Monday, October 25, 2010

The myth of Muslim support for terror

Taken from here.

Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.

The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world's most-populous Muslim countries – Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow, the organization I lead, found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified"; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent.

Do these findings mean that Americans are closet terrorist sympathizers?

Hardly. Yet, far too often, Americans and other Westerners seem willing to draw that conclusion about Muslims. Public opinion surveys in the United States and Europe show that nearly half of Westerners associate Islam with violence and Muslims with terrorists. Given the many radicals who commit violence in the name of Islam around the world, that's an understandable polling result.

But these stereotypes, affirmed by simplistic media coverage and many radicals themselves, are not supported by the facts – and they are detrimental to the war on terror. When the West wrongly attributes radical views to all of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, it perpetuates a myth that has the very real effect of marginalizing critical allies in the war on terror.

Indeed, the far-too-frequent stereotyping of Muslims serves only to reinforce the radical appeal of the small minority of Muslims who peddle hatred of the West and others as authentic religious practice.

Terror Free Tomorrow's 20-plus surveys of Muslim countries in the past two years reveal another surprise: Even among the minority who indicated support for terrorist attacks and Osama bin Laden, most overwhelmingly approved of specific American actions in their own countries. For example, 71 percent of bin Laden supporters in Indonesia and 79 percent in Pakistan said they thought more favorably of the United States as a result of American humanitarian assistance in their countries – not exactly the profile of hard-core terrorist sympathizers. For most people, their professed support of terrorism/bin Laden can be more accurately characterized as a kind of "protest vote" against current US foreign policies, not as a deeply held religious conviction or even an inherently anti- American or anti-Western view.

In truth, the common enemy is violence and terrorism, not Muslims any more than Christians or Jews. Whether recruits to violent causes join gangs in Los Angeles or terrorist cells in Lahore, the enemy is the violence they exalt.

Our surveys show that not only do Muslims reject terrorism as much if not more than Americans, but even those who are sympathetic to radical ideology can be won over by positive American actions that promote goodwill and offer real hope.

America's goal, in partnership with Muslim public opinion, should be to defeat terrorists by isolating them from their own societies. The most effective policies to achieve that goal are the ones that build on our common humanity. And we can start by recognizing that Muslims throughout the world want peace as much as Americans do.

• Kenneth Ballen is founder and president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to finding effective policies that win popular support away from global terrorists.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NPR Ends Williams' Contract After Muslim Remarks

NPR News has terminated the contract of longtime news analyst Juan Williams after remarks he made on the Fox News Channel about Muslims.

Williams appeared Monday on The O'Reilly Factor, and host Bill O'Reilly asked him to comment on the idea that the U.S. is facing a dilemma with Muslims.

O'Reilly has been looking for support for his own remarks on a recent episode of ABC's The View in which he directly blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in the middle of his appearance.

Williams responded: "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Williams also warned O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

But strong criticism followed Williams' comments.

Late Wednesday night, NPR issued a statement praising Williams as a valuable contributor but saying it had given him notice that it is severing his contract. "His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," the statement read.

Williams' presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives.

His status was earlier shifted from staff correspondent to analyst after he took clear-cut positions about public policy on television and in newspaper opinion pieces.

Reached late Wednesday night, Williams said he wasn't ready to comment and was conferring with his wife about the episode.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Suspect in NYC Muslim cabbie stabbing out on bond

Taken from here.

NEW YORK (AP) - A college student charged with a hate-fueled attack on a Muslim taxi driver was freed on bail Tuesday, staying silent about a stabbing that helped heighten concerns about tolerance in the weeks before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

An impassive Michael Enright said nothing as he left court, arm-in-arm with his mother and surrounded by about a half-dozen supporters. His mother, Cathy, declined to comment.

Enright, 21, had been jailed since his Aug. 24 arrest. Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers set his bail last week at $500,000; Enright's family put up a suburban home and other assets to free him. He's due back in court Dec. 8.

Enright asked cab driver Ahmed Sharif whether he was Muslim, uttered an Arabic greeting and told him to "consider this a checkpoint" before slashing him in the neck, authorities said. The Bangladeshi driver survived.

Enright initially told police that Sharif tried to rob him and he'd defended himself, prosecutors said. The film student later declared to police that he was "a patriot," according to prosecutors.

Enright has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, both charged as hate crimes. His lawyer, Lawrence Fisher, has said the film student was beset by alcoholism and by post-traumatic stress disorder from a trip to Afghanistan.

Enright went there last spring to shoot a documentary and was briefly embedded with troops. He was profoundly disturbed by his experiences, according to his lawyer. Enright was held for a time in a psychiatric ward, though prosecutors have questioned whether he has serious psychiatric problems.

When arrested, Enright was carrying notebooks describing his Afghanistan experiences - as well as an empty bottle of scotch, authorities said. He told police he had downed a pint of it.

While free on bail, he'll have to get alcohol-abuse treatment and mental-health care, avoid bars or clubs that serve alcohol, wear an electronic monitor that tracks his whereabouts and comply with an 8 p.m. curfew at his home in Brewster, N.Y., about 60 miles north of Manhattan.

Enright's arrest came at a fraught moment in relations between Muslims and others in the U.S. As the Sept. 11 anniversary neared, an emotional debate over a planned Islamic center and mosque two blocks from ground zero grew into a political flashpoint, figuring in campaigns and commentary around the country and spurring protests and counterprotests.

Opponents say a mosque doesn't belong so near the site of a terror attack carried out by Islamic extremists. Supporters say the plan speaks to religious freedom.

In a nod to the contentious context surrounding the Sharif's stabbing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared with the driver and called for people to "understand that we can have a discourse."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama's pro-Israel chief of staff quits

Taken from here.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama yesterday announced the resignation of his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a staunch supporter of Israel, in the highest-profile change yet in the US president’s nearly two-year administration.

Mr Emanuel, who is quitting to run for Chicago mayor, will be replaced, at least in the interim period, by the administration insider and Obama confidant Pete Rouse. The change will mark a shift in tone in the White House. Mr Rouse is seen as a quiet and conciliatory figure in stark contrast to Mr Emanuel, who is known to supporters and detractors alike as "Rhambo" for his pugilistic and brusque manner.

The news may also be met with some relief in the Middle East where Mr Emanuel's appointment, one of the first by Mr Obama after taking office, was greeted with near unanimous disappointment. Mr Emanuel volunteered for the Israeli army during the 1991 Gulf war and has long advocated that a militarily strong Israel is a strategic US interest. When he was appointed to the Obama administration, Ma'ariv, an Israeli newspaper, even ran a story about him headlined, "Our man in the White House".

Fiercely partisan, he has rarely voted against his own Democratic Party, but did so to support the position of George W Bush, the former US president, on democratisation in the Middle East. He was also a vocal opponent of plans to allow Dubai Ports World to manage operations at six US ports in 2006, plans that would eventually founder on intense congressional opposition. It was Mr Emanuel who was tasked with smoothing over tensions with Israel when Washington and the Israeli government clashed over the timing of a large settlement tender in occupied East Jerusalem earlier this year.

Nevertheless, it is not clear if his resignation will have much consequence for US Middle East policy. While his original appointment might have been designed partly to allay fears among pro-Israel groups in the US about the Obama administration's Middle East policy, Mr Emanuel was mostly concerned during his time in the White House with pushing through the administration's legislative agenda in congress, not least on healthcare reform.

And when he did get involved with the Middle East, there are suggestions that he clashed, sometimes fiercely, with Israeli government officials, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is reported to have called him a "self-hating Jew". His resignation after two years is also part of a traditional turnover of officials as mid-term elections loom and the administration's focus shifts from pushing through legislation to consolidating positions.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The cultural damage of the 'war on terror'

Taken from here.

Manan Ahmed discusses Amitava Kumar's new book, among other things, in The National:

ScreenHunter_09 Sep. 05 12.07 It is among the accomplishments of Amitava Kumar’s new book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb (Duke University Press, Dh80), that it refuses to separate the cultural and the political means by which the War on Terror has been waged. Kumar’s slim volume begins in India, with the wrongful arrest of terror suspects – and with the observation, by a poultry farmer in Walavati, that “What the Americans were doing in Abu Ghraib, they learned from our policemen here”. As he traces the ordeals of the “ordinary men and women whose lives are entangled in the War on Terror”, Kumar endeavours to connect not only the tortuous practices common to states fighting terrorists, but also the ways this “war” has been imagined. He covers the cases of three convicted terrorists, in their own words, and in the words of their loved ones. The three men were all caught in sting operations and accused of planning crimes, or expressing the desire to commit crimes, against the United States; one convicted of purchasing a rocket launcher, another of wanting to detonate bombs in the New York City subway, and the last of funding Sikh terrorists in India.

Alongside his personal encounters with these terrorists, Kumar shows the haphazardly constructed legal cases, the government witnesses, and the clash of half-digested cultural understandings. He peels back the stories that we only know by headlines – the Lackawanna Six, the American Taliban – with a novelist’s eye and a reporter’s doggedness. Kumar is not out to rehabilitate these characters nor to act as their apologist. He keeps a studied distance, a knowing diffidence – but not just to the terrorists: to the prosecution, to their evidence, to the informants used by the US government to provoke the defendants into convictable speech and acts.

It is when he widens his gaze from the terrorists to the arts, to public speech and to advocacy, in order to highlight the efforts of artists to observe, catalogue and explain – and the efforts of the state to control, coerce and regulate – that his book becomes a truly horrific indictment of post-September 11 “failure of imagination”. He correctly identifies “all of us” as participants in the state’s war on terror – sanctioning the drone attacks, extra-judicial assassinations and extraordinary renditions. By focusing on the banality of the state’s cases against the old, the infirm, the misfits, the ill-suited, Kumar reminds us that the war raging far from our doorsteps is also all around us. He wants to bring that war closer, and to make its consequences visible, by exposing the inequities of domestic counter-terrorism prosecutions.

More here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Israel probes soldier's dance near Palestinian prisoner

Why has this story not found its way into American media outlets?

Taken from here.

Israel's army says it is investigating a video which appears to show a soldier dancing around a bound and blindfolded Palestinian woman.

The video first appeared on the YouTube website and has since been aired on Israeli television news reports.

Palestinian officials have called for tough action against the soldier's "immoral and inhumane" conduct.

In August, a female Israeli soldier posted photos on Facebook of her posing next to Palestinian prisoners.

On that occasion, the Israeli military described the behaviour as "shameful".
'Ugly actions'

The latest YouTube video, which looks like it has been filmed on a mobile phone, appears to show an Israeli soldier in uniform dancing to Arabic music around a female Palestinian prisoner.

The woman is seen bound and blindfolded with her face up against a wall.

The soldier appears to move his body suggestively as he dances close to the woman, the BBC's West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison reports.

The Israeli military has issued a statement denouncing the behaviour, saying such incidents were "isolated cases that do not represent the IDF as a whole".

It has launched an investigation into the video.

But Issa Qaraqei, the Palestinian Authority's minister of prisoner affairs, told the BBC that the "ugly Israeli actions represent a blatant violation of human rights".

As in the previous incident involving the Facebook photos, the video "shows the very low immoral and inhumane status of the state of Israel," he added.

Mr Qaraqei said officials had identified the Palestinian prisoners who appeared in the Facebook photos and had filed a complaint against the former soldier, Eden Aberjil, on their behalf.

He called on international organisations to put pressure on Israeli officials to take action against the soldiers involved in both cases.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Much Do You Know About Other Religions?

Take the test!!

I scored a 73%... not as good as I had hoped, but apparently that's better than 80% of the country! How well did you do? Leave it in the comments!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thousands in Pakistan protest scientist's prison sentence

Taken from here.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands protested in Karachi and Hyderabad Tuesday against the 86-year prison sentence for a Pakistani scientist convicted of attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

The rallies were organized by the Muttahida Quami Movement, a Pakistani political party, in response to last week's sentencing of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted by a jury in February in the United States on seven charges, including attempted murder and armed assault on U.S. officers.

"I appeal to the U.S. government and their people to release Aafia Siddiqui with honor and dignity to get the praises of millions of people," MQM's leader, Altaf Hussain, said during a live address by telephone from his self-exile in London, England.

Hussain also questioned "why the people who are responsible for the drone strikes in Pakistan and killing innocent people" are not given similar sentences.

The United States does not officially comment on suspected drone strikes. But it is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones -- which are controlled remotely.

Siddiqui's sentence -- which the country's foreign minister called "very harsh" -- has sparked widespread protests.

"Many people feel that she is innocent and she was framed and she should have got a fairer chance," Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said last week of the demonstrations.

Prosecutors said Siddiqui picked up a rifle and shot at two FBI special agents, a U.S. Army warrant officer, an Army captain and military interpreters while she was being held unrestrained at an Afghan facility on July 18, 2008.

The agents returned fire, shooting her in the abdomen.

Siddiqui was extradited to the United States in August 2008, after the shooting incident.

At her sentencing last week, the 38-year-old MIT graduate shook her head in defiance and wagged her finger in a "no" gesture as U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman laid out the case against her.

But Siddiqui was more subdued when Berman allowed her to speak before the packed courtroom filled with family, spectators and foreign and national press.

Clad in a khaki suit and a hijab that covered most of her face, Siddiqui repeatedly asked her Muslim supporters to not "get emotional."

"I don't want any violence in my name," Siddiqui said of the demonstrations in Pakistan, where her case has become a cause celebre. "If you do anything for me, please educate people about Islam because people don't understand that it is a religion of mercy."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Muslim burial site in upstate New York runs into problems

Taken from here.

(CNN) -- Leaders of a town in upstate New York are trying to shut down a local Muslim community center's burial site, prompting members of the center to wonder: Why now?

Hans Hass, spokesperson for the Sufi Muslim Osmanli Naksibendi Hakkani Dergahi, or community center, in Sidney, New York, told CNN that problems surrounding the cemetery and questions about its legality started around the time the lower Manhattan Mosque and Islamic Center controversy began making national news.

But Sidney town supervisor Bob McCarthy said the legality of the cemetery came up "long before that," referring to the lower Manhattan Islamic center controversy, though he did not say specifically when the issue came up. "What they do in New York City has nothing to do with us," he said. When asked if the lawsuit had anything to do with the burial site originating from a Muslim community center, McCarthy said, "No."

According to board meeting minutes provided to CNN by Hass, McCarthy and the town board voted in August to start "seeking an injunction prohibiting the burying of bodies on private property in violation of New York state town law." In addition to preventing future burials, town officials are seeking to disinter the two members of the Sufi Muslim community currently buried on the land.

McCarthy said he is "not an attorney" and was vague about the injunction proceedings, except to say that, currently, "there is no injunction." He referred CNN to the town's lawyer, Joseph Ermeti, who is handling the legal proceeding. Ermeti has not returned phone calls or e-mails to CNN.

Lisa French, town clerk for Sidney, told CNN that according to Sidney's zoning laws, cemeteries are permitted on property that contains a "single contiguous area of at least 15 acres." Hass said his community's burial site has over 60 contiguous acres.

And according to the New York state Department of Cemeteries, there are no state regulations concerning burial on private property -- each community is advised to consult its local government on the matter.

But French points to another law in the state's Department of Cemeteries, which does indicate that it is unlawful to mortgage land "used and occupied for cemetery purposes."

The community center's lawyers are looking into the mortgaged land issue and are still uncertain whether the law is applicable to their situation, Hass said. "We didn't have a cemetery that we mortgaged, we have a property that we had a mortgage on from the beginning and we put a cemetery on it," he said. The center is confident the matter will be resolved -- either by dividing the property or paying off the mortgage, Hass said.

The community's burial site was approved in 2005 by the town's code enforcement official Dale R. Downin, Hass said. Hass provided CNN with a copy of the approval letter, dated December 6, 2005, which simply states that Downin has "inspected" the proposed property and that "a cemetery at this location would be allowed use according to the Town of Sidney Zoning Ordinance." Phone calls to Downin to confirm its authenticity have not yet been returned.

But according to McCarthy, who said he has not seen Downin's letter to the community center, "The crux of the argument is that you can't just bury somebody in your lawn," McCarthy tells CNN. "That's what they're doing -- they buried [bodies] in their field."

Hass does not see it that way. "It's an unfortunate situation, and I don't think it really reflects the view of most Americans," he told CNN."This is a small-town issue and it's a small-town mentality ... and they're pressing ahead with it because their intentions, I think, are pretty transparent."

Hass also said the cemetery is not exclusively for Muslims. "We welcome anyone who would like to be buried here, including local people who otherwise are unable to afford burial," he said.