Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Got tolerance?

A few weeks ago, my friend invited me to go to her to the Pakistani embassy to celeberate the country's Independence Day. I was surprised at how political the event was - there was a panel with several Pakistani authors talking about tolerance, democracy in Islam, etc. I found it very ironic that one of the authors talked about how democracy is compatible with Islam at the embassy when Gen Parvez Musharraf came to power through a coup!

The highlight of the event for everybody crammed in the small room was Junoon's Salman Ahmad - one of the most popular Paki rock stars. He talked about his experiences as a Paki-American & then sang some of his songs too (I have a pic with him to prove it!). While I was at the embassy & looked around the room, what I found was a room of people who have lived in the US for a long time but are so proud to be Pakistani. And I felt jealous. Most Khojas experience an identity issue due to our diverse background but I think it is even more difficult for people who were born in the Gulf but are not recognized as citizens of the country we’re born in. I truly don't feel like I have one home. In my life, I have sung everything from Dil Dil Pakistan to UAE's national anthem to Vande Matram to a Palestinian liberation song to humming the Star Spangled Banner. In a world that is increasingly asking people to pledge allegiance to a country, flag or an ideology, I feel like I have none – whether it will change when I become an American citizen is yet to be seen.

The friend I went with is someone I term as "liberal Muslim." And most of the people at the Pakistani embassy fell under that category because they belonged to an elite class and many of them were probably even secular. As I have been exposed to different Muslims and Shias in DC, I have realized how shielded I have been as a Khoja Muslim. Muslim women who don't wear Hijab are not new to me. But Muslim women who dress as liberally as Westerners are and it has been a test of my faith as I spend my time around them. Some of them are devout Muslims while others have a different set of beliefs.

The same goes with my non-Muslim co-workers. I love my colleagues because we share the same drive for making a difference in the world but it's been a challenge not to judge them by their dress code or lifestyle. You may think that living in the West, all of us face the same issue so why am I making such a big deal about it. That is true, but this time has been different for me because for the first time, I don't come back home from work or school to a Muslim family or Muslim friends where I can set aside my discomfort. On some Friday nights, many of my friends go dancing or drinking late into the night. I'm surrounded by people who are different than me with lifestyles that I am very uncomfortable with and I find myself homesick longing for the comfort of my circle of friends in MN.

As I question my identity as a Shia Muslim in the US, the more pressing issue for me has been the whole concept of tolerance. What does it really mean to be tolerant? Honestly, I’ve never liked the word because it sounds like I have to put up with something or somebody has to put up with me. In a post-9/11 world, the word is in-vogue & Muslims use it liberally to describe Islam as a religion of "tolerance." But does that mean that as a Muslim, I am nice to people different than me on a superficial level and make a face behind their backs?

I spend all of last weekend with some of the most amazing young people for a conference on sustainable development in NY. We stayed over at an eco-friendly lodge with composting toilets (it's environmentally friendly because they don't use water but all the waste gets sucked into a huge hole similar to the ones in airplanes to be decomposed - no really, it wasn't gross!). I met people who worked in science, trade, environment and development and had one of the most enriching experiences in my life because it was inspiring to see so many young people working to make a difference in the world. But I was not always comfortable around them because they interacted or dressed in a way that was against my set of beliefs. On the drive back with a bunch of American girls, this topic actually came up & I admitted how uncomfortable I am around girls who dress what I consider liberally and they really appreciated my honesty.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because I have been given so much by people who have a different set of values and beliefs than mine: from air high-fives because I don't like interacting physically with na-mahram (mahram=father, father-in-law, brothers, maternal/paternal uncles, grandfathers, sons) to accommodating my prayer schedule to embracing my need to eat halaal or vegetarian food. They have taught me so much about life and have not simply "tolerated" me but embraced me. In the past few months, it is these people who have come through for me when I've been sick or just having a bad day. And I want to give back - wholeheartedly, without reservations or being judgmental. It may sound like "duh" for many people, but it has been really hard for me to do and something I struggle with every day.

I guess it's because all my life, good and bad has been presented as black or white. That is if a person does a, b or c, he/she is automatically x, y, or z. And it's not necessarily true. When we get together for multi-faith or multi-cultural dialogues, we tend to talk about the common features of our faith or lifestyles. Although this is crucial to bridge differences, I feel like we also need to talk about our differences because they exist and have a significant impact on how we interact and live. And if we ignore them or pretend they don't exist, they have the potential to become ugly.

I may be wrong or just over reacting. But what I do know is that I don't have all the answers to all the questions I have but it is how I feel at this point in my life. I came across a beautiful poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that really resonated with me: “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."


Monday, August 22, 2005

Thank you, Romeo

Last Tuesday night, my friends and I went to watch Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, a movie that chronicles Romeo Dallaire's experience in Rwanda, which is based on his book. Dallaire is a French Canadian who was the commander of the weak peacekeeping force sent to Rwanda in 1994.

As all hell broke loose in Rwanda and Western nations pulled out turning a blind eye to the genocide, it was Dallaire who did not give up despite the lack of support he received. In the movie, he talks about his despair as he saw horrific massacres, the silence of Western nations and his disappointment for the Belgian government who pulled their troops out (Belgium was a former colonial power in the country causing much of the rift between the Hutus and Tutsis). He also talks about how he feels like he let the people of Rwanda down wishing he could do more.

After he returned from Rwanda, he suffered from depression and alcoholism as he became suicidal. It took him ten years to get over his ordeal and decided to visit Rwanda as the country commemorated the genocide's 10th anniversary last year. He actually visited the University of Minnesota, along with Rwandan president Paul Kigame last year, but I was unable to attend the event.

As I watched the movie, I have nothing except for immense respect for this humble man who could have given up but held on and was responsible for saving many many lives during the chaos. I was also amazed at how strong his wife was as she helped him through the years and even visited Rwanda with him. I first read about Dallaire in a Human Rights class in Samantha Power's book
A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. I am so grateful for Dallaire's honesty and courage to write this book so that we can learn from it. There's a verse in the Holy Qur'an that states for on no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear (7: 42). Obviously, God trusted Dallaire a great deal to place such a huge responsibility on him!

His book and movie show the importance of a strong United Nations, so the promise of Never Again does not ring hollow. As I have been working on peacekeeping issues and the need for a 21st century UN, I have learned so much about concepts like the
responsibility to protect which states that "no state can hide behind the concept of sovereignty while it conducts or permits widespread harm to its population. Nor can states turn a blind eye when these events extend beyond their borders, nor because action does not suit their narrowly-defined national interests."

This principle is actually on the agenda for the General Assembly as world leaders meet for the largesgatheringng of world leaders in history from September 14-16. Not only is it the UN's 60th anniversary but also a historic opportunity for the world to collectively strengthenhen the United Nations for the 21st century. I have mentioned this before an will bring this up again because I think it is important to keep in mind: no matter how critical one may be about the United Nations, international law and the response of the international community to genocide, we are making progress.

This is coming from someone who has been working on Darfur since February & have been frustrated by the failure to do more. Although we will probably look in 10 years again and see Drafur with regret, it is not Rwanda - it is different because the level of engagenment by civil societies and several governments is at a greater level. This is not to say, we can't do more, but I guess I always try to look at the glass half full rather than empty because that's the only way I can keep going.

For a great guide on the upcoming summit & resources, chek out our UN21 resource guide. I also want to provide this transcript of a speech by Romeo Dallaire at an event held by Brookings Institute in 2003.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Salaams to Najaf

Tonight is an important night for Shias as we celebrate the birth of Imam Ali - the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohamed. And as Shias believe, he is the first and rightful successor after the death of the Prophet, it is an occasion that has always been celebrated with much joy in my community. It is times like this, I miss being in Minnesota with my community attending the services in the mosque instead of blogging about it by my lonesome self at home!

However, the more I think about it, over the past few years, I mostly went to the mosque for socializing rather than enhancing my spirituality. I started becoming annoyed with the mere ritualistic and cultural facets of our worship and celebration and I craved for more. My friends & I tried a lot to change some aspects and introduce new events but had little success. The pace of progress is slow and, so when I decided to move to DC after graduating from college, I didn't regret my decision. I really needed to get away from the exclusive and narrow minded approach of my mosque on global, political and social issues and work somewhere I could actually make a difference and feel valuable.

I am very disappointed with most Muslim leaders/preachers due to their lack of intellectual rigor when talking about religious issues & how to connect the dots between religion and other ideologies or issues that Muslims face. These are not things that I grew up thinking about because I took my religion for granted. Most of my friends were Sunni Muslims - however, I've always maintained a strong Shia identity and knew that I was "different."

Moving to the US , having studied abroad in Jordan and now living in DC has changed everything. I have been exposed to Muslims from all walks of life, but most importantly, I have met different Shias - some that are more liberal than I am. It's not something I am entirely comfortable with because it requires me to look at things from a very different perspective and has made me judgemental in many ways. I am at a point in life where I'm very confused about my faith and have tons of questions. But what I do know, is that being a Shia is a personal choice - I love my religion and am very proud to be a Shia even if I don't exactly know what it means completely at this point in time.

I came across this today & thought it was very apt for how I feel - it's from
Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet: "…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

Imam Ali's shrine is located in Najaf, Iraq. Last August, when the shrine was in danger of destruction as fierce fighting was going on, I remember my dad couldn't even watch the news on TV. He has visited Iraq for pilgrimages twice & was distraught. And so were many of my community members. One woman I interviewed for a research said that even if one tile of the shrine had been destroyed, she would have personally felt violated. Even at that time, I wasn't sure how I felt. Although it was heartbreaking to see the religious site under seige, I kept wondering whether religion & spirituality is something that can be enshrined in a particular location...

On that note, I pray for the safety of all Iraqis, a sustainable peace in the region & a sincere plea to God that I will one day visit Najaf & Kerbala (burial site of Imam Ali's son, Imam Hussein and his family and companions). Inshallah (God willing).

You can also read more on Imam Ali's miraculous birth and his famous sermons.

As Khojas say on occasions like this, Khushali Mubarak!


Monday, August 15, 2005

Oh how I wish I could be in Gaza now!

Like many people, I have been following the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza pretty closely. I've been trying to figure out how I feel about it, and I am really not sure. As I read the hopes of Palestinians to gain the little freedom of movement they may attain after decades of occupation, I choke up. I feel like as if I should leave my pessimism aside and be happy that the settlers will be gone in a few days. Today, a friend expressed that she felt sorry for the settlers who have come to call Gaza their home and now are being forced to leave. Yes, I understand that, but then I feel like it was never their's to begin with. It is sad that they have been used as pawns in this conflict, but then what about the thousands of Palestinians who live as refugees on their own land? What about how they felt when they fled or were kicked out in 1948?

I'm also wondering whether Sharon will be hailed as a hero for withdrawing from a land that has been illegally occupied, while he consolidates his power on the West Bank. I wonder whether just as the Oslo peace process didn't grant political automony to the Palestinians, the same will be replicated in Gaza. What about Hamas - will they change their strategies at all or will they see this as a victory for their violent tactics?

It is a sad conflict, because no one will come out as a complete winner here - all I could do today was wear my locket that is shaped like Palestine (all of it) with the cartoon character Hanzala, created by Naji al-Ali, a Palestinian cartoonist who was killed in 1987. The little boy appears as a spectator in each of his cartoons. I once watched a documentary on his life on World Link TV, and was inspired by how he expressed his frustrations, sadness and hope so beautifully through his cartoons. If only I could be in Gaza now to know how it feels to be on the ground with people from both sides and experience this historic moment with them...

For some reason, my thoughts have been with the Palestinian kids who were from low-income families that I taught English to in Jordan. The first thing that most of the kids wanted to know was how to write Palestine in English - when my friends & I started teaching the first day, we were greeted with students who welcomed us with a patriotic Palestinian song! Although all the kids were dear to me, there are these 2 kids that particularly stick in my mind: one was Mohamed, a shy, curious to learn, yet hot-tempered boy. He would argue with me that although he was born in Jordan, he was Palestinian and not Jordanian. The other was an intelligent rosy cheeked girl named Bushra. On my last day in Jordan, I visited her family and met her mom. When I told her mom how smart her daughter was, she looked at me saying "Do you thing she'll get an opportunity to study like you?" I didn't know what to say except "Inshallah" because I wish I could say yes. It kills me that these kids have so much potential but may never get the opportunity to do more. As the world focuses its attention on Gaza, my thoughts are with you kids because you taught me so much with your infectious love and smiles - thank you.

From Electronic Intifada, Slicing off Gaza is just a diplomatic nose job:

A teenage soldier in Tapuah, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, shot to death four Palestinian citizens of Israel and injured several others last Thursday on a bus in Shafa'amr, a quiet Arab town in the north of Israel where I work. Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, denounced the shootings as an act of "terrorism" designed to "harm the fabric of relations among all Israeli citizens", and threaten Israel's "stability as a democracy". For Palestinians living in Israel, however, his words were of little comfort.

Relations between Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel and their Jewish counterparts have already been harmed by over five decades of state discrimination against them, much of which was led or supported by Mr Sharon. The Shafa'amr attack was not only an attempt to sow ethnic hatred and division among the citizens of Israel, it was also the fruit of the deep-seated racism cultivated by successive Israeli governments over many years.

Since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, the indigenous Palestinian Arabs who remained within what became the borders of Israel have been treated as second- or third-class citizens, enduring extensive violations of their human rights. Currently, over 20 Israeli laws discriminate against the Arab minority which comprise approximately 20 per cent of Israel's citizenry. Israeli politicians, such as the Finance Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who resigned from the government yesterday, have incited prejudice against these citizens, over one million in number, by labelling them a "demographic problem".

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, the shooting deaths on Thursday recalled not only the massacre of Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron committed by Baruch Goldstein, another Jewish settler fanatic in 1994, but also the killing of 13 unarmed Arab citizens of Israel by state security forces during the protest demonstrations of October 2000. The demonstrators were protesting against Mr Sharon's provocative visit to the Muslim holy site of Haram ash-Sharif in Jerusalem. Not a single individual has yet been charged for the Arab deaths. If the state can act this way towards its Palestinian citizens - and do so with impunity - is it any wonder that armed fanatical opportunists will also view ethnic minority members among their fellow citizens as legitimate targets?

Just as the wishes of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip play no part in the public debate being waged in Israel over the withdrawal, the fact that Palestinians have now become the disengagement's first victims has been lost amid a sea of blue and orange ribbons, representing the current competition between Jewish and ultra-Jewish nationalism.

Since there are no ribbons for civic equality and human rights, Jewish Israeli society and the international media remain transfixed by the pornography of the disengagement. Attention is focused on the alleged trauma of the government's decision to sponsor the relocation of approximately 8,000 Jewish Israelis from the Gaza Strip and a few hundred others from four West Bank colonies to homes within their state. Such is the absurdist theatre of the disengagement that the histrionic settlers even have the audacity to compare their protests to the civil rights campaign led by Martin Luther King Jnr.

These theatrics serve Mr Sharon's agenda well, adding drama to the staged representation of a Jewish nation on the brink of civil war. Far from its portrayal as a traumatic operation of historic significance, the disengagement is in reality a superficial, cosmetic operation. As UN Special Rapporteur Professor John Dugard reported in March 2005, the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza does not mean that Israel will cease to be considered an occupying Power in the Strip under international law. Moreover, following the completion of Israel's annexation Wall, over 350,000 Israeli settlers will illegally remain on the West side of the Wall in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, plans to encourage the intensive Jewish settlement of the Galilee and Negev regions within Israel, where large numbers of Palestinian citizens of Israel live, are also being pursued. Slicing off the Gaza Strip from Israel's conscience thus amounts to little more than a diplomatic nose job.

As if to further prove that the state is not going soft on Palestinians, a week before the Shafa'amr attack, Israel's parliament worked with marked efficiency to enact two pieces of racist legislation within a single day. Israeli Members of the Knesset voted to exempt Israel from paying compensation to Palestinians in the occupied territories for deaths and injuries caused by Israel's military. Illegal Jewish settlers, of course, retain such a right to a remedy for any harm. That same day, they also voted to extend a law, with minor amendments, banning family unification within the Jewish state for Palestinians from the territories married to citizens of Israel, thereby violating both Israeli and international law.

If the government of Israel were sincerely concerned about racist attacks on its Arab citizens, it would not only disengage from Gaza, but also from discrimination. That means a withdrawal from the entirety of the occupied territories, and a departure from the attendant colonial mentality. Under those circumstances, Israelis and Palestinians could truly begin to prepare for peace.

The writer is a human rights advocacy and development fellow with Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. This article was first published in The Independent newspaper (UK) on Monday 8 August.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Frustrations galore!

Ok, so on Sunday, I'm at the American Indian Museum and joined a tour group, so that we could get the highlights of the place. As we moved to a dark room & our guide was explaining what it meant to be an Indian, I suddenly felt weird. I couldn't figure out whether it was just stress, the different environment, the fact that we were discussing the unfair treatment towards Native Americans, but I was not feeling well. Thinking I was probably de-hydrated, I reached for my water bottle in my purse, but unfortunately never got to it. The next thing I remember is my head hurting like hell while a security guard asks, "Ma'am, can you hear me?"

Yes, for the first time in my life, I passed out. It was a very scary experience because I can't remember falling, rolling over & hitting my head pretty hard on the wall - I have a colorful bruise on my forehead to prove it! I am fine, but 3 days later, my head has still been hurting. Some of my friends have been scaring me suggesting I may have internal bleeding. Why don't I just go to the doctor? Well, I have insurance issues. What do I mean, you ask?

I have a $250 deductible on my health policy, which expires next week. If I do go to the doctor, it is very likely, I will have to get a CT scan amongst others, which will cost me more than $250. And unfortunately, when I renew my insurance on the 20th, anything I paid in my previous policy won't matter, which means I'll be stuck with the $250 deductible again.

Yes, I know my life is more important than money, but the reality is, I just can't afford it. And, fortunately for me, I know I will be okay coz I have been functioning perfectly at work and even attended my step aerobics class today without incident.

What makes me sick is the fact that there are thousands of people in this country, especially children, with more serious health issues that face this problem. It's disgusting that we have to make a choice between money and the need to visit a doctor. I don't care what fiscal conservatives have to say but health care is a right. And as for those who say the only people who can't afford good health care are the unemployed or lazy people, because in case you haven't noticed, I'm neither. I work hard but I can't help it that I'm a recent college graduate, so my dad's insurance doesn't cover me anymore and that my fellowship offers me minimal coverage. What makes me even angrier is when Christian conservatives don't support a more universal form of health coverage because their current stance is so contrary to religious beliefs - I really liked what Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times once said in an editorial: after all, Jesus was about curing lepers, not slashing Medicaid.

Do I have a solution for our messed up health care system? No, but I am glad that I have a dear friend who works on health policy at
Families USA!

One of my big peeves is how Republicans have claimed religion when many of their policies regarding war, aid for the poor, education, etc., are contrary to religious beliefs. So, how do Democrats get back the moral platform? It looks like
Jim Wallis, a Christian leader for social change, and author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, seems to have the answer. Check out his editorial in the NY Times entitled The Message Thing. He talks about how progressives have failed to frame their issues better - something the right has invested heavily in for the past three decades. My organization does a lot of work on this vis-a-vis international issues, working closely with the U.S. in the World - Talking Global Issues with Americans guide - check it out!

Bumpy Forehead


Sunday, August 07, 2005

A different perspective on King Fahd's death

I, for one, honestly don't have an opinion on what King Fahd's death means. My main reaction was he has not really been ruling since 1995 anyway & I doubt anything will change in the Kingdom. My friend, Zahir Janmohamed interviewed Ali Al Ahmad who is the founder of the Gulf Institute, who offers an interesting perspective.

From alt.Muslim:

Can you please describe to us the significance of King Fahd's death. Will his death translate into any changes in Saudi Arabia?

Ali Al Ahmed: There won't be many changes in the policy in Saudi Arabia because the country is run by the Al Saud family and the death of one person in that tribe is not going to change their monopoly on power in the country.

There might be more clamor for power within the tribe and there might be a rise in tension between the factions.

His legacy is a mixed legacy. He instituted a campaign of Wahhabisation (sic) of Saudi Arabia and he spent millions building mosques and Wahhabi centers around the world. He spent billions financing wars in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq which of course led to more disastrous results and millions of lives lost.

Internally he has failed to use the massive oil funds to build schools and roads. We have more mosques yet the infrastructure is crumbling and Saudi now has fewer universities than many developing countries.

Another thing about his legacy is that oil prices rose so society changed from a country of simple towns to an opulent place for many.

I have no good memories of his legacy during his reign. I was arrested when I was 14 years old with my parents, brothers and sisters. Two of my cousins were shot by Saudi police for protesting. My brothers were arrested again and among all of us, we spent a combined 10 years behind bars. And for nothing—we did not demand a change in government or incite violence and this is true to many Saudi families and my family is an example. I cannot travel. My passport has been seized and millions like me have similar stories.

He was an oppressive dictator.

Can you speak for a moment about the developments in Saudi Arabia such as the municipal elections, the creation of a Saudi human rights commission. Many see this as a positive step towards a more democratic, transparent society while others see these as overtures to the West. Can you speak then about two things: first the human rights situation in and second the status of free speech? Will there be more rumblings in Saudi Arabia now that King Fahd is dead?

AA: I think people are more willing to criticize but at the same time the human rights situation has deteriorated in the past two years. The acts of terrorism have been used to silence and to arrest peaceful writers and reformers. We have thousands of people who have been fired, harassed or imprisoned.

To say that Crown Prince Abdullah is a reformer is far-fetched. You do not expect an 80 year old man to wake up and change his mind. That's wild as they say in America.

It's a PR campaign and some US officials are buying it but the reality is not towards reform. Just a few years ago, I heard that Abdullah was upset that women were driving golf cars in the hospital. If he will not allow women to drive even in the hospital, how can we expect him to give women the right to vote?

Another example is that Abdullah has never incorporated Shia in the National Guard or promoted Shias to any position in the army even though this is in his power.

I do not expect anything good coming from him unless we have the US and the European Union telling him what to do but I do not see that happening.

You touched on the subject of Shias. I would like you to elaborate on that, given that you are from the eastern province of the Qatif and that the subject is very personal to you. Can you give us a little background on the conditions of Shias and some demographic info about Shias. Has there condition either improved or worsened given the rise of Shia political power in Iraq?

AA: The Shias of Saudi Arabia are Arabs who are indigenous to the eastern province. They are the majority in the eastern province although the Saudi government has tried to encourage Sunnis to move to the eastern province to outnumber Shias by giving them jobs while qualified Shais were denied.

For example, two days ago I read that the two of the three highest students in Saudi Arabia were not accepted into college because they are Shia.

Saudi Arabia has systematically denied Shia by denying them access to education, work, and basic human rights. Even those members of the royal family who are portrayed as progressive and modern, like Princeton graduated Prince Faisal, has never allowed a Shia to serve as ambassador despite the significant percentage of Shia in the country.

There is a sense that Shia are under occupation. And the situation is getting worse. There was a plan written by a Wahhabi cleric named Nasir al Omar who wrote about converting Shias to Sunni Islam or else face execution.

Unfortunately it's at a social level now as well. The hatred of Shia is so intense that killing of Shia civilians is widely accepted.

But wait. Some say the situation for Shias has improved. I mean you've got municipal elections in the Eastern (ie mostly Shia) province, you've got warmer relations between Iran and Saudi, and for the first time Shias can now hold their Muharram procession. What do you say to people who say that their situation is improving?

AA: I use the word elections with great hesitation because women were banned. These elections were held for less than half of the seats in the municipal power and that too for a municipal body that has little power. I mean North Korea has elections. Is it a democracy?

Four months after these elections, there has not been a single move to form these councils. These elections were done like fireworks—just for show. We might not see these municipal councils ever.

On the issue of Shia, allowing someone to have a procession is not a change in policy. The true test for religious freedom is to allow Shias to serve in religious, military, academic, or government posts—this is the true test. In Riyadh, Shias can not even open a mosque.

And now the Saudi foreign minister talks about the marginalization of Sunnis in Iraq. The Sunnis in Iraq are of equal percentage of the Shia in Saudi yet in Iraq Sunnis hold positions in the new government. In Saudi, they do not. It is shameful.

What we can do in the US to address these human rights problems that you have outlined?

AA: I think what can be done in America is to speak about these issues and to not allow (the US) administration to overlook these issues. For example in one breath we see Condoleeza Rice criticize the Iran elections but remain silent about Saudi elections despite the obvious fact that women could not vote in Saudi.

We have to hold Saudi Arabia to a higher standard. Write to your member of Congress and tell that that Saudi Arabia is not reforming and that for women, Shias, foreign laborers, and ordinary people, Saudi Arabia is an oppressive government.

The irony is that people of Saudi Arabia are instructed to follow the "divine" rule of the Saud family but their conditions are inhumane. I urge people to free the people of Saudi Arabia.

Zahir Janmohamed just learned that RSS is, in addition to an extremist group in India, a fancy internet syndication service. To listen to the complete interview with Ali Al Ahmed, check out Janmohamed's podcast Qunoot on iTunes or read his blog at www.falloficarus.blogspot.com


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ok, so Bolton got in!

Citizens for Global Solutions launched http://www.stopbolton.org/ on March 15, 2005, to illustrate the critical nature of the U.S.-UN relationship, show the need for effective UN reform, and make the case that John Bolton is the wrong man for the job.

Ok, so Bolton got in - but we still considered his recess appointment as a victory coz our goal had been not to get him confirmed by the Senate & he didn't! I have to admit, when we decided to launch the campaign, I was very skeptical that we would get as far as we did. I, truly wondered how we as a small NGO were going to make a dent in what Bush wanted. But all the dedication, strategic thinking, and hard work did pay off. Having seen all the advocacy work in action has reinstated my belief that we CAN make a difference, even if it means one baby step at a time! :o)

Also check out what John Stewart from The Daily Show had to say about Bolton's recess appointment on The Vetting Crashers.

Below is what our President & CEO had to say - enjoy!

From the Washington Note:

Charles J. Brown: Winners, losers, lessons

President Bush's decision to appoint Bolton this morning only denies those fighting the nomination closure - but not much else. We may have lost the Bolton battle, but it sure looks like we won the war. The events of the past five months, taken together, represent a big victory for those promoting global solutions to and cooperative efforts on those problems that no nation can solve alone.

In addition, the Bolton battle is a model for future efforts to engage the American people on international issues. Those who challenged the Bush Administration stayed on message, supplied timely information, praised allies at every opportunity and avoided berating or denigrating opponents.

As a result, the movement for a constructive, pro-engagement foreign policy is both stronger and more effective. A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle found their backbones over the course of the past five months, and thus are more likely to stand firm on similar questions in the future.

Our opponents, who expended enormous amounts of political capital just to keep the Bolton nomination alive, emerge much, much weaker.

The Bolton battle also has been an inclusive effort, one that has brought many unlikely players into the fray. I can't say enough about the importance of the Steve's efforts and those of our NGO partners, the field organizers, and other friends and advocates who independently contributed their time, energy, and resources to this effort above and beyond their jobs. We have all made a difference. As this blog has demonstrated over the past week, this was a battle that crossed ideological and partisan divides.

Let me sum up by offering a list of heroes, villains, and lessons. Let's start with the heroes:

Senators Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Barbara Boxer, and the rest of the minority members and staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who refused to let this nomination be the slam-dunk the Administration wanted.

Senator George Voinovich, who courageously stood up to his party and his President to oppose Mr. Bolton due to his strong belief that Mr. Bolton represented everything America did not need at the UN.

Senator John Thune, who also bucked partisanship to oppose Mr. Bolton.

Senator Chuck Hagel who, despite supporting Bolton, made it clear that the issue of making the UN more effective was in now way should be made contingent on said support.

John Whitehead, Deputy Secretary of State during the Reagan Administration, and Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor during the Ford and first Bush Administrations, who worked quietly behind the scenes to convince Senators of the wrong-headedness of Bush's choice.

Carl Ford, who stood up to John Bolton both during Bolton's tenure as Undersecretary of State, and during the SFRC hearings.

And last, but certainly not least our own Steve Clemons, who did much to connect the dots and keep the matter in the press and the public eye.And a list of heroes wouldn't be complete without a list of those who have lost something:

President Bush, who expended far too much of his precious second-term political capital on what was originally intended to be a cheap throwaway appointment to please a rabid segment of his base.

John Bolton, who will not be able to accomplish what he wanted at the UN.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who must now live with the consequences of having Bolton on her team. Now the question is whether she will honor her promise to fire Bolton if he goes off the reservation.

Senator Lincoln Chafee, who has become a model of craven indecisiveness and inaction in the face of integrity. As one Washington Post report put it, when Sen. Voinovich stood up, Sen. Chaffee looked like he was going to cry.

Senator Richard Lugar, who seemed to forget his position and authority as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and allowed the White House to strong-arm him into supporting the Bolton nomination in return for... well, to be frank, apparently nothing at all.

The clearance process within the State Department.

Any junior Foreign Service officer who has the temerity to challenge or question Amb. Bolton over the next fifteen months.Let me also suggest some of the key implications of the Bolton battle:

Amb. Bolton's tenure is half what it would have been without our work. He is so damaged and unpopular in the Senate as to make it highly unlikely that he can ever be confirmed for this or other positions in the future. Furthermore, this administration has not renominated for political positions those to whom it gave recess appointments (see Otto Reich). And the Senate has refused to confirm those renominated for judicial positions after a recess appointment (see William Pryor).

The controversy over Bolton's misstatements may go away for a while, but it's unlikely to disappear entirely. Should the Inspector General come out with a report that in any way implicates Bolton in the misuse of intelligence, he'll be fair game again and may even be pressured to resign.

Everyone - the press, the UN, NGOs, even late-night comedy talk show hosts - will be watching everything Bolton says and does. If he becomes inflammatory, screams at people, or makes outrageous statements, it will be noticed.

Amb. Bolton is damaged goods in ways that the administration can't like - the poster boy for everything we don't want in a diplomat, as George Voinovich put it, and quite literally the new national symbol of what it means to be the boss from hell. And to paraphrase Jon Stewart, he has the most famous "angry moustache" since Yosemite Sam.

Perhaps most importantly, the American people are reengaged on the issue of the UN in a way that they haven't been for years. And it's clear that a large majority of Americans support a more effective and dynamic UN. If the Administration -- in the person of John Bolton -- screws things up, it will be noticed and it will be controversial.

And finally, as I noted earlier, Bush had to expend extraordinary amounts of political capital to make this appointment happen - and today he has angered Senators on both sides of the aisle.

They'll remember this the next time a controversial international appointment comes, and perhaps vote him or her down. It may even have an impact on the Roberts nomination, as the Administration's refusal to release documents AGAIN means that Bolton offered a test run on the issues of Senatorial access and privilege.Clearly, the recess appointment was an outcome we did not want, but we should not forget that Bolton's opponents went into this regarding their chances of winning as the longest of long shots. And ultimately, if they (we) didn't get the desired result, they (we) changed the debate in extremely important ways.

So let us not fail to celebrate what we have accomplished. Congratulations and thanks to everyone. It's been a real honor and a privilege.