Friday, January 21, 2005

Eid Mubarak: have a Blessed Eid!

I also want to wish you all a very happy Eid-ul-Adha – a Muslim holiday celebrated at the end of the Hajj season. Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) that all Muslims have to undertake at least one in their lifetime if they are able to do so. Check out this BBC site for the rituals & stories associated with this season. Here’s another BBC article about Muslims in the ravaged province of Banda Aceh in Indonesia: “People would be busy phoning family and friends making plans to meet up and celebrate the three-day festival. Instead, three weeks on from the tsunami, 100,000 people find themselves displaced, many living in tents and unsure of their future. Others are busy cleaning the streets of debris, burying the dead and trying to return some sense of normality to their shattered lives. It is a difficult task when everything around you is anything but normal. Nothing can prepare you for the scale of devastation in Banda Aceh. You can drive for miles around the coastal areas and not see a single living thing that managed to absorb the awesome power of the tsunami. Trees have been violently pulled out of the ground and snapped in half, the contents of peoples homes scattered for miles. It is heartbreaking to see signs of life now buried in the mud and debris of the tsunami - a child's shoe, a hairbrush, a mattress, a sewing machine. So, it is with a heavy heart that my friends and fellow Oxfam colleagues from Banda Aceh will be marking the day of Eid al-Adha. On previous Eids it was a tradition for many families to congregate in the Blangpadang Park in the centre of Aceh, greet by wishing each other a Happy Eid and embrace, before performing the special Eid prayers in the park. Around Aceh thousands would congregate in open fields and offer the special Eid prayer - a spectacular sight. This Eid many of the fields are still full of dead bodies buried under rubble. This Eid the park is in ruins - a vast empty ground in the centre of a former residential area where debris is still floating in the shallow pools of water - a mixture of seawater from the tsunami and rainwater… On the morning of Eid my friends and I will go to the mosque to perform the special Eid prayer and then visit some of the settlements scattered around Banda Aceh that now house those who have lost their homes. Eid in Aceh will be a day of mixed emotions - a chance for the survivors and those who lost their loved ones, homes and livelihoods to once again share their collective grief, to heal some of the wounds and show solidarity.”

The Council of American Islamic Relations(CAIR) has released radio ads to promote the holiday such as: “"Abraham" On January 20, Muslims in America and around the world concluded the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, "the Hajj", with Islam's most important holiday called Eid ul-Adha or "festival of the sacrifice." The central figure in this religious celebration is Prophet Abraham. Muslims believe that Abraham built the first House of Worship to God, known as the Kaaba. The Hajj commemorates Abraham's prayers at the Kaaba. The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, states: "Who can be better in faith than one who submits his whole self to God, does good and follows the way of Abraham, the true in faith?" This fact offers an excellent opportunity for all of Abraham's children - Muslims, Christians and Jews - to recognize and cherish their shared religious heritage and to promote a harmonious future as people of faith… "Malcolm X" "There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white." Those were the famous words of the late American civil rights leader Malcolm X in his letter to America after returning from Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj is the largest and the oldest annual spiritual gathering on earth. Every Muslim aspires to perform Hajj once in his or her lifetime. On January 20, Muslims in America and around the world concluded Hajj with a holiday called Eid ul-Adha or "festival of the sacrifice." The greeting for this holiday is "Eid Mubarak" which means "Blessed Holiday". The Muslim community wishes you and your family "Eid Mubarak!” Another article relates to some Florida schools attempting to recognize Muslim holidays in their calendar: “Ahmed Bedier, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Tampa, said he hopes the door has opened to some day having a student day off timed with a Muslim holiday. He also believes people of other faiths may also benefit. "It is important, because at the end of the day these are children that you're alienating,'' Bedier said."When they attend school and see Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever other religious holiday being recognized and theirs is ignored, they feel like they don't count." Several members of the Muslim community recently asked the board to grant the holidays off, and to also include the days on the school system's master calendar so that teachers will not schedule assignments and activities on those days. Board members said effective immediately the district's calendar will list the Muslim holidays so that teachers and principals can take them into account. They vowed a renewed commitment to an existing policy that allows students to take time off for religious holidays, with proper notice, without affecting exam exemptions and perfect attendance honors.”

Well, President Bush has been sworn in for another 4 years, and all I can say is God be with us! Check out this interesting
Christian Science Monitor article: “a new poll found that, in 18 of 21 countries surveyed, more people considered the world to be less secure because of Mr. Bush's reelection. But not in India. Here, Bush's fresh four years as president of the United States is given a firm thumbs up. And no, that doesn't mean something rude in Indian culture.India's reasons for bucking the global distrust-America trend - a phenomenon that largely resulted from America's 2003 decision to launch a preemptive war in Iraq without UN approval, according to recent surveys - say much about how India sees itself in the post-cold war and post-Sept. 11, 2001, world. Based on a combination of business links, immigration trends, shared views on terrorism, and national self-interest, India's increasingly warm approach toward Washington is one of the reasons the US now regards India as a rising global and regional power, and a partner above most other nations in Asia. "Bush has been good for India," says C. Rajamohan, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "More has happened between India and the US in the last four years than in the last 40." Globally speaking, India's attitude is in the minority. According to a poll conducted by GlobeScan, a firm based in London, an average of 58 percent of more than 21,000 respondents said that Bush's reelection was negative for peace and world security. Among those nations with the most negative views were some of America's closest allies: Germany (77 percent), Britain (64 percent), and France (75 percent)… India has come a long way from the days of the cold war, when many Indians saw the US as a capitalistic and colonialist power bent on dominating smaller nations like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cuba. Today, as India aspires to be a global power itself - based on its huge consumer economy, advanced technological prowess, and nuclear weapons - many Indians now see the US as a partner with common goals… the Clinton administration continued to browbeat Delhi about its nuclear-weapons programs and its strong-arm military strategy in its ongoing fight with separatist movements in Kashmir and in the northeastern states. President Bush, by contrast, hasn't backed some treaties that restrict nuclear proliferation - including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - and with his administration, the browbeating stopped. But it was terrorism that ultimately brought Delhi and Washington together, says Rajamohan. "After the attacks of Dec. 13 [on India's parliament building] the US for the first time defined groups based in Pakistan as terrorists. They began to hold Pakistan accountable for their actions." Saeed Naqvi, a longtime political observer here… contends that India's positive feelings toward Bush are the result of lack of exposure to global events. "Any society that has been mobilized by their media has some negative feelings toward America," he says. "But look at India's media. There is not a single Indian news organization represented in Iraq. If you turn on the TV, it's just Laloo and the Shankaracharya," he quips, noting two Indian national figures currently involved in scandals. "It's sheer parochialism." Pollster Doug Miller, president of GlobeScan, defends his polls results, saying they are consistent with other polls conducted over the past few years. But he admits that the sample of Indians who participated all came from such urban areas as Delhi, Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta, and Madras (Chennai), a fact that might skew the findings somewhat.”

From Informed Comment on the Senate confirmation hearings of Rice as Secretary of State. As expected, she didn’t provide an exit strategy or a timetable for US troops to get out of Iraq. Rather, she was implying everybody to be patient & let history be the judge! “Rice falls back on the same brain-dead rhetorical strategy as George W. Bush. Saddam was a threat because he is intrinsically evil. He is so evil that he can be a threat even though all he had in his arsenal were those spitballs toward which Zell Miller showed such derision at the Republican National Convention. Saddam was a threat to the region, she says. She is still saying this now, today. Saddam was not a threat to the region in 2002. That is ridiculous. Iraq was also not a threat to the US. This turns out to be the Achilles Heel of any doctrine of preemptive war. It would require, in order to be justified, much better intelligence than is usually available on the capabilities and intensions of the enemy. Rice still won't admit this, which means she may drag us into further wars with further gross mistakes in judgment. On Wednesday, Rice testified again. Now aware that Senator Boxer and others were complaining about her rigidity, she finally admitted that the US had made some serious errors in Iraq. But the example she gave, of reconstruction work, was disingenuous. Actually the US companies working in relatively safe places like Basra and Sulaymaniyah have done very good reconstruction work. She seems to be trying to find some mistake she could admit to, which would actually be the mistake of the private sector and not of the Bush adminsitration! For an incoming Secretary of State not to be willing to recognize that Iraq is a mess in part because of US policies is to translate the realm of politics into some sort of fantasyland. And in a way, that is what has been happening in US politics since Reagan was elected and Peggy Noonan began writing those syrupy speeches. Senators Chafee and Biden urged Rice to try to engage Iran. Biden suggested she tell Bush that dropping some bombs on Iran's nuclear facilities and then hoping that the young people in blue jeans would toss out the mullas was probably not going to work. Biden has developed this wonderful sardonic sense of what exactly the Bush administration ideologues are thinking, and is able to puncture these insubstantial balloons masterfully, building on decades of experience in foreign affairs. Rice responded concerning Iran that it was hard to have an engagement with a country that wanted to see Israel destroyed. It is such a simple-minded thing to say. Uh, let me see. In the 1980s wasn't it the Khomeini regime that sold Israel petroleum in exchange for spare parts for its American weaponry? Wasn't it the Israelis who put Reagan up to the Iran-Contra scandal by suggesting that the US ship TOWs to Iran in return for an end to the Lebanese hostage crisis? Even when it was more radical, and despite all the rhetoric, Iran was willing to deal with Israel in ways that helped the latter enormously. It is true that some Iranian leaders, like Rafsanjani, say frightening things about Israel. But Rafsanjani has no executive power, and when he was president he didn't actually act on such sentiments. The point of engaging the Iranian regime would be to gradually ween it away from such extremism. Iran hasn't launched any aggressive wars in the region, or threatened to use weapons of mass destruction, unlke some other countries.” I didn’t listen to Bush’s inaugural speech but according to one NPR commentator, he used the word “freedom” 27 times – gues it’s tough selling!

In Palestine from Deutsche Presse Agentur: “The outgoing Danish head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said he had offered to stay on, but U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan declined the offer, Information newspaper reported Wednesday. "You have to ask Kofi Annan and his staff about the reason. I offered to stay on longer, if that was desirable, but it was not,"Peter Hansen, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told the daily. Hansen is one of the top U.N. officials due to leave in the wake of a recent shake-up announced by Annan. The Dane said he did not want to speculate on Annan's decision. But during his nine-year tenure Hansen has had several publicized spats with Israel. One of the more recent ones centred on Israeli allegations, later retracted, that militant Palestinians used UNRWA ambulances to smuggle rockets. "There were groups in Israel including human rights groups and others, that wanted me to stay on. But there is no secret that others have ignored other statements I have made," Hansen said. Hansen's term expires at the end of March. Also from Electronic Intifada: “According to Hansen, the situation in Gaza is so horrendous that without the help of bulldozers you couldn’t get through the debris and sand barriers thrown up to block traffic… Though Hansen has been repeatedly denounced by Israel as an agent for Palestinian terrorist activities, despite denials and proof to the contrary, UNWRA’s Commissioner-General expressed concern for Israeli suffering. “Never forget there are two parties to the conflict and there are two peoples exercising violence against one another and it follows that there are victims on the either side too,” he stated… Hansen also maintained that on the whole Americans are either misinformed or uninformed. Carefully choosing his words, he said that the United States is among the countries that has the best opportunity for learning about the work of UNWAR.”