managing editor of The Sun. She said the newspaper’s staff members had repeatedly discussed how to be “responsible” in its coverage — “We walked as carefully as we could walk.”

Islam was not Mr. Jones’s only target. Church members also held protests against Craig Lowe, an openly gay man who was elected mayor of Gainesville in April.

Mr. Jones’s announcement about the Koran burning gained only a little attention at first, with a single short article published by a Web site called Religion News Service. That article was subsequently mentioned by bigger sites, like Yahoo, and by the end of the July Mr. Jones had been booked on CNN, where the host Rick Sanchez called his plan “crazy” but added, “At least he has got the guts to come on this show and face off.”

Alarmed by negative mentions about Gainesville in overseas news outlets, Mr. Lowe released a statement Aug. 3 labeling Mr. Jones’s church a “tiny fringe group and an embarrassment to our community.”

News executives said the proposed burning took on a greater significance after the protests in Afghanistan and in other Muslim countries. In Kabul last Sunday, up to 500 people attended a protest at which Mr. Jones was burned in effigy, according to The A.P.

That, too, is when Ms. Mc Laughlin took notice. With 11 other professors, she wrote a column for The Sun condemning the plan titled “The world is watching.”

“We just saw everything escalating,” she said Thursday, citing the “sum effect” of all the coverage and the ensuing reactions. (The New York Times wrote a substantial article about Mr. Jones on August 26.)

On Thursday, before Mr. Jones suspended his plans, The A.P. determined that it would not distribute pictures of Korans being burned, restating a policy not to cover events that are “gratuitously manufactured to provoke and offend.”

“There are lots of other similarly offensive images that we choose not to run all the time,” Ms. Carroll said. “Most people don’t know that because, of course, we don’t run them.”

Before the suspension, CNN and Fox News Channel said they would not show any images of a Koran being burned.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, said in an e-mail message that the newspaper had “no policy against publishing things that might offend someone — lots of people are offended by lots of things — but we try to refrain from giving widespread offense unless there is some offsetting journalistic purpose.”

“A picture of a burning book contributes nothing substantial to a story about book-burning, so the offense seems entirely gratuitous,” Mr. Keller continued. “The freedom to publish includes the freedom not to publish.”

The episode has given rise to at least a little soul-searching within news organizations. Chris Cuomo, an ABC News anchor, wrote Thursday afternoon on Twitter, “I am in the media, but think media gave life to this Florida burning … and that was reckless.”

MPs vote to keep UK troops in Afghanistan

 BBC News

MPs have overwhelmingly backed keeping UK troops in Afghanistan, in the first vote they have held on the issue.

There have been several statements and debates since the invasion took place almost nine years ago, but a motion has not previously been put to MPs.

The vote, on the question that “this House supports the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan”, passed by a majority of 296.

Some 334 UK troops have died and around 10,000 are serving in the war.

The decision to join the US-led invasion was taken without a parliamentary vote, unlike the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It was backed by the leaderships of all three main parties.

‘Swift withdrawal’
In June, Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted UK troops out of Afghanistan within five years, but added he preferred not to “deal in too strict timetables”.

The Commons motion on troops in Afghanistan was tabled by the newly established Backbench Business Committee, which lays down the agenda for debate time not taken up by the government.

During the debate Labour’s Paul Flynn, who represents Newport West, said: “The rate at which British soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan is now four times that of our US counterparts.

“The whole of the operation is continuing and there isn’t any possible outcome that is going to be just, that is going to be honourable.”

He told MPs: “We have turned so many corners we have been round the block half a dozen times in Afghanistan. We are still in hell and it is still getting worse.”

‘Very difficult’
Conservative Bob Stewart, who was a UN commander in Bosnia in 1992, praised the bravery of soldiers, saying many did not understand the “nuances” of politicians and the public saying they supported them but not the war.

He added: “We now have a situation where we have an increase of soldiers on the ground… and actually the principles of counter-insurgency are beginning to work and they are protecting the people. The key to this is whether the Afghan people can feel protected, safe and can live a decent life.

“But the fact of the matter is we have a real problem. We have a military aim which is probably to make sure that Afghanistan never threatens us again. We have a political aim… which is we want Afghanistan to have a decent lifestyle, taking part in the international community… and therefore not threaten us.

“It is a very difficult job our troops are doing.”

The government insists the Afghanistan mission is essential to ensuring the UK’s security, by hampering the growth of terrorist organisations in the region.

There have been numerous ministerial statements and general debates about the war, since it started in November 2001, without going to a vote.

The motion was passed by 310 votes to 14.

US soldiers ‘killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies’

 The Guardian

Soldiers face charges over secret ‘kill team’ which allegedly murdered at random and collected fingers as trophies of war

Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret “kill team” that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.

Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.

In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army’s criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to “toss a grenade at someone and kill them”.
One soldier said he believed Gibbs was “feeling out the platoon”.

Investigators said Gibbs, 25, hatched a plan with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the unit to form a “kill team”. While on patrol over the following months they allegedly killed at least three Afghan civilians. According to the charge sheet, the first target was Gul Mudin, who was killed “by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle”, when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January.

Morlock and another soldier, Andrew Holmes, were on guard at the edge of a poppy field when Mudin emerged and stopped on the other side of a wall from the soldiers. Gibbs allegedly handed Morlock a grenade who armed it and dropped it over the wall next to the Afghan and dived for cover. Holmes, 19, then allegedly fired over the wall.

Later in the day, Morlock is alleged to have told Holmes that the killing was for fun and threatened him if he told anyone.

The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade.

The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies.

Five soldiers – Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield – are accused of murder and aggravated assault among other charges. All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.

The killings came to light in May after the army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who told superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported that members of the unit regularly smoked the drug on duty and sometimes stole it from civilians.

The soldier, who was straight out of basic training and has not been named, said he witnessed the smoking of hashish and drinking of smuggled alcohol but initially did not report it out of loyalty to his comrades. But when he returned from an assignment at an army headquarters and discovered soldiers using the shipping container in which he was billeted to smoke hashish he reported it.

Two days later members of his platoon, including Gibbs and Morlock, accused him of “snitching”, gave him a beating and told him to keep his mouth shut. The soldier reported the beating and threats to his officers and then told investigators what he knew of the “kill team”.

Following the arrest of the original five accused in June, seven other soldiers were charged last month with attempting to cover up the killings and violent assault on the soldier who reported the smoking of hashish. The charges will be considered by a military grand jury later this month which will decide if there is enough evidence for a court martial. Army investigators say Morlock has admitted his involvement in the killings and given details about the role of others including Gibbs. But his lawyer, Michael Waddington, is seeking to have that confession suppressed because he says his client was interviewed while under the influence of prescription drugs taken for battlefield injuries and that he was also suffering from traumatic brain injury.

“Our position is that his statements were incoherent, and taken while he was under a cocktail of drugs that shouldn’t have been mixed,” Waddington told the Seattle Times.

Muslims toning down Eid festivities in honor of Sept. 11

 The Washington Post

Each year on Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan month of fasting, 8,000 to 10,000 Muslims stream into the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring in shifts for special Eid services, followed by food, singing, dancing and henna decorating to celebrate one of Islam’s most festive holidays.

The religious services are on for this year. But not the rest.

“No celebrations, no festivities,” said Rashid Makhdoom, who is on the center’s board of directors. By uncomfortable coincidence, the holiday falls this year around Sept. 11 – for the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Eid, like other Muslim events, is calculated on a lunar calendar and occurs slightly earlier each year. This week, depending on when in August one started fasting, it is either on the 9th, 10th, or 11th.

“Particularly, people are taking care not to do any celebrations on the day of 9/11, because it is a day of tragedy and we have to be sensitive,” Makhdoom said. “That’s the mood of the Muslims, generally very subdued.”

U.S. mosques have loudly condemned terrorism, and many services this year will commemorate the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, including, they point out, Muslims. But many say they are rethinking more festive activities in the wake of what has been a tense summer for Muslims in the United States.

A proposal to build an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center in New York provoked a swell of anti-Muslim sentiment; protesters have targeted mosques in other states; a Muslim
cabdriver was stabbed; and a Florida church has said it will burn Korans on Sept. 11.

In light of this, Muslim leaders say they fear that Eid celebrations could be misconstrued, mistakenly or deliberately.

“There are those who are promoting the idea that Muslims will be celebrating on 9/11 because that fits their hate-filled agenda,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “If we hold a community bazaar or a family fun day, it’ll be seized on by these people.”

To forestall misunderstandings, the Council of Muslim Organizations in greater Washington has called on its 147 member groups to avoid holding Eid celebrations on Sept. 11, and Muslim leaders are encouraging congregants to explain to non-Muslim friends and neighbors that the convergence this year is mere coincidence. A few groups are also beefing up security for this year’s event.

But some Muslims disagree on whether to adjust Eid activities in light of Sept. 11.

“There are two strains of thought,” Hooper said. “One is that Islam should not be blamed for 9/11 and that Muslims should not have to alter their religious practices, and that if you do, that shows some kind of guilt; and the other is, ‘Hey, let’s show a little sensitivity.’ ”

The convergence even feels uncomfortable for some Muslims. “On one hand, 9/11 is a very difficult day for us, and on the other hand, Eid is like our Christmas – it’s a day for celebration,” said Zeba Iqbal, executive director of the Council on the Advancement of Muslim Professionals, one of several groups promoting a Muslim day of service on Sept. 11. “We’re all very bittersweet and somewhat conflicted as to the best way to celebrate and commemorate at the same time.”

A sampling of Islamic groups in the Washington area, home to an estimated 250,000 Muslims, showed that most had no celebrations planned on Sept. 11, and many had moved or toned down their usual activities.

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society center in Sterling, one of the nation’s largest mosques, typically holds Eid events for 15,000 to 20,000 people in five locations, including synagogues, churches, hotels and sports facilities, with everything from prayer to children’s moon bounces; it will celebrate Eid on the 10th and hold its ninth annual interfaith peace gathering on the 11th.

“We have been very firm in recommending that people avoid festivities on Sept. 11,” said ADAMS board member Rizwan Jaka, adding, “If Eid was on Saturday, we would not have done the moon bounce.”

Anwer Hasan, founder and board member of the Howard County Muslim Council who attends Dar Al-Taqwa mosque in Ellicott City, said community leaders had alerted local elected officials to the holiday.

“We need to bring awareness to the American community here, so if anyone brings it to their attention, they know what it is,” Hasan said.

At the same time, Muslim leaders want to alert their own members. “We fear that. . . maybe some immigrant communities that might be newer to this country might not attach the same level of importance to September 11th,” Iqbal said, adding that pictures of smiling Muslims after a Sept. 10 Eid service could seem jarring in a newspaper published Sept. 11.

Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church will have pony rides, a moon bounce and free ice cream – but on Sept. 12, said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, a member of the Council of Muslim Organizations’ executive committee. He added that major Islamic centers in the area are following the recommendation.

But not all. “There are people who have raised issues with me, saying, ‘How did you come up with this? I don’t know if this sends the right signal,’ ” Abdul-Malik said.

The issue may be less of a problem for non-immigrant Muslim communities, said Tariq Najee-ullah, resident imam of Masjid Muhammad, one of the District’s oldest African American mosques, which plans to have music performances, poetry, basketball and football on Sept. 10.

“We have a very strong history here,” Najee-ullah said, adding that many non-Muslim relatives of congregants will also attend. “For 75 years, we’ve been a pillar of the community. I don’t think the community will get the wrong impression of who we are.”

US church’s plans to burn Qur’an berated across Muslim world

 The Guardian

Widespread anger over desecration threat marking ninth anniversary of 9/11 and its timing – a day after end of Ramadan

The Muslim and Arab world has responded angrily to the threats to burn the Qur’an, with the story featuring prominently on television news channels and in the press. Lebanon’s Christian president,
Michel Suleiman, issued a statement saying the threat was “in clear contradiction to the teachings of the Abrahamic religions and of dialogue among the three faiths”.

Abd al-Razzaq Mu’nis, a former Syrian deputy minster of religious affairs, told Alalam TV, an Iranian Arabic-language channel, that this was typical of western arrogance: “We are used to seeing the arrogant administrations in the US and Europe take turns in offending Islam and the figure of the Prophet Muhammad, using different styles to stir repulsive sectarian fanaticism.”

In Abu Dhabi, the Khaleej Times condemned a “rabid and insane act by an extremist pastor”, while Lebanon’s Daily Star warned of “a fire of rage that could consume swaths of the globe.”

Ramin Mehmanparast, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, warned western countries not to “desecrate” Islamic objects of worship to avoid creating “sensitive situations between public opinion and Muslims”.

On Sunday thousands of Indonesians gathered outside the US embassy in Jakarta calling for “jihad to protect Qur’an”.

The timing of the controversy coincides with the end of Ramadan. Muslim and Arab countries will announce tonight whether the feast of Eid al-Fitr will start tomorrow or Friday, depending on the sighting of the new moon. Eid al-Fitr is one of the two biggest Muslim holidays of the year.

“There is a feeling of unease as Eid al-Fitr is approaching, close to the anniversary of 9/11,” a correspondent for the Saudi Arab News reported from Ohio.

Commenting on the website of Al-Manar TV– run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah – an Algerian named Lily commented: “Allah will protect his book before it is harmed. This Ramadan Muslims are praying to Allah to [deal with] the hateful crusaders.” An unnamed Moroccan wrote: “Provocations of this kind will only increase the power of Islam.”