THE bearded and militant men who formed a security detail around Muslim woman Carnita Matthews at court this week are members of the self-styled Islamic Brotherhood Worldwide. With the name of their organisation across their backs and aggression in their faces, community leaders say the men are students of radical cleric Sheik Feiz Mohammed, who has denounced other religions in his sermons.
Sources say the group is linked to the Bukhari Bookshop in Auburn, also a drop-in centre for Muslim youth and recently purchased by the radical sheik. Sources say the group grew out of the Global Islamic Youth Centre in Liverpool which was founded in 2000 by Sheik Feiz, who has urged children to die for Islam.
After kneeling en masse to pray, the men clashed with the media in noisy and aggressive scenes, prompting police intervention.
The men wore matching black hoodies with the words "Islamic Brotherhood Worldwide" and "One Day One Flag". In Arabic is written: "There is no deity except Allah and Mohammed is a messenger of Allah."
It was hardly a war cry, a Muslim leader said yesterday. "They are worldwide only in their imagination," he said. "Dressing like that is contrary to the Islamic teachings because it is not part of our tradition to wear the name of God on our clothing. It is grossly disrespectful."
Recent assessments by NSW Police show that Australian-born Sheik Feiz, who returned here late last year, does not warrant any serious investigation.
Racist rants have also been removed from public viewing on the Facebook page of a man who says he is Ms Matthews' partner. He calls himself Hamdi Abu Ibrahim (Hamdi Father of Ibrahim) and his real name is Hamdi Alqudsi.
The sheik was not available for comment. "Everyone wears slogans. That doesn't make them a gang or a group," a spokesman for the GIYC said.
"One dog less" - Muslim Youth Disrupt Christian Funerals in Holland
This is a Youtube clip of Dutch TV news this last week on the subject of non Muslim funerals interupted by Moroccan children with abuse and disrespect. H/T EDL forum
The clip is subtitled into English. The funeral of a 17 year old girl in Amersfoort was abused by children from the Islamic primary school Bilal. They made rude gestures with the fingers and cheered. The girls father is interviewed about the distress this caused. The undertaker is interviewed about the problems she experiences during funerals regularly. Once she was stopped by Moroccan boys on bikes who asked if the deceased was Muslim. On hearing not they cheered, banged the roof of the hearse and declared 'One dog less'.
Elsewhere is a description of how another funeral procession was surrounded by Moroccan boys on their bicycles shorting 'Jews, Jews'. This is a link to the report of Radio Netherlands atthe end of last month, which is in Dutch but the relevant phrases can be picked out by an English speaker.
People have written to the islamic school expressing their dismay at such behaviour. The reaction of the local police is to decide that the school needs protection. The children (aged 9 to 11) have been declared too young to understand that their behaviour is wrong. This is a link to a page of yesterday's Der Telegraaf also in Dutch.
We'd be catching the tube from Goldeners Grün to Wasserklo. From the London Evening Standard. Click on the map to see the full version.
An Austrian university librarian has imagined how the Tube network would look if we all spoke German, renaming the capital's 270 stations from Heidenreihe (Heathrow) to Hahnenzuchter (Cockfosters).
Horst Prillinger has used a mixture of wit and linguistic dexterity - Heidenreihe most accurately translates as "heathen row" while Hahnenzuchter could be read as "chicken farmer" - in adapting the station names.
Mr Prillinger said the map had translations that preserved the meaning of the English words, such as Burnt Oak becoming Verbrannte Eiche, and "deliberate misunderstandings".
While the suffix "ham" means "home", he translated it as the meat, so West Ham becomes Westschinken.
The question is, would we go directly from Kamdenn Stadt to Schafstonne, or would we go via Morgentonnencroissant? If the latter, how would the Bosch deal with Trumpington's variation?
Cairo – Mohammad Anter hands out flyers to evening crowds on a packed Cairo street, trying to catch the attention of any passerby – until one catches his.
“Hey, hot chic!” [sic] he yells. “You have beautiful eyes!” Mr. Anter is a computer science student and salesman at a small shop here; he is one of Cairo’s many casual harassers.
“We’re an Eastern culture [Muslim culture. This behavior doesn't take place in China, Japan, Vietnam, or Korea], so it’s all right for me to yell out – when I’m attracted to someone, I do it,” he says, surrounded by fluorescent store lights and shoppers in every direction.
Anter is not alone: The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found in a 2008 study that 83 percent of women are sexually harassed and roughly half of Egypt's women experience such treatment on a daily basis.
Many thought that men like Anter had changed during Egypt's uprising five months ago. When hundreds of thousands converged on Tahrir Square in a collective effort to oust President Hosni Mubarak, men and women stood side by side in unified protests with few instances of sexual harassment.
But while activists say the revolution was a step in the right direction, the popular demand for greater freedom has not necessarily brought a greater recognition of women's rights or reprieve from harassment.
"Just because Mubarak stepped down doesn’t make people anymore educated or aware of how to behave appropriately and respectfully,” says Amy Mowafi, editor of an Egyptian women’s magazine called Enigma.
One man does not a culture make. This behavior has nothing to do with Mubarak, and everything to do with cultural values that derive from Islam. It seems so obvious, so why is it so hard for most Westerners to understand?
Activists are seeking to make people more aware, however, most recently with a June 20 Twitter campaign under the hashtag #endSH. Offline, Nazra for Feminist Studies is working on building a grassroots feminist movement. And in early June, an Egyptian women’s Charter was released with half a million signatures of people calling for women’s social and political representation and equal economic and legal rights.
Silly activists, a mere petition cannot override the will of Allah.
Men blame delayed marriages, inappropriate clothing
Down the street from Anter, a group of young men guarding their carts of colored T-shirts say they didn’t have time to think about hassling women during Egypt's 18-day uprising; they were concerned with political aims. Now they’re back to their monotonous jobs and catcalling is a way to pass the time and make casual jokes.
“It’s normal – people here really like to laugh, so it’s OK,” says one man.
“See that girl?” asks another man, Ahmed Mahfouz. He points to a woman with flowing black hair, wearing a short-sleeve shirt. “We’d yell out to her because she likes the attention. That’s why she dresses like that.”
But farther down the street Abdel Azim admits that it's not just the less conservatively dressed women who get unwanted attention.
“Usually we hassle the girls who dress inappropriately,” he says. “And veiled girls who are extremely beautiful – then we can’t help it.”
"We can't help it". I've said this before: covering a plate of catfood with a veil will not stop a hungry cat from getting to it. Wearing a veil will not protect women from the sexual harassment of men whose world-view is straight out of the 7th Century, and who, following the example of Mohammad, make no attempt at controlling their base urges.
Anter says men wouldn’t harass women so much if they could get married younger, though activists denounce that as an unacceptable excuse. Local tradition requires that men have an average of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (about $2,500) before formally asking a woman’s hand in marriage. The 25-year-old, who works two jobs, has been unofficially engaged for more than two years. He still doesn’t have enough money to get married.
Marriages are expensive everywhere in the world, but this behavior is specific to Islamic nations. Bzzzt. Try again.
“Egyptians are conservative,” says Fatma Emam, a research associate at women’s rights organization Nazra, “so people don’t get involved in sexual relations until they are married. They find sexual harassment a way to express their sexual frustration.”
I would think that the Republican National Committee would have grounds for suing for libel, for chalking this behavior up to being "conservative."
Mr. Azim says delayed marriage is one of the reasons for harassment, but explains that married men harass women too. He does it only when his wife isn’t looking.
Anter gets a disappointing phone call
Activist and feminist Nawal El Sadaawy, who has fought for Egyptian women’s rights for decades, suggests that sexual harassment is part of a broader oppression of women in Egyptian [Muslim] society.
“We are oppressed by the [Muslim] patriarchal class system… . We are oppressed by power – military power, class oppression, and money," she says. "So we have to connect harassment to political and economic harassment.”
She doesn't mention Islam. She cannot mention Islam, for her own physical safety, and because she would not allow herself to see the connection. She cannot admit to herself or others the horrifying result of following mainstream Islamic teachings.
She says the toppling of Mubarak was the first step in effecting change for women.
But lasting change – whether political or social – will likely take many years. One draws parallels to an argument made by writer Frantz Fanon, who believed women's participation in the Algerian Revolution would change social relations forever. “And of course he was 100 percent wrong,” says Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “As soon as the war was over, things went exactly to the way they were.”
Back on one of downtown’s dusty streets, as the evening grew late, Anter's phone rang. “My fiancée just called and broke off our engagement,” he says, his eyes heavy. “Her family is tired of waiting.”
Sigh. Guess he's got more sexual harassment to do. What other choice does he have?
What a steaming load this story is. Even as the Muslim men give excuses for their behavior, they point out the fallacy of their own excuses. "We do it because women dress provacatively. But even when they cover themselves with a shapeless black sack, we still do it." "We do it because Muslim men are frustrated because they cannot get married. But married Muslim men do it, too."
It's Islam. It's the emulation of the words and deed of Mohammad. They consistently teach that a woman is a sexual plaything for the enjoyment of the Muslim man, that she is the personal property of the Muslim man, and that her womb is the means of producing more Islamic warriors who can strive in the way of Allah.
Raymond Tallis writes in the New Atlantis (with thanks to Mark Signorelli):
There has been much breathless talk of late about all the varied mysteries of human existence that have been or soon will be solved by neuroscience. As a clinical neuroscientist, I could easily expatiate on the wonders of a discipline that I believe has a better claim than mathematics to being Queen of the Sciences. For a start, it is a science in which many other sciences converge: physics, biology, chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, pharmacology, and psychology, among others. In addition, its object of study is the one material object that, of all the material objects in the universe, bears most closely on our lives: the brain, and more generally, the nervous system. So let us begin by giving all proper respect to what neuroscience can tell us about ourselves: it reveals some of the most important conditions that are necessary for behavior and awareness.
What neuroscience does not do, however, is provide a satisfactory account of the conditions that are sufficient for behavior and awareness. Its descriptions of what these phenomena are and of how they arise are incomplete in several crucial respects, as we will see. The pervasive yet mistaken idea that neuroscience does fully account for awareness and behavior is neuroscientism, an exercise in science-based faith. While to live a human life requires having a brain in some kind of working order, it does not follow from this fact that to live a human life is to be a brain in some kind of working order. This confusion between necessary and sufficient conditions lies behind the encroachment of “neuroscientistic” discourse on academic work in the humanities, and the present epidemic of such neuro-prefixed pseudo-disciplines as neuroaesthetics, neuroeconomics, neurosociology, neuropolitics, neurotheology, neurophilosophy, and so on.
The failure to distinguish consciousness from neural activity corrodes our self-understanding in two significant ways. If we are just our brains, and our brains are just evolved organs designed to optimize our odds of survival — or, more precisely, to maximize the replicative potential of the genetic material for which we are the vehicle — then we are merely beasts like any other, equally beholden as apes and centipedes to biological drives. Similarly, if we are just our brains, and our brains are just material objects, then we, and our lives, are merely way stations in the great causal net that is the universe, stretching from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch.
Most of those who subscribe to such “neuroevolutionary” accounts of humanity don’t recognize these consequences. Or, if they do recognize them, then they don’t subscribe to these accounts sincerely. When John Gray appeals, in his 2002 book Straw Dogs, to a belief that human beings are merely animals and so “human life has no more meaning than the life of slime mold,” he doesn’t really believe that the life of John Gray, erstwhile School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, has no more meaning than that of a slime mold — else why would he have aspired to the life of a distinguished professor rather than something closer to that of a slime mold?
Wrong ideas about what human beings are and how we work, especially if they are endlessly repeated, keep us from thinking about ourselves in ways that may genuinely advance our self-understanding. Indeed, proponents of the neuroscientific account of human behavior hope that it will someday supplant our traditional understandings of mind, behavior, and consciousness, which they dismiss as mere “folk psychology.” According to a 2007 New Yorker profile of professors Paul and Patricia Churchland, two leading “neurophilosophers,” they like “to speculate about a day when whole chunks of English, especially the bits that constitute folk psychology, are replaced by scientific words that call a thing by its proper name rather than some outworn metaphor.” The article recounts the occasion Patricia Churchland came home from a vexing day at work and told her husband, “Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.” Such awkward chemical conversation is unlikely to replace “folk psychology” anytime soon, despite the Churchlands’ fervent wishes, if only because it misses the actual human reasons for the reported neurochemical impairments — such as, for example, failing to get one’s favored candidate appointed to a post.
Moreover, there is strong reason to believe that the failure to provide a neuroscientific account of the sufficient conditions of consciousness and conscious behavior is not a temporary state of affairs. It is unlikely that the gap between neuroscientific stories of human behavior and the standard humanistic or common-sense narratives will be closed, even as neuroscience advances and as our tools for observing neural activity grow more sophisticated.
In outlining the case that neuroscience will always have little to say about most aspects of human consciousness, we must not rely on weak mysterian arguments, such as Colin McGinn’s claim, in his famous 1989 Mind paper “Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?,” that there may be a neuroscientific answer but we are biologically incapable of figuring it out. Nor is there much use in appealing to arguments about category errors, such as considering thoughts to be “kinds of things,” which were mobilized against mind-body identity theories when philosophy was most linguistically turned, in the middle of the last century. No, the aim of this essay is to give principled reasons, based on examining the nature of human consciousness, for asserting that we are not now and never will be able to account for the mind in terms of neural activity. It will focus on humanconsciousness — so as to avoid the futility of arguments about where we draw the line between sentient and insentient creatures, because there are more negative consequences to misrepresenting human consciousness than animal, and because it is human consciousness that underlines the difficulty of fitting consciousness into the natural world as understood through strictly materialist science.
This critique of the neural theory of consciousness will begin by taking seriously its own declared account of what actually exists in the world. On this, I appeal to no less an authority than the philosophy professor Daniel Dennett, one of the most prominent spokesmen for the neuroevolutionary reduction of human beings and their minds. In his 1991 book Consciousness Explained, Dennett affirms the “prevailing wisdom” that
there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter — the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology — and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon. In short, the mind is the brain.... We can (in principle!) account for every mental phenomenon using the same physical principles, laws, and raw materials that suffice to explain radioactivity, continental drift, photosynthesis, reproduction, nutrition, and growth.
So when we are talking about the brain, we are talking about nothing more than a piece of matter. If we keep this in mind, we will have enough ammunition to demonstrate the necessary failure of neuroscientific accounts of consciousness and conscious behavior.
It is a pure dedication to materialism that lies behind another common neuroscientistic claim, one that arises in response to the criticism that there are characteristics of consciousness that neuroscience cannot explain. The response is a strangely triumphant declaration that that which neuroscience cannot grasp does not exist. This declaration is particularly liable to be directed at the self and at free will, those two most persistent “illusions.” But even neuroscientists themselves don’t apply this argument consistently: they don’t doubt that they think they are selves, or that they have the illusion that they act freely — and yet, as we will see, there is no conceivable neural explanation of these phenomena. We are therefore justified in rejecting the presumption that if neuroscience cannot see it, then it does not exist.
In front of the Syrian embassy, two women hold signs condemning violence, repression and extremism, demonstrating in solidarity with Syrian protesters, while a crowd of supporters of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, gathers behind them [Matthew Cassel/Al Jazeera]
On a May evening in a crowded Beirut theatre, a large white sheet hanging from the ceiling displayed the projected video of Syrian filmmaker Hala Abdullah reading a letter, written in Arabic, to the audience:
At the start of the Lebanese civil war when the Lebanese right asked the Syrian regime to interfere, fearing the extension of the Lebanese democratic left and its control over Lebanon, the regime responded and intervened militarily because it was worried that a democratic and liberal leftist regime would develop and take root. We were still young and determined then and we acted against the Syrian intervention by protests that were repressed, and we wrote statements and we were put in prison.
"The fear then is not different from the fear today," Abdullah continued in her letter - delivered as part of a Syrian film screening event organised by Lebanese activists in "support of the Syrian revolution". The rare event was hosted at the Sunflower Theatre in southern Beirut, one of the only venues that allowed it, and highlighted both the closeness and complexities between progressive communities in the two countries.
More than 35 years after the rise of the Lebanese left and the start of the civil war, people across Syria have risen up against decades of oppressive Baath party rule in their own country. Since demonstrations began in March, rights groups estimate that security forces have killed more than 1,000 protesters, and rights abuses are believed to be widespread.
President Bashar al-Assad and his Baathist regime have drawn global condemnation for the brutal crackdown on demonstrators. However, Beirut-based activists, many who have worked together against issues like sectarianism and in support of Palestinian and other Arab revolts, now find themselves split over their positions on the protests in Syria.
Freedom to liberate
Bilal el-Amine, a writer and activist who describes himself as being "on the left" politically, has been a common face at many protests and events in support of a number of causes in recent years. However, when it comes to the protesters in Syria, he's yet to offer his support. He admits that there is a legitimate uprising happening in Syria, but also says there is a "counter current" at play led by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other pro-Western groups in the Arab world.
"There is an attempt to bring down the regime because it's part of the 'resistance axis'," sayd el-Amine. "[The Syrian government] has hosted [Palestinian armed groups] Hamas and Islamic Jihad despite intense pressure for it not to; it funnelled support to Hezbollah and backed resistance here in Lebanon logistically."
El-Amine, who was active in supporting refugees fleeing areas of heavy bombardment during Israel's war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, says the Syrian regime played a crucial role in preventing Lebanon's total isolation.
"In 2006 I realised the importance of Syria with [regard to] Hezbollah. Syria opened the borders to refugees. Israel laid siege to Lebanon during and after the war - and the only reason that it couldn't work was because Syria wouldn't take part."
Less than a century ago, Lebanon was considered a coastal area in the west of Syria, with Palestine to the south. French and British colonialists divided the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. While most of bilad al-sham ["Greater Syria"] received its independence, Palestine did not. In the years during Israel's creation in 1947-48, a violent campaign waged by Zionist forces sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians fleeing across bilad al-sham where they remain today. Palestine, home to many of the region's most important cultural and religious sites, is a rallying cause for people across the Arab world.
El-Amine argues: "If [the regime in] Syria is taken out of the equation it will be a major blow to those who support Palestinian liberation."
Since the fall of the left in Lebanon, which included the expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation during Israel's invasion of Beirut in 1982, Syria has been one of the only Arab states to officially support and host armed resistance movements. Such policies have created a rift with a number of western states that want Assad to abandon his support for resistance and sign to a peace treaty with Israel.
Activists such as el-Amine have reservations about the protests in Syria because, he says, the political aims of the organised opposition remain unclear.
"If an Arab revolt doesn't address the issue of Palestine, especially if it's a country that borders Israel, then your revolution is only half complete," el-Amine said. "You can't have liberty when you have a state like Israel causing so much of the region's injustice."
However, Abir Saksouk, an independent Beirut-based activist who describes herself as "pro-resistance", admits that Palestine and resistance to Israel are major concerns with regard to the demonstrations. But, she says: "I cannot ask an entire people to halt their call for freedom because of resistance movements like Hezbollah and Hamas."
"It's become obvious there are two camps in the Arab world," Saksouk said. "One [consists of] total collaborators with the US who are telling people 'you have to surrender your freedoms for the sake of stability,' like [former president Hosni] Mubarak in Egypt. And [on the other side] the Syrian regime telling people to 'give up your freedoms to resist US and Israeli hegemony.' And it's clear that people are rejecting both extremes of this spectrum. We want to be free to be able to free Palestine."
A battle to support
Since protests in Syria began in March, there have been a number of solidarity demonstrations - both with the regime and with the protesters - held in Beirut, particularly in the city's Hamra district. Not only is the upscale neighbourhood the hangout for most progressive activists, artists, intellectuals and others, but it's also the location of Syria's embassy in Lebanon.
"[Many of us activists have] been supporting all of the Arab revolts. But we were keen to protest in Beirut in solidarity with Syria because we wanted to break the silence and fear. From the first protest at the [Syrian] embassy we were called [Israeli and US] 'collaborators' and 'agents'," said Saksouk.
At a protest in mid-April, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes security officers were on the scene before any of the activists arrived. As the start time neared, a group of around 100 Syrian workers in Lebanon marched toward their embassy chanting in support of Bashar al-Assad.
Activists found little space to gather as men in plainclothes filmed anyone who wasn't part of the pro-regime demonstration. Eventually, when a few activists took out signs condemning the Syrian regime's violence they were immediately subjected to shouts and slurs from the pro-regime crowd, which encircled the small group.
"That moment made it clear that it was going to be a battle to support the Syrian revolution in Lebanon," Saksouk said, recalling the incident. "It became an issue of being able to protest freely in Lebanon. It was a blow to our face and a sign that Lebanon is still not independent from the [Syrian] regime."
The blows became real for some outspoken critics in Beirut. Ali Haidar, who describes himself as a "humanitarian activist", returned home to Lebanon recently on a break from work in Sudan. Weeks before, Haidar had posted a short statement on Facebook condemning the attack against three of his friends attending a vigil in Hamra in support of Syrian protesters. Haidar said his friends were beaten by the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), a secular organisation that is staunchly supportive of the Syrian administration. In his post he called the SSNP a "fascist militia" and demanded they cease beating people in the streets.
Haidar said that, after posting the message, his family in Lebanon received threats and encouraged him to take it down. While driving into Hamra, Haidar said someone on a motorbike struck the back of his car. When he got out of his car he was assaulted by another man from behind and beaten until security guards from a nearby bank intervened and stopped the attack.
Later that day, a message was posted on his Facebook wall reading: "The beating was nice today." Further attacks were also threatened if Haidar were ever to criticise the SSNP again.
"They hit me once, what will happen? Do they think this will make me love them?" Haidar said. "I hate [them] more than ever. Before I was only one person criticising them, now there are 20."
Houssam Abdul Khalak, an activist close to the SSNP who describes himself as a "secular leftist", could not confirm whether or not the group was behind the attack, but did say that there has been pressure on activists who demonstrate in support of Syria.
Abdul Khalak argued that the resistance forces in the region - Hamas, Hezbollah, and a number of smaller secular and leftist groups in Lebanon and elsewhere - are dependent on the Syrian regime, and these groups he said, "will fight until the last bullet to protect" that resistance.
More than one colour
Many activists in Beirut have hesitated to take a position on the protests in Syria because they question what's really happening inside the country. With the Syrian regime's tight clampdown on the media, rumours are rampant and any questions - usually concerning the motivations of protesters and how much support they have - have been difficult to answer. However, those who have been on the ground have been able to provide some clarity.
One of the journalists who has been reporting frequently in Lebanon's Arabic media from inside Syria is Ghadi Francis. The 22-year-old is a former member of the SSNP, but was kicked out of the party for her reporting in the Beirut-based As-Safir newspaper that "didn't reflect the party's political views", she said.
Francis has traveled across Syria since protests began in March, and has spoken with a wide range of people, including many protesters, and witnessed demonstrations in a number of cities and towns around the country. She concluded that it's a "true crime" to "paint the [people protesting in the] street or the regime with one colour".
Francis said one group of protesters was protesting for basic demands such as for jobs and water, while another wanted more political rights. A third group, she said, is protesting strictly for religious reasons. It is this third group that has many secular activists in neighbouring Lebanon worried.
However, Francis said that the blame lies with the secular Baathist regime in Syria, which for more than four decades "has left people with no other place to gather [and organise]" outside of religious spaces.
"Leftists [in Beirut] are right to be against the regime, but they're not right to judge [the protesters] from the culture in Hamra," said Francis. "Anyone has to go to witness it and talk to people."
From what she's witnessed in Syria, Francis thinks that the protests have already made irreversible change in Syria: "What's happening [in Syria] is great in the sense that there is a black era of fear broken forever ... [the protests have already] broken too many walls."
A danger for the region
In Lebanon, a country divided among more than a dozen religious sects, the threat of sectarian violence breaking out in a manner similar to the civil war is a constant fear for some who feel regime change in Syria could tip the delicate balance.
Activist Abdul Khalak argued that, because politics and society are tightly interconnected, most politicians in Lebanon from across the political spectrum have remained largely silent on Syria. "Lebanon wants stability in Syria to make sure there is stability in Lebanon," he said.
However, activists such as Saksouk argue the question of stability is irrelevant to a people's call for change.
"A fear of what's going to happening [exists] in every context," she said. "I'm fearful of people in Egypt hijacking the revolution like in Libya, and I'm totally scared of what's happening in Bahrain. But we have to be hopeful and we can't ask people not to revolt because we're scared about the future. That is exactly what these regimes want us to think."
Back in the Sunflower Theatre, tears began to flow as filmmaker Hala Abdullah concludes her letter:
"Whoever says that the shaking of the Syrian regime will result in the shaking of the whole region and that any change will be dangerous for the whole region is right. A change in Syria will change the region, the decomposed, corrupted and oppressive region.
"A change in Syria will allow freedom to go on a promenade like a beautiful young woman. On a promenade, naked, and with no fear on the shore of the Mediterranean sea."
ADEN, Yemen — The ancient port city of Aden is now virtually surrounded by roving gangs of Islamist militia fighters — some linked to Al Qaeda — who have captured at least two towns, stormed prisons and looted banks and military depots in southern Yemen.
Yet the Yemeni government, still busy fighting unarmed protesters farther north, has done little to stop these jihadists. Members of the military, the police and local officials have fled their posts across much of southern Yemen. The country’s American-trained counterterrorism unit has not been deployed. It is no surprise that many Yemenis believe the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, intended it all to happen.
Asked whether the jihadists could soon attack or even overwhelm this strategic coastal city of 800,000, Gen. Muhammad al-Somli — the one commander who has made any serious effort to fight them — said, “I cannot rule anything out.” The governor of neighboring Abyan Province, Saleh al-Zawari, who fled almost a month ago after militants captured the provincial capital, said the area would turn into “another Taliban state like Afghanistan” if something were not done soon.
Yemeni government officials blame the rising chaos on the political crisis, which has kept Mr. Saleh’s forces in Sana, the capital. But interviews with local people here suggest that Mr. Saleh himself — now recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered in an attack on his palace mosque — is at the root of the problem. His government, based in the north, has for years carried out brutal and discriminatory policies toward the people of south Yemen. The northern military commanders who dominate his army are widely hated and increasingly isolated here, incapable of carrying out the kind of counterinsurgency operations that could ease the crisis.
And given the long history of backdoor collusion between Al Qaeda and Yemen’s security agencies, it is impossible to know whether Mr. Saleh or his surrogates are actively encouraging the jihadists as a scare tactic, or merely tolerating them. The United States is now urging Mr. Saleh to cede power so that the current political stalemate can come to and end, but it was not clear whether that would happen anytime soon.
The attacks have grown increasingly bold. On Friday, a suicide car bomber here in Aden killed three soldiers and a civilian, and wounded a dozen others. On Wednesday, at least 40 prisoners, including some Qaeda members convicted in a plot to attack the United States Embassy in Sana, escaped after a daring raid by gunmen on a prison in the town of Mukalla, 300 miles to the east, local officials said.
The militants’ expansion is a serious concern for the United States, which has twice been made a target by Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based branch. So far, the American military has relied on airstrikes aimed at militant leaders, with mixed success.
Thousands of refugees have streamed into Aden in recent weeks, telling shocking stories of the heavily armed jihadists who in late May captured the city of Zinjibar, a provincial capital less than an hour’s drive from here. The jihadists have delivered speeches calling for Islamic rule from mosque loudspeakers, the refugees say. Their members include men speaking in Saudi, Iraqi, and Sudanese accents. They carry white banners with the words “Ansar al Sharia” on them — a name that Qaeda leaders identified this year as an alternate name for their own organization in Yemen.
Many residents of Zinjibar say they were appalled by the Yemeni military’s quick retreat from the town and other areas in Abyan Province, just north and east of here.
“These Al Qaeda people — they are mostly kids, young men,” said Ali Omar al-Qurshi, 49, camped out on the cement floor of a school in Aden along with several hundred other displaced people. “Are you telling me the army can’t defeat them? It’s a very strange thing. Honestly, we feel Ali Abdullah Saleh is behind it.”
Some officials from the town said that they had no choice but to leave, and they denied that they had received orders to do so.
“It was a war — they came with so many armed men,” Mr. Zawari, the governor of Abyan Province, said as he sat in an empty hotel lobby here. “They took advantage of the situation. Everything is divided now, the government, the army.”
Zinjibar is now an eerie and silent wasteland, the refugees say, its houses shattered by artillery and machine guns, its streets full of the dead. Dogs have begun to feed on the corpses. Only a few young men stayed on, guarding their family houses against theft. The same is true of some other villages in the area, and of Jaar, a town seized by Islamist militants in March.
General Somli, the army commander whose forces are in a base at the edge of Zinjibar, insisted during a telephone interview that the battle was over and that residents could return. But a number of residents who have returned to check on their houses said the town was firmly under the control of the militants. They said General Somli was effectively trapped at his base, and had done little to fight the militants beyond firing artillery shells at them, leveling many of the town’s houses in the process.
Although the refugees were all deeply upset by the violence that forced them from their homes, most seemed more frightened by the Yemeni military than the gunmen. Several refugees said the gunmen used loudspeakers to warn residents to leave their homes, especially in areas where the military was shelling heavily. The army, they said, showed no such concern for civilians.
Some residents said they had initially been frightened by the gunmen, many of whom wore their hair long like northern tribesmen. But they added that the fighters treated them more respectfully than the local security and police officials, who are widely viewed here as occupiers, or worse.
“These Al Qaeda people didn’t steal our houses, they protected them,” said Ali Muhammad Hassan, a 31-year-old government clerk. “If they saw people carrying furniture or other things, looters, they would tell them to return it.”
Mr. Hassan and others also said the militants seemed highly disciplined and had put local Yemenis in charge rather than northerners or foreign jihadists, in an apparent bid for grass-roots support.
“They seemed to have a clear military plan,” he said. “They moved in cells, they were highly organized.”
Zinjibar was not the first town captured by militants. Jaar, a smaller town about 12 miles away, was captured in March. The militants overran several smaller villages in the area as well, forcing out the local officials and police, according to several refugees.
This month, another group of Islamist fighters — apparently not connected to the ones in Zinjibar — attacked and occupied part of Hawta, a town in the neighboring province of Lahj. The local governor fled there, too, several residents said.
The state of the oceans is declining far more rapidly than most pessimists had expected, an international team of experts has concluded, increasing the risk that many marine species — including those that make coral reefs — could be extinct within a generation.
The scientists, who gathered in April at the University of Oxford, cited the cumulative impact of the stresses on the oceans, which include ocean acidification related to growing carbon dioxide emissions, a global warming trend that is reducing the polar ice caps, pollution and overfishing.
‘‘This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted,’’ they wrote in the report, released on Monday.
The April workshop, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean in concert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, brought scientists from a broad range of disciplines together to talk about the problems in the marine environment and what steps can be taken to arrest the collapse of ocean ecosystems.
Chris Reid, a professor of oceanography at the Marine Institute of Plymouth University who took part in the workshop, described the report as ‘‘a synthesis of existing work.’’ ‘‘When we added it all up, it was clear that we are in a situation that could lead to major extinctions of organisms in the oceans,’’ he said by telephone.
The scientists said that studies of the earth’s past have indicated that global warming, ocean acidification and hypoxia, or reduced oxygen content in the seas, are three symptoms of a disturbance in the carbon dioxide cycle that have been ‘‘associated with each of the previous five mass extinctions on Earth.’’
While speaking in the measured language of science, the report calls for a complete rethinking of humans’ relationship with the oceans. ‘‘It is clear that the traditional economic and consumer values that formerly served society well, when coupled with current rates of population increase, are not sustainable,’’ it said.
“Deferring action will increase costs in the future leading to even greater losses of benefits,” the scientists added.
They warned that in addition to steep declines in the populations of many commercially important commercial species, the oceans are at risk for ‘‘an unparalleled rate of regional extinctions of habitat types,’’ including mangroves and seagrass meadows. ‘‘We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation,’’ the report said.
Mr. Reid said corals were particularly at risk because they were suffering both from the bleaching effect caused by rising sea temperatures and from acidification, which deprive the tiny organisms of the calcium carbonate they need to build their homes.
The authors call for immediate action to take the pressure off ocean ecosystems, including measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and ‘‘coordinated and concerted action’’ by governments in national waters and on the high seas to enact sustainable fisheries polices and reduce pollution.
They also called on the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly to create a global body that would have the power to ensure compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other statutes and treaties and to establish new rules and procedures for acting in “a precautionary manner.’’
Mr. Reid said that action by the United Nations was vital because there was effectively no protection at all for most of the ocean.
‘‘Once you’re outside the 200-mile limits of the nation states, it’s an open field,’’ he said. ‘‘So we’re calling for the U.N. and national governments to come up with some kind of agreement to protect the open oceans. At the moment, we’re not doing anything in the oceans sustainably.’’
Introduction: Since the fraudulent June 12th, 2009 Presidential Election in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), an increasingly emboldened opposition, the Green Movement, has arisen to demand the overthrow of the IRI. The Green Movement refuses to desist from launching massive street protests in Tehran, and other major Iranian cities. All this is occurring despite violence wreaked upon thousands of valiant regime opponents by the ruling Mullahs and President Ahmadinejad.
To explore these emerging revolutionary prospects in Iran, I turned to Lisa Daftari, an Iranian-American award-winning journalist with expertise in counterterrorism and the Middle East, particularly in Iranian affairs. Daftari has been in the forefront of communicating the important views of the Iranian opposition via her brilliant writing and commentary, as well as facilitating communications from within Iran to the world media.
Born in a suburb of New York City, she moved to Los Angeles, where she received a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Southern California.
Lisa has a gift for spotting an intriguing human story, luring the reader in, then gradually revealing her passion for the written word in lucid displays of prose. She is highly professional in her line of work. Lisa is a multifaceted, multitalented artist. She is a phenomenally gifted pianist who has the same control over the keyboard and the range of dynamics and finesse of touch as she has with written word. She is also a trained vocalist and has perfect pitch, which is the rare ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of an external reference.
Lisa recognizes the importance of keeping people informed. “Democracy does not work without a truly vibrant press. We, as journalists, have an obligation to sort it all out and supply quality news. Although many of the MSM report some stories well, like hurricanes and sporting events, thousands of exposés never get written because of the lack of investigative journalism. I feel this deprives the public of critical information they need to be intelligently informed,” says Lisa.
Her extensive stories have appeared on CBS, NBC, PBS, NPR, the Washington Post and Voice of America. Lisa is a syndicated columnist and frequently appears on numerous radio and television programs. She has her own column in Front Page Magazine where she serves as the publication's Iran analyst. Currently, Lisa is a Middle East commentator on the Fox News Channel.
Imani: The opposition Green Movement emerged spontaneously two years ago to challenge the results of the disputed 2009 presidential election. With the Green Movement in Iran, which began before the uprising in Tunisia at the beginning of this year, how is the so-called Arab Spring, the revolutions in Syria and elsewhere, impacting the freedom movement in Iran?
Daftari: The Freedom Movement was then, as it is now, an enduring democratic movement that started long before the 2009 Presidential Election in Iran. It was only triggered by the Election. According to most Middle East experts, Iran’s Green (Freedom) Movement inspired and triggered the Arab Spring. Iran has had the distinction of resisting assimilation by Arab invaders for over 14-centuries. Iran is the pacesetter in the region and radical Islam is only a passing aberration in its history. The millions who bravely filled the streets all over Iran protesting what they were convinced was the mullahs’ fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are still determined to defeat the Islamists and once again make Iran a beacon of democracy for other nations to emulate. The regime is rapidly collapsing and the Freedom Movement is distancing itself from any religious connections. Far from being defeated or dispirited, the secularists of Iran are battling on every front and by all means at their disposal to dislodge the mullahs from power.
Imani: Based on your contacts inside Iran, in what ways do you see the regime losing its grip on power?
Daftari: The mullahs’ government is not about governing through Islam. On the contrary, it is about usurping unlimited funds and regional power in the name of Islam, Shiite Islam to be exact. But the seeds for the auto-destruction of the Islamic system were implanted within from its very inception. The system is a hybrid concoction of fanatic religionists who aimed to establish a fantasized Caliphate-like society. To begin with, there never was an ideal Caliphate society to be reborn. Even at Muhammad’s deathbed the various contenders for power began their infighting. The envisioned system is part democratic and part authoritarian. The two are like water and oil and do not mix. Therefore, the Islamic Republic’s system leaves considerable fissures that are bound to bring the entire structure down. At a practical level, the various factions within the system vie for a greater and greater share of power and resources. And this infighting, coupled with inner greed, corruption and incompetence assure the system’s demise.
Imani: How might the U.S. jump-start a SUCCESSFUL grassroots revolution in Iran?
Daftari: The Obama administration has been completely unhelpful to the grassroots revolution in Iran. The administration, and Obama in particular, failed to speak in support of the Movement, much less aid it in any significant material way. I have repeatedly proposed ways and means of supporting the Iranian people to remove the Islamists and their influence. I firmly believe that the valiant Iranian secularists will eventually prevail over the mullahs’ regime. What the U.S. can do is to strongly side with them to expedite the mullahs’ demise. It is indeed in the U.S.’s best and vital interests to come to the aid of the Iranian people who can be of the best friends they can have in the region.
Imani: What are your thoughts about the recent overture by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton regarding extending multi-entry visas to Iranian students?
Daftari: I hope this is an indication that the Obama administration is finally waking up to the existing reality in Iran. Regretfully, there has been only a partial awakening of our government concerning international diplomacy, particularly where the Middle East and counterterrorism are involved. Instead of befriending and supporting the people of Iran, President Obama finds himself on the losing side with the Islamists. The people of Iran question Obama’s quick and zealous public support of the people of Egypt yet appeared untouched by the valiant attempt the Iranians made in 2009 to overthrow their government. Recall that it was the Iranian people's massive movement against the re-election of Ahmadinejad that inspired the “Arab Spring.”
So, in essence, extending multi-entry visas may be a feeble attempt by the Obama Administration to placate the Iranian people. This token action, although long overdue, is welcome. It shouldn't stop here. The Obama administration needs to abandon its heavily pro-Islamic policy that is buy the Islamic regime ample time to further develop its nuclear weapons and will assuredly bring disaster to America. If we are to stand and defend American ideals, we must align ourselves as great champions of democracy and human rights with the freedom-seeking secular forces of the Middle East.
It would behoove all freedom-loving individuals to call on President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to proclaim unequivocal support for the Iranian people and to back that claim with concrete effective peaceful actions. It is the best investment that the U.S. can make in attracting the powerful nation of Iran as a vital ally.
Imani: Do you think the deadly confrontation between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran is inevitable if the mullahs are allowed to make the bomb?
Daftari: For the past 32-years, thousands of dissident students, intellectuals and journalists have been systematically arrested, imprisoned and tortured for the sole crime of speaking up against repressive rule. Many are still languishing in prisons, some have died, and some have simply vanished with no record of what happened to them. Not only has the regime terrorized its own people, but they have also demonstrated a high priority for supporting global terrorism. Their support of extremist terrorist groups has extended far beyond neighboring countries but also as far away as Latin America. Hezbollah in Lebanon has been generously nurtured with funds, weapons and training. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were assisted in numerous ways, and a professional army of Shiite Iraqis was trained and armed to be used in the present Iraqi theatre. Separately, Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia—the Mahdi Army—is directly funded, armed and controlled by the present Islamic regime, a gift of the former president Khatami to his successor—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Stealth work on the nuclear program, in clear and defiant violation of the non-proliferation treaty to which the Islamic Republic is a signatory, proceeded ahead at full speed and with generous funding. It is obvious that the intention of the mullahs is not and has never been to protect the Iranian people or their nationalist interests. The mullahs have proved that their most critical objective is to spread terrorism and radical Islam, at the cost of the Iranian people and the rest of humanity.
At the moment, I would not count on the U.S. Administration to do anything. We have a musical chairs type of government. Democrats out, Republicans in. Republicans in, Democrats out. They are more intent on fighting each other than taking on radical ideologies, and that will cost Americans and the people of the Middle East in the long run. The American public won’t support a war either. They have been burned by the misadventure in Iraq and they are plenty upset about being bogged down in Afghanistan.
Imani: Recently, the former president of the Islamic Republic, President Mohammad Khatami, asked for national reconciliation. What are your thoughts about the former president?
Daftari: Well, it was on Khatami’s watch that many students’ lives were extinguished solely for speaking out against the regime. Shamelessly, during the July 9, 1999 university uprising in Tehran, Khatami called the students, “A bunch of hooligans,” while his guards and police brutally attacked students in their dormitories, even throwing some students out of third floor windows. I find it very ironic that he was welcomed at Harvard University to lecture students of the same age and faculty on practicing tolerance. It was during President Khatami’s term that prisoners of conscience were routinely tortured to extract confessions about the crimes they did not commit. Some of the victims were permanently incapacitated while others died under brutal torture. Regretfully, no human rights organizations were allowed to inspect the prisons.
Imani: What are your final thoughts about where is Iran headed?
Daftari: Despite everything, I am rather optimistic about the future of Iran. This is indeed the dawn of a new day. There are many factors that point to an imminent coming of age for the Iranian people and the end of a bloody and brutal era for the regime. A nation of 70 million, an overwhelming, zealous youth population, a distancing from and despising of oppressive Islam and a multitude of educated, savvy, technologically advanced Iranians will not tolerate or endure the yolk of this repressive regime much longer. The conditions for a perfect storm are in place. It is up to the international community, and in particular, the American administration, who has been the hesitant, halfhearted, unconvincing leader of the free world, to nurture, support and encourage significant changes in Iran and the region.