Monday, December 31, 2007
2007: More or less Democracy?
This is the end of year ritual when we take a look back on the events and developments over the past twelve months. It has been an interesting year but is the Arab world a more democratic place? There is very little indication that official Arabdom has changed its ways or that American money and firepower has had any significant impact on freedom of expression. On the web things are different and the exchange of political and cultural discourse has never been so vibrant and challenging. Arabdemocracy is only one of many initiatives that have started and grown this year. Our readership has increased steadily and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We hope that things will continue to progress in this direction and that repression and censorship will not rear their ugly heads to stop or influence this process.
We wish our readers a free and safe new year. Thank you for your support and see you in 2008.
The Team at Arabdemocracy
image taken from www.worldatlas.com
Friday, December 28, 2007
Benazir Bhutto and March 14th
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto did not come as a surprise. Since her return from exile to Pakistan in October, it was only a matter of time before she was maimed, silenced or annihilated. I found myself reacting in a similar way to the time I witnessed the last car bomb in Lebanon: A mixture of fear, anger and an intense desire to retaliate against those who justify violence in the name of divine inspiration. Leaving to one side the war on terror, the Bush administration and Capitalist globalization, I can’t help myself thinking that political Islam is in crisis and that the bloodshed on the back of chronic instability is the most obvious symptom of this crisis. I say this as an external observer since being a non-Muslim I cannot conceive of embracing political Islam as a solution to the problems of this world. Others clearly do! Nonetheless Muslims are not the only faith group in the Middle-East. Their majority status does not confer on them the right to impose a doctrine and a code of life that is alien to their compatriots. On the other hand and more importantly, Islamists do not accept geographic and ethnic limitations on their project. Political Islam is global or is not. To Bin Laden and friends everything else is short of apostasy and heretical belief. From their perspective whether you are Muslim or not is irrelevant and I am asked to make a choice under the threat of …beheading. Going back to the late Benazir and the martyrs of the Lebanese March 14th alliance what they have in common is death, overwhelming in its irreversibility. I am not tempted to ignore past accusation of corruptions just like I will not suddenly praise dead politicians that I despised in their lifetime. But what is unavoidable is that by dying these figures will occupy the moral high ground. A ground that Pervez Musharraf, the great survivor of Pakistani politics, will struggle to acquire. Same goes for the Hezbollah-led Lebanese opposition. Interestingly it is this same Hezbollah which originally acquired its privileged status through the martyrdom of its young men on the Israeli front which today denies this same treatment to its opponents in the Lebanese government.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Season of Migration...to Beirut
By Joseph El-Khoury
Another holiday season… and the Lebanese are flocking back like migratory birds to warmer or colder climates (depending on whether they work in London or live in Brazil). It feels odd that despite the ongoing political crisis and threats of war, civil or not, the planes are full and the atmosphere festive. Many see this as a sign of the resilience of the Lebanese and their determination to carry on whatever the cost. This attitude is worthy of praise when you are suffering from terminal cancer and decide to run the marathon but Lebanon is not suffering from a terminal illness, it is at the centre of an international struggle to which powerful elements in the country have chosen to align themselves at the detriment of internal unity and the welfare of the common people. This is not a tragedy over which we have no control and are left to dedicate our energy else where.This is a disaster waiting to happen that is of our own making. In response; denial, repression, sublimation or any other Freudian psychological mechanism is inappropriate and harmful. Human societies react differently when faced with conflict and uncertainty. Priorities change for some while others see opportunities in chaos. A vibrant nightlife and consumer confidence are not signs of hope when not linked to a broader context. In the absence of the state, what is required is for students, professionals, unions, civil society and others to remain vigilant and remind us that Beirut was still the Paris in the Middle East a few weeks before indiscriminate sectarian killing started in 1975. Eid Moubarak and Merry xmas to all of you out there. By all means party but keep an eye on the storm brewing in the horizon.
The picture is from
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The Terrorist’s Act of Faith
“Untouchables? Surely not. More like vulnerable…very vulnerable. You are proud of your great army? This army supposed to protect you. Well we can hit this army at its head, at its heart and we can shoot it down. In the same way that, yesterday, we shot down freedom itself. We can reach all of you: The press, the media, the army, the political class, the average citizen and the youth. No one is safe. Anyway no one can protect you. We will strike at the break of dawn. Whether school buses full of children are nearby isn’t cause for concern. We do not have a conscience or a sense of morality. We only have resentment and hatred. We are barbarian souls motivated by a destructive energy who celebrate distress, mourning, desperation and death. We feed on the blood of your elites and your leaders. We will continue to nail you one at a time into humiliation, silence, submission and annihilation. No one will be able to help. All the world’s democracies are powerless in the face of tyranny and here they are observing your demise without moving a finger, while we continue to act with total impunity. You are weak because you love life. Look at yourselves… You make us laugh”.
This translated extract was written from the perspective of the supposed perpetrators of the spite of assassinations in Lebanon over the past 3 years. It catches well the state of paranoia and helplessness felt by many Lebanese and other Arabs in the face of a faceless and nameless terror. The latest attack only a few days ago targeted the prominent army General Francois Hajj.
Michel Hajji-Georgiou is a Lebanese journalist and columnist at L’Orient Le Jour. Earlier this year he was awarded the Gebran Tueini international award presented by the World association of newspapers for his contribution to freedom of speech.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Our Friend Muammar Kaddafi
Muammar Kaddafi is a dictator. That has been a banal fact of life since the 1980s. What is more interesting is that this predecessor of Saddam as embodiment of pure evil in the minds of many westerners is now welcome in France. Actually he, along with his millions in oil revenues, has received the best of French red carpet hospitality. After years of being ostracised from the international community for ’ irresponsible’ behaviour Muammar is now back in fashion. If there was one example of collusion between the interests of what has been called the Military-Industrial complex and the foreign policy of a government, that would be it. To be fair, during the photo opportunities Nicolas Sarkozy looked slightly uncomfortable and many of his ministers appeared lost for words while others in his own party and the opposition made their views clear on the visitor’s record on human rights. Mr Sarkozy did ‘ask’ his Libyan friend to ‘do better’ on democracy (A statement later denied by Kaddafi on French TV) but despite her brave stand, Rama Yade, French secretary for human rights, was unfortunately wrong. France can be treated as a doormat when its economy is doing badly and foreign investments can translate into jobs for French workers. Airbus and Dassault might be the direct beneficiary but faced with the prospect of long term economical benefits the French Left is unlikely to challenge the Realpolitik adopted by their opponent for fear of upsetting the working class and the business world alike. On a positive note this rapprochement between Paris and Tripoli could facilitate Mr Bernard Khouchner’s mission in Lebanon by endearing France again to the Syrian regimes. If Kaddafi can still turn up at the Elysee with his head high despite looking like an ageing rocker (Anyone noticed the resemblance to Johnny Holiday!) then surely the brilliant ophthalmologist from Damascus would shine with his elegant wife at his side.
The picture was taken from
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Israelis Against the Wall
These words are extracts from the website of ‘Anarchists against the wall’, a group of Israelis who have made it their purpose to oppose the wall of separation (also known as wall of shame) being built around the occupied Palestinian territories. At a time when most of Israeli society appears at best ignorant of the plight it is imposing on other human beings, these men and women dedicate time and effort to raise awareness and engage in non-violent resistance against the same authorities that claim to act in their name and protect them against Arab barbarism. In their latest action it is reported that they plastered Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with posters denouncing the collective punishment imposed through blockade on the Gaza strip.
For more information please check their website http://www.awalls.org/
Also from the 6/12/07 edition of the Lebanese Al-akhbar newspaper:
فوجئ سكان تل أبيب والقدس الغربية المحتلة أمس بوجود بيانات ألصقها ناشطون من حركة «فوضويون ضد الجدار» على أبواب منازلهم تنبئهم بقطع التيار الكهربائي عن المدينتين أسوة باعتزام السلطات الإسرائيلية قطع الكهرباء عن قطاع غزة.
وذكرت وسائل إعلام إسرائيلية أن قرابة 70 ناشطاً من حركة «الفوضويون» اليسارية علقوا نحو 10 آلاف بيان على أبواب المنازل والبنايات ولوحات الإعلانات العامة في تل أبيب والقدس الغربية. وأشارت إلى أن البيانات مشابهة للتي تصدر عن شركة الكهرباء الإسرائيلية لدى إعلانها قطع الكهرباء.
وشدّد «الفوضويون» على أنه «لا توجد أي شرعية في العقاب الجماعي للمواطنين (في غزة)، حتى إن الجيش الإسرائيلي أكد أنه لا احتمال لأن تؤدي إلى وقف صواريخ القسام».
وأضافوا أنه «بواسطة هذا النشاط، نحاول زيادة وعي المواطنين الإسرائيليين لعشوائية هذه الخطوات العدوانية ومحاولة حشد تعاطف مع ضائقة مواطني قطاع غزة».
يذكر أن حركة «الفوضويون» هي أكثر الحركات الإسرائيلية التي تنشط ضد جدار الفصل في الضفة الغربية.
(يو بي آي)
Monday, December 3, 2007
Sex Trade: Iraqi girls who Become Prostitutes in Syria
With their bright neon signs and glitzy decor, dozens of nightclubs line the streets of the Maraba district in the Syrian capital Damascus.
It's here that men come from far and wide - car number plates are not just from Syria but Iraq and Saudi Arabia - to watch young women dancing.
Most of the dancers are teenagers and many of them are Iraqi refugees.
They dance for the cash which gets tossed onto the stage.
The dancers are surrounded by bodyguards, to stop them being touched by the men. But the guards also arrange for their charges to be paid for sex with members of the audience.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees have moved to Syria and Jordan during the past four years, escaping the violence and instability that followed the US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Women supporting families face the greatest challenge.
The Syrian authorities and aid agencies do not know the exact numbers, but many of the women say they have little choice but to work in places like Maraba.
"I have three sisters who are married and four brothers. They are all in Baghdad. I am here with my mother and young brother only. None of my family know what I do here."
Banned from doing regular work in Syria, she says their money ran out and her mother started looking for other means to survive.
She says she makes about $30 a night at the clubs, but when men take her to private villas she makes $100. She won't say what she must do to earn this money.
"A woman came and spoke to my mother, who agreed to send me to these places. We needed the money.
"I have already been arrested for prostitution and sent back to Iraq, but I came back with a false passport."
Not all sex workers went into the industry by choice.
Nada, 16, says was dumped by her father at the Iraq-Syria border after her cousin "took away my virginity".
Five Iraqi men took her from the border to Damascus, where they raped her and sold her to a woman who forced her to work in nightclubs and private villas.
She is now waiting at a government protection centre to be deported back to Iraq.
The government says police have arrested Iraqi girls as young as 12 working as prostitutes in the nightclubs.
"We are coming across increasing numbers of women who do not manage to make ends meet and are therefore more vulnerable to exploitative situations such as prostitution," says Laurens Jolles of the UN refugee agency.
"Intimidation and shame means the numbers of trafficking victims and sex industry workers in Syria may never be known by government or aid agencies."
Women picked up by the police are sent to protection centres, which they frequently escape from, or are sent to prison.
"Immediately after we get to them, or sometimes before, they are bailed out of prison, often by the same people who probably forced them into prostitution," says Mr Jolles.
Many of the young women who leave Iraq hoping for an easier, safer existence find what is in some ways an even tougher life in Syria.
At an age when life should just be beginning, Iraqi teenagers like Nada feel they have reached a dead end.
"Now they will send me back to Iraq, I have no-one there and in any case I am afraid for my life. I have no hope leaving here. I have told the government I don't want to go back. My family has abandoned me."
Thursday, November 29, 2007
الجنرال والجنرال... ومرة اخرى الجنرال
في عام 1958، تذوق لبنان للمرة الاولى حكم المخابرات والاجهزة الامنية مع عهد الجنرال فؤاد شهاب رئيسا. وفي عام 1988 عاد لبنان الى حكم العسكر مع استلام الجنرال ميشال عون رئاسة الحكومة الانتقالية منعا للفراغ فدشن بذلك فصلا بالغ السواد من الحرب الاهلية التي لم تكن ظروفها لتسمح له بتولي رئاسة الجمهورية فقضى على ما تبقى من الجمهورية قبل ان يشفع به ايلي حبيقة ويفتح له ممرا آمنا الى السفارة الفرنسية التي دبرت نفيه الى ربوع الام الحنون
وفي احد الايام التي كان خلالها عون يجعلنا نحلم بالصمود وفجر الجمهورية المحررة صدر خبر فرار "الضابط الخائن" اميل لحود الى المنطقة الغربية من بيروت حيث نفوذ الجيش السوري الراعي لاتفاق الطائف الذي صنع الجمهورية الثانية
انتهت الحقبة السوداء تلك في 13 تشرين الاول 1990، وبدأت حقبة اكثر سوادا بلون الجزمة السورية التي استقوى بها كل سياسي لبناني اراد ان يتولى مهاما سياسية او ان يحظى بمنصب
مكافأة الضابط الفار اميل لحود كانت منصب قيادة الجيش الذي يزعم انه بناه
توحد البلد فتوحد الجيش حكما لان قيادته كانت واحدة. لكن ما هو هذا الجيش الذي بناه اميل لحود طيلة تسع سنوات، والذي عندما اصطدم بواقع معركة نهر البارد ذبح وكاد ان يقضى عليه لولا جرعة الاوكسيجين بواسطة الجسر الجوي العربي والاميركي الذي مده بالذخائر
اميل لحود بنى جيشا، ولكن تسليح هذا الجيش سقط لربما سهوا. عفوا، لربما كان اميل لحود متكلا على اتفاقية الدفاع المشترك مع سوريا والتي قد تكون انقذتنا من جحيم نهر البارد دون ان ندري
والافظع من ذلك كله التواطؤ الخبيث بين الجنرالين السيادي اي عون والسوري اي لحود، في ما يشبه التغطية المتبادلة التي امنها كل لللآخر، فتناسى عون وسياديوه ان لحود حارس للهيكل السوري ليصبح الحفاظ عليه على رأس الجمهورية (طبعا لان نجاحه في عدم بناء المؤسسة العسكرية والامتناع عن ارسال الجيش الى الجنوب قد انعما عليه بولاية رئاسية ونصف الولاية) يرمز الى حماية الموقع المسيحي الاول في لبنان
في المقابل، لم يبق حليف محلي واقليمي للحود من سورية الى ايران الى حزب الله وصولا الى وئام وهاب، الا ومدح الجنرال عون واعتبره الاحق برئاسة الجمهورية
حتى ان وقعت الازمة، فغادر الجنرال الاول القصر الرئاسي، وتعذر على الجنرال الثاني التوجه الى القصر للاقامة فيه. ولكن الجنرال الثالث، اي قائد الجيش ميشال سليمان يبدو اقرب ما يمكن من قلب الطاولة بالطامحين الى الرئاسة
يظهر سليمان اليوم بصورة الذي لا غبار عليه، فمنذ عام 2005، وخروج الجيش السوري، تمكن قائد الجيش من السير بنجاح في حقل الالغام اللبناني
فهو في 14 آذار 2005، لم ينصع لاوامر الحكومة بمنع التظاهر اي قمعه، ونجح بارسال الجيش الى الجنوب بعد حرب تموز 2006
وعندما حاصرت المعارضة السراي الحكومي لخلع حكومة فؤاد السنيورة نجح في حماية السراي من جهة وفي منع السلطات السياسية من اتخاذ قرار مواجهة المعتصمين وانهاء الاعتصام. وفي 23 كانون الثاني الماضي كان له دور كبير في منع انتشار العنف الطائفي وبخاصة بعد احداث الجامعة العربية. اما الامتحان الكبير فكان في نهر البارد حيث خرق الخط الاحمر الثاني الذي رسمه الامين العام لحزب الله حسن نصر الله (الاول دام منذ العام 2000 وكان عدم ارسال الجيش الى الجنوب) عندما وصف السيد الدخول الى المخيم بالخط الاحمر الذي لا يمكن تخطيه
بهذا لقد نجح سليمان حيث فشل لحود اي في تسليح الجيش وقد ينجح حيث فشل عون اي بالوصول الى الرئاسة، لكنه هل ينجح حيث فشل شهاب ولحود اي في تجنيب البلاد مجددا حكم الاجهزة الامنية؟
هل من الضروري ان نخاطر بنجاحات ميشال سليمان فيأتي يوم لن يتذكر به الناس سوى اخفاقات العسكر في السياسة، فيصبح سليمان مرادفا لعون ولحود؟
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The story of the Blasphemous Teddy Bear
Note: The above Teddy Bear is completely random and not in any way associated with the story
The arrest of the British school teacher Gillian Gibbons in Khartoum has surprised if not outraged many in the UK. Some have mocked her naivety, others have praised her courage but the majority sympathised with her plight. If the Sudanese regime was in any doubt over its image abroad following the conflict in Darfur, it can now rest assured that it has lost any remaining credibility. The issue of proselytising in Muslim countries is a serious one that many western expatriates in the Gulf states would be familiar with. It is even more sensitive when young children are involved.
The general public do not have access to the details of the case but if the available information is to be taken at face value one wonders why would this middle aged teacher with years of experience choose to deliberately insult the religion of her host country. And why would naming a well loved Teddy Bear Mohammad, which incidentally is the name of a pupil at the school and of millions around the world be considered a specific insult at the prophet by the same name. Maybe there is more to it and indeed Ms Gibbons is intentionally working to damage intercultural and inter-religious understanding. If that is the case then surely extradition would be enough to make the point that cuddly toys with specific names are not welcome in Sudan.
By Opheera McDoom Reuters - Tuesday, November 27
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A 7-year-old Sudanese student on Tuesday defended the British teacher accused of insulting Islam saying he had chosen to call a teddy bear Mohammad because it was his own name.
Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old teacher at the Unity High School in Khartoum, was arrested on Sunday after complaints from parents that she had insulted Islam's Prophet by allowing the bear to be named Mohammad. She is facing a third night in jail without being formally charged.
"The teacher asked me what I wanted to call the teddy," the boy said shyly, his voice barely rising above a whisper. "I said Mohammad. I named it after my name," he added.
Sitting in his garden wearing shorts, his family, who did not want their full names used, urged him to describe what had happened.
He said he was not thinking of Islam's Prophet when asked to suggest a name, adding most of the class agreed with his choice.
In a writing exercise students were asked to keep a diary of what they did with the teddy bear. "Some people took the teddy home and took it places with them ... like the swimming pool," the child said.
Mohammad said Gibbons was "very nice" and he would be upset if she never came back to teach. He added Gibbons had not discussed religion nor did she mention the Prophet.
"We studied maths and English and spelling," he said, rubbing his mop of short, curly hair.
Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi told Reuters formal charges would be levelled once investigations had been completed.
"(The charges) are under the Sudanese penal code ... insulting religion and provoking the feelings of Muslims," he said.
"These are preliminary -- after investigation the final charges will be ascertained," he added.
If charged and convicted of insulting Islam, Gibbons could be sentenced to 40 lashes, six months in prison or a fine, lawyers said.
Teaching colleagues and officials from the British embassy brought food for Gibbons but were not allowed to visit her.
Mohammad's family said they got most of their information from the papers after the school was closed early on Monday.
"I'm annoyed ... that this has escalated in this way," his mother said. "If it happened as Mohammad said there is no problem here - it was not intended."
His uncle said little Mohammad was a good Muslim and was already praying five times a day. "We want to also hear her side of the story," he added.
Unity director Robert Boulos had said the school would be closed until January because he was afraid of reprisals in mainly Muslim Khartoum.
In 2005 a Sudanese paper was closed for three months and its editor arrested for reprinting articles questioning the roots of the Prophet Mohammad, a move which prompted angry protests.
Al-Wifaq editor Mohamed Taha was later abducted from his home by armed men and beheaded.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens, editing by Mary Gabriel)
Friday, November 23, 2007
Goodbye Emile Lahoud
I remember in details the election of General Emile Lahoud to the Lebanese presidency nine years ago to the day. I had left the country the previous year and still suffering from acute nostalgia, a disease experienced by many fresh expatriates. One of my symptoms consisted of religiously following the latest developments in Lebanon through various news outlets and reporting back in real time to friends and family back home. Needless to say they were busy getting on with their lives and generally not impressed with this obsessive behaviour.
I received the news of his election with certain unease. I never felt strongly about the man and was anyway naturally suspicious of anyone in uniform. But at one point I probably believed he was the embodiment of the sincere and honest military leader: The type who had his country’s best interest at heart and would work to bring back law and order to our vulnerable nation. I phoned a friend who lived in Beirut and for her own reasons shared my scepticism. We had a long conversation while in the background the city was on fire with hundreds from all sects celebrating. They expressed their joy from the various neighbourhoods, from Ashrafieh to Tareek Jdide and Ouzai using fireworks, the occasional machine gun staccato and other ‘traditional’ celebratory rituals. The feelings were genuine and the sense of hope overwhelming. We felt like the two only people who did not share this enthusiasm with our compatriots.
Here I am thousands of miles away being a grumpy sod, time would prove me wrong! I thought… But it didn’t.
Nine years later, still abroad but less obsessive, I receive the news of his departure not with relief but with resentment and fear. It is true I will not have to suffer the eternally tanned vain general receiving minor celebrities from obscure village associations anymore but the future still appears grim with another general in the pipeline.
The picture is taken from www.rfi.fr
Monday, November 19, 2007
"What is the Nationality of your Srilanki"?...
Picture from: http://www.middle-east-online.com
“What is the nationality of your Srilanki?... My Srilanki is from the Philippines”. This catchy phrase made many people laugh in the mid-nineties when it featured in a play in Beirut. ‘Srilanki’ and ‘maid’ were being used interchangeably due to the numbers of citizens from Srilanka working as domestic cleaners in Lebanese households.
For many years the Lebanese operated as if racism was an alien concept to their generally welcoming and friendly culture. Stereotyping a whole racial group was mainstream behaviour transmitted down the generations. In many cases the behaviour did not stop there and turned into psychological and physical abuse under the acquiescing eye of the state.
The problem recently took a different dimension. When a journalist visiting Lebanon filmed a report for French television followed by an article in the very respectable Le Monde newspaper on how foreign maids were being treated, many Lebanese were scandalized. Why! Some thought, they were shown as monsters? Others turned suddenly very patriotic. They felt it gave a very bad image of the country, which has already enough problems and working very hard to attract investments and tourists. Very few Lebanese people felt unthreatened even when they treated their maids with respect and sometimes even as a member of the family.
The polemic returned again a few days ago, when the International organization Human Rights Watch issued a report on the abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East, generously mentioning Lebanon. This report was widely disseminated, and the Lebanese public insisted again that this matter was unnecessarily ruining the reputation of their already martyred country.
But some solid facts from both reports cannot be rebutted and these are:
- Passports of foreign domestic workers are being held by their employers.
- Maids are working more than 12 hours a day.
- The Privacy of domestic workers in most cases is not respected.
- Cases of physical abuse exist on a large scale, and it is not as some claim very limited.
- Laws on improving the conditions of domestic workers are far from being a reality.
- Domestic workers appear in most cases to have obligations but no rights.
We highlight complaints from Arabs suffering racism in the West but wrap ourselves in denial when we are accused of subhuman and degrading treatment of other nationalities and races. So well done France 2, Le Monde and HRW for bringing these cases to our attention. Maybe now that it is out in the open, every Lebanese “Madam” will think twice before slapping her “Srilanki” maid in the face to teach her a lesson. And hopefully it will put some pressure on our governments to finally reform laws concerning foreign domestic workers.
Wishful thinking anyone!?...
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Arab who made it in Europe
We hear frequently enough of Arab immigrants succeeding in the business world or the financial sphere but the European political landscape remains alien to them. Naser Khader, offspring of a Syrian-Palestinian couple, is the new kid on the block of Danish politics. His success story might be an exception or the first signs of a long-awaited integration process whereby European citizens of Arab and Western descent can live their dual identity comfortably and productively. An interesting case for discussion.
ELECTIONS IN DENMARK
Muslim Politician Could Be Surprise Kingmaker
By Anna Reimann
Danish politician Naser Khader is young, energetic and the first Muslim MP in Denmark. As head of the New Alliance he could end up being the surprise kingmaker in Danish politics if voters throw their support behind his new ideas for how to treat immigrants.
Danish MP Naser Khader threatens to be the surprise kingmaker in next week's Danish elections.
Naser Khader seems to be everywhere -- shaking hands in pedestrian malls and strolling through the streets of Danish cities in jeans and a parka. In the morning, he announces his latest proposals on immigration policy. In the evening, he takes part in an election debate with Pia Kjærsgaard, the chairwoman of the right-wing populist Danish People's Party. There is no doubt about it: The 44-year-old politician is doing everything he can in the final phase of the Danish election campaign.
To read the rest of the Article go to
photo taken from www.politiken.dk
Monday, November 12, 2007
The Strange World of the PKK
Picture taken from www.metimes.com
Article can be found on www.kurdishaspect.com
The Worker's Party of Kurdistan better know under its Kurdish acronym PKK has been waging armed struggle against the Turkish state since the 1980s. Its stated aims have changed over time but focus around the recognition of Kurdish rights and a minimum of self-autonomy. Labelled as a terrorist organisation in many Western capitals, it is again the centre of attention following the resurgence of military operations on the Turkish Iraqi border and the threat of Turkish incursions in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. In her interview of a former militant Deborah Haynes reveals a personal account of life with the militia. As seen in many similar organisations such as the FARC of Colombia, The LTTE of Srilanka or the Moujahideen Khalq Iran, the PKK appears to have achieved an equality between the sexes in life and death. But all at a price. Inspired freedom fighters or Brainwashed fanatic terrorists...You make your own mind.
For her the war is over: the PKK fighter who wants to end killing
Deborah Haynes in Irbil, northern Iraq
With her Kalashnikov folded in half to stop it dragging on the ground and ammunition strapped around her tiny waist, Zerya was 12 when she became a Kurdish fighter in the Turkish mountains after running away from home.
Sixteen years later her body bears the scars of countless battles with Turkish soldiers and her eyes are haunted by the memories of friends she has lost. No longer a guerrilla for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), she is trying to fit back into society, using a mobile phone for the first time and discovering treats such as ice cream and pizza that she never had in the mountains.
Zerya’s experience of fighting against Turkey to secure greater rights for the Kurds, she says, has taught her that the problem can be solved only by agreement between both sides. “If the guerrillas decided to come down from the mountains and disarm, then Turkey would kill all of them,” she said, speaking to The Times at a secret location in the Kurdish north of Iraq.
“When it comes to Turkey you either submit or you fight – there are only two options,” said the 28-year-old, who has shed the dark green fatigues of the outlawed rebel group for a smart trouser suit and heeled shoes.
The PKK offered a new way for both sides to step away from confrontation yesterday. The group said that it was open to dialogue with Turkey that could lead to it laying down its arms, thus avoiding a war across the border of two of America’s strategic allies in the region.
Zerya’s life as a teenage rebel fighter began when she first heard about the PKK as a ten-year-old growing up in Hamburg, where her Kurdish family were asylum-seekers from the mountains of southern Turkey.
A talented musician and dancer, she became attracted to the organisation because it ran clubs that taught Kurdish songs and history. “Every song or poem taught us something about the Kurdish cause,” she said in a hushed voice to avoid drawing attention to herself. The PKK is now classed as a terrorist organisation by much of the international community.
Captivated by the plight of the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, Zerya yearned to help: “It was like an illness for me. I just wanted to go to Kurdistan and fight in the mountains.”
After a year of pestering PKK leaders in Hamburg she was given permission to travel on a fake Turkish passport to Syria, where she was meant to stay until she turned 16 and was deemed old enough to learn how to fight. She left Germany aged 12, without telling her parents. But instead of waiting in Syria she secretly followed a group of PKK trainees to Lebanon, literally tracing their footprints until she arrived at the Bekaa Valley.
There, she was allowed to join a six-month political and military training course with 300 recruits. “I remember walking along a path with a Kalashnikov over my shoulder but it was too long for me and would hit the ground,” Zerya said, recalling the day her training finished and she was sent to the mountains to fight. “That first day I felt I was free and in my home for the first time in my life.”
Instead of studying, gossiping about boys and listening to pop music, Zerya spent her teenage years fighting Turkish soldiers, living off scraps of food and sleeping wherever she found shelter. “We lived in caves or just used plastic sheets for cover. Sometimes if the weather was kind then we would live under the stars like birds.”
By the time she was 14, Zerya was commanding small groups of rebels on operations. Equality is a principle cherished by the PKK, which divides responsibility evenly between men and women fighters.
She recalled one occasion when her unit became encircled by Turkish soldiers. “I spotted a weak point in the Turkish line and started to lead my colleagues out but one young man panicked. I had to slap him to calm him down.” On another occasion, aged 16, a Turkish grenade exploded close by, sending a chunk of shrapnel deep into her left knee. “In the heat of the fight I did not feel the pain, but then I had difficulty moving so my male colleagues took me to safety.”
The guerrillas had nothing to treat Zerya with other than water and thread to stitch up her knee. She was forced to shelter in a cave for two months until she was strong enough to walk again. “It was winter and bitterly cold. It was too dangerous to light a fire because that would have drawn attention to our position.”
Sexual relationships, and certainly falling in love, are forbidden between PKK fighters in the mountains because the group feels that such a bond would distract a couple from the battle. Zerya spoke of one young man she grew close to. “He liked me and I liked him but we never told each other,” she said. The man was killed during a fight with Turkish troops.
Zerya had her fair share of injuries after 13 years in the mountains, including shrapnel wounds to the chest and thigh. She began to feel a burden on her fellow fighters so decided three years ago to leave the armed struggle to seek shelter in the Kurdish north of Iraq. Returning to civilisation was like stepping out of a time capsule.
Life is hard after the PKK because her past means that she has no official identity or nationality and no passport. “I would like to settle down and do some work to help women and children,” she said. She is trying to return to Germany, where her family is still living. Asked whether she would ever return to the front line for the PKK, Zerya says that her fighting days are over. “From my time in the mountains, I have understood one thing: killing is not the solution to this problem.”
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Gay and Proud in Beirut
Sexuality is a difficult subject. Homosexuality is even more tricky in that it polarises opinions and generates heated debates where the personal, the social and the religious are intertwined. At a time where most Lebanese are focused on the election of a new president some might argue that this topic is not a priority.But In the real world personal issues are not placed on hold waiting for the future to unravel. They are lived and experienced on a daily basis. There isnt a good time to talk about gay life in the Middle East so today is as good as any other.
The following article from AFP was posted in English on
Related link: http://www.helem.net/
In some Arab countries homosexuals can face the death penalty. But in Lebanon an association battles openly for the rights of gays who may live freely but are still ostracized socially.
"Beirut is a bubble of freedom for homosexuals," said Georges Azzi, coordinator for the Helem (Dream) Association, the Arab world's first gay grouping.
"Homosexuals have much more freedom and are more visible than in any other Arab state," he told Agence France Presse.
"This is undoubtedly because Lebanese society is heterogeneous at all levels -- political, religious and cultural -- and used to differences," he said about the country's 18 religious communities.
Homosexuals are generally stigmatized and penalized across the Arab world, with penalties ranging from death to flagellation and imprisonment.
Either banned by law or religion, homosexuality may be punishable by the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.
But with its trendy gay-friendly bars and nightclubs, Beirut has become a favorite destination for wealthy Arab homosexuals fleeing restrictions at home.
Founded in 2004, Helem collaborates with the ministry of health to fight against the spread of the HIV virus that can cause AIDS and openly lobbies for the legal rights of homosexuals.
Homosexuality is not specifically illegal in Lebanon, but gays can be targeted under article 543 of the penal code which provides for prison terms of up to one year for sexual relations "against nature."
A petition filed by a Beirut city councilor in 2006 seeking prosecution of Helem was rejected by the attorney general's office, which ruled that just because the gay rights group had an office and a website this did not mean it was breaking the law.
"In the beginning journalists used to come and see us, like one would go to the zoo," said Azzi. "But today we have become known and respected."
This evolution has also been seen in the language used to refer to gays.
"In the Lebanese media we used to be called 'perverts' and 'deviants' but now they just call us 'homosexuals'," Bilal, an official at Helem who did not wish to reveal his family name, told AFP.
But if Lebanon seems outwardly more permissive than other Arab countries, homosexuals can still live in shame, fear of scandal and social exclusion.
"Seen from the outside, Lebanon is a liberal country which respects personal freedoms," Linda Shartouni Zahm, a researcher in social psychology at the Lebanese University, said.
"But we are the prisoners of others' views -- of the family, religion and an authoritarian patriarchal system," she said.
"There are homosexuals who receive death threats from members of their own families, others who are expelled from school or some who have to leave Lebanon," she said.
Some homosexuals in the country lead double lives.
"Personally I refuse to remain in the closet, but I am an exceptional case," said 37-year-old Jean,
criticizing "people who are gay on Saturday night, but pretend they are not during the family lunch on Sunday."
When he was 19, Jean told his father that he was a homosexual.
"His reaction was to tell me: 'OK, get married, have children and live your sexual life in parallel -- discreetly'," he said.
"He gave me examples of people he knew who lived exactly like that," Jean said.
Shartouni Zahm explained that "having descendants and children is very important here. And the Lebanese mother always dreams of marrying her daughter off."
As for lesbians, they have double the trouble.
"Make no mistake -- Lebanon is a country of macho and conservative people where women are considered inferior and are discriminated against," said 25-year-old Nadine, a member of Meem association that supports lesbian rights.
"The Lebanese want to show the Arab world that they are open-minded. But most young people generally carry the conservative ideas of their parents," she said.
"If my parents do not let me go out it is not because I am gay, it's because I'm a woman."(AFP)
Beirut, 06 Nov 07, 16:54
For more information on the subject go to
Monday, November 5, 2007
Jews from Arab lands suddenly remembered in the US
After nearly 60 years of conflict, a US based organization has decided to call for “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries”. One stated objective is to push for the introduction in the US Senate and House of resolutions that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees in any official document must be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees. The views of the pro-Arab lobby on the issue are not known. In fact the pro-Arab lobby is yet to be identified.
Below, extracts from Warren Hoge’s article in the New York Times on the 5th of November 2007 published under the title: Group Spotlights Jews Who Left Arab Lands.
With assertions of the rights of Palestinians to reclaim land in Israel expected to arise at an planned Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md., a Jewish advocacy group has scheduled a meeting in New York on Monday to call attention to people it terms “forgotten refugees.”
The organizing group, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, says it is referring to the more than 850,000 Jews who left their homes in Arab lands after the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948.
“This did not occur by happenstance, as is sometimes said,” said Stanley A. Urman, executive director of the group, a five-year-old New-York-based organization. “In fact, we have found evidence that there was collusion among the Arab nations to persecute and exploit their Jewish populations.”
To back the claim, the group has reproduced copies of a draft law composed by the Arab League in 1947 that called for measures to be taken against Jews living in Arab countries. The proposals range from imprisonment, confiscation of assets and forced induction into Arab armies to beatings, officially incited acts of violence and pogroms.
Subsequent legislation and discriminatory decrees enacted by Arab governments against Jews were “strikingly similar” to the actions laid out in the draft law, Mr. Urman said.
(…)With the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the status of Jews in Arab countries changed dramatically, because most of those countries either declared war on Israel or supported the war to destroy the new state.
The group cites United Nations figures showing that 856,000 Jewish residents left Arab countries in 1948.
“This was not just a forced exodus, it was a forgotten exodus,” said Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian minister of justice who is scheduled to be the main speaker at Monday’s program to open the campaign on behalf of the Jewish refugees.
For that reason, he said, the main goal of the campaign was to raise public awareness rather than to seek compensation. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the other components of redress, recognition, remembrance and acknowledgment of the wrongs committed,” he said.
(…) The United Nations says that 711,000 Palestinians left Israel-controlled territory in 1948 and 1949 and that today, along with their descendants, the number of Palestinian refugees is at least four million.
“There is mention, as there should be, of Palestinian refugees, but no mention of Jewish refugees,” Mr. Cotler said of the annual commemoration.
Another objective is to push for early passage of resolutions introduced in the US Senate and House that say that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees in any official document must be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees.
The American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis is planned to take place before the end of the year to address core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.
“We want to have this meeting now, in advance of the Annapolis conference, to ensure that this issue is front and center in the international awareness as it should be,” Mr. Urman said.
(…) Mr. Cotler said a change in perception would help bring the region’s antagonists together.
“I know this may sound Pollyannaish, but I believe that if we allow people to understand the truth of what occurred, then they will be able to recognize the other,” he said. “Right now the other is being demonized.”
Picture: The New York Times, 16th of May 1948
Thursday, November 1, 2007
What about the "Stockholm Syndrome"!
If you have read the incomparable Pauline Réage’s Histoire d’O (Story of O) you might have heard of the very bizarre story of Lord Glenelg, mentioned in the Jean Paulhan’s Preface (the French writer, critic, director of the NRF and member of the Académie Française) for the novel published in 1954.
It appears that in the spring of 1838, on the Caribbean Island of Barbados and in response to the new law on the abolition of slavery, a certain Lord Glenelg set his slaves free; however, these slaves refused their new found freedom and requested strongly that their Lord place them back under his authority. Glenelg refused, probably more out of respect for the law than out of Humanism… the essential thing is that he rejected utterly his previous slaves’ unusual demand. And what did these do, in response? They massacred their old oppressor along with his family, for denying them the “right” to be exploited!!
Apparently, a victim can develop a morbid affective bond with his executioner, an unexplainable infatuation that goes much beyond the cliché of Sadism and Masochism. This is the parallel drawn with Histoire d’O, the story of an obedient young woman, O, and her dominant jailer-lovers which explore this phenomenon, from an erotic, yet psychosocial and existential point of view.
That was in the 19th century; now a slightly different story from the 20th century. On August 1973, in Stockholm, an abducted bank employee, Kristin, fell under the charm of one of her abductors, Jan Erik, the man robbing the bank and holding the people inside. The hostage fell under the spell of the terrorist; moreover, she fell in love with him. She, along with five other victims, abandoned their fellow hostages and adopted the “ideology” of their kidnappers. Things did not stop here. After their release and his arrest, this “converted” group refused to press any charges against their abductors, visited them in prison and defended their cause! This rather unusual behaviour was named after the case by an American psychiatrist: the “Stockholm Syndrome”.
In more recent times in the 21st century, we heard a similar anecdote. It seems that every century has its own “fairy-tale”: Yvonne Ridley, the former British reporter for the Sunday Express was kidnapped by the Taliban while reporting in Afghanistan in September 2001.This ex-supporter of the Labour Party and later Muslim convert confessed after her release that the first thing she said the moment she laid eyes on her kidnapper, was: “Wow! You’re gorgeous!” and she admitted that she was taken by the beauty of his “amazing green eyes” and his big dark beard etc. etc. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that these stories tend to follow a certain predictable pattern. If we consider the last two cases, we observe a certain sexual submissive fantasy that is pushed beyond the norms (psychoanalytic theory, for instance, talks about a recurrent feminine fancy: “the fantasy of getting raped”).
What concerns me personally and the question that I have been asking myself is the following: Are we Arabs perpetually under the influence of this so called “Stockholm Syndrome”? Maybe my question has a specific validity in the Lebanese case, where in theory have the “freedom”, the “choice” to admire this or that popular leader, to scorn one and to applaud another while jeering at a third. In essence to vote for X, and not for Y.Do we praise and cherish the ones who will lead us eventually to catastrophe? It seems that we Lebanese have a considerable predisposition for this alarming syndrome and sustained humiliation. What better example than an old yet famous episode of the Lebanese version of Candid Camera, where the victim, a young man passing by, is asked to take part in a movie scene where an attractive young actress slaps him on his face. In response to which he repeats the following line “bardou ba7ibbak ya wa7sh” (“despite all, I still love you, O you savage!”) .However, as the “director” is displeased with the outcome the scene is repeated and so is the humiliation.
Take one: the accomplice slaps the victim on his face and the latter cries “bardou ba7ibbak ya wa7sh”
Take two: the accomplice slaps the victim on his face and the latter cries “bardou ba7ibbak ya wa7sh”
Take three, four, five until the crew realize this could go on and on……………………………………….
Who will break the karma’s never-ending cycle? When will we convert to the “Lima Syndrome” 1 instead, where our oppressors sympathize with their victims?
1. This syndrome is considered to be the opposite of the one we evoked, as in December 1996, “terrorists” (members of the MRTA Marxist guerillas) took over the Japanese embassy in Lima (in Peru! Of course), and they showed high empathy for their hostages, and their needs…
Monday, October 29, 2007
Campus Watch: The Pro-Israel Lobby in Action
A website dedicated to spreading intolerance and stifling freedom of speech across US campuses and beyond. Set up by self-imposed experts who cannot tolerate dissent from their well orchestrated symphony of hate against Arabs and Muslims. These are not your usual fanatics but well-motivated, properly organised and funded brotherhood of men in suits with a pro-Zionist agenda. They are unashamedly anti-Arab and find any suggestion that these should have a say in their own future as an aberration, especially when this is done in US classrooms and Ivy League universities. Unable to provide us with a real debate, they decide instead to launch a systematic campaign of denigration against any academic or professor who dares to challenge the Right wing Neo-con propaganda on the Middle East or verbalise an alternative view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We present to you Campus Watch! The rest is self-explanatory on:
Also for more insight watch this video report entitled 'campus-conflict USA'.
the image is taken from www.rockabillytree.org
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Iran’s circle of power
By Nasrin Alavi
The replacement of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator is part of a Tehran power-play that is more troubling for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than it appears, says Nasrin Alavi.
published on www.opendemocracy.net
A surprise announcement on 20 October 2007 is generating fresh questions about Iran's strategic policy and ambitions. The resignation of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani from this position is both a signal of tensions inside Iran's complex, multi-layered power-network, and the withdrawal of a figure who acted as a rational interlocutor with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and western governments. In a jittery climate where Washington is heightening its rhetoric in a manner reminiscent of the pre-Iraq-war period, Larijani's move is more likely to reinforce than to moderate current dangers.
The news has been met with some dismay even by conservative figures inside Iran; on 22 October, 183 mostly conservative members of the majlis (parliament) affirmed their support for Larijani. Ali Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister and international-affairs adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commented that "it was best if this hadn't happened."
The first deputy speaker of the majlis (parliament) Mohammad Reza Bahonar told reporters on 21 October that there were "deep-rooted problems" between Larijani and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that "could not be solved". Such differences were exposed in the varying reactions to Vladimir Putin's proposal on the nuclear stand-off made on 16 October, during the Russian president's visit to Iran; while Larijani acknowledged that Tehran was considering Putin's offer to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (who himself said it was "ponderable"), the spokesman for Ahmadinejad's government denied the existence of any such proposal or the possibility of a compromise deal.
Bahonar, a hardline conservative, also raised questions about the credentials of Larijani's replacement, Saeed Jalili; "can someone who is not even a member of the supreme national security council be appointed as its secretary?" The 42-year-old Jalili is one of Ahmadinejad's chief advisors, one of a growing number of Ahmadinejad clones that seem to have appeared from the Iranian political wilderness since the president's election in 2005; his decade of uninspiring service in the foreign office had culminated in the post of deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, where he is credited with orchestrating Iran's closer "south-south" relationship with Latin American states (particularly Hugo Chávez's Venezuela).
In the west, Larijani is often described as a pragmatic conservative. He had long been critical of the government's handling of Iranian nuclear negotiations under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), and his appointment in 2005 to head the supreme national security council was at the time generally seen as a toughening of Iran's stand on the nuclear issue. Yet with the election of Ahmadinejad, figures such as Larijani - who had stood against Ahmadinejad in the election - came increasingly to be viewed as doves. Ali Abtahi, Iran's deputy president under Khatami, described Larijani's resignation as "dangerous" and recalled his description of Iran's agreed suspension of its uranium-enrichment programme in 2004 as akin to "a precious pearl in return for a sweet". Why cannot Larijani "carry on with his work", Abtahi asked.
Saeed Jalili's welcome
President Ahmadinejad's posse was in full view during his visit to New York in September 2007 for the opening of the United Nations general assembly (and his speech at Columbia University). In addition to Jalili himself were the government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham (whose wife has penned a book calling Ahmadinejad "the miracle of the third millennium") and another powerful presidential advisor, Mojtaba Hashemi-Samareh. In a political system where sycophancy is equated with good manners, the camera invariably spies Samareh's habit of physically fawning at the end of each presidential utterance. All the president's men are tightly bonded by their allegiance to Ahmadinejad's spiritual adviser, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.
Saeed Jalili was asked in March 2007 by a Fars news-agency journalist whether he was Ahmadinejad's "direct representative in the foreign ministry" and whether he has "provided the president with many of his foreign-policy ideas". Jalili responded that he was merely one of many advisors to the president. He denied having masterminded Ahmadinejad's questioning of the Nazi holocaust or his spasm of letter-writing to President Bush (he elaborated: "perhaps as we think alike and we go back a long way, some may be under this impression".
But resistance to Jalili's appointment is widely shared; several prominent conservatives regard the new chief nuclear negotiator as lacking pedigree and experience. Ahmad Tavakkoli, director of the influential "parliamentary strategic research centre" has previously backed some of the presidents' policies; this time, he expressed disappointment at the resignation of Larijani, whose political stature is far greater than the "inexperienced ex-foreign minister" who replaces him.
These critical murmurings are part of a rising chorus of antagonism from powerful conservatives and reformists alike towards the president and his coterie for their bungling economic policies at home and aggressive policies abroad. In 2005, Jalili may well have been Ahmadinejad's initial choice for foreign minister; but the opposition the new president soon faced in installing candidates for his cabinet (an oil minister was sworn in after a three-month parliamentary deadlock, including three failed attempts to secure a vote of confidence) was always likely to touch the inexperienced Jalili. The post-election confusion ended with a political bargain when Manouchehr Mottaki (who had campaigned for Ali Larijani in the presidential race) was appointed foreign minister.
Larijani, even after his resignation, still holds the important position of Ayatollah Khamenei's representative in the national security council; in this capacity, he is accompanying Jalili to scheduled talks with the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, in Rome on 23 October; his deputy and right-hand man Javad Vaeedi will also be there, and Larijani's close alliance with Mottaki survives. It remains to be seen whether these personnel shifts will be reflected in a policy reversal, or whether Iran will continue to follow the "work plan" proposed by the IAEA to settle the unresolved questions over its Iran's nuclear activities.
Saeed Jalili responded sharply to the Fars journalist who questioned the possible "costs" of Iran's foreign policy by asking "what costs? Today even westerners say that Iran is more powerful than ever before". In reality, any "success" that Ahmadinejad has enjoyed owes less to his government's cunning foreign strategies and more to the United States's strategic ineptitude in the region. Yet Ahmadinejad is adept on a rhetorical level: he has used an aggressive US stance to his advantage by portraying his government and its Revolutionary Guard partners as the only entity inside Iran willing and able to stand up to an America bent on the regime's destruction, and for which the nuclear issue is only a pretext.
At the same time, it cannot be said that Larijani's departure means that Ahmadinejad has taken over the nuclear programme and Iran's nuclear-related dealings with the west; for other powerful figures within Iran's circles of power, including Larijani himself and his foreign-office allies, are still in the picture. What can be said with certainty is that Ahmadinejad is doing his best to consolidate his power within the system. Whether he succeeds depends partly on the internal dynamics inside Iran and partly on the mounting external pressures that to date have helped only to empower him.
Nasrin Alavi is the author of We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs (Portobello Books, 2005).
She spent her formative years in Iran, attended university in Britain and worked in London, and then returned to her birthplace to work for an NGO for a number of years. Today she lives in Britain.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Syria: more victims of Internet repression ."a tribute to Karim"
On June 7, the Mantaqa Branch of Military Intelligence detained Karim ‘Arbaji, 29, allegedly for moderating www.akhawia.net, a popular online forum for Syrian youth covering social and political issues. Persons familiar with the case told Human Rights Watch that the Mantaqa Branch may have transferred him to the Palestine Branch in Damascus, but the authorities have provided no official notification of ‘Arbaji’s whereabouts.
taken from Sami Bin Ghariba report for Global voices advocacy, please read the whole report for more information on Karim and other activists who were detained as well.
thanks to Golaniya for providing the link
i used to blog about freedom of expression detainees in Syria, but this post has an entire different meaning since I knew Karim in person, his family and his friends. It is interesting how some unfortunate familiar events take a whole different meaning once they involve someone whom we know, and not just a name.
This post is not a tribute to Karim himself, but to every “Karim” who was kidnapped by “them” because he dared to dream of a better future.
this is Karim's "will" that he wrote in his forum 8 months before the detention:
هلأ وصيتي الكم (تقرأ في حال تعبّينا)
يللي ما تعرفوش ربنا
اذكرونا بالخير كل ما تسمعوا فيروز و مارسيل خليفة
ادعولنا شباب و صبايا
ادعولنا الله يشيل عنا و عنكم و عن حبابكم
ادعولنا الله يتوه طريقهم و ما يعرفولنا طريق
عباية يا شباب عباية
و خصوصي بنوتة عيونا زرقا ... خراس و سد بوزك هالكام يوم، الشغلة مو عنترة ... لازم حدا يضل برا مشان يتابع الاخبار
لك نيالكم ما اهنا بالكم
انتوا احلى عيلة ممكن حدا يتعرف عليها
خليكم ايد وحدة متل ما بعرفكم
لا تواخزنا خيو ... وجعنالك راسك
شكرا جزيلا على مساحة الحرية يللي وفرتها للشباب و الصبايا
و سامحني على اخطائي و ازا خيبت املك
لك دخيل رب سوريا ما احلاها
و دمتم للحرية
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Sheikha Moza wins Chatham House Prize
Sheika Moza takes her well deserved place in the line-up of charming wives of Arab rulers with a portfolio of charities and educational activities under their belt, even beating Al Gore in the run-up. The State of Qatar is determined to show its modern face and who best to market it than the first lady herself. As always British institutions are at the forefront when it comes to honoring enlightened monarchs and their relatives. We should be rejoicing but the effects on women emancipation at street level are still to be seen.
Announcement of the Chatham House Prize 2007
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned has been awarded the Chatham House Prize for her commitment to progressive education and community welfare in Qatar and for her advocacy at home and internationally in favour of closer relations between Islam and the West. Her work as a UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education is widely recognized and she actively promotes projects that improve the quality and accessibilty of education worldwide.
HH Sheikha Mozah is chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a private non-profit organization founded in 1995 on the personal initiative of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar. She has been actively engaged in education and social reforms in Qatar and has played a major role in spearheading a number of key national and international development projects.
About the Chatham House Prize
The Chatham House Prize is awarded each year to a leading international statesperson who has made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.
The selection process for the prize draws on the expertise of Chatham House's research teams and its three presidents - Lord Hurd, Lord Robertson and Lord Ashdown - with Chatham House members voting for the winner.
Victor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine, won the inaugural award in 2005 (Chatham House Prize 2005) and Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique won the 2006 Prize (Chatham House Prize 2006).
Sponsors of the 2007 event included:
Shell (lead sponsor)
British American Tobacco
Chartwell Education Group
Consolidated Contractors International
Haymarket Management Services
South Hook LNG Terminal Company Ltd
For further information check out:
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Lebanon without the Shiites
This myth is not new. The Shiites of today are the Palestinians of yesterday, who incidentally still play an important role as a scapegoat for all Lebanese whatever their allegiance. A Lebanon free of a section of the Lebanese; the troublemakers, the poor, the radicals, the unfashionable, in brief the ones who have no place in our idealized constructs was dreamt by many in the pre-independence era and developed into a strategic plan by a few during the Civil War. These would still speak of a Lebanon of 10452km ….not of a Lebanon of 4 millions or so, as if the land was more important than the people. The chosen ones to make the decision were clearly identified as self-styled ‘Real Lebanese’. The issue of who deserved to inhabit and shape this Lebanon was more contentious. Unfortunately today the empty rhetoric continues. Would an Iranian styled Islamic Republic of Lebanon still be worthy of our patriotic enthusiasm? Or would a federal state make us a lesser country? These questions are rarely debated in serious forums and are drowned in the sea of nationalist propaganda and counter-propaganda promising us no less than the impossible: A country and a society that looks, feels and talks like us and only us. Not the neighbour down the road or the compatriot with whom we share only our stubbornness and determination not to pack and leave. There is no agreement on what type of Lebanon we want if we want one at all, and there shouldn’t be. There is nothing uglier than a homogeneous and content society free of debates, discussions and disagreements. Do all French, Americans and Brits share one vision for their respective countries. Surely not! What they all agree on are the democratic rules of the political game and the limitations they impose on themselves in promoting their views. A similar pact could bring back Lebanon from the brink of disaster.
Monday, October 8, 2007
On the 40th Anniversary of his death Ernesto Che Guevara still inspires Arab youths just as he does for millions around the world. While some in Islamists and Arab Nationalists circles claim that he has been replaced in the hearts of many by home-grown 'revolutionaries' such as Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of the Lebanese Hezbollah, or even Osama Ben Laden, it is likely their appeal will remain bound by the limits of their sectarian, religious or nationalist message. The Comandante for his part is accessible to anyone from hardcore nostalgic leftists to unawaring fashion victims.Whether he wished for himself this diluted mythical status is another story.
Che Guevara, for some an Intifada hero (Monday, July 02, 2001)
By Christine Hauser
GAZA (Reuters) - Every revolution has its role models and for some Palestinians fighting an uprising against Israeli occupation theirs is spray-painted on Gaza City streets.
With his beard and black beret, the Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara is an unlikely image beside the street art of Palestinians hurling grenades at Israeli tanks or blowing up Israeli buses, the usual fare of the Intifada, or uprising.
Like the graffiti praising the work of militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad or extolling Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Guevara's face gets larger-than-life treatment.
There it is on the corner of Bassateen Street. Or on the wall circling the United Nations refugee agency in Gaza City.
"He was a revolutionary, and that is what we are doing now," said Akram Abu Nada, a middle-aged Palestinian, as he walked past the Guevara painting on Bassateen Street, a road where ambulances screech by on their way to the hospital from the flashpoint Karni Crossing.
Argentinian-born Guevara saw peasant-based revolutionary movements as a remedy for social inequities and was a major figure in Cuba's communist revolution before his murder in 1967. He was a tactician of guerrilla warfare.
While much Guevara street art predated the Palestinian uprising which erupted last September, some see him as embodying the spirit of their struggle to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where they want their own state.
"He is not a model for all Palestinians, mostly the leftists. But we as Moslems fighting in the Intifada relate to him. He was a man of struggle and so are we," Abu Nada said.
Osama Abu-Middain, a deputy hotel manager in Gaza, has been a leftist since he was a teenager and says Arab leaders could benefit from Che-style politics. He wears a black Che T-shirt.
"Arab leaders and presidents sit in their chairs until they die and then they sign it over to their kids," Abu-Middain said, his office decked with framed photographs of his hero. "We need somebody like this man."
One Palestinian journalist has a Che Guevara icon programmed into his mobile phone. Shirts and wallets with Che's face can be purchased in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Abu-Middain said.
Palestinians have been named after him. One of them is Palestinian journalist Jivara Budeiri.
"Many Palestinians see him as a symbol so they can change things," she said. "And the revolution will yield a real state which everyone knows as Palestine."
Budeiri, who was born in 1976, said the spelling of her name was Arabised when she was a student to more closely resemble Arabic sounds. "But sometimes in personal correspondence I sign it Guevara," she said.
PALESTINIAN LEFTISTS INSPIRED BY CHE
Ali al-Qatawi, general secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said Guevara has inspired Palestinian leftist movements such as his own.
"We try to benefit from his experiment," said Qatawi, sitting in a fifth-floor office in Gaza, his cigarette smoke wafting up towards a picture of Che Guevara pinned to a cabinet. An old photograph of the revolutionary adorns the window.
The opposition PFLP leaned toward transforming Arab society along Marxist-Leninist lines after it was established in 1967.
Its armed "Guevara of Gaza Brigade" claimed responsibility for an attack by a Palestinian driver who rammed his vehicle into a crowd of Israelis at a bus stop during the current uprising, killing eight. He was arrested by police.
"The Cuban revolution was made up of workers, the poor and farmers. We in the PFLP say the liberation movement of our land from occupation cannot but end to the benefit of those people. Otherwise it has no meaning," Qatawi said. "If the land goes from one group to another it does not help."
Throughout the uprising, Palestinian youths in poor refugee camps clash with the Israeli army, which has razed farmland in what it calls security steps for the 6,000 Jewish settlers living among more than one million Palestinians in Gaza Strip.
Agriculture revenues drained away for Palestinians and thousands lost jobs because of closures on Palestinian areas.
About 600 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed in the uprising.
"All the Palestinians who have died so far in the Intifada are the Che Guevaras of Gaza," Qatawi said.
WILL THE REAL GUEVARA PLEASE STAND UP?
Ask Qatawi for a meeting to discuss Guevara, and he will ask you which one you mean.
"There is the Che Guevara of Argentina and the 'Guevara of Gaza'," said Qatawi.
Mohammad al-Aswad, the "Guevara of Gaza", was born in 1946 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Haifa, in what is now Israel. The humble beginnings of the Palestinian activist are enough to make any socialist proud.
According to the PFLP's three-page leaflet of his biography, the boy and his family were displaced after the 1948 birth of the Jewish state, and ended up in the poverty of a Gaza refugee camp, where he grew up. He studied in Egypt but returned after a year, his family unable to support him.
He became a resistance activist against Israel, was jailed for two years and then on his release in 1970 joined the ranks of the Popular Front in military and training operations.
Aswad was killed in a Gaza battle in 1973.
"Don't forget your martyr comrades, your detained comrades, or our duty to provide for the needy," he was quoted as saying.
"Our people place every hope in the revolution."
His widow, Wedad, works in the Ministry of Social Affairs. She has married again, to another leftist.
"He was a martyr," she said of her late husband. "If he was alive today he would still be working for the revolution."
This Article was taken from wwww.mafhoum.com
The Picture was taken by Justin McIntosh in August 2004 and can be found on
Friday, October 5, 2007
TAQWACORES: Muslim Punks
I first heard of the Taqwacores from a report on the Newsnight program (BBC) following a collective of American Muslim Punk bands based in NY who were touring various venues in the North Eastern US. The phenomenon is to say the least novel and probably unique .I did not read the book, which was apparently released in a auto-censored version in the UK to avoid offending local Muslim sensitivities. From the report, between the cursing and the deafening guitar riffs, I could also not really get what these young men and women stood for except their determination to have their identity crisis in full public view. Anyway, whether you are Muslim or not, punk is not really about what you stand for but what you stand against. In their case bigotry, racism and war are on the list. If it was only for the sight of young women in full Islamic garb head banging with great refreshing smiles across their faces these guys have made their point and deserve exposure.
Good Luck to them!
Michael Muhammad Knight, The Taqwacores, Telegram Books, 2007
We live in very dangerous times. The War on Terror is being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, with more destinations probably to follow. The US and UK ignored every plea from the international community and relied on spin to begin a war that has no end in sight and is disproportionably killing civilians.
This has all happened because of a theological conflict between two opposing ideologies: Christianity and Islam with the people on both sides who are making this war being fuckwits while the 90% that make up everyone else hopes for a solution. Nobody understands each other, and people are afraid to stand up to lies peddled as truth. If things don’t change, we are fucked.
Michael Muhammad Knight’s The Taqwacores is a step in the right direction. Ostensibly a story about Muslim Punks sharing a house in Buffalo, New York, The Taqwacores is about questioning the values of a society or culture when they appear, on a personal level, to be wrong or outdated.
The Taqwacores is narrated by Yusuf Ali who studies engineering between praying and partying. He lives with Jehangir, the wisest of the group who’s travelled West and seen the origins of Taqwacore; Umat, who aims to follow every literal command of Qur’an; ‘Amazing’ Ayyub who is living as fast as he can and Rabeya, who rejects the thought that women are inferior yet chooses to still wear the niqab.
Yusuf, as a straight-edger, becomes the conductor for the debates that fill the house. His blankness and naivety make him the blank slate for the voiced and varied thoughts of his housemates, and his character arc within the book is his journey towards a sounder sense of self.
If Rabeya is the most interesting character and ‘Amazing’ Ayyub the court jester, it is Jehangir who is the most iconic: the nominal hero of a new wave yet modest of his own growing part within it. The novel climaxes with a Taqwacore concert organised by Jehangir and held in Buffalo at which everything changes for all the housemates.
Knight invented the term taqwacore. It’s a combination of taqwa (the Islamic concept of being continually aware of God) and hardcore. It’s no longer a term, but a movement. Taqwacore bands (the Kominas, Vote Hezbollah) and websites have begun to appear, and Knight has become a reluctant spokesman for Progressive Islam. That’s a label he doesn’t like applied to himself: “My problem with these guys,” he said in an interview, “is that some of them are so desperate to be good Muslims that they’ll stretch their arguments to stay in line with the Qur’an, and it just comes off as weak.”
But Taqwacore is, at its core, the continuation of the punk ethos of wanting to start everything again by cutting away the bullshit around a culture that no longer applies. Or more specifically, Taqwacore, according to Sabina England means: “being true to myself, having my own faith, and interpreting Islam the way I want to, without feeling guilty or looked down at by other Muslims.”
Knight’s follow-up, Blue-Eyed Devil, an account of his journey across the states looking for an American Islam, was hailed by Andrei Codrescu as “today’s… On the Road.” It’s an astute observation that applied to The Taqwacores and the Taqwacore movement. Kerouac’s Beat Generation was, according to his friend John Clellon Holmes, “basically a religious generation” who were “on a quest, and that the specific object of their quest was spiritual.”
The housemates of The Taqwacores and the people they draw to their non-orthodox Islam are, in comparison, explicitly a religious generation, rejecting the influences around them that they feel to be false or irrelevant to their own values. Like Kerouac, Yusuf, Jehangir, ‘Amazing’ Ayyub and Umar are searching for a set of values that they give to the world, rather than the world give to them.
It’s a statement when a government decides on and implements a ban on a book. It says that the ideas contained within its pages are a threat to a status quo and that that idea is something that someone in power would rather a larger population did not think. The Taqwacores was banned in Malaysia, and a kneejerk reaction to its publication around Europe is almost certainly predictable.
But people should read The Taqwacores for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s very good. Secondly, as a global population, people need to start mending bridges and understanding one another. And lastly, the housemates question everything around themselves, and that’s a skill which has become dulled nearly everywhere through fear and propaganda.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Pete Carvill is Senior Editor at 3:AM.
This Article was first published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, May 16th, 2007.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
سبق للممثل السوري تيم حسن أن أظهر براعة شديدة في تجسيد طبائع وقسمات الدهاء السياسي لشخصية تاريخية ضمن مسلسل تلفزيوني. كان ذلك في أكثر من محطّة أبرزها تألقه في أداء دور محمد بن أبي عامر في «ربيع قرطبة».ابن عامر هذا هو الشاب العربي الأندلسي الطموح الذي يواجه نفوذ زعامات الموالي ورؤساء الفتيان الصقالبة، ليصعد بسرعة البرق ويتبوأ منصب «الحاجب» أو كبير الوزراء لدى الخليفة الأموي، إلا أنه سرعان ما يحجب سلطة الخليفة، ويقعد أمير المؤمنين الهشام بن الحكم سجيناً في قصره، فيما يتخذ لنفسه هو لقب الملك المنصور. ما حلّ بالخليفة الأموي في قرطبة جاء ليتطابق زمنياً واعتبارياً مع ما حلّ بالخليفة العباسي في بغداد على يد أمير الأمراء البويهي، ثم على يد السلطان السلجوقي.
اذ يمكن للملك المنصور أو للسلطان أن يفعلا بالخليفة الأموي في قرطبة أو العباسي في بغداد ما
أرادا، إلا أنهما لا يستطيعان، لا إلغاء الخلافة ولا اتخاذها صفة لهما. معطى تاريخي كهذا لم يتأخر الجويني والماوردي حتى صقلاه بفقه سياسي يسنده الى أبد الآبدين
يتقاطع لأجل ذلك الدور الذي لعبه الممثل الشاب تيم حسن في «ربيع قرطبة» مع الدور الذي لعبه لهذا الموسم الرمضاني، وبإتقان فائق في مسلسل «الملك فاروق»، للكاتبة لميس جابر. وهو مسلسل لا تخفى صفته الريادية في الدراما المصرية التي تعالج شأناً تاريخياً معاصراً. فإذ يؤدي تيم حسن دور الملك فاروق، فإنه يذكّر أول ما يذكر، بأن هذا الفرع من سلالة محمد علي قد دغدغته أكثر من سواه أحلام إحياء الخلافة. فالسلطان أحمد فؤاد والد فاروق والابن الأصغر للخديوي اسماعيل الذي رافق أباه في رحلة المنفى الإيطالي وأسس لعلاقة تاريخية مع ايطاليا ستتجدد مع ابنه الذي اتخذه لنفسه صفة «صاحب الجلالة ملك مصر» في اثر التصريح البريطاني ليوم 28 فبراير 1922 الذي يمنح استقلالاً لمصر، انما دغدغته قبل سواه أحلام استئناف الخلافة، ما أن أُعلن عن إلغائها في تركيا.هذا الرجل الذي يصفه المؤرخ الكبير يونان لبيب رزق بأنه «كان أول حاكم لدولة مصر المستقلة في التاريخ الحديث» افتتح مشكلة لا آخر لها بنشدانه الخلافة الاسلامية، بحيث اختلط الحابل بالنابل في سنوات حرجة من تاريخ مصر، ما بين وجهة نظر ترى أن القاهرة هي أنسب مكان لدار الخلافة وبين وجهة ترتئي عكس ذلك، ولم يتم النظر الى كتابي علي عبد الرازق «الاسلام وأصول الحكم» وطه حسين «في الشعر الجاهلي» إلا في ضوء طرح مسألة الخلافة، وباعتبارهما طعنتين تسدّدان ضدها فكرة من طرف حزب الأحرار الدستوريين، حزب الأقلية، الملتحق حول أفكار أحمد لطفي السيد القومية الليبرالية الموالية للنموذج البريطاني، في حين كان حزب الوفد، حزب الأغلبية والوحدة الوطنية الاسلامية القبطية، أميل الى الدفاع عن فكرة الخلافة مع رفضه أن تعطى للملك فؤاد
Picture from: www.egyptiantalks.org