Monday, November 29, 2004

National Adoption Month

November is the National Adoption Month, and Minnesota Public Radio had a great program today about adoption patterns in the US: “There are more than 100,000 children in foster care nationwide. Nearly half of those waiting to be adopted are African-American. What role does race play in adoption?” There were also discussions on how many Americans tend to adopt children from other countries like China, Russia and South Korea, while there are many black children in the US waiting for homes. Reasons are a blend of racism and the long & expensive adoption process in the US. Surprisingly, many black children in the US are being adopted by families in Canada and Europe! The program also discussed issues on willingness to adopt babies compared to older children in foster care, the pros, cons and challenges of trans-racial adoption, and how one get more informed. MPR has various useful web links on this topic if you are interested. Where does Islam stand on adoption?

I’m sure opinions vary but a quick search came up with this from “Islam's stance on adoption rests on the necessity of keeping the biological parents of the child always in picture. Keeping the original name of the child, and letting him know who are his real parents are some of the conditions stipulated by the Shari`ah when legalizing fostering. The reasons are; in Islam, children have automatic rights to inheritance, they can not marry their Mahrams (unmarriageable persons) and they can marry from their foster family if no suckling took place. The issue of hijab [head cover for women] in the house is also given due regard between the non-related sisters and brothers, etc. All these rules have to be taken into consideration in this case…Islam prohibits adoption but allows Muslims to raise children who are not theirs. Muslims can fully raise these children, look after them, and support them, but the children must be named after their real fathers…In a case when the father is not known, as with abandoned babies, the child should still not be named after the person raising him or her. In a case such as this, the children may be called brethren in Islam (Mawali).” However, although the adopted child does not automatically inherit the wealth of his or her parents, it can be willed to him or her. I tend to disagree because I am in strong favor of providing a home to children in need. This explanation also does not make it clear that if a woman is able to breast feed the adopted baby, it becomes part of the family. Prophet Muhammad was in fact adopted when he was a young child although some may argue that it was during pre-Islamic times when the practice was widespread & before Allah revealed specific laws. The problem before Islam was also “the Arabs had prohibited the man from marrying the divorcee of his adopted son. Islam prohibits a man marrying the divorcee of his son. However, in Islam, a man can marry the divorcee of the man he raised, who is not his son by blood; this is declared explicitly in the Qur'an.”

On issues of terrorism, an interesting article from the
Christian Science Monitor states: “the US Defense Department released a report by the Defense Science Board that is highly critical of the administration's efforts in the war on terror and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies [the report says]. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.' The Pentagon released the study after The New York Times ran a story about the report in its Wednesday editions.”

In Iraq, there are continuing tensions over elections, with many Sunni parties calling for a boycott of the upcoming elctions and requesting a postponement. From Informed Comment: “Sunni Arabs have a big stake in the permanent constitution. Will it give Kirkuk and its oil to the Kurds, depriving Arabs of any share in those revenues? Will it ensconce Shiite law as the law of the land? Will it keep a unicameral parliament, in which Shiites would have a permanent majority, or will it create an upper chamber where Sunnis might be better represented, on the model of the US senate? If all those issues go against the Sunnis because they aren't there to argue their positions, it would set Iraq up for guerrilla war into the foreseeable future. And that is why Khatami's hopes that an elected government will be more stable are unrealistic. It isn't that the government is elected that lends stability, but rather widespread acceptance of the government's legitimacy. The Sunnis are unlikely to grant that if they end up being woefully underrepresented.”

Also by
Juan Cole: “The Red Crescent has finally been allowed into Fallujah (its earlier exclusion was probably a violation of international law). Its spokesman is saying that less than 200 civilian families appear to still be there. If this estimate is true, it suggests that by the time of the U.S. assault, only about 5,000 persons were left in the city. At least 2,000 were killed, some 1,400 captured, some escaped, and a handful of civilian families remained. If Fallujah was a ghost town before the assault, that would help explain the repeated U.S. military assertion of virtually no civilian casualties (which is still not entirely plausible). But it would also raise a question as to the effectiveness of the assault. Fallujah's population was estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000. If only 5,000 or so were left, then obviously a great many guerrilla fighters, whether full- or part-time, escaped. The few remaining civilian families suffered from lack of food… Since there are an estimated 250,000 tons of explosives and munitions missing from the prewar Ba'ath stockpiles, I fear that whatever was found in Fallujah was a drop in the bucket. And a lot of Iraqi cities must be full of such material. And, contrary to the "broken back" imagery, a confidential Marine report suggested that the guerrilla war would grow in intensity and breadth in the buildup to the Jan. 30 elections… Not only were many Iraqis disturbed at the way the Fallujah campaign was conducted, but they were upset about the assault by Iraqi National Guardsmen and U.S. troops on the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad last Friday. Mosque preachers, both Sunni and Shi'ite, universally condemned the raid yesterday in the Friday sermonsThe London Times reports that nearly 700 persons die under suspicious circumstances (most of them from bullet wounds) every month in Baghdad. These are not, at least mainly, victims of the guerrilla war. They are mostly victims of crime or revenge.”

I have not heard this story before, but according to a
NY Times columnist: “Thanks to Claudia Rosett, an enterprising reporter writing in The New York Sun, the world now knows that some information put out by Secretary General Kofi Annan about his son's involvement with a Swiss inspection company at the heart of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal is untrue. At a luncheon at "21" in New York this summer, Annan came over to me to complain politely that my series suggesting U.N. maladministration was unfair. When I asked about the consultant fee paid to his son Kojo that may have influenced the award of a U.N. contract to Cotecna Inspection, the secretary general said that the allegation (originally reported in The Sunday Telegraph in London) had been "thoroughly investigated" by the U.N. and there was "nothing to it."… When confronted with the falsity of previous U.N. denials, the secretary general's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, pleaded: "There is nothing illegal in this." You see, um, the payments to Annan's son were part of an "open-ended no-compete contract." After all, what could be illegal about getting paid for not joining a competing inspection company, which Cotecna probably took as assurance that nobody else would get the inside track? "We previously thought they had ceased," Annan's embarrassed aide said of the payments. He stuck grimly to the line that U.N. officials "who gave Cotecna the contract had no idea that Kojo Annan worked for Cotecna," but carefully left himself an out: "and that continues to be our belief." In the same way, there are still officials of the oil-stained U.N. Secretariat who profess to believe the repeated denials of Benon Sevan, the longtime right-hand man of Kofi Annan put in charge of what became history's largest swindle.”

A major issue after 9/11 has been the restrictions of visas issued to foreign students. From the NY Times: “Last year, the number of foreign students at American colleges and universities fell for the first time since 1971… The costs to the American economy are significant. Educating foreign students is a $13 billion industry. Moreover, the United States does not produce enough home-grown doctoral students in science and engineering to meet our needs. The shortfall is partly made up by the many foreign students who stay here after earning their degrees. Equally important, however, are the foreign students who return home and carry American ideas with them. They add to our soft power, the ability to win the hearts and minds of others. As Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, "I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here." … Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, getting an American visa has been a nightmare of red tape, and the hassle has deterred many foreign student applicants. Horror stories abound, like the Harvard postdoctoral student in biochemistry who went home to Beijing for his father's funeral, then waited five months for permission to return. And China, of course, had nothing to do with the attacks on Sept. 11. In an effort to exclude a dangerous few, we are keeping out the helpful many. Consular officials know that they face career-threatening punishment if they are too lax, but face little sanction if they are too strict. Add to those perverse incentives, the need to coordinate with the extensive bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security, and you have a perfect recipe for inertia. More resources can help speed the process, but little will happen until Congress and the Bush administration make the problem a higher priority.”

Also in relation is cutting financial aid for college students. From the NY Times: “The pending cut could cause as many as 1.2 million low-income students to have their grants reduced - and as many as 100,000 could lose their grants altogether. That inevitably means that students would either drop out or take longer to finish their degrees. The Pell program, which is meant to help students pay for tuition and other expenses, like books and housing, has been gravely underfinanced for a long time. Congress has tried to mask the problem by tricky bookkeeping. In particular, Congress failed to revise the maximum grant to keep pace with rising costs. Left untouched for a decade, the aid formula is still capped at around $4,000 a year - far less than what it takes to support a college student. The Republican leadership tried to cut the Pell program by changing the formula for distributing the money in a way that would cut out students who had higher - although still inadequate - family incomes. The leaders backed off when middle-income families protested and student aid threatened to become an issue in the presidential campaign.”

Also from the NY Times: “Two more senior officials of the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine service are stepping down, intelligence officials said Wednesday, in the latest sign of upheaval in the agency under its new chief, Porter J. Goss. As the chiefs of the Europe and Far East divisions, the two officials have headed spying operations in some of the most important regions of the world and were among a group known as the barons in the highest level of clandestine service, the Directorate of Operations…A former intelligence official described the two as "very senior guys" who were stepping down because they did not feel comfortable with new management…Many of the agency's top officials, including John E. McLaughlin, the deputy director, and A. B. Krongard, the No. 3 official, have stepped down or announced plans to do so since Mr. Goss took office in September. The upheaval has been most extensive in the operations directorate, made up of spies and spymasters who have made careers out of stealing secrets. The clandestine service is a proud closed fraternity and one that sees itself as fiercely loyal and not risk-averse. It is also a group that has recoiled in recent weeks at the criticisms leveled at the agency, including comments this month from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who accused the agency of acting "almost as a rogue" institution. Mr. Goss is a former spy and a member of the clandestine service who worked in Latin America in the 60's. More recently, he was a Republican congressman and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and he has made plain his view that the current crop of case officers is not bold enough… Under Mr. Goss, it is a cadre of former House Republican aides, not Navy officers, who dominate the new management team.

This month, they have toppled Mr. Kappes and his deputy, Michael Sulick, in a way that former intelligence officials say has shown little regard for the tradition-bound clandestine service which has always prized rank, experience and lines of authority… Under Mr. Goss, the extent of the rebellion in the ranks is not clear. Much of the anger has been focused on a former Congressional aide, Patrick Murray, the chief of staff, who is said to have raised the hackles of some station chiefs around the world. The atmosphere has so deteriorated in the agency that some career officers have begun using derogatory nicknames for Mr. Murray and his colleagues… Mr. McCain, in suggesting that the agency had been disloyal, has singled out the disclosure of intelligence reports about Iraq whose conclusions were at odds with administration assertions about the war. In a rare public rebuttal, John E. McLaughlin, a career C.I.A. official who is stepping down as the agency's No. 2 official after less than two months as Mr. Goss's deputy, wrote in an op-ed article on Tuesday in The Washington Post that the accusation was unjustified. "C.I.A. officers are career professionals who work for the president," Mr. McLaughlin wrote. "They see this as a solemn duty, regardless of which party holds the White House.”

Another interesting piece of news for me since I studied In Jordan last Fall is from the
BBC: “Jordan's King Abdullah has stripped his half-brother Hamzah of the title of crown prince, overriding the dying wish of their late father King Hussein… It would "allow you more freedom to work in any tasks I assign to you", the king's letter said. Analysts say it shows how the king's command has grown since coming to power in 1999 without political experience. Crown Prince Hamzah was a favourite of King Hussein, who often described him in public as the "delight of my eye". However, he was seen as too young and inexperienced to be named successor, when the dying king dismissed his brother Hassan as crown prince in favour of his son, Abdullah… King Abdullah's statement said the position of crown prince would be kept vacant - but analysts say he is expected to appoint his own son, Hussein, now aged 10, at some point in the future… The king said the title of crown prince was an "honorary position, which does not give authority for its holder nor does it give him any responsibility". "That had prevented me from assigning you certain responsibilities." He said this would make it possible for Prince Hamzah "to take up other posts, something which was not possible as crown prince". A graduate of the UK's Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Prince Hamzah is a captain in the Jordanian armed forces… Correspondents say there has never been any visible rivalry between Abdullah and Hamzah. The king hosted a gala reception for him in May 27, when the royal family officially celebrated the prince's marriage.”

Is Israel trying to improve its image? From the BBC: “A reality TV show may not seem the most obvious answer to the problem, but that is where the new, high-profile series The Ambassador comes in. The winner will become the ultimate Israeli ambassador, travelling the world to burnish Israel's image. The contestants were drawn from several thousand applicants who answered an advertisement in the Israeli press for a job in media relations in New York… Each week, they will be set a different task in a different country to test their ability to present Israel in a positive light… A third task is to make a one-minute commercial advertising the delights of Israel to be aired on MTV… The producers originally wanted Israel's foreign ministry involved, but it withdrew, citing a conflict of interest with its own diplomatic training scheme…Now, a US-based group called Israel At Heart is providing the final reward an all-expenses paid year based in New York as a high-profile media director and spokesperson. … is run by a New York businessman, Joey Low, who came up with the idea of sending presentable, articulate young Israelis around the world to put the country's case after watching an Israeli government spokesman stumble and make little impact on an American news show three years ago.