Monday, January 31, 2005

Customer service in DC

So, today I finally decided that I want to open a bank account in DC and go to Citi Bank near my work & their customer service SUCKED! Since my fellowship doesn’t provide a direct deposit, the bank would charge me $7/month for my checking account & not allow me to have a student account since I was not technically a student, so I simply walked out. My next stop was Bank of America & they have tons of ATMs around the city & country & the manager was great – not only did he allow me to have a student checking account so it would be free for 6 months, he was so helpful – I totally signed up & Citi Bank just lost a good business. I was very tempted to send a nasty e-mail to the guy I spoke to but then decided against it. I guess since I come from Minnesota, I’m really used to the friendly customer service so typical of Midwesterners & banking was so much for convenient – free checking account was never an issue! I have also been warned that restaurants, doctors, retail stores & everything else in DC suck big time at customer service too – ah well…I’ll just make sure I don’t spend my Christmas holidays in the city!

Before I provide any analysis on the Iraqi elections, I wanted to point out that Israeli forces have killed many young children recently. The latest is a10/11 yr old girl who was killed while she was at school. From a UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees press release: “Noran Iyad Deeb, a pupil at the Rafah Elementary Co-Ed “B” School run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), was shot and killed today while lining up in the school yard for afternoon assembly. She was ten years old. A second girl, Aysha Isam El-Khatib was injured in the hand by a second bullet fired at the same time. At the time of the incident, firing had been heard from the direction of the Israeli-controlled border area. The school’s teaching staff were attempting to clear the children from the school yard when Noran was hit. The bullet hit her in the face. This is the fifth incident in the last two years in which children have been killed or seriously injured inside UNRWA school premises in the Gaza Strip. Two girls were killed in separate incidents in Rafah and Khan Younis last year and a little girl was permanently blinded in Khan Younis in March 2003.

I personally like the analysis on Iraqi elections from
Informed Comment the best because he provides sources from various Western & Arabic sources for his analysis. Although I don’t deny that it was a historic moment, we need to keep in mind that Iraq is under US occupation, security is terrible, and Iraqis live a miserable life: “Anthony Shadid on Sunday in WaPo captured the edgy reality of life on the ground in Iraq in the build-up to the elections, and the anxieties of the Sunni Arabs before the advance of the Shiite political tsunami. The death toll in Sunday's guerrilla attacks rose to 44, with about 100 wounded. One attack late in the day in Mosul wounded 7 US troops. It is unclear whether the NYT estimate includes the 10-15 British soldiers lost in an air crash. The Iraqi election commission backed off its initial estimate of 72% turnout rather quickly. It then suggested that 8 million voted, or 60%. I don't think they really know, and would be careful of using these figures until they can be confirmed as the vote is counted. I saw them on Arab satellite tv estimating the turnout in Irbil in the Kurdish north at 60 percent. The turnout in Irbil should have been very high, since it is Kurdish and security is good. If that figure is true and holds, it would be an argument against the overall voting rate being 60 percent. Muhammad Bazzi at Newsday discusses Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's role in the recent elections and his likely role in crafting the new constitution. He writes:

'Al-Sistani is especially keen to have a role in shaping the new constitution, which is supposed to be drafted by mid-August and put to a national referendum by Oct. 15. He is concerned about two issues: the role of Islam in Iraqi society and the extent of the political autonomy that would be granted to Kurds in northern Iraq. The ayatollah wants Islam to be declared the country's official faith and Islamic law to infuse civil laws. He is also resistant to giving Kurds a veto power over the constitution, as they currently have under an administrative law put in place by the U.S. occupation. Part of the reason for al-Sistani's backing of the unified Shia slate is to assure him a key role in drafting the constitution. But that is likely to rekindle the debate over the role of clergy in politics. "Al-Sistani wants to have a strong hand in drafting the constitution," Shammari said. "This will renew questions about what role he wants to play in politics." '
Sistani congratulated the Iraqi people on coming out to vote on Sunday. He expressed regret that his Iranian nationality made it impossible for him to vote. (Prominent Shiite Iranians declined to take Iraqi citizenship during the past century because being a foreign national often gave them immunity from harsh treatment by the Iraqi state.) Three views of the voting in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf, Sistani's adopted city: Sistani's adopted city, Najaf, witnessed a high turnout of voters, who cast their ballots (from all accounts) heavily in favor of the United Iraqi Alliance, the list cobbled together under Sistani's auspices. Dan Murphy of CSM reports on the mood in Najaf in more detail. Rory Carroll of the Guardian reports from Najaf that rubble is everywhere and some think Allawi will survive as Prime Minister. He quotes a Western diplomat: ' "Sistani has played it brilliantly . . . By reining in his radicals and going for elections, power is falling into the Shia lap." ' William Walls of the FT reports on the festive and defiant atmosphere of the far-south city of Basra (pop. 1.3 million). He expects the United Iraqi Alliance to do very well there, also.

Ashraf Khalil at the LA Times covers the questions that have been raised about the durability of the Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, that Sistani has blessed. It is true that it is a hodgepodge of parties, but it seems to me that there is a good chance it will stay together on the whole. Khalil writes (and at the end quotes me): ' Disunity among the Shiite partners, "is one of the threats facing the list," said Ibrahim Bahr Uloum, a former minister of oil and Alliance candidate whose Iraq of the Future ticket is competing with the Supreme Council and Dawa in the Najaf provincial elections."Locally, there is some room for competition," he said, "but at the same time on a national level we have to cooperate."Uloum predicted that "mutual respect" for the Shiite religious elite of whom Sistani is the most prominent member would help keep the factions in line.Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor and expert on Shiite politics, predicted that enlightened self-interest would serve as "a powerful incentive for [the alliance's] various members to dampen down resentments and rivalries and cooperate.""Controlling the Iraqi parliament is worth $17 billion a year in patronage," he said. "Pulling out of the ruling coalition and depriving yourself of any part of that would be a strange thing to do. Some immature groups might do it out of anger and annoyance, but they'd be very sorry." '

Sunni Arab turnout in the elections was light. The Sunnis in Samarra, a city of 200,000, only cast 1400 ballots. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat also reported that Tikrit's polling stations were deserted. In eastern Mosul, where Turkmen and Kurds predominate, there was some turnout, but in the Sunni Arab western part of the city, firefights raged. The Arabs of Kirkuk appear largely to have boycotted the vote, whereas the Kurds came out enthusiastically (-al-Zaman). Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune writes, ' In the Sunni-dominated cities of Latifiyah and Mahmoudiyah south of Baghdad, streets were largely free of violence, but voters said they were fearful of retaliation for voting. Polling centers were largely empty all day in many cities of the Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital, particularly Fallujah, Ramadi and Beiji, The Associated Press reported. In Baghdad's mainly Sunni Arab area of Adhamiyah, the neighborhood's four polling centers did not open, residents said. '

Dexter Filkins of the NYT wrote, ' In the town of Baji in northern Iraq, election officials did not show up. In Ramadi, where Iraqi officials set up a pair of polling places just outside the city, a total of just 300 ballots were cast, many of them by police officers and soldiers. ' The idea, mentioned by Condoleeza Rice on Sunday, that any significant number of Fallujans voted, is absurd and insulting. Most of the 250,000 Fallujans are still in exile, and the city is still occasionally the scene of fighting. There are reports of some voting in refugee camps outside the city. It is almost certainly motivated by a desire to have a legitimate, elected government that could effectively demand a US withdrawal. Although some observers seem to be optimistic about the Sunni Arab vote, from what I could find out Sunday night, the signs were not actually good. As for the neighbors, this Turkish author clearly fears both the religiosity of the Shiite party and the possible subnationalism of the Kurds. In contrast, Iran clearly expects to benefit from the likely Shiite victory in the elections.”

I also enjoyed this
NY Times editorial by Bon Herbert: “You'd have to be pretty hardhearted not to be moved by the courage of the millions of Iraqis who insisted on turning out to vote yesterday despite the very real threat that they would be walking into mayhem and violent death at the polls. At polling stations across the country there were women in veils holding the hands of children, and men on crutches, and people who had been maimed during the terrible years of Saddam, and old people. Among those lined up to vote in Baghdad was Samir Hassan, a 32-year-old man who lost a leg in the blast of a car bomb last year. He told a reporter, "I would have crawled here if I had to." In a war with very few feel-good moments, yesterday's election would qualify as one. But as with any positive development in Iraq, this one was riddled with caveats. For one thing, dozens of people were, in fact, killed in election day attacks. And shortly after the polls closed, a British military transport plane crashed northwest of Baghdad. So there was no respite from the carnage. And we should keep in mind that despite the feelings of pride and accomplishment experienced by so many of the voters, yesterday's election was hardly a textbook example of democracy in action. A real democracy requires an informed electorate. What we saw yesterday was an uncommonly brave electorate. But it was woefully uninformed. Much of the electorate was voting blind. Half or more of those who went to the polls believed they were voting for a president. They weren't. They were electing a transitional national assembly that will have as its primary task the drafting of a constitution. The Washington Post noted that because of the extreme violence that preceded the election "almost none of the 7,700 candidates for the National Assembly campaigned publicly or even announced their names."

Also check out this Christian Science Monitor article on world reaction: “President Bush declared Iraq's landmark elections "a resounding success" in a brief White House appearance hours after polls closed Sunday. "Today, the people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East," Mr. Bush said. He said the voters had rejected "the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists." …Praise for the bravery of Iraqi voters was universal, as was acknowledgment of the hardships ahead. The differences came in the arrangement and interpretation of the notes. Reactions to the election dominated editorial pages of newspapers in Europe, reports Deutsche Welle. "Should we celebrate these elections in Iraq?" asked the French daily Le Monde. "Yes, without a doubt, as there have never been free elections in this country," it replied. But, the paper wondered how the elections could possibly reflect the political realities of modern Iraqi society, given the fact that they took place under the pressure of the occupation and the threat of terrorism. Bush can be satisfied for at least three reasons, opines Italy's Il Messaggero. He "made progress against the threat of terrorism; proved to the world that democracy and freedom can also be created with weapons; but most of all, paved the way for America's exit strategy out of Iraq." …In England, the responses were mixed as well. The Guardian writes that "the most obvious message to draw from yesterday's elections in Iraq is that it will be a long time before it becomes clear who the real winners are." …The Times of London emphasized both the bravery of Iraqi voters and the higher-than-expected turnout. Everyone knew the price of voting would be an ink-blackened forefinger that would prevent them voting twice – but could also have invited an assassin's bullet. It was a price they paid. ... The great question to be answered by Iraq's first free election in half a century was not who won but how many people voted.The answer must be: enough…The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, majority-owned by the governing Social Democrats, writes that the elections were neither free, fair, nor democratic." They weren't free because they took place in a state of emergency and under the threat of violence. They weren't fair because the candidates hand-picked by the occupier almost had a TV monopoly. And they weren't democratic because the names of most candidates were kept secret right up to the last minute." …The Saudi Arabian English-language daily Arab News reports that reactions among academics and business executives in the kingdom are mixed. An editorial in the paper acknowledges flaws in the election, but asks the question: "Was it really better than no election at all?".. Writing in the Australian daily The Sydney Morning Herald, executive director of the Sydney Institute Gerard Henderson lauds the election as a victory for the "real resistance" in Iraq. On Sunday, the real resistance in Iraq revealed itself. Namely, the resistance of courageous Iraqi men and women to the prevailing terror of Saddam Hussein loyalists and the Al Qaeda-aligned terrorist forces led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

  

Sunday, January 30, 2005

It just keeps on getting worse...

It looks like I brought the cold from Minnesota to DC because it has been quite cold & snowy here - it's funny how people freak out when it piles up an inch & I know driving conditions become really bad! Catherine & I walked around the Mall yesterday & then dined at an Indian restaurant with some friends which was fun. Today, my other friend, Leila & I went to check out the Washington Sports Club and although it is really pricy, I think I'll be able to squeeze it into my budget - I just couldn't find a cheaper one that was so conveniently located. It has great facilities including yoga & spinning classes that I want to explore. We also found a pretty reasonable organic store - YES! - close by which I'm thrilled about. I'm really beginning to like my neighborhood!

This latest
NY Times Op-Ed provides a horrific insight of torture in Guantanamo Bay using women & sex: “A former American Army sergeant who worked as an Arabic interpreter at Gitmo has written a book pulling back the veil on the astounding ways female interrogators used a toxic combination of sex and religion to try to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Cuba. It's not merely disgusting. It's beyond belief…What good is it for President Bush to speak respectfully of Islam and claim Iraq is not a religious war if the Pentagon denigrates Islamic law - allowing its female interrogators to try to make Muslim men talk in late-night sessions featuring sexual touching, displays of fake menstrual blood, and parading in miniskirt, tight T-shirt, bra and thong underwear? It's like a bad porn movie, "The Geneva Monologues." All S and no M…A female military interrogator who wanted to turn up the heat on a 21-year-old Saudi detainee who allegedly had taken flying lessons in Arizona before 9/11 removed her uniform top to expose a snug T-shirt. She began belittling the prisoner - who was praying with his eyes closed - as she touched her breasts, rubbed them against the Saudi's back and commented on his apparent erection. After the prisoner spat in her face, she left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist suggested she tell the prisoner that she was menstruating, touch him, and then shut off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash. "The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," Mr. Saar recounted, adding: "She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee. As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred. She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward," breaking out of an ankle shackle.”

Another disturbing article from Haaretz about Palestinian bodies being used for IDF anatomy lessons: “The Breaking the Silence organization has collected new testimony from Israel Defense Forces soldiers on harsh actions carried out during the course of the fighting in the territories. Two of the testimonies pertain to a military doctor who gave medics lessons in anatomy using the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. IDf sources said on Thursday that the army was unaware of the incidents and that the reports would be investigated. An IDF conscript who served as a medic in the Ramallah district some two years ago told Haaretz that the "lesson" had taken place following a clash between an armed Palestinian and an IDF force. The soldier said that the Palestinian's body had been riddled with bullets and that some of his internal organs had spilled out. The doctor pronounced the man dead and then "took out a knife and began to cut off parts of the body," the soldier said. "He explained the various parts to us - the membrane that covers the lungs, the layers of the skin, the liver, stuff like that," the soldier continued. I didn't say anything because I was still new in the army. Two of the medics moved away, and one of them threw up. It was all done very brutally. It was simply contempt for the body. I saw other dead enemy bodies during my service. No other doctor did anything like that."

Check out this interesting article in Palestinian local elections: “Fathiya Barghouti Rheime sees herself as the new face of Islam in the democratic Middle East espoused so fervently by President Bush. She is a 30-year-old high school teacher, mother of a 9-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. She describes herself as a "very religious" Muslim. She wears the hejab, a scarf wrapped tightly over her head. She does not shake hands with men outside of her family. Two weeks ago, Rheime became the first woman ever elected mayor of a Palestinian community, an achievement that stunned many residents in this traditional, patriarchal society. "It's a sign of change, a quantum leap," Rheime said while sitting in her newly painted office with blank white walls and peach draperies. "I'm deeply concerned about transmitting the picture of the active Islamic woman to the world, to wipe away the blemish of the veil." She won public office with support from voters who do not fit Bush's conception of democracy in the Middle East: backers of the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, which the U.S. government has designated a terrorist group, and people who consider her jailed husband a patriot because he drove the getaway car in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October 2001. Rheime's victory exemplifies the contradictions between Western views of democracy and its actual practice in a Middle Eastern environment. The results of Palestinian municipal elections in the West Bank last month, the first in 29 years, revealed a potentially fundamental shift in Palestinian politics. Islamic candidates, most of them members of Hamas who did not openly declare their association for fear of arrest or harassment by Israeli troops, won about 35 percent of all local council races. In Gaza on Thursday, Hamas won elections to control seven of 10 town councils. Female candidates claimed 52 of 306 open seats in the West Bank -- nearly17 percent of the elected positions and more than 2 1/2 times the quota that had been reserved for women in an effort to broaden their representation in a male-dominated society. Like Rheime, many of the winning female candidates drew support from the Islamic movement. Though she ran as an independent for a seat on the council representing the West Bani Zaid Municipality, she was also listed on the Islamic parties' ticket.”

Also from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: “Since sanctions are a powerful, non-violent, popular means ofresisting the Occupation, a campaign of sanctions seems to us thenext logical step in international efforts to end the Occupation.While it will develop over time, ICAHD supports the followingelements at this time:

-Sales or transfer of arms to Israel conditional upon their usein ways that do not perpetuate the Occupation or violate humanrights and international humanitarian law, violations that would endif governments enforced existing laws and regulations regarding theuse of weapons in contravention of human rights.

-Trade sanctions on Israel due to its violation of the"Association Agreements" it has signed with the European Union thatprohibit the sale of settlement products under the "Made in Israel"label, as well as for violations of their human rights provisions.

-Divestment from companies that profit from involvement in theOccupation. In this vein ICAHD supports initiatives like that of thePresbyterian Church of the US which targets companies contributingmaterially to the Occupation and certainly the campaign againstCaterpillar whose bulldozers demolish thousands of Palestinianhomes.

-Boycott of settlement products and of companies that providehousing to the settlements or which play a major role inperpetuating the Occupation. Holding individuals, be they policy-makers, military personnelcarrying out orders or others, personally accountable for humanrights violations, including trial before international courts andbans on travel to other countries.

ICAHD calls on the international community - governments, tradeunions, university communities, faith-based organizations as well asthe broad civil society - to do all that is possible to hold Israelaccountable for its Occupation policies and actions, therebyhastening the end of this tragedy. While we also call on thePalestinian Authority to adhere to human rights conventions, oursupport for selective sanctions against Israel's Occupation policiesfocuses properly on Israel which alone has the power to end theOccupation and is alone the violator of international law regardingthe responsibilities of an Occupying Power."

Since the results of the Iraqi elections are only a few hours old, I will post analysis on it tomorrow.

  

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Never Again"

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, let us not forget that the promises of “Never Again” are not being fulfilled. As the movie Hotel Rwanda portrays what happens when the world turns a blind eye to GENOCIDE. I had an opportunity to attend a press briefing this morning where a non-partisan delegation from the House of Representatives including actor Don Cheadle gave their account of the horrors they witnessed and urged the international community to apply pressure on the Sudanese government to halt its atrocities in Darfur. From the NY Times: “People saw the film and said, `Wow that's terrible. What happened? Wish I had known.' Now you know,'' said Cheadle, The delegation leader, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., called on the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions. “This is not a problem for Africans alone to solve. The whole world must be engaged,'' said Royce, chairman of the International Relations subcommittee on Africa. He said the main obstacles have been Russia and China, which have business interests in Sudan. Both nations have veto power on the U.N. Security Council. Royce also called for expanding the size and mission of the African Union peacekeeping force, now monitoring an agreement aimed at ending a separate conflict in southern Sudan. Lawmakers spoke of seeing refugees with missing limbs, shattered ear drums, or suffering from mental illnesses. ``I've seen a lot of things in my life but nothing prepares you for what we saw in this rather rapid trip through Chad and Sudan,'' said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., spoke of ``250,000 souls sitting there'' on the Chad-Sudan border ``with blank stares in their eyes, still traumatized.'' She described pictures drawn by children of machetes cutting off arms and planes dropping bombs on villages. The Sudanese government has usually denied using its air force against civilians, but Watson said ``the children have not learned not to tell the truth.'' Watson and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said they discussed Darfur with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when a black congressional delegation met with them Wednesday.” I loved it when Cheadle said we don’t want to have to make another movie called “Hotel Rwanda 2” and how he expressed his amazement that the young children in Darfur had still not lost the joy in their eyes that many teenagers had.

John Kerry will be interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press for the first time after the election on Sunday, so check it out! He is also sponsoring the Kids Come First Act regarding health care for children that you can co-sign:
-1/4 of children are not fully up to date on their basic immunizations.
-1/3 with chronic asthma do not get a prescription for medications they need. -
-1/2 of uninsured children have not had a well child visit in the past year.
-1 in 6 has delayed or unmet medical needs.
-1 in 5 has trouble accessing health care.
-1 in 4 does not see a dentist annually.
-1 in 3 had no health insurance during 2002 and 2003


Seymond Hersh – the well-known journalist for his recent disclosure of the Abu Ghraib scandal & more recently US intent on Iran comes under attack in this article from the LA Times: “But how good is Hersh's word? His record doesn't inspire confidence. In 1986 he published a book suggesting that the Soviets shot down a South Korean airliner because they mistook it for a U.S. spy plane — a claim debunked by the opening of Soviet archives. In 1997 he published a book full of nasty allegations about John F. Kennedy that was widely panned. As part of that project he tried to peddle a documentary based on forged documents. Few facts in Hersh's stories are checkable by an outsider, but, of those that are, a number turn out to be false. In November 2001, he claimed that 16 AC-130 gunships participated in a raid (a "near disaster") on Mullah Mohammed Omar's compound in Afghanistan. There were only nine AC-130s in the entire region, and they are never used more than one or two at a time. In a story in October 2001, he claimed that Predator drones cost $40 million; the actual price tag is $2.5 million. In the latest article, he says two Pentagon policy officials would be in the "chain of command" for covert operations; the actual chain of command runs from the secretary of Defense to military commanders in the field. OK, anyone can make a mistake, but all of Hersh's errors run in one direction: toward making the U.S. government look bad. His November 2001 article included a quote, hilarious in retrospect, from "one officer" who claimed, "This is no war for Special Operations." That ran a month before special operators toppled the Taliban. The April 7, 2001, issue of the New Yorker contained his article quoting a "former intelligence official" who said of the invasion of Iraq, "It's a stalemate now." Two days later, Baghdad fell. Even his celebrated Abu Ghraib stories were marred by unsubstantiated claims that Rumsfeld had "encouraged" the "sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners." How does this square with the fact that the Abu Ghraib scandal — like the My Lai massacre — was uncovered first not by Hersh but by Army investigators? It's hard to know why anyone would take seriously a "reporter" whose writings are so full of, in Ted Kennedy's words, "maliciousness and innuendo." That Hersh remains a revered figure in American journalism suggests that the media have yet to recover from the paranoid style of the 1960s.”

Also check out this really interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about Russia’s role in the Middle East: “Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is currently on a four-day trip to Moscow, where the Russian government agreed to write off more than $9 billion worth of Syria's debt. The Russian newspaper Izvestia had earlier reported that Syria had also planned to sign a deal to buy "sophisticated Russian missile systems" (ground-to-ground SS-26 Iskander-E and shoulder-fired SA-18 Igla missiles), a report denied by Assad…India Daily writes, however, that Assad wants more than missiles – he is actually looking for a "full-fledged security guarantee" that Russia will intervene against the US or the Israelis if they attack Syria. No one knows what Russia will do. Russian President Putin even probably does not know what to do. Is it worth a military confrontation with America over Syria? Russians will be answering that question to themselves in the secrecy of Kremlin in the next few days. Meanwhile, as Assad was in Moscow, the Russian news service Itar-Tass reports that Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak was in Tehran for "strategic stability consultations." On Tuesday Iranian news site MehrNews.com reported Mr. Kislyak told reporters that these talks, particularly about key nuclear issues, were "very useful." Russia has been supportive of Britain's, Germany's and France's position on using diplomacy to solve the issue of Iran's nuclear program, a position at odds with its ally the US. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a comment on the situation last week that "settlement of the Iran’s nuclear problem should be accomplished with political and diplomatic methods." …Israeli officials were also outraged when a group of Russian members of parliament (almost all representing 'nationalist' parties or organizations), called for a ban on all Jewish groups in Russia. Although the MPs later retracted their demand, Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said his country would take diplomatic actions against the MPs. "We will not let any organization or country live calmly with such facts," the minister said. Finally, the Daily Star of Lebanon argues that the whole "bruhaha" about Russian moves in the Middle East are little more than a tempest in a teapot. "In reality," the paper writes, "Assad's call for greater Russian involvement in the Middle East peace process is the last thing Premier Putin wants to hear, and as such is likely to fall on deaf ears."

  

Updates on Palestine

I found this BBC article very disturbing about Mahmoud Abbas’s move in Gaza: “Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has sent bulldozers to demolish buildings put up illegally in Gaza City in the start of a crackdown on lawlessness. Many buildings have been illegally built on public land by militants, security men and unlicensed traders. About 200 Palestinian policemen were on the streets to protect the bulldozers…The demolition of hundreds of buildings erected without permits in Gaza City is likely to be seen as a step towards Mr Abbas' election promise to restore the rule of law in Palestinian territories. Orders to remove such structures were largely ignored in the "state of chaos" of the last years of Yasser Arafat's leadership, municipal police official Musa Alian told the Reuters news agency. “We are now beginning a new era in which law must be respected and all government lands returned," he said. A string of cafes, shops and security men's kiosks on Gaza City's beach road were the first to be bulldozed, prompting calls by their owners for compensation.” Surely there may have been a more diplomatic way of handling this situation so that the people wouldn’t be left stranded all of a sudden.

Read about dilemmas facing conservative Jews in Israel in an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor called The rise of Israel’s pious warriors: “In the Bible they have the same problem," says principal Moshe Hager, retelling the story of one of King David's generals who ignored an order to put down a rebellion and was executed for it. "We are speaking about these problems all the time." When Mr. Hager's pupils are drafted into the army later this year, they may well find themselves caught in a firestorm that pits faith against fidelity to the army. If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon orders the military to carry out the withdrawal, it will be challenged by the rulings of some revered rabbis who say that observant soldiers must disobey a directive to dismantle settlements. As recently as a decade ago, the predicament would have affected a tiny fraction of Israel's combat soldiers. But with the success of prep schools like Beit Yatir, there's been a dramatic increase in the percentage of religious soldiers taking up frontline assignments and joining the officer corps…"According to the Torah, Israel is forbidden to relinquish territories," says Asher Ben Yosef, a reserve soldier who signed the petition. "Maybe I will go to jail ... but I'll be happy that I did something on behalf of the land of Israel." An army spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, predicts the number of right-wing dissenters would be "marginal." But in a sign that it may be worried about a rash of insubordination, the army said Tuesday that it plans to disband units made up exclusively of graduates of special "hesder" yeshivas - programs that allow observant soldiers to serve in segregated religious units for a shortened tour of duty. The army denies any correlation. Some soldiers admit that they're on the fence. Yossi Hazan, a 34-year-old rabbi and reserve paratrooper, says he instructs pupils at Beit Yatir because instilling an appreciation of the biblical land and Torah helps make better soldiers. An evacuation order, however, would trigger a dilemma between his allegiance to the military and a desire to avoid an internecine conflict.”

The controversy regarding Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University continues which is quite unfortunate because it is an attack on academic freedom at a time when it is crucial. From Haaretz: “Columbia University President Lee Bollinger informed Israel's consul general in New York, Arie Meckel, on Wednesday that a university-sponsored conference, "Revisiting the Middle East Peace Process," scheduled to have taken place on Thursday, was postponed indefinitely. The conference was postponed due to heavy pressure by Jewish groups, who claim the motives for hosting the conference were questionable. The groups said the university decided to hold the conference a month ahead of the publication of a report on a wave of recent complaints targeting Arab faculty members and their attitude toward Jewish students. "Holding the conference while a committee is still investigating complaints against the university is an obvious ploy to divert attention from the severity of the allegations," the head of a Jewish organization in New York said…Israel's Ambassador the United States Danny Ayalon, who was supposed to participate in the conference said he would boycott the meeting. Also set to speak were former consul general Alon Pinkas, columnist Tom Segev, Professor Rashid Khalidi, Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. Nabil Ismae Fahmy, and Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns. At the heart of the controversy were a series of complaints were made by Jewish students, who claim that certain professors in the university's Middle Eastern Studies department hold clearly anti-Israel positions and discriminate against students who try to present different positions. The conference was being organized by Columbia University's Center for International Conflict Resolution, of which former senator George Mitchell is a Senior Fellow. Sources in the Israeli Embassy in Washington said Tuesday that Ayalon's decision not to participate in the event was made after consultations with the heads of the Jewish community in the United States, "due to Jewish students' claims of intimidation by university staff."

Apparently BBC is also having issues with Israel – from The Guardian: “Israel is poised to expel a senior BBC journalist it accuses of criminal defiance of censorship laws over an interview with the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Simon Wilson, deputy chief of the BBC's Jerusalem bureau, has been unable to return to Israel since the beginning of the year, when his work permit expired. The government says no new visa will be issued until Wilson agrees to sign a letter acknowledging that he deliberately defied Israeli law, apologising and promising that it will not happen again. BBC sources say that the corporation is unwilling to agree to such a move, in which case Wilson will be barred from Israel indefinitely. Although the dispute arose out of a BBC interview with Mr Vanunu last year, it reflects the increasingly troubled relationship between the corporation and the Israeli government which has led Ariel Sharon's administration to break off cooperation at times and his ministers to refuse to appear on BBC programmes. It is highly unusual for Israel to expel journalists from established news organisations, but an official said the prime minister's office was particularly angered at the "conspiratorial" actions of the BBC Jerusalem bureau. Wilson was acting bureau chief when a private production company with a BBC contract interviewed the whistleblower last year on his release after 18 years in prison. Although Mr Vanunu is barred from talking to the foreign press, he has spoken to dozens of reporters. Israel says the issue is the failure to abide by censorship laws.”

Also from Electronic Intifada: “The World Jewish Congress has launched a campaign for the adoption of a General Assembly resolution condemning anti-Semitism and is circulating a petition asking for support and financial donations.[1] On the face of it, the proposal seems worthwhile and non-controversial: who could possibly object to a statement against anti-Semitism? On closer inspection, however, several questions arise…the World Jewish Congress and other proponents of the idea have made it clear that they want a "stand-alone" resolution, with its own follow-up machinery. At a seminar on anti-Semitism held at the United Nations in June 2004, Edgar Bronfman of WJC complained that no UN official was responsible for combating rising anti-Semitism, and called on the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative and issue annual reports.[7] Underpinning the proposal for separate treatment are arguments that anti-Semitism is "a virus" that has survived since antiquity and combines all other group hatreds, and is "no longer political, social, religious or ethnic - [but] existential, metaphysical"[8]; "a plague of a different kind that does not conform to the norms and boundaries of other types of hate."[9] However, recent statements by these organizations show an interesting conceptual evolution that betrays a very political agenda. In the mid-1990s, at the height of the Oslo peace process, the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations in a submission to the special rapporteur on racism defined anti-Semitism as "an irrational hatred of the Jewish people...[resulting in] violence against Jews and Jewish institutions", without mentioning either Zionism or Israel.[10] But recently, against the background of the second Intifada, Sharon's re-invasion of the occupied territories, and the events of 9/11, new formulations are presented which increasingly conflate Jews, Zionism, the state of Israel, the policies of its government, and by extension, the Bush administration's "war on terror". In this perspective, criticism of the Israeli government's occupation policies is seen as an attack against the state, which translates into an attack against Zionism, which in turn translates into an attack against all Jews rooted in timeless anti-Semitism - and thus lends support to the objectives of radical Islam.[11] It is probably not a coincidence that the State Department's report on anti-Semitism includes "demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders" along with "hatred toward Jews" in its definition.[12]… Since the invasion of Jenin by the Israeli army in 2002, abuse has been heaped on the two most senior UN officials in Gaza, Terje Roed Larsen (UN coordinator for the peace process) and Peter Hansen (head of UNRWA) for having dared to criticize the destruction and civilian casualties.[17] Larsen was quietly moved to a different assignment some months ago. Hansen, under renewed attack both by conservative Jewish organizations and in the US Congress after condemning house demolitions and the killing of children in Gaza, did not have his contract renewed despite his desire to stay on.[18] Additionally, in recent months calls have been made for the dismissal of John Dugard, special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied territories, and Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur on the right to food, for unfairness to Israel in their examination of the plight of Palestinians living under occupation. Dugard, a well-known South African lawyer, was excoriated for making a comparison with apartheid, and Ziegler for asking Caterpillar to stop selling its bulldozers to the Israeli military (thus raising the specter of much-feared divestment campaigns).[18]. These examples show that the concern about anti-Semitism as a form of religious and ethnic intolerance (which could be combated by using existing international mechanisms), has transmogrified into an all-out campaign by conservative Jewish organizations to reject any criticism of the Israeli government and ultimately even to change the fundamental principles that still govern the international approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

  

Greetings from DC!

Salaams,

Well, I'm finally here & doing pretty good alhamdulillah (All Praise is due to Allah). My travel wasn't too bad & I wasn't harassed by airport officials - yaay!

I really like where I'm living - it's an all-women residence hall on Capitol Hill & the girls are very friendly. My room is not too small & the bathroom is close by which is convenient. On Tuesday, I walked to explore my neigborhood & 3 minutes from my home, you can see the dome of the Capitol & it truly is a beautiful sight - & I try not to think too much about who's living in there! I visited the Library of Congress & I have to say that he Jefferson Bldg is gorgeous. What struck me the most are the paintings & how the painters potrayed good govt, bad govt, justice, equality knowledge & wisdom so beautifully - a lot of them were based on Greek gods & goddesses. The metro & bus transportation system is awesome but people here really don't know how to drive - I almost yelled at my Super Shuttle driver on Monday when he was just inches away from a bus!

I started working at Citizens for Global Solutions yesterday & will be in charge of the
Peace & Security programs so it was pretty overwhleming - most of my work will focus on Darfur so I have been trying to learn more about the conflict. Since the organization is close by, it's only a 20 minute walk from where I live so I don't have to face rush hour on the metro & it's good exercise - provided it's not too cold or rainy. I hope to lose some weight with the walking I do - it's interesting to see all the people all dressed professionally - it's rare to see anyone in jeans! Since I am so used to living in a suburb with Walmart & big grocery stores all around me, it's annoying that I can't find just one place where I can shop for all my needs - although I do really enjoy the small stores too. I did get a cute map so I am very excited. What is also fascinating how many people I know are interning in DC at the same time including my dear friend Catherine who I met in Jordan - the world of political insiders and non-profit workers is sure a small one!

Keep tuned...

  

Monday, January 24, 2005

Moving on...

Salaams,

Since I'm leaving for DC in a few hours, I am not going to do any serious blogging. The past few hours have been crazy packing, going out with friends, family, etc. I am really going to miss everybody in Minnesota but am really excited to start my fellowship with Citizens for Global Solutions.

So, Inshallah (if God wills), I will be back to blog on Tuesday or Wednesday. Please pray for my safe trip & that I am not harressed by airport security officials!

I have watched several movies lately & I definitely recommend In Good Company: it's a light -hearted movie that reflects on corporate mergers, its affect on senior staff, young people walking up the success ladder too fast, etc. I really enjoyed it!

For those of you who enjoy musicals, I definitely recommend The Phantom of the Opera: I didn't know anything about the background story and found it fascinating, loved the soundtrack & thought the movie was very beautifully made. For more information, you can check out the official site of the movie.

The movie I DID NOT like was Troy - I watched Helen of Troy which aired in USA Today about two years ago & it was more historically accurate. If you want to watch it to see Brad Pitt in a skirt, that's fine, but don't expect an accurate account of Homer's story!

In Bollywood, I watched Kisna and this review sums up how I felt about the movie - I think Subash Ghai could have done a better job like he did with Pardes!

I have bought two books lately for my travel are: Russka- The Novel of Russia is an epic novel spanning nearly 2,000 years of Russia's history. Edward Rutherford has written about a fictional small village in the heartland of what would become modern Russia. The story follows a collection of inter-related characters over multiple generations. The blurring of fact and fiction can be confusing as many true aspects of Russian history and culture are revealed in spinning this lush and rambling saga. Russka opens early in the first millennium when the great forests of Asia supported nomadic people. Villages began to take root and settlements grew around valuable resources such as fresh water, salt deposits, farmable soil, etc. Marauding tribes fought with, conquered and intermingled with the native population. Eventually villages grew into defensible towns and cities. Russka moves through notable eras of history including the Tatar invasions; rise of the cossacks; reigns of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas; the prejudice against the Poles, Jews, Germans and others; and the rebellion against the ruling classes. It is a lot of ground to cover and Russka moves by at a fast pace. Edward Rutherford demonstrates an understandng of significant historical events and how to spin a great tale around them.

The other one is Memoirs of a Geisha:The strikingly pretty child of an impoverished fishing family, Chiyo is taken to faraway Kyoto and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house where she is renamed Sayuri. Initially reluctant, Sayuri must finally invent and cultivate an image of herself as a desirable geisha in order to survive in Gion's cruel hierarchy. Through her eyes, we are given a backstage view of the ancient and secretive geisha district, Gion, and of the lives of the women who learn and practice the rigorous arts of the geisha. Behind its facade of haunting beauty the district turns out to be a viciously competitive place where women vie desperately for men's favor and largess, where a young girl's virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder, where personal trust is almost nonexistent, and where no woman can afford even to dream about love or happiness. A timeless pocket of the world, Gion cannot remain cut off from the bustle of the modern era forever. When Japan enters the Second World War, Gion's isolation is finally breached and Sayuri must once again reinvent herself and her way of existence. Memoirs of a Geisha is a treasure of a book, an unparalleled look at a strange and mysterious world which has now almost vanished. It is also, and unforgettably, a dazzling portrait of a singular and most seductive woman who tells her story in a compelling first person voice.

  

Friday, January 21, 2005

Eid Mubarak: have a Blessed Eid!

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

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

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

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

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

  

Two interesting article on Shia experiences

I have had a couple of really interesting e-mails regarding Shias & Sunnis which I have printed in full because I do not have links to them. One of them is called Zaytuna's Smelly Kebabs by Nassim Mobasher: "The non-profit Zaytuna Institute, headquartered in Hayward,California, was co-founded by Hamza Yusuf in 1996 in order to "revive the tradition of sound Islamic teaching institutions." Since then, Zaytuna has become known as a center for promoting Islamic learning based on traditional Sunni sources of jurisprudence; it is often seen as a more moderate, traditional counterweight to narrow Salafi/Wahhabi approaches to Islam in the West. An American who converted to Islam at 17, Yusuf spent ten years in the Middle East, studying Islam with shaykhs in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and North Africa. He rose to public prominence soon after the 9/11 attacks, when President Bush sought his advice on the US response. The BBC has called him "the rock star of the new Muslim generation. "Zaytuna and I crossed paths for a brief period in what now seems a lifetime ago. My adventure began where all noteworthy adventures begin: the MSA mailing list. An email announced a week long spiritual retreat or "Deen Intensive Program( D.I.P)" during the winter holidays. Hamza Yusuf was the only name I recognized among the names of shuyukh. The city hosting it was Calgary, in western Canada, in the province of Alberta. I flagged the message to look at it later. Papers and midterms and organizing a few antiwar rallies, not to mention overdoses of Columbian coffee (two creams, three brown sugars), and suddenly the deadline for the application date had arrived. I filled out the essay questions on the application while sitting through a South Asian Politics lecture. As the instructor was describing Indira Gandhi's (mis)handling of the crisis in the Golden Temple, I was writing about my struggles with the fundamentalists running various Muslim Institutions. Class ended by the time I was halfway through the application."Next class we will look at sectarian violence," announced the professor. The next question on the application read, "What is your madhhab?" There were boxes placed in front of the legitimate four that could be checked off. The fifth box said "Other." That's the one I checked off. And after having "othered" me, they wanted me to"Explain" on the stretch of a line what sort of Other I was. A Jafari/Shia/Ithna Ashari/Alavi/Rafidhi-- depending on how you look atit. I had a break and my next class was philosophy: Aristotle's categorization of beings into neat little boxes.I emailed the application to them that night, almost sure it would be denied.

But Approval from Calgary came a few weeks later--they liked me, they really liked me! Well, so long as I paid them $400 intuition.One of the many boxes I had checked off was the one that said "need financial assistance." But in all likelihood, everyone had requested such assistance and it had run out for the procrastinators. Not to worry, student-loan money paid for my plane ticket and tuition.I arrived in Calgary the night before the event but could not afford a hotel room, so I and other members of "The Coalition of the Muslim Broke" spent a memorable night occupying the sovereign Calgary airport. We had parked on the chairs in front of the Starbucks coffee shop but successfully resisted temptation to Evil, in the face of sleep deprivation. Morning came and vans arrived to pick us up.The day was spent socializing in the Calgary mosque, until we were taken to the Silver Creek Ranch, located in the remote foothills 75km northwest of Calgary. For those of you unfamiliar with the climate in this particular part of the world, the cold enters your skin like sharp, stinging spikes, but it is warmed up when the Chinook winds come around.On the bus, I looked through the reading package and the several articles that we had been required to read before coming to this program. The overall understanding I got from the readings was that the problem with Islam (Wahhabi Islam--although never explicitly stated as such) is that it has abandoned the madhhab system. A prerequisite to approaching the Quran and the hadiths is Islamic scholarship . The Salafis had adopted a method in which any individual felt qualified in passing their own fatwa (verdict) based on a hadith they had come across in bushier, and this method lacked the holistic approach that came with scholarship.We finally arrived on the crunchy snow covering the hills and the trees. The campsite consisted of some cabins, a cozy diner lodge, and a recreation building called the Music Hall with hardwood floors. The Music Hall was where most of the learning would take place, and it was divided by a green curtain that separated the sexes. The division of space was done while mindful of gender equity concerns. The speaker sat in the front and made eye contact with both the men and women.The first night was about covering the formalities. Hamza Yusuf made some introductory remarks, and made it clear that "this was not the place to find a spouse, there are other available venues for those of you looking but this is simply not the place for it."Dinner was served in the diner lodge, also divided by another green curtain. The food was too bland for my taste buds but I was too busy trying to get to know the people who surrounded me. There was a noticeable number of Caucasian converts, African Americans, Arabs from surrounding Canadian provinces and even someone who had come from as far as Australia. It felt like everyone in the room was a pre-med."You mean you are not going to study medicine?" I was asked more than a few times, with a look that said "then what sorry excuse do you have for continuing to exist?" It was no comfort knowing I once had that world view, and gave people that look.

That night, we stood outside where a white blanket covered the ground and a black blanket covered the sky above, and Hamza Yusuf shared with us his love of astronomy. I think the reason these retreats were usually held somewhere far away from cell-phone service coverage (i.e.civilization) was to teach us a lesson in humility. We were vulnerable to the cold and to the wild animals lurking in the distance; we were overwhelmed by Nature. We were blips of nothingness when those stars looked at us; we were overwhelmed by the vastness of the incomprehensible Universe. We were quite simply overwhelmed. And readied submit. We slept on bunk beds, worried about mice. We'd been told earlier that any food crumbs would attract them but we had craved chocolate by midnight and had nervously broken off a few pieces, careful not to leave behind any crumbs. "We" consisted of me and other members of"Muslims for Lindor/Cadbury," advocates of sweet milk chocolate and world peace (but certainly not regime change).That night, we had been given a booklet on proper adab or etiquette of learning and lectured on how we were to behave in the presence of shuyukh . The word adab was Arabic but shared in Persian and meant"manners."

Growing up in Southern Iran, my parents had me on a steady diet that included a daily cup-full of adab with my vegetables. When I was seven years old, my reputable image as a child of proper adab was one day shattered.Grandpa had had another one of his dinner parties in which he made meat kebabs that the adults had always said were the best-tasting kebabs in the world. I hated his kebabs for as long as I could remember, usually because I made friends with the lamb in the basement before I saw Grandpa play butcher and cut him up. I could never eat the lamb on my plate, pretending to be a kebab. So that fateful day,when Grandpa came next to me, holding his big pot of hot kebabs to put one on my plate, I was taken up by a whirlwind of courage and said,"No thank you, I don't want any." A few of the adults gasped, the room fell silent, and Grandpa gave me a cold stare before moving on with his pot of patriarchy to fill cousin Sara's plate. My aunt declared that I was a disgustingly rude child, lacking in any adab. "But I said it politely," came my insecure response. "There's nothing polite about refusing your Grandfather. You should be ashamed!" came another aunt'ssharp reply.

Adab, in my current context meant that we were not to question orchallenge a shaykh openly, for traditional learning required that astudent abide by the didactic method, and acknowledge the superioreducation of a shaykh. Politely written questions were okay, but wewere in no place to be disagreeing with the shayookh. We were notallowed to refuse what was being fed to us. I'm not sure how aSouthern Iranian family's understanding of 'adab' managed to coincidewith that of the North American convert community. All I knew was thatI was not going to eat the kebabs I did not want.The next morning, the learning officially began. After prayer andbreakfast, we began our first session, which was led by a ShaykhJamal. Shaykh Jamal's program was going to be a reading of Bukhari'schapter of hadiths on marriage. This was a bit ironic since we hadbeen instructed not to think about the 'M' word here at this venue.Nonetheless, each hadith was read, and commentary from Shaykh Jamalwould follow. This started out a bit tedious but exciting learning wassoon to follow.There was a hadith about treating your wives equally, and in thecommentary, the Shaykh angrily instructed the women to allow theirhusbands to take on more than one wife. Men have needs, he told us,needs that our periods and our eventual menopause could never fulfill.The male sexual appetite sometimes requires more than one woman's workto be fed. He told us to get these silly western notions of monogamyout of our silly little heads. If we really loved our husbands, wewould let him marry others.I listened, thinking of my grandmother, who had been living that lifefor more than forty years now. I thought of the forty years, in ahouse with two floors that were divided with more than just bricks. Ahouse where two women shared one man. I thought of the male sex-drivewith sheer awe for such an insatiable force.On another occasion, Shaykh Jamal instructed us that western courtswere no place to be getting a divorce and if it was possible, weshould try very hard to go to a Muslim country where a divorce couldbe done according to Sharia guidelines. Muslim countries, thosebeacons of Islamic justice, thought I. This was comical, I had to stopmyself from acting on the urge to burst into loud laughter, theadab-police was all over the place.

People wrote their question on paper and passed them on person toperson to the front. The moderators at the front chose which questionsthey would read out ( I know because I wrote questions aplenty thatwere never read out) and then Shaykh Jamal gave his opinion."Shaykh, this girl and I really want to do it, but we are not marriedyet. What should we do?" The Shaykh answered, going off on sometangents about the troubles of our times: these days, the girl'sparents are too picky and require too many household appliances fromthe poor groom. There seemed to be an endless way of rephrasing thissame question and the Shaykh never grew tired of answering it. Myfriend, sitting next to me, (both a member of the 'Coalition of theMuslim Broke' and 'Muslims for Lindor/Cadbury') nudged me andwhispered, "I feel like my brain's shrinking."In the fiqh session, we were divided into three differentmadhhab-groups and each taught in different spaces. I had chosen theShafi'i madhhab, which was taught by Imam Zaid Shakir in the dinerlodge, where we learned in the presence of the camp's staff. We openedImam Shafi'i's Reliance of the Traveler, and began with the section onwater and the rules of purity. Those who staffed the camp werenon-Muslims who had seen us during meals and noticed how segregated wewere but they were in for a surprise during these sessions. One of themembers of the staff was setting the lunch tables as Imam Zaid explicitly detailed out ejaculations and secretions in the context ofpurity. He then proceeded to answer further explicit questions in thisregard, and I watched the shock on the staffer's face as she placedbreadbaskets on the tables.Imam Zaid was quite mellow and had us laughing often. He also taugh the Science of Hadith on a white-board in the evenings in the MusicHall. He explained the rigorous process that hadiths underwent and howthey were classified. The sahih (authentic) hadiths were theequivalent of Qur'anic verses, since Islam could not be understood ina vacuum and needed to be understood with the practice of the Prophet.After my persistent writing and re-writing of a question and sendingit to the front, it was finally passed through to Imam Zaid, and heread it out: "If our premise is that we believe that the Qur'an is theunchanged word of God, and our second premise is that the hadiths weresayings that were related to the Prophet after his death, then byconsidering a sahih hadith equal to a Qur'anic verse means, aren't weholding the words of fallible humans in equal regard to the Word ofGod?"Imam Zaid explained that the Qur'an was also passed on orally, andwritten and collected after the death of the Prophet, by fallible human beings, just like the hadiths. If we were going to discredit thevalidity of hadiths based on such reasoning, then this same reasoningwould also discredit the accuracy of the Quran.

I wanted the chancefor rebuttal, to say that the difference lay in the fact thataccording to the Quran, Islam was to be a religion for all people ofall times. If we were to limit our understanding of it to the way inwhich it was practiced in seventh century Arabia, we would strip Islamof its universality. I wanted to argue that many of the hadithsfollowed a dated logic that was no longer applicable; the language ofthe hadiths was in the style of factual reporting, not containing interpretative value like the Qur'an, and the two could simply not beequated. I wanted to say a lot of things but I could not, and mywritten questions were no longer read out.I had tried several times to stay after the session was over and speakto the Shaykh, but a pushy, possessive crowd that usually sat on thefront row during sessions also hogged the Shaykh's time after thesession was over. They usually talked to him, just to talk and sometimes asked the most elementary questions. I would wait for themto finish, but they never seemed to until the Shaykh was finally readyto go.

At this point, I was dying to talk to my friend who was on theother side of the green curtains. He had more access to the shuyukh since they ate and socialized with the men. Maybe the green curtainsweren't so mindful of gender equity after all.The next evening, while we waited for Hamza Yusuf to arrive, I heard ayoung woman standing behind me tell her friend, "Even if Hamza Yusufhad three wives, I would kill to be his fourth wife!" What followedwas the distinct sound of my brain shrinking. Mind you, Hamza Yusufwas a beautiful man, an eloquent speaker with wit and soul. There wasincredible peace in his voice that indicated the presence of innercalm. But he was sectarian, and often taught an idea with sentenceslike "we believe the Mutazilites were misguided." He left little roomfor diversity of views, for there was only one true path.But while describing Halima holding infant Muhammad (peace andblessing be upon him) and breast-feeding him for the first time, Hamzacould not hold back his tears nor keep his voice from breaking. Inmoments like these, I felt nothing but love for the California convertwho spent years in the deserts of the Middle East learning hisreligion. The co-founder of Zaytuna also made references tocontemporary western literature and philosophy. He was sociallyconscious of the ills of free-market capitalism: "Muhammad used to hugtrees. Our Prophet was a tree-hugger!" he would say.

There was so much to admire about Yusuf's character. He made it apoint to discourage the cult-like bunch that swirled around him. Onthe first evening, when he walked into a room full of people in theMusic Hall, the front-row bunch stood up and would not sit until hedid, despite his disapproval. When he did sit on a few pillows on thehardwood floor, he said , "please don't do that, I'm afraid that oneday I might walk into a room expecting it."The contradiction and confusion lay with the theoretical backbone of Zaytuna's teaching methods. While Hamza Yusuf may not have approved ofbeing treated like a celebrity-shaykh, Zaytuna preached that a proper Islamic education required the guidance and supervision of a shaykh,where learning took place through proper adherence to adab.Most of the front-row crowd attended these spiritual retreats routinely, in the different cities that they were held in. Some weretrying to get noticed among the shuyukh so that they could be acceptedunder the wing of a shaykh to pursue further studies. Others went tothe deserts in the Middle East, where pure Islamic knowledge awaitedunder the tents of the elderly, but water was scarce. It was all verymuch a romantic method of learning. Loving and surrendering oneself toa shaykh in order to find Ultimate Love, like Rumi did. Zaytuna wantedto reform Islam by restoring the lost status of the Muslim scholar.But this method was vulnerable to abuse, for absolute power lay in thehands of the shaykh.

The next few days demonstrated Zaytuna's fatal flaw.Days into being instructed on marriage according to Bukhari and ShaykhJamal, which was taking up a large chunk of our time in Calgary, andwe came across a hadith about the curses that the angels sent to thewoman who refuses her husband sex. "Not in the mood? You get yourselfin the mood!" came Shaykh Jamal's instruction, furious with us womenfor the cruel moody creatures that we are. He continued in his angrytone. A man had a right to his wife and her duty was to fulfill himall the time, she had no right to ever refuse him. I sat, motionless,trying to comprehend who this God was that tolerated marital rape. Hadthis been a political science class, I would have made theinstructor's life a living-hell, but my fury had been silenced byadab. I was being force-fed those smelly kebabs and then some. That God was my Grandfather, staring coldly.When the session ended, I tried to articulate my anger to someone torelease myself of it.

A young woman who sat in front of me and said she was a social worker tried to justify things to me, because that'swhat women do when they still have faith in a belief system that turnsagainst them. They justify it to themselves and each other. "This isdifficult for me too," she said, "but we have to try and understandwhere Shaykh Jamal is coming from." Yes, and while we are at it, let'ssympathize with my Grandfather for the 13 lives he ruined: those ofhis children, not to mention the lives of the two wives who continueto serve him. Hell, let's also sympathize with the imperialists, withthose responsible for the slave-trade, and let's have some sympathyfor President Bush and understand where he is coming from, trying tobomb the world to peace or pieces. Let's be understanding of those whocontinue to screw us.

Before Maghrib prayer, Shaykh Jamal answered the redundant questionsonce again, save the best for last: "Shaykh, is it permissible tomarry a Shia girl of the Ja'fari madhhab?" The question was readout-loud. After a minute's pause, the Shaykh replied, "No."I walked out into the snow, numbed by the cold. Alienated. Alone.Othered, with no cell-phone service to connect me to a place out ofhere. Overwhelmed by the darkness of what seemed like jahiliyya, butnot ready to submit to it. I went into the cabin, sat on my bed andate chocolate, indifferent to the crumbs--let the mice come and takeme away.We took a late-night stroll on the snowy hills. "We" being a handfulof us from both sides of the curtain. During this walk, I learned what was happening on the other side of the curtain. During dinner, myfriend (who is a boy!) had approached Hamza Yusuf and asked about theproper adab in making a complaint about one of the shuyukh. Yusuf hadasked who this shaykh in question was and my friend had said, "ShaykhJamal." "What has he done?" Hamza Yusuf wanted to know. "Hiscommentaries are borderline misogynistic," my friend had said."Borderline?" I interrupted his story, "He was an all-out,unapologetic misogynist! Why are you sugarcoating it for him? Whoseside are you on anyway?"

Okay, so I was in a bad mood, being mean toour dear comrade, the man-feminist.My friend went on to explain that Hamza Yusuf had gotten defensiveabout such "unfounded" accusations and asked the guy standing next toour comrade if he also agreed with this description of Shaykh Jamal.The poor guy who was put on the spot by the Shaykh that the UK'sGuardian has called "the most influential Muslim scholar in the west,"told Hamza what he wanted to hear. Shaykh Jamal? Misogynistic? No way!Alright then, case closed, and don't go around spreading such venomabout the shuyukh young man!To add insult to injury, the fine gentlemen who had been present atthe occurrence of this exchange had later asked our comrade, "Dude, are you some sort of feminist?" When he replied in the affirmative,another brother then declared, "Dude, there's another three-letterword for that which starts with an 'f' and ends with a 'g.'" Leave itto our genteel Muslim brethren to complement their misogyny with somehomophobia.That night, I did ablution in the bathroom while listening to twogirls argue over whether or not it was fard (obligatory) to coverone's nose under niqab in the Hanbali madhhab. A girl waiting for thesink behind me said, "you are doing your wudu wrong, the water on yourarm is supposed to be rubbed up, not down." I turned around and gaveher a nasty look. I should have told her that this was the backwardsShia-method of making wudu, that our waters were always headed in thewrong direction, but I simply walked out of the bathroom.I'm sure that Isha prayer I prayed was not accepted, not because Irubbed the water the "wrong" way, but because all I thought aboutduring prayer was the insignificance of this fixation with the rulesabout how to rub the water. I thought about the nonsensical argumentthat strict implementation of these rules would save Islam. Thismethod had already been exhausted by us Shias, creating afiqh-centered Islam. We had a Revolution and implemented such an Islamas the rule of law in Iran. We made it obligatory for everyone tochoose a shaykh or Ayatollah and follow his living verdicts in theresalats. We even had families indoctrinate their children with properadab so that they dare not question the Great Ones. What we ended upwith was a soulless religion and a country full of young people whowanted to have nothing to do with it.

If Zaytuna intended to Shia'nizeSunni Islam and have a following that demanded blind submission to thescholars, we Shia's had already traveled that road, and thedestination was not reform. I had no hope in a movement thatdiscouraged individual critical thought.We (the women) had begun the week by committing to read a section ofthe Qur'an so that together we could complete the whole thing. On NewYear's Eve, as the clock struck twelve, we sat in a circle and bondedwith the Words and each other. There were hugs and tears when the final sura was read, and the prayers that followed. If nothing else,we shared a beautiful Book, and that was enough, at least in those fewmoments, to feel Oneness.The last days were spent on damage control. It appeared that HamzaYusuf and Imam Zaid were not aware of the content of Shaykh Jamal'sprogram, and upon realizing what had been said, they reacted byorganizing a session to make a few things clear: Islam values women,Islam is not pro-slavery (at some point, Shaykh Jamal had commented that sex with one's female slave was permissible), etc. There was no mention of the fact that Shaykh Jamal had said otherwise, nocondemning of Shaykh Jamal's statements, no apology, not directrefuting of all that had been seen. This was emblematic of Zaytuna: no matter how wrong the actions of a shaykh were, preservation of hisstatus took priority.The day we left Silver Creek Ranch, the sun had come up. I slept adeep sleep during the bus ride back. This retreat had brought me nocloser to realizing my purpose in the world, but it had made clearwhat I did not want. Some more kebabs? No thank you!"

The other one is called Saudi Shia - the Kingdom's apartheid by Amir Taheri: "Officially, they do not exist. In reality, however, Saudi Arabia'sShias account for 15 percent of the kingdom's population of 20 million. Last month their existence was tacitly acknowledged when the statemedia briefly reported a meeting between a delegation of Shia and thekingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdallah Ibn Abdel-Aziz. Those who took part in the meeting say they are bound by a vow ofsecrecy . But they also say that the talks, which lasted for almost four hours, were held in "a positive atmosphere."In any case, the Shia appear determined to come out of the closet and equal citizenship rights.The latest sign of their determination came last weekend when theypublished a petition signed by almost 500 business, cultural, andsocial leaders of the community. Addressed to the Crown prince, the petition calls on the government toset a national committee to propose "urgent measures" to remove alldiscrimination against Shia and other religious minorities.The petition refers to the "historic changes in the region,"presumably meaning the war to liberate Iraq, and urges the authoritiesto "adapt to new circumstances." Concentrated in the oil-rich province of Al-Sharqiyah, Saudi Shia forma good part of the kingdom's urban middle class. They are alsostrongly present in the liberal professions and the private businesssector.And, yet, when it comes to public positions, Saudi Shia shine with their absence. Of the top 400 government positions, a only one is held bya Shia undersecretary of state. Of the 120 members of theall-appointed Saudi parliament only two are Shia.Worse still, the official theological organs of the state, exclusivelyheld by clerics from the Hanbali Sunni school of Islam, publiclycastigate Shia as non-Muslims. Courts, controlled by the Hanbaliclerics, do not admit testimony by Shia. The same clerics have bannedmarriages between Hanbali Sunnis and Shia and declared all Shiamarriages as "illegal."The Shia counter by insisting that the Hanbalis, often wrongly known as Wahhabis, do not represent the overwhelming majority that they claim."Saudi Arabia is a far richer mosaic of religious beliefs than manypeople imagine" says a Jeddah scholar on condition of anonymity.Apart from duodecimains (twelvers), who share the same beliefs asIranian and Iraqi Shia, there are Ismaili "sevener" Shia, a majorityin the Najran area, and Zaydi Shia of Yemeni origin all over the kingdom. But even the Sunni majority, some 70 percent of the population, is notmonolithic. Hanafi and Shafei Sunnis are probably the majority in theRed Sea provinces of the kingdom.The situation has become more complicated because many heterodoxindividuals, and at times whole villages and towns, practice taqiyah,or dissimulation, to escape persecution and Discrimination by themajority.Saudi state policy towards the Shia has varied between benevolentneglect and active repression. The late King Faisal Ibn Abdel-Aziz removed many restrictions againstthe Shia in the 1960s and enabled them to benefit from stateeducational and health services. In the 1980s agitators dispatchedfrom Iran tried to mobilize Saudi Shia in support of a Khoeministversion of their faith. They failed. But their presence gave the hard-line Hanbali clerics apretext for seeking new restrictions on Shia. Some Saudi Shia fledinto exile, mostly to Iran and Britain. In 1987, however, King FahdIbn Abdel-Aziz persuaded most of the exiles to return home in exchangefor reforms in favor of the Shia.With the rise of militant Hanbalism, one version of which isrepresented by the fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden, Shia, includingIsmailis and Zaydis, have emerged as the strongest supporters of theroyal family.The rational for their support is that if the Al Saudi dynasty istoppled its place would be taken by fanatics like bin laden whopublicly state that Shia must either convert to Hanbalism or leave thecountry or face death. Some radical bin Ladenists have used the wars in both Afghanistan andIraq as a pretext for fomenting violence against the Shia. They claimthat the Taliban regime in Kabul collapsed because Afghan Shia, theHazara, and the Badakhshani, cooperated with the U.S. "forces ofinvasion." They also blame the quick fall of Saddam Hussein's regimein Baghdad on Shias, a majority of the Iraqi population. Somehard-line preachers told mosque congregations that the ultimate aim ofthe Shia is to "destroy Muslim Arab states in the interest of theU.S., Israel, and Iran."Such is the hatred of the Hanbali clerics for Shia that they haveissued an edict that humanitarian aid collected for Iraq should not bedistributed among Iraqi Shia."Let the Shia of Iraq be fed by their masters: America, Iran andIsrael," thundered one radical Sunni preacher, Sheikh Utba Ibn Marwan,in a Riyadh mosque last week. Conspiracy theorists have been spreadinganti-Shia rumors for months. One such rumor is based on a partialreading of a report presented by the French-born scholar LaurentMurawiec to the National Defense Board in Washington last year. In the report, which was rejected by the board, Murawiec urged theU.S. to use military force to occupy the Saudi oil provinces whereShia form a majority of the population.What is the main reason for the radical Sunnis' dislike of Shia? I putthe question to Sheikh Abdel-Aziz bin Baz, then Saudi Arabia's ighestranking Sunni theologian during a four-hour, often stormy, interview.It turned out that bin Baz was specially shocked by the Shia claimthat even the basic rules of Islam could be open to interpretation and reinterpretation. "When the Shia say that Reason (Aql) must be favored over Tradition(Naql), what they mean is putting man in place of God," the blindsheikh asserted. " For us Islam is a truth from the beginning (Azal)to the eternity (Abad). It cannot be something today and some thingelse tomorrow."Such issues, of course, cannot be debated in any useful context for aslong as radical Sunni theologians believe that they become "unclean"even by shaking the hand of a Shia. Right now Saudi Shia are making modest demands. First, they want their faith to be officially acknowledged as alegitimate version of Islam. They base themselves on a 1947"concordat" signed between Qom, the center of Shia Islam, and Cairo,the center of Sunni Islam, on mutual recognition and respect.Next they want the kingdom to purge its educational textbooks of"vicious lies and slanderous claims" against Shia. (Some books, oftenfinanced by the government, claim that Shiaism was "invented by a Jewas a means of splitting Islam" and accuse Shia of practicing incestand cannibalism in secret.)Another demand of the Shia is for legal equality that would includerecognition of the marriages and admission of their testimonies at allstate courts.Also, they want the state to allow Shia to own and manage their ownmosques, perform their religious rites, including the mourningceremonies of Ashura and Arbain, to open schools to train their owntheologians, on to go on pilgrimage to Shia sites in Iraq and Iran.Further, the Shia want the government to open the civil service andthe armed forces to Shia candidates."It is not normal that there are no Shia army offices, ministers,governors, mayors, and ambassadors in this kingdom," says a Shiabusinessman from Dhahran. "This form of religious apartheid is asintolerable as was apartheid based on race."It is not at all clear whether the Al Saud is prepared to risk adirect clash with the Hanbali sheikhs to please the Shia. But someShia leaders claim to have "strong allies and sympathizers within theroyal family." There is one other factor: Iraq may soon emerge as a democracy inwhich the Shia majority has the leading role. That prospect, plus thepresence of a large American army just next door, has changed the political landscape of the region. "