Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I have had a really busy week & thus have been unable to update my blog - I plan to this weekend Inshallah (If God wills).

Tonight is Arbaeen - marking the 40th day since Shias worldwide commemorated the massacre of Prophet Mohamed's grandson, Imam Hussain, and his followers in Kerbala, Iraq - I'm sure there will be some coverage from Iraq especially if there is a large public procession. Imam Hussain's family was taken hostage for a year, and included his ill son (considered the 4th successor or Imam after the Prophet by Shias) & mostly his female relatives. His sister Zainab played a prominent role in propagating the message about Kerbala - unfortunately, Imam Hussein's beloved 5-yr old daughter, Sakina, died as a prisoner in Sham, Syria.

I was unable to join my friends who went tonight to Idara - the Shia mosque in Maryland, which is an hour away from DC, so I resorted to listening the sermon online. I'm feeling really homesick because I truly miss the atmosphere of my mosque in Minnesota during such events. There will be a public procession (also called juloos) in Dupont Circle on Sunday morning which I hope to attend Inshallah.

Anyways, I better hit the sack - I promise I'll be back soon....


Sunday, March 27, 2005

In the spirit of Easter

A comment from Imran from an earlier post suggested that I use different colors when writing my personal stories/analysis and reports from other sources, so I am going to try using purple since it's my favorite color! Please let me know if this is a good idea or not.

Imran also asked me to post something about the latest controversy regarding a female leading prayer of men and women - I attended a discussion on the issue on Friday night & will post my opinions and what was discussed in the next few days after I get a chance to compile my notes.

As many of you know, although Muslims believe in Jesus as a Prophet of God, we don't believe he was crucified but was rather taken up into Heaven by God while someone else (in some narrations, Judas) was crucified in his place. However, since I have never been to an Easter service, I decided to tag along with a Catholic of my friend - we went to a black church in Southeast DC.

It was really fun - I have been to other churches before but I have to say that black churches tend to be more joyous - we clapped and sang a lot! It was fun to see everybody dressed in their Esater outfits, especially girls with their beautiful poofy dresses and elaborate hairdos. Although I don't know much about the Pope, I have great respect for him and am really saddened about his health - here's an interesting picture report of his life from BBC.

Also from NY Times, an interesting article by Nicolas Kristof about Easter in Africa:

DETE CROSSING, Zimbabwe — So with Easter approaching, here I am in the heart of Christendom.

That's right - Africa. One of the most important trends reshaping the world is the decline of Christianity in Europe and its rise in Africa and other parts of the developing world, including Asia and Latin America.

I stopped at a village last Sunday morning here in Zimbabwe - and found not a single person to interview, for everyone had hiked off to church a dozen miles away. And then I dropped by a grocery store with a grim selection of the cheapest daily necessities - and huge multicolored chocolate Easter eggs.

On Easter, more Anglicans will attend church in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda - each - than Anglicans and Episcopalians together will attend services in Britain, Canada and the U.S. combined.

More Roman Catholics will celebrate Easter Mass in the Philippines than in any European country. The largest church in the world is in South Korea. And more Christians will probably attend Easter services in China than in all of Europe together.

In short, for the first time since it began two millenniums ago, Christianity is no longer "Western" in any very meaningful sense.

"If on a Sunday you want to attend a lively, jammed full, fervent and life-changing service of Christian worship, you want to be in Nairobi, not in Stockholm," notes Mark Noll, a professor at Wheaton College. He adds, "But if you want to walk home safely late at night, you want to be in Stockholm, not Nairobi."

This shift could be just beginning. David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University sees some parallels between China today and the early Roman empire. He wonders aloud whether a Chinese Constantine will come along and convert to Christianity.

Chairman Mao largely destroyed traditional Chinese religions, yet Communism has died as a replacement faith and left a vacuum. "Among those disappointed true-believer Marxists, it may well be that Marxism has served as a kind of John the Baptist to the rapid emergence of Christianity among Chinese intellectuals," Professor Jeffrey said. Indeed, it seems possible to me that in a few decades, China could be a largely Christian nation.

Whether in China or Africa, the commitment of new converts is extraordinary. While I was interviewing villagers along the Zambezi River last Sunday, I met a young man who was setting out for his Pentecostal church at 8:30 a.m. "The service begins at 2 p.m.," he explained - but the journey is a five-hour hike each way.

So where faith is easy, it is fading; where it's a challenge, it thrives.

"When people are in difficulties, they want to cling to something," said the Rev. Johnson Makoti, a Pentecostal minister in Zimbabwe who drives a car plastered with Jesus bumper stickers.

"The only solution people here can believe in is Jesus Christ."

People in this New Christendom are so zealous about their faith that I worry about the risk of new religious wars. In Africa, Christianity and Islam are competing furiously for converts, and in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and especially Sudan, the competition has sometimes led to violent clashes.

"Islam is a threat that is coming," the Rev. William Dennis McDonald, a Pentecostal minister in Zambia, warned me. He is organizing "operation checkmate" to boost Christianity and contain Islam in eastern Zambia.

The denominations gaining ground tend to be evangelical and especially Pentecostal; it's the churches with the strictest demands, like giving up drinking, that are flourishing.

All this is changing the character of global Christianity, making it more socially conservative. For example, African churches are often more hostile to gays than mainline American churches. The rise of the Christian right in the U.S. is finding some echoes in other parts of the world.

Yet conservative Christians in the U.S. should take heed. Christianity is thriving where it faces obstacles, like repression in China or suspicion of evangelicals in parts of Latin America and Africa. In those countries where religion enjoys privileges - Britain, Italy, Ireland, Spain or Iran - that establishment support seems to have stifled faith.

That's worth remembering in the debates about school prayers or public displays of the Ten Commandments: faith doesn't need any special leg up. Look at where religion is most vibrant today, talk to those who walk five hours to services, and the obvious conclusion is that what nurtures faith is not special privileges but rather adversity.


The Era of Exploitation

From a NY Times editorial:

ongress is in recess and the press has gone berserk over the Terri Schiavo case. So very little attention is being paid to pending budget proposals that are scandalously unfair, but that pretty accurately reflect the kind of country the U.S. has become.

President Bush believes in an "ownership" society, which means that except for the wealthy, you're on your own. The president's budget would cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps, education, transportation, health care for veterans, law enforcement, medical research and safety inspections for food and drugs. And, of course, it contains big new tax cuts for the wealthy.

These are the new American priorities. Republicans will tell you they were ratified in the last presidential election. We may be locked in a long and costly war, and federal deficits may be spiraling toward the moon, but the era of shared sacrifices is over. This is the era of entrenched exploitation. All sacrifices will be made by working people and the poor, and the vast bulk of the benefits will accrue to the rich.

F.D.R. would have stared slack-jawed at this madness. Even his grand Social Security edifice is under assault by the vandals of the G.O.P.

While the press and the public are distracted by one sensational news story after another - Terri Schiavo, Michael Jackson, steroids in baseball, etc. - the president and his party have continued their extraordinary campaign to undermine the programs that were designed to fend off destitution and provide a reasonable foundation of economic security for those not blessed with great wealth.

President Bush has proposed more than $200 billion worth of cuts in domestic discretionary programs over the next five years, and cuts of $26 billion in entitlement programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzed the president's proposal, said:

"Figures in the budget show that child-care assistance would be ended for 300,000 low-income children by 2009. The food stamp cut would terminate food stamp aid for approximately 300,000 low-income people, most of whom are low-income working families with children.

Reduced Medicaid funding most certainly would cause many states to cut their Medicaid programs, increasing the ranks of the uninsured."

Education funding would be cut beginning next year, and the cuts would grow larger in succeeding years. Food assistance for pregnant women, infants and children would be cut.

Funding for H.I.V. and AIDS treatment would be cut by more than half a billion dollars over five
years. Support for environmental protection programs would be sharply curtailed. And so on.

Conservatives insist the cuts are necessary to get the roaring federal budget deficit under control. But they have trouble keeping a straight face when they tell that story. Laden with tax cuts, the president's proposal will result in an increase, not a decrease, in the deficit. Shared sacrifice is anathema to the big-money crowd.

The House has passed a budget that is similar to the president's, except it contains even deeper cuts in programs that affect the poor. In the Senate, a handful of Republicans balked at the cuts proposed for Medicaid. Casting their votes with the Democrats, they were able to eliminate the cuts from the Senate budget proposal. The Senate also added $5.4 billion in education funding for 2006.

All the budgets contain more than $100 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, which makes a mockery of the G.O.P.'s budget-balancing rhetoric. When Congress returns from its Easter recess, the Republican leadership will try to reconcile the differences in the various proposals.

Whatever happens will be bad news for ordinary Americans. Big cuts are coming.

The advances in areas like education, antipoverty programs, health services, environmental protection and food safety were achieved after struggles that, in some cases, took many decades.

To slide backward now (hurting millions of people in the process) because of a desire to siphon funds from those programs and hand them over as tax cuts to the wealthiest members of our society, is obscene.

This is not a huge national story. It's just the way things are. It was Herbert Hoover who said:
"You know, the only trouble with capitalism is capitalists. They're too damn greedy."


Dying for fame

Two very interesting NY Times editorials on the recent school shootings in Minnesota.

Dying to be Famous

ADOLESCENTS don't conceive the notion of strafing their classmates in a vacuum; they get the idea from cable TV. Bad news in itself, the 10-fatality reprise of the American school shooting last week at the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota bolsters the archetype. It makes a trend that had seemed to subside since Columbine in 1999 seem current again, and prospectively gives more boys big ideas.

The lessons we've been meant to learn from school shootings have been legion. We need better gun control. We need to be more understanding of misfits. We need to stop bullying. We need to curtail violent films and video games. So far, the suicide of 16-year-old Jeff Weise and his murder of nine people, including his grandfather, has fostered another familiar homily: We need to recognize the "warning signs."

Jeff Weise's "warning signs" have been widely publicized. He drew ghoulish cartoons and wrote gory short stories. He aped his predecessors in Colorado by wearing a black trench coat. On the Internet, heartbreakingly, he admired Hitler and flirted with eugenics - although the Nazis would hardly have championed the pure genetic line of Mr. Weise's Chippewa tribe. Predictably, all this dark ideation took place against the backdrop of a broken family and a forlorn personal life.

But Monday-morning quarterbacking has a reputation as cheap for good reason. A host of teenagers have morbid inclinations that they express through art and schoolwork. The very fact that the style that Mr. Weise adopted has a name - Goth - implies that thousands of other youths don the same dour garb. Many adolescents try on outrageous, painfully incoherent ideologies to set themselves apart. In her book "Rampage," Katherine S. Newman cites factors like access to "cultural scripts" from violent media, victimization from bullying and social marginalization. But such broad characteristics apply to half the children in the country.

I, too, researched school shootings for my seventh novel, about a fictional version of same. But the more I read, the more disparate these stories appeared. The boys had in common what they did, but not who they were or why they did it. If another school is shot up again, rest assured that the culprit will have exhibited his own eccentric set of "warning signs," like Mr. Weise's constantly changing hairstyles, that if plugged into a computer would finger 10,000 other innocents as murderous time-bombs.

But I did identify one universal. The genre is now sufficiently entrenched that any adolescent who guns down his classmates aims to join a specific elect. Like Red Lake's, the public shootings are often a cover for suicide, or for the private settling of scores with a parent or guardian. But a school shooting is reliably a bid for celebrity. As for murder-suicides like Jeff Weise's, even posthumous notoriety must seem enthralling to someone who feels sufficiently miserable and neglected.

Whether we care to admit it, the calculation these boys are making is culturally astute. You do not make headlines by getting an A on your report card. So long as we make a minimal distinction between fame and infamy - and consistently accord infamy a measure more fascination - any smart teenager is going to take the easier, more spectacular route to glory and opt for ignominy over achievement. Far more Americans now know the name Jeff Weise than the winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize. Only two days after the shooting, a Google search of "Jeff Weise" and "Red Lake" scored more than 8,000 hits. If our boy wanted attention, he got it.

Am I the only one to find those thousands of hits shocking? Am I the only one to feel queasy over the painstaking examination of this boy's psyche - perhaps including this very article?
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis: "Jeff Weise: A Mystery in a Life Full of Hardship." Minnesota Public Radio: "Who Was Jeff Weise?" There's hardly a teenage boy who wouldn't covet those headlines for himself. Are we not dangling a prize of outsized pity for boys with the guts to compete for it? Are we in danger of being too sympathetic?

Surely no single factor explains the perniciousness of school shootings more than the intense news media focus they draw. Too late, we are now combing Mr. Weise's reactionary Internet postings, grisly drawings and gruesome short stories. We are rightly wrenched by his fractured family life - his mother's brain damage, his father's suicide.

But I grew up in North Carolina alongside any number of anguished young men, a few of whom likewise chose to leave the building with a shot in the head. Most humble suicides, however, don't take nine unwilling people with them on the way out the door.

Sympathy, of course, is not zero-sum. We can afford to lavish it unsparingly on all parties in tragedies like this one. But one might make a case for ordinal sympathy. That list should be topped by nine dead people who should have been eating breakfast this morning. Next, their grieving families. The seven wounded. Jeff Weise's extended family, living with shame and perplexity hereon. The Red Lake reservation, now receiving the kind of attention it doesn't want. The nation at large, in which extravagant media response to this killing has once more raised the likelihood that it will happen again. Jeff Weise - overweight, politically confused lonely guy, but also a killer - belongs on the list, but last.

Otherwise, reserve a special compassion for any folks in Mr. Weise's orbit, like the doctor said to have dismissed the boy's cutting himself as "a fad," implicitly being made to feel that by not reading the "warning signs" they are in some way at fault. The hurling of blame constitutes a secondary wave of violence that leaves a second set of scars. Still coping with gratuitous murder, counselors and teachers, parents or guardians, friends and neighbors of the gunman grapple with an equally gratuitous guilt.

For no one should have seen this coming. Screwed-up comes in as many flavors as ice cream, and the merest fraction of troubled boys go literally ballistic at their schools. If occasionally fatal, the combination of despair and grandiosity is as common - and American - as apple and pie.

Lionel Shriver is the author of "We Need to Talk About Kevin," a novel.

Family Wonders if Prozac Prompted School Shootings

In their sleepless search for answers, the family of Jeff Weise, the teenager who killed nine people and then himself, says it is left wondering about the drugs he was prescribed for his waves of depression.

On Friday, as Tammy Lussier prepared to bury Mr. Weise, who was her nephew, and her father, who was among those he killed, she found herself looking back over the last year, she said, when Mr. Weise began taking the antidepressant Prozac after a suicide attempt that Ms. Lussier described as a "cry for help."

"They kept upping the dose for him," she said, "and by the end, he was taking three of the 20 milligram pills a day. I can't help but think it was too much, that it must have set him off."
Lee Cook, another relative of Mr. Weise, said his medication had increased a few weeks before the shootings on Monday.

"I do wonder," Mr. Cook said, "whether on top of everything else he had going on in his life, on top of all the other problems, whether the drugs could have been the final straw."

The effects of antidepressants on young people remain a topic of fierce debate among scientists and doctors.

Last year, a federal panel of drug experts said antidepressants could cause children and teenagers to become suicidal. The Food and Drug Administration has since required the makers of antidepressants to warn of that danger on their labels for the medications.

The suicide risk is particularly acute when therapy starts or a dosage changes, the drug agency has warned.

Although some studies link the drugs to an increased suicide risk, the research does not suggest such a connection to violence like Mr. Weise's rampage through Red Lake High School.

Without knowing Mr. Weise's medical history or precise diagnosis, it is virtually impossible to speculate on what factors may have affected him - the drugs, his underlying depression, a gloomy childhood wrapped in tragedy or something else entirely.

"What I can say is that his physician, I'm sure, made the appropriate recommendations based on whatever the dosages were," said Morry Smulevitz, a spokesman for Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac.

The dosage range, Mr. Smulevitz said, runs from 20 milligrams to 80 milligrams a day, so Mr. Weise's 60 milligram dose fell in that bracket. Mr. Weise, though just 16, was taller than 6 feet and weighed 250 pounds.

Ms. Lussier, who lived with Mr. Weise in her mother's house on the Red Lake Indian reservation in far northern Minnesota, said she could not understand what else, aside from drugs, had changed to explain his sudden violence.

Since his suicide attempt and 72-hour hospitalization a year ago, Mr. Weise had seemed to be improving, she said, and he was receiving mental health counseling and a doctor's care at the medical center on the reservation.

Others in Red Lake said, however, that they had seen few signs of improvement in the dour, solitary boy.

The driver of a school bus, Lorene Gurneau, said she often saw Mr. Weise standing outside the middle school, wearing his long black clothes and strange hairdos, staring off into nothing, in a daze, even as children raced by or teachers passed him.

Still, in at least one Internet posting last fall, Mr. Weise sounded determined to improve his life after his suicide attempt, and he noted that he was taking antidepressants.

"I had went through a lot of things in my life that had driven me to a darker path than most
choose to take," the posting said. "I split the flesh on my wrist with a box opener, painting the floor of my bedroom with blood I shouldn't have spilt. After sitting there for what seemed like hours (which apparently was only minutes), I had the revelation that this was not the path."

"It was my dicision," he went on, "to seek medical treatment, as on the other hand I could've chose to sit there until enough blood drained from my downward lacerations on my wrists to die."

On Monday, in the hours before the shooting, Mr. Weise had seemed cheerful and normal, Ms. Lussier said. His teacher, who was spending an hour a day at his house as part of a "homebound" study program that the school system had created because of his troubles, arrived to give him his homework assignments, as usual. At 12:30 p.m., less than three hours before the shootings, another aunt, Shauna, stopped in.

"He was watching a movie on TV," Ms. Lussier said. "There was nothing out of the ordinary. People keep saying he was depressed, but if you saw him, he was getting better. All we can think of is, what about the drugs?"

Though research has not linked antidepressants to acts of violence on others, several incidents have gained wide publicity.

In 1989, Joseph Wesbecker walked into a printing plant in Louisville, Ky., with a bag of guns and killed eight co-workers and himself. He was taking Prozac, which had recently been approved.

In 1999, a student involved in the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado had reportedly taken Luvox, an antidepressant similar to Prozac.

In 2001, Christopher Pittman killed his grandparents while taking Zoloft, another antidepressant similar to Prozac. His lawyers faulted the drug, but a jury in Charleston, S.C., convicted him of murder in February.

Still, Katherine S. Newman, a professor at Princeton University who has studied school killings, said just a small percentage appeared to have possibly involved psychiatric drugs. Of 27 such killings from 1974 to 2001, fewer than one-fifth of the suspects had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder before the shootings, Professor Newman said. Dr. Frank Ochberg, a former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said he once dismissed any links between antidepressants and suicides or homicidal acts. The recent research, however, has changed his mind, Dr. Ochberg said.

"If your intention is shooting the place up and dying as you do it, you can put the fantasy together," he said. "Suicidal and homicidal intentions together could theoretically follow the same path."

N.R.A. Aide Urges Armed Teachers

Monica Davey reported from Red Lake for this article, and Gardiner Harris from Washington. Jodi Wilgoren contributed reporting from New York.


UN Report accuses Syria of Hariri's death

From the Christian Science Monitor:

A UN team investigating the Feb. 14 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri released a highly critical report of Syria on Thursday accusing Syria of "fostering the lawless climate and political tensions surrounding Hariri's death," reports Knight Ridder News Services.

The report stopped short of blaming Syria for the assassination, but it laid the blame at its doorstep, reports the New York Times.

While [the UN report] said it could not assign direct blame for the killing, the mission's 19-page report said the government of Syria 'bears primary responsibility for the political tension that preceded the assassination.' It said Syria's interference in Lebanon was 'heavy-handed and inflexible' which, combined with inept Lebanese security, was responsible for 'political polarization' that 'provided the backdrop' for the assassination.

Deputy Irish Police Commissioner Peter FitzGerald, head of the UN fact-finding team, wrote that "There was a serious failure on the part of the Lebanese security apparatus to predict and prevent the assassination," reports Knight Ridder. Mr. FitzGerald and his team spent three weeks in Lebanon investigating Mr. Hariri's killing.

Critical to finding out who killed Hariri is cooperation from the pro-Syrian leaders of Lebanon's security apparatus. According to the Washington Post, FitzGerald made clear in his report that as long as they remain in power that is not likely to happen.

Following the attack, Lebanese authorities failed to properly secure the site and cleared it of key evidence, including the six vehicles in Hariri's convoy, according to the report. The police failed to shut down a broken water main that flooded the crime scene, washing away important evidence. 'Important evidence was either removed or destroyed without record,' FitzGerald said.

The report also charges that Lebanese investigators neglected to trace a 'suspect' white pickup truck that slowed down at the crime scene in the minutes before the explosion. Nor did they interview potential witnesses, a failure that amounted to 'gross negligence.'

FitzGerald said that a 'single individual or small terrorist group' lacked the capacity to carry out such an attack, which required 'considerable finance, military precision in its execution, [and] substantial logistical support.'

The report also charged that Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened Hariri with "physical harm" last summer if Hariri challenged Mr. Assad's dominance over Lebanese political life, says the Post.

Assad said that 'Lahoud should be viewed as his personal representative' in Lebanon and that 'opposing him is tantamount to opposing Assad himself,' the report states. Assad then warned that he 'would rather break Lebanon over the heads of' Hariri and influential Druze political leader Walid Jumblatt 'than see his word in Lebanon broken.'

The United States and France were expected to introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for an international inquiry, reports Reuters.

The report's recommendations echoed demands that anti-Syrian opposition leaders and demonstrators made and have continued to make following the assassination.In response to the UN report, Syrian UN ambassador Fayssal Mekdad denied that his country's influence had created tension and said "the true culprit was a Security Council resolution last year demanding Syria's departure," reports Agence France Presse.

Mr. Mekdad also expressed doubt about a power struggle between Hariri and Assad, reports AFP.

'I wish Mr Fitzgerald had not gone into such allegations because they could never be substantiated since Mr Hariri is not there anymore,' the ambassador said.

Meanwhile, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, meeting in Paris on Thursday with French President Jacques Chirac says Syria will announce "within a week" its timetable for the withdrawal of the remainder of its forces from Lebanon, reports the BBC.

Mass demonstrations forced the resignation of the Lebanese Cabinet last month and pressured Syria into pulling back its 15,000 troops and intelligence agents into eastern Lebanon.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

More chaos in Iraq

From Informed Comment:

Iraqi gendarmes of the Interior Ministry, supported by American troops, discovered a guerrilla training camp on the shores of Lake Tharthar in central Iraq. In the subsequent engagement, they claim to have killed 85 guerrillas. Al-Zaman says that 12 Iraqi policemen were killed in the encounter, in return. This area, the district of Hilwah, lies between Samarra, Tikrit and Ramadi, and the lake area-- populated by fishermen-- has been used by guerrillas as a base and to transport weapons. It is a marshy area difficult of access for outsiders.

Agence France Presse, on the other hand, managed to get some independent journalists up to the lake, north of Samarra, and they found 40 guerrillas still there. The guerrillas denied that 85 of their fellows had been killed by the Iraqi army, but admitted that 11 had been killed by US aerial bombardment. (American news organizations such as CNN refuse to report news that is only carried by AFP, because they consider it to have inadequate journalistic quality-control. But reports like this one are not being done by US wire services in Iraq, and if we don't take AFP seriously, we essentially may as well just believe whatever Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and the Pentagon claim.

Unfortunately, the US military is filtering our news from Iraq, and we only hear about a fraction of the violence that actually takes place there. What we do hear is often imbued by a kind of US boosterism (such as the recent faintly ridiculous claim that Fallujah is the safest city in Iraq-- as though it were still an inhabited city). Even if it were not exaggerated, this report about the Tharthar Camp would mean more in the context of all the violent incidents that occurred on Wednesday, but we don't have access to most of those. That such battles signal a "tipping point" in the counter-insurgency struggle strikes me as highly unlikely. Another question: Are these gung-ho gendarmes killing Sunni jihadis from a Shiite background? Are they getting intelligence via the Badr Corps?

UPI reports that the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior (similar to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation) has begun expelling non-Iraqi Arabs from the country in a bid to weaken the guerrilla movement. Some 250 persons have been ordered out of the country. [Cole: This report sounds merely cosmetic to me, and a drop in the bucket. Some journalists estimate that 400 Saudi volunteers alone have been killed in Iraq. Moreover, most of the guerrilla actions are not taken by foreigners.)

UPI points out that struggles over oil lie at the center of the dispute between the Shiites and the Kurds, which has delayed the formation of a new government. The Kurds are accused of wanting the ministry of petroleum so as to be able to control the Kirkuk oil industry. Ownership of Kirkuk is contested by the Turkmen and the Arabs. There is also a dispute about how much of the petroleum profits would stay in the Kurdish provinces. The Shiites have offered 17 percent, whereas the Kurds are said to want closer to a fourth.

El Pais is reporting the disputes between Spanish military commanders in Najaf and US officers. The Spanish officers were appalled that Gen. Rick Sanchez wanted them to call in bombing strikes on civilian targets (a frequent US tactic in urban warfare in Iraq), and refused, sending in commandos to a hospital instead. Likewise, the Spanish declined to move against the Sadr Movement for fear of massive turbulence, so the US sent in special ops forces to arrest an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr anyway. (It is just unimaginable that the US would endanger the 1200 Spanish troops in Najaf in this high-handed way. It has been alleged to me by someone who should know that Dan Senor played a key role in this move). As the Spanish predicted, the sudden and still unexplained US assault on the Sadrists produced a massive uprising that threw the South into turmoil for two months. The Spanish by that time were fed up and the new Zapatero government determined to withdraw the Spanish military. Given how high-handedly the US treated them, you cannot blame Madrid for wanting no further part of the increasing Iraq quagmire. What comes across most strongly in this report is a general European officer-class repugnance at heavy-handed US military tactics, including especially the use of aerial bombing on civilian targets where guerrillas were present.


What is the Jordanian government up to ?

First of all, I am so disgusted that Sharon's public declaration of building new settlements in the West Bank has met with so little outrage. But then, I shouldn't be surprised I guess...

And what's up with Jordan's diplomacy?? Government officials have been making some public pro-American remarks. When I was studying in Jordan in 2003, we did learn that due to Jordan's huge dependence on foreign aid, the government did tend to be pro-American compared to some Arab states.

In regards to relationships with Palestine, it is very interesting because many scholars/people accuse Jordan of collaborating with Israeli forces in 1947/8 to acquire Palestinian land for what was Trans-Jordan at the time - for example an old woman I interviewed who had fled during the war. The government has also been accused of "Jordanization" of the Palestinians in the country who now make up about 50% of the population.

Moreover, the relationship of the PLO with King Abdullah during Black September in 1970 & later in the 80's reflect the troublesome relationship between the two. Although Palestinians comprise of a majority in many districts in Jordan, they are not fairly represented politically - but then again, they're the only Palestinians living in a host Arab country who do have political rights. Another fear has also been that Israel will take over the Occupied Territories by pushing Palestinians into Jordan making it the home of the Palestinians.

From Electronic Intifada:

In recent weeks, Jordan has been embroiled in crises with its neighbors Iraq and Syria and has been subjected to harsh regional criticism for the initiative it launched to amend the Arab League peace initiative towards Israel. In over forty years as a Jordanian diplomat I witnessed many occasions when Jordan's positions were subject to attack. It was my job to explain these positions and defend them when they were distorted. In order to understand how we got here, and see how we can restore the good relations and reputation that Jordan should enjoy, we need to make an objective assessment of recent events and actions, including missteps by Jordan's diplomats.

Iraq has accused Jordan of supporting terrorism, sparking a crisis that resulted in the withdrawal of envoys. Of all accusations that could ever be made against Jordan, support for any form of violence or terror is the very last. Iraqis have been enraged that the suicide bomber who killed over one hundred Iraqis in Hilla was apparently Jordanian. Even if that is the case, it must be self-evident to anyone who knows Jordan and its historic stance that neither the Jordanian government nor the Jordanian people would condone such a heinous crime by any individual.

Damascus was irritated because Jordan's Foreign Minister Hani Mulki added his voice to the many calling on Syria to implement Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls on foreign forces to leave Lebanon. Syria might not have been so upset had this call been placed in the proper context by simultaneously and specifically demanding the implementation of UN resolutions under which Israel must end its occupation and colonization of Syrian and Palestinian territory. At a time when Syria feels threatened, Jordan should play a balancing role and insist that all UN Resolutions be respected without double standards. The perception, which it cannot have been the government's intention to project, was that Jordan was siding against Syria when it already felt besieged.

Into this already poisoned atmosphere came reports in the run up to the Arab summit in Algiers that Jordan was pushing for a new approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jordan was said to be proposing to alter the Arab initiative launched at the 2002 Beirut summit. The most alarming element of the new version, supposedly, was that the Arab states would "simplify" the initiative by offering Israel full peace and normalization without waiting for Israel to withdraw from any occupied territory.

The hostile reaction these reports produced from governments and media before the summit was entirely predictable given the high levels of anger at Israel's unending atrocities and continued territorial expansion, and Jordan went into the summit already on the defensive. What was needed to rescue the situation was skilled, active diplomacy and that, unfortunately, is where Jordan's diplomacy faltered.

Instead of issuing a clear statement spelling out exactly what the Jordanian initiative was actually about, what new elements it introduced and, most importantly, what it was not, the Foreign Minister reaffirmed that the Jordanian ideas were no different from the earlier Arab initiative. If that is the case, then he also failed to provide a convincing explanation as to why a new initiative was needed at all. Then he said that the problem was that the 2002 Arab initiative was four pages long, and since it did not have a great impact, what was needed was something shorter so that it could be communicated more easily.

Brevity, however, does not seem to be the problem. Since the 1967 war, an international consensus has been painstakingly built around a solution based on just three words: land for peace. Israel supposedly accepted this formula at the 1991 Madrid conference, but Israel's main response has been to seize more land and build more settlements. UN Security Council Resolution 242, which articulated the land-for-peace formula, itself covers barely half a page. Are we now to believe that the 38 years since it was passed have been insufficient for Israel to read it? And what about the Road Map? That document, proposed by the Quartet and accepted by the Palestinians as well as Jordan, covers just a few pages and refers explicitly to the Arab initiative of 2002.

Yet Israel's response was to lengthen the document -- adding 100 "reservations" (later reduced to 14) -- which gut it of its content. Israel even objected to any mention of the Arab intiative, which means that it is not seeking amendments to the initiative but to escape it all together. If we take positions that lack all credibility, we will be accused of pretending to be fools in order to hide malicious schemes, and our country does not deserve that.

In the end, it proved impossible to sell the idea that if Israel is rewarded in advance that it will suddenly unblock the road to peace, evacuate the occupied territories and restore the Arab rights it has usurped for decades. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa expressed the majority sentiment when he rejected the idea that "Arabs will make concessions and even normalize without anything real in return." He added that, "It should be commitment for commitment," and "We are not going to move even one millimeter away from this."

"After lengthy negotiations," Ha'aretz reported on 22 March, "it was decided that the resolution will state that normalization of ties with Israel will not take place before Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders and a Palestinian state is established."

Mulki, in reaction to his failure to persuade fellow ministers to support his line, reportedly said, "Arabs cannot read history well and they are led by their emotion, not by reason." If that is the case, one must wonder what should be the reasonable, non-emotional response to Israel's announcement, coinciding with the summit that it plans to build another 3,500 homes in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim? Was this an Israeli effort to support moderates at the Arab summit? More likely, Israel simply does not care because it is not building settlements just because there is no Omani or Moroccan Ambassador in Tel Aviv.

Jordan has a central role to play in bringing peace to this region and has led by example. It has always shone by showing consistency, moderation and an unwavering commitment to a just and durable peace. When Jordan forcefully and correctly argued against Israel's apartheid wall in the occupied territories at the International Court of Justice in the Hague last year, it deservedly gained respect and influence. We need to maintain a correct, dignified, and courageous pursuit of those principles and act as a reference for the region.

Nor, when we have heard so many painful and unfair words said about our country in recent weeks, should we hide our heads in the sand. The ultimate safety of our country and its interests should take priority over any niceties that might prevent us pointing out when our officials so badly stumble. There is no doubt that Jordan deserves better.

The writer is former Jordanian ambassador to Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and the United Nations in New York, and was a member of the Jordanian-Palestinian joint delegation at the Washington Peace talks in 1991-92. A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Kofi Anan's Report is out

The report is called "In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all." You can read the full report or the executive summary.

From the LA Times:

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Kofi Annan will propose restructuring a U.N. human rights panel, ask for a swift decision to expand the Security Council and request sweeping changes designed to prevent new scandals in a report Monday to the General Assembly on reforming the beleaguered United Nations.

The blueprint for reform, according to a draft copy obtained by The Times, also proposes ways to keep the U.N. the primary setting for global security decisions and the key player in international development issues.

Annan has framed the plan as providing a historic opportunity to reinvent the U.N. to better meet the challenges of a changing world. But the plan is also seen here as a last-gasp bid to restore the organization's relevance at a time when both he and it are under heavy fire.

Yet the blueprint is not as bold as Annan may have liked. The reforms depend on the endorsement of the 191-member General Assembly and the agreement of world leaders who are coming to a U.N. summit in September.

Many of the ideas in the document have been floated in recent months by special panels on U.N. reform and global development that Annan commissioned. But fierce reactions from some governments led Annan to temper a proposed definition of terrorism, stop short of requiring criteria for membership on the human rights panel and caused him to refrain from choosing between two options to expand the Security Council, U.N. officials said.

Diplomats say they are prepared for six months of intense negotiations to further refine the proposals into a form that the majority of the Assembly will back. And U.S. opposition or new revelations in a series of scandals could weaken Annan's position to the point that he may not win enough support for the package.

With the U.N. still bruised by the U.S. decision to lead an invasion of Iraq without the Security Council's blessing, Annan has searched for ways to keep the Bush administration engaged in the world body and address the United States' post-Sept. 11 sense of vulnerability.

In an attempt to put the U.N. at the center of security policy, the report calls for a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention by September 2006, new measures to stem nuclear proliferation and an agreement on rules for the use of force and preemptive action.

To bolster peace and development, the report urges the creation of a peace-building body to help societies recover from war and asks developed countries to set aside 0.7% of their gross national income for development aid.

Only six countries now provide that amount; the U.S. plans to contribute about $22 billion, or 0.18% of its gross national income, in aid next year.

As the U.N. reels from scandals, the report describes ways for the U.N. to become more accountable and to hew more closely to its ideals.

Most notably, it suggests that nations that violate human rights should not have a place on the U.N. panel that monitors such actions.

In the shadow of the failures of the U.N.'s "oil-for-food" program for Iraq, Annan suggests better oversight of U.N. contracts and sanctions. He also requests funding for a one-time staff buyout to help younger, energetic employees rise in the organization.

The report declares a policy of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers or other personnel and strongly encourages all countries who contribute troops to the U.N. to prosecute any wrongdoing because the U.N. has no power to punish them.

"There is a yearning in many quarters for a new consensus on which to base collective action," the report says. "And a desire exists to make the most far-reaching reforms in the history of the United Nations, so as to equip and resource it to help advance this 21st century agenda."

Annan adds: "If we act boldly — and if we act together — we can make people everywhere more secure, more prosperous, and better able to enjoy their fundamental human rights."

The blueprint is also seen here as an attempt by Annan to establish himself as the person who can best lead the U.N.'s renewal despite the scandals and internal conflicts that sparked calls for his resignation late last year by some members of Congress.

Investigations of the oil-for-food program, revelations of widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and officials and internal charges of old-boy favoritism have threatened to overwhelm the institution's successes and undermine its credibility.

The proposal is also in part an appeal to the United States not to forsake the U.N. but rather to help guide the reform. "In today's world, no state, however powerful, can protect itself on its own," it says.

Annan became secretary-general eight years ago with firm U.S. backing to reform the organization. But the recent scandals have provided a focal point for conservative critics, who have long held the U.N. in contempt and considered it a hindrance to U.S. interests.

Although calls for Annan's resignation have diminished, his preliminary attempts to refresh his Cabinet and shake up entrenched bureaucratic habits in the institution have sparked a backlash.

Further, a U.N.-commissioned report due at the end of the month on whether Annan's son exploited his father's position to win a contract for his company from the oil-for-food program could put Annan in the most vulnerable position yet.

If Annan is able to complete the two years remaining in his term, the new blueprint may represent his last chance to achieve a legacy of reform.

The 63-page report, titled "In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All," draws heavily on recommendations from a high-level panel of international experts that Annan commissioned last year to help modernize the 60-year-old world body. It also incorporates a plan to achieve ambitious development goals by 2015.

Although he concedes that confidence in the U.N. has declined, Annan argues that bringing countries together to change the world is something only the U.N. can do."

As the world's only universal body with a mandate to address security, development and human rights issues, the United Nations bears a special burden," the report says. "We must reshape the organization in ways not previously imagined, and with a boldness and speed not previously shown."

In a key innovation, Annan proposes that the much-criticized Human Rights Commission be changed to a smaller "human rights council" directly elected by the General Assembly.

But rather than establish criteria to exclude violator nations from the council, he gently suggests that they have no place on it. "Those elected to the council should undertake to abide by the highest human rights standards," the report says.

The current process of selecting members from regional groups has given seats on the 53-member commission to countries with questionable human rights records, such as Sudan, Libya and Cuba, making it a lightning rod for criticism, even from supporters of the U.N.

This week, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Jeanne Kirkpatrick told a congressional committee, "I think we either need to reform it or destroy it."

On another attention-getting topic, Annan says expansion of the Security Council must occur but he takes no stand on two competing proposals.

Annan wants to enlarge the 15-member council to better reflect current realities and involve more countries who contribute financially, militarily and diplomatically to the United Nations. Both proposals would increase the membership from 15 to 24 but differ on the number of permanent and elected members.

The U.S., leans toward adding six permanent, non-veto-holding members, including Japan, but does not actively support any expansion because of concern that it would dilute its power on the council and make negotiations more difficult, U.S. officials say.

Congress and the Bush administration have launched several studies on how the U.N. could become more effective, more transparent and more worthy of U.S. engagement. Some conservative legislators advocate that the U.S. just walk away from the organization and use NATO as an alternate forum for security issues. But others disagree.

Former U.N. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, who held the post in the Clinton administration, told a House hearing on U.N. reform Tuesday that when the U.N. works, it can be very effective in helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals."

Without us, the U.N. will fail," he said. "And if it fails, we will be among the many losers."


Home is where the heart is

While I was talking to my mom a few days ago, she laughed when I called my room here "home" - but it's true! I'm definitely beginning to consider DC my home & am really liking it here. I love my work, working with people that care about the same issues I do, the urban lifestyle. the yesterday I decided to make my dingy room look more homey. I bought a rug to cover up the grimy-looking floor, moved my furniture around - I figured I'm going to be here for many months, so I might as well settle in. Although I really enjoy my work & am learning a lot, it's hard not to get depressed - I work on issues relating to Darfur, the Congo & the UN and after a while, I just have to detach my feelings from my work, so that I'm not as affected for example when I read about mass killings or rape. Or sometimes, I'll just get away from my desk & go for a brief walk - I have to say that I miss Minnesota's fresh air! Also, having Bush as a president & Republicans in power doesn't make our work easier!

I live in an all-women's dorm that is also a Christian home - the reason I like where I live is because no guys are allowed beyond the lobby point, and alcohol & smoking are prohibited on the premises which makes the residence a pretty safe place. However, there are many conservative girls who live here - most of them tend to be Republican although quite a few of them are not. I have found my group of girls & we tend to eat at the same table which interestingly has been labeled the "Crazy Liberal Table!" It is cool though that many girls recite their "grace" before eating which reminds me to say my Bismillah! I was amazed to find that a Latino girl I became friends with a few weeks earlier is a Republican because she was really sweet & very broad minded about issues, so it was interesting to hear her opinions. There are several black girls here who are Republican too, which serves as a reminder that I can't consider the African American community as a monolithic community.

I've also made a black friend & we talk about religion, ethics, life in great depth & I'm so glad to finally have a black friend! She is from Virginia & cracks me up because she calls DC "Chocolate City" due to the high black population in the city. I always talk about how fun DC is but the truth is that the poverty & homeless rates are pretty high too & it's quite evident walking down the street - I guess the capital represents what America is all about: an interesting juxtaposition of wealth, power & poverty.

DC is also a very transient city - very few people are really from here & very few stay for very long. My colleague who works on the Law & Justice program is going to Cambodia in a few months! Since many people come here on brief internships or fellowships, there is a high rate of employee turnover - for instance, many of the girls who have become my friends are leaving in a few weeks & I'm sure the summer bunch of interns will come flowing in. One thing everybody is looking forward to is the Cherry Blossom Festival which is supposed to be gorgeous - the weather has definitely been beautiful the past couple of days.

I've also had a chance to meet several Muslims here. On Sat nite, a friend of mine had a gathering at her place, so it was cool to meet some of the Muslims in the DC area - we are an interresting blend of students, employees, married, single...usually, I'm the only girl who is wearing Hijab which was not the case this time. Many of u know Zuleqa who used to live in MN & now lives in Virginia & works in DC so it's nice to have a familiar face around. One thing about growing up in a Khoja community is the comfort zone I have established over the years. Just like I did in Jordan, all of a sudden, I feel out of place & am getting to meet very diverse Muslims from all backgrounds which gives me a view of the whole spectrum of Islam that exists in the country - traveling always reminds me how little I know of my religion & how much I have to learn. Traveling also is a humbling experience because you visit amazing places & meet cool people that make u feel so small! Ah well...I've just learned through my experiences that religion is a journey & u just grow as the years pass by.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

More controversies from Iraq

From BBC:

The Bush administration made plans for war and for Iraq's oil before the 9/11 attacks, sparking a policy battle between neo-cons and Big Oil, BBC's Newsnight has revealed.

Two years ago today - when President George Bush announced US, British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad - protesters claimed the US had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered.

In fact there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and US State Department "pragmatists".

"Big Oil" appears to have won. The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the US State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants.
Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the September 11th attack on the US.

We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities and pipelines [in Iraq] built on the premise that privatisation is coming Mr Falah Aljibury

An Iraqi-born oil industry consultant, Falah Aljibury, says he took part in the secret meetings in California, Washington and the Middle East. He described a State Department plan for a forced coup d'etat.

Mr Aljibury himself told Newsnight that he interviewed potential successors to Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Bush administration.

Secret sell-off plan

The industry-favoured plan was pushed aside by a secret plan, drafted just before the invasion in 2003, which called for the sell-off of all of Iraq's oil fields. The new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq's oil to destroy the Opec cartel through massive increases in production above Opec quotas.

The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel.

Mr Ebel, a former Energy and CIA oil analyst, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Newsnight he flew to the London meeting at the request of the State Department.

Mr Aljibury, once Ronald Reagan's "back-channel" to Saddam, claims that plans to sell off Iraq's oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces.

"Insurgents used this, saying, 'Look, you're losing your country, you're losing your resources to a bunch of wealthy billionaires who want to take you over and make your life miserable,'" said Mr Aljibury from his home near San Francisco.

"We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities, pipelines, built on the premise that privatisation is coming."

Privatisation blocked by industry

Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil USA who took control of Iraq's oil production for the US Government a month after the invasion, stalled the sell-off scheme.

Mr Carroll told us he made it clear to Paul Bremer, the US occupation chief who arrived in Iraq in May 2003, that: "There was to be no privatisation of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved."

Ariel Cohen, of the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation, told Newsnight that an opportunity had been missed to privatise Iraq's oil fields.

He advocated the plan as a means to help the US defeat Opec, and said America should have gone ahead with what he called a "no-brainer" decision.

Mr Carroll hit back, telling Newsnight, "I would agree with that statement. To privatize would be a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain."

New plans, obtained from the State Department by Newsnight and Harper's Magazine under the US Freedom of Information Act, called for creation of a state-owned oil company favoured by the US oil industry. It was completed in January 2004 under the guidance of Amy Jaffe of the James Baker Institute in Texas.

Formerly US Secretary of State, Baker is now an attorney representing Exxon-Mobil and the Saudi Arabian government.

View segments of Iraq oil plans at

Questioned by Newsnight, Ms Jaffe said the oil industry prefers state control of Iraq's oil over a sell-off because it fears a repeat of Russia's energy privatisation. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US oil companies were barred from bidding for the reserves.

Ms Jaffe says US oil companies are not warm to any plan that would undermine Opec and the current high oil price: "I'm not sure that if I'm the chair of an American company, and you put me on a lie detector test, I would say high oil prices are bad for me or my company."

The former Shell oil boss agrees. In Houston, he told Newsnight: "Many neo conservatives are people who have certain ideological beliefs about markets, about democracy, about this, that and the other. International oil companies, without exception, are very pragmatic commercial organizations. They don't have a theology."

A State Department spokesman told Newsnight they intended "to provide all possibilities to the Oil Ministry of Iraq and advocate none".


Muslim woman leading prayer causes controversy

I still haven't made up my mind on how I feel about this.


With four words, "Praise be to Allah," Amina Wadud struck a blow Friday for Muslim women, breaking a centuries-old taboo against women leading men in prayer.

Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, led about 80 people in prayer at Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem, in what is believed to be one of the first times a Muslim woman has ever done so in public.

Both men and women bowed toward Mecca as Wadud led them in traditional Friday worship.

The two-hour service was part of the "Progressive Muslim" movement in the United States, which seeks to give women equality with men. The movement has grown in part because children of immigrants view some of the faith's views as old-fashioned.

Several mosques turned down the opportunity to be host to Friday's service; a bomb threat then forced organizers to move the event from a Soho gallery to the cathedral, where police officers screened participants for weapons. Wadud was escorted by two muscular bodyguards, and about a dozen police patrolled outside Synod House, some carrying submachine guns.

"The issue of gender equality is a very important one in Islam," Wadud said during a news conference before the service, "and Muslims have unfortunately used highly restrictive interpretations of history to move backward. With this prayer service we are moving forward.

This single act is symbolic of the possibilities within Islam."

During her prayer and sermon, Wadud referred to God as both male and female. She said she based that on the Koran, which says that Allah is not like humans. The Koran also refers to both men and women in describing moral behavior.

"Allah cannot be limited to being either a he or a she," Wadud said, "because that will make him like us."

She said that Islam initially had treated men and women equally but that men had rewritten the rules "to justify the imprisonment of woman to only be complementary to men as sexual partners."

Imam Ahmed Dewidar of the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan said Friday of a woman leading a mixed-gender prayer: "It's New York. Everyone can do whatever she wants, or he wants, but we never heard that the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, allowed, or even his wife, peace be upon her, ever allowed or did it."

He said he told his congregation not to get angry about the service but also said he would have preferred that people would have discussed it as a community.

As the service began Friday, a woman in a head-covering wiped tears from her face. Others hugged daughters tightly.

Asra Q. Nomani, an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter, said she had organized the service so that women would have "the right to enter a mosque, to enter through the front door, and to be greeted as my brother greeted me earlier."

Some critics have accused Nomani of using the event to publicize her new book, "Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam.'' A press release for the book was handed out with a release for the event, but Nomani said she was there out of deep conviction.

"Look around you," she said. "Everybody here is present because of heart."

Arwa Nasser, a teacher who grew up in Jordan and lives in Westchester County, N.Y., said she attended because she was "passionate about the issues of women and Islam."

"Every time I read about it, I am so sad about what's happening to my great faith," she said, referring to such practices as disparities in inheritance. She said her father had sent all his children to college, both boys and girls.

"I find nothing illogical in a woman leading a prayer," she said.

Zarina Nares, 9, attended with her sisters and her mother, Ameena Meer. She said she did not like the idea of women being forbidden from leading men and women in prayer.

"I kind of think it's unfair, because I think everyone has a voice," she said.
Three men tried to interrupt the service before it started. One of them shouted in the lobby as police forced them to leave.

Asif Zamam, the only one of the three who would give his name, said Islam forbade "men and women to pray together." The faithful cannot question such prohibition, he said, because "religion has been unchanged from the start."

Javed Memon, 22, of Philadelphia, attended the service wearing a shirt he sells bearing the slogan "This is what a radical Muslim feminist looks like."

Memon said he viewed the barring of women from leading prayer as part of a spectrum of oppression. He hopes Islam will bring an end to such practices in some countries as forbidding women to go out alone or drive.

"The beginning of that," he said, "is women having a voice."

Speaking of women, Maureen Dowd has an interesting editorial in the NY Times about women being more complex than men:

Men are always telling me not to generalize about them.

But a startling new study shows that science is backing me up here.

Research published last week in the journal Nature reveals that women are genetically more complex than scientists ever imagined, while men remain the simple creatures they appear.

"Alas," said one of the authors of the study, the Duke University genome expert Huntington Willard, "genetically speaking, if you've met one man, you've met them all. We are, I hate to say it, predictable. You can't say that about women. Men and women are farther apart than we ever knew. It's not Mars or Venus. It's Mars or Venus, Pluto, Jupiter and who knows what other planets."

Women are not only more different from men than we knew. Women are more different from each other than we knew - creatures of "infinite variety," as Shakespeare wrote.

"We poor men only have 45 chromosomes to do our work with because our 46th is the pathetic Y that has only a few genes which operate below the waist and above the knees," Dr. Willard observed. "In contrast, we now know that women have the full 46 chromosomes that they're getting work from and the 46th is a second X that is working at levels greater than we knew."

Dr. Willard and his co-author, Laura Carrel, a molecular biologist at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, think that their discovery may help explain why the behavior and traits of men and women are so different; they may be hard-wired in the brain, in addition to being hormonal or cultural.

So is Lawrence Summers right after all? "Only time will tell," Dr. Willard laughs.

The researchers learned that a whopping 15 percent - 200 to 300 - of the genes on the second X chromosome in women, thought to be submissive and inert, lolling about on an evolutionary Victorian fainting couch, are active, giving women a significant increase in gene expression over men.

As the Times science reporter Nicholas Wade, who is writing a book about human evolution and genetics, explained it to me: "Women are mosaics, one could even say chimeras, in the sense that they are made up of two different kinds of cell. Whereas men are pure and uncomplicated, being made of just a single kind of cell throughout."

This means men's generalizations about women are correct, too. Women are inscrutable, changeable, crafty, idiosyncratic, a different species.

"Women's chromosomes have more complexity, which men view as unpredictability," said David Page, a molecular biologist and expert on sex evolution at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Known as Mr. Y, Dr. P calls himself "the defender of the rotting Y chromosome." He's referring to studies showing that the Y chromosome has been shedding genes willy-nilly for millions of years and is now a fraction of the size of its partner, the X chromosome. "The Y married up," he notes. "The X married down."

Size matters, so some experts have suggested that in 10 million years or even much sooner - 100,000 years - men could disappear, taking Maxim magazine, March Madness and cold pizza in the morning with them.

Dr. Page drolly conjures up a picture of the Y chromosome as "a slovenly beast," sitting in his favorite armchair, surrounded by the litter of old fast food takeout boxes.

"The Y wants to maintain himself but doesn't know how," he said. "He's falling apart, like the guy who can't manage to get a doctor's appointment or can't clean up the house or apartment unless his wife does it.

"I prefer to think of the Y as persevering and noble, not as the Rodney Dangerfield of the human genome."

Dr. Page says the Y - a refuge throughout evolution for any gene that is good for males and/or bad for females - has become "a mirror, a metaphor, a blank slate on which you can write anything you want to think about males." It has inspired cartoon gene maps that show the belching gene, the inability-to-remember-birthdays-and-anniversaries gene, the fascination-with-spiders-and-reptiles gene, the selective-hearing-loss-"Huh" gene, the inability-to-express-affection-on-the-phone gene.

The discovery about women's superior gene expression may answer the age-old question about why men have trouble expressing themselves: because their genes do.