In Libya, executions, arbitrary arrests and torture emerge while the judicial system remains in paralysis, and suspected Moammar Kadafi supporters are targeted.
By Glen Johnson
TRIPOLI, Libya — Blood pours from the man's head, collecting in a pool on the concrete floor. Minutes before he had stood stripped to his underwear and pleading.
At first, former Libyan rebels from the coastal town of Zuwarah slapped him about the face, accusing him of being an informant for Moammar Kadafi. Then the beating increased in intensity as the man, Ahmed Salel, collapsed, hands stretched above his head.
The scene, recorded on a cellphone, ends with Salel, a former Libyan soldier abducted from a market in December, lying motionless but alive.
Retribution is the new law of the land in Libya. Summary executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and indefinite detention have emerged while the judicial system remains in a state of paralysis.
The result, rights groups charge, is an environment of impunity. In a country whose revolution's defining moment was arguably the apparent execution in October of Kadafi in captivity — a possible war crime that remains unpunished — dangerous precedents have been set.
Rights activists point out that although suspected supporters of the longtime Libyan leader are subject to arrest, former rebels who committed abuses, increasingly well-known and documented, roam free.
It is imperative that the transitional government "investigates all abuses and prosecutes those responsible — on all sides — in accordance with international law,"Amnesty International'sHassiba Hadj Sahraoui said in a statement in April. "Only then will Libya begin to turn the page on decades of systematic human rights violations."
The issue is whether the law will be applied equally for pro- and anti-Kadafi factions. If not, the risk of disillusionment and violent retribution increases in nation already plagued by repeated acts of violence, including a bomb set off Wednesday against the wall of the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi and the brief takeover early this week of Tripoli's main airport by one angry militia.
The propects for tamping down acts of revenge are not good. A controversial law passed last month grants immunity for "military, security or civilian acts undertaken by revolutionaries with the aim of ensuring the revolution's success."
Some analysts fear that Libya will drift into a Lebanon-style conflict of decades past but with tribal rather than sectarian dimensions. Others envision a country rocked by a series of violent convulsions, an exercise in catharsis as each community seeks redress for its suffering.
Heavily armed militias, which the interim authorities are powerless to restrain, continue to stalk perceived enemies. Few believe that the security forces will be able to ensure the safety of defendants, witnesses, lawyers and judges — particularly in emotionally charged or fiercely politicized cases — once the judicial system is up and running. A series of April 27 bomb blasts outside Benghazi's courthouse has done little to dispel such fears.
The position of Kadafi's onetime heir-apparent, son Seif Islam, underscores the problem. The International Criminal Court wants him transferred and tried in The Hague. The interim government insists on a trial in Libya but remains unable to extricate him from detention in the former rebel stronghold of Zintan, whose officials want him tried in that city.
Meanwhile, Seif Islam Kadafi and 8,000 other detainees held without judicial review remain in a state of limbo, guilty until proved innocent.
For William Lawrence, North Africa director at the International Crisis Group, the main threat to Libya's stability are the local-level conflicts as communities seek to defend their interests and see justice served.
"It is part of an'Arab Spring'search for dignity. ... In my estimation, this will continue for the foreseeable future — the complex realities of Libyan communities negotiating," he said.
"The main reason [rebel] militias are not being pursued is that they can't be. There are not sufficient security forces in place to even begin this process."
Lawrence believes the interim government is caught between the reality of having to engage with former Kadafi regime workers, who are highly trained and experienced in the machinations of governance, and its promises to hold to account those with blood on their hands.
"Finding the right balance for transitional justice is really important, as it is in Egypt, Tunisia and the other Arab Spring countries," he said.
"In practice it is very hard to draw the line, to find the right balance. If done incorrectly, pursuing this type of transitional justice in an overzealous fashion could lead to a witch hunt, which is in no one's interests."
Recent regulations issued by the interim government stipulating conditions of eligibility for public office suggest how the problem of dealing fairly with Kadafi loyalists has filtered through all aspects of Libyan social and political life.
One regulation instructs that only those who "joined the February 17 Revolution before March 20, 2011," can hold public office, essentially institutionalizing discrimination against purported Kadafi supporters.
Yet it is the daily violations, largely unpunished, that have the greatest potential to inflame further unrest.
Sitting in a makeshift school at an unused military base in Tripoli's Janzour suburb, Omar Imbarak, a towering man with a beard shot through with wisps of gray, said the discrimination must stop.
His town, Tawergha, was used by Kadafi to launch a terrible siege on the neighboring city of Misurata during the uprising. Later, it was burned and looted by Misuratan militias who stormed through hurling Molotov cocktails. The entire population — 30,000 people, most of them descendants of black African slaves — was displaced. Huddled in camps, they continue to suffer at the hands of militia members accusing them of fealty to Kadafi.
Abductions of Tawerghans from camps, checkpoints and hospitals are common.
"Where is the security? How is it possible to say that someone likes Kadafi and then come and kill them? I swear, we did nothing wrong," Imbarak said. "We can't even go for one minute from here. If we leave the camp, the militias will say, 'Who are you?' and arrest us."
Complaining about abductions from the town of Regdalin, where support for Kadafi ran strong throughout the insurgency, Ali Mohammed said that the rule of law has not been respected.
The Zuwarah militias "should come to me and I will arrest the people and send them to the government in Tripoli," said Mohammed, who is in charge of Regdalin's militias. "Don't come here with guns and shooting and take people away."
The leader of a Belgian Islamist group, Sharia4Belgium, was arrested on Thursday for posting an Internet video urging attacks on non-Muslims after a woman was detained in Brussels for wearing a face veil. Fouad Belkacem, also known as Abu Imran, was detained at his home in the northern Belgian city of Antwerp and remanded in custody on suspicion of breaking anti-discrimination laws and inciting violence.
“He posted a video message on YouTube in which he called on his brothers and sisters to fight against non-believers,” said a spokesman for the Antwerp prosecutor.
Last week protesters threw metal barriers and bins at a police station following the arrest of a Muslim woman for refusing to remove her face veil.
In an emailed statement, Sharia4Belgium said: “The arrest of Abu Imran will bring more people to our side.”Belkacem is due to appear in court next week.
On Tuesday, Belgian right-wingers offered to pay a 250 euros ($310) bounty to anyone who reports a veiled woman to police, in the wake of the face veil riots in Brussels. Filip Dewinter, a senior figure within Vlaams Belang, a right-wing party, told Reuters the riots had made police apprehensive about enforcing the burqa ban and that the payment should put pressure on authorities to further enforce it. “It’s a textile prison for the women who have to live under it,” he said.
A Brussels police spokesman said he was unaware of the money being offered, but said any officer who sees a woman wearing a niqab would issue a penalty. “When someone is breaking the law we always have to intervene, demonstrations or no, the niqab is prohibited,” he said.
Police in Belgium are investigating last week’s riots and arrested 13 members of the Islamist group Sharia4Belgium on Sunday, the police spokesman said. Sharia4Belgium was not immediately available to comment.
While they are making arrests would they like to extradite Anjem Choudary to serve his sentence after his conviction in Belgium in absentia earlier this year? The Belgian authorities are very welcome to him.
Iran, The GCC, And Those Islands In The (Persian, Arabian) Gulf
Iran rejects GCC claims on three islands in Persian Gulf
8 June 2012Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has rejected claims by the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) about the three disputed islands of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb and the Lesser Tunb, Press TV reported.
The three islands have been and will remain an inseparable part of the Islamic Republic soil, Mehmanparast said on Thursday.
The GCC foreign ministers concluded their 123rd meeting in Jeddah on Tuesday where they reportedly alleged that the three Persian Gulf islands are "indispensable parts of the United Arab Emirates".
Mehmanparast further criticized the recent remarks by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal about Iran in which the Arab official described the Iranian nuclear energy program as "dangerous".
"These remarks are not in line with the collective interests of the people of the region and are not a logical criterion for regional developments," Mehmanparast said.
Mehmanparast added that Iran's nuclear energy activities are "completely transparent and compliant with the international regulations and within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."
"The Islamic Republic insists on its incontrovertible rights based on the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)," he added.
The US and some of its allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear energy program.
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin has vowed to turn the guns on Pakistan if it stops backing jihadis in Jammu and Kashmir who, he claimed, were fighting "Pakistan's war".
"We are fighting Pakistan's war in Kashmir and if it withdraws its support, the war would be fought inside Pakistan," said Salahuddin, who also heads the Muttahida Jihad Council, a grouping of terrorist organisations based in Pakistan.
Salahuddin made the remarks during an interview with Arab News while referring to a reduction of tensions in Jammu and Kashmir following several rounds of talks between India and Pakistan.
He said he was "desperate and agitated" with the new approach adopted by Pakistan in the peace process with India.
The report said the Pakistani political leadership's new approach for normalising relations with India had "stunned" Kashmiri leaders.
"Kashmir has been the key issue but now it has become peripheral as all claims of supporting our struggle politically, diplomatically and morally are nothing but lip service," Salahuddin claimed.
He said he believed that militancy alone is the solution to the Kashmir issues.
"All those who were involved in the so-called peace talks eventually admitted that India is not serious and that it gained more and more time to implement its own design for the region," he claimed.
Salahuddin said he believed the Pakistanis were silent because of the existing dichotomy on the Kashmir issue that has placed Islamabad in a dilemma on whether to support militancy or the peace process.
He said he further believed the Pakistani people must play a vital role in mounting pressure for the Kashmir cause and in forcing the government to withdraw its new approach, which is "hurting the Kashmir struggle".
He contended that the movement could not be wrapped up on the negotiation table.
"Who negotiated for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan? Were there any talks in Iraq and Afghanistan? The US is compelled by the situation to withdraw its forces in the absence of any negotiation and we would follow the same strategy in Kashmir," he said.
Salahuddin said he believed that normalising trade and business with India would benefit only New Delhi and be counterproductive for Islamabad.
"Pakistan is doing all this without keeping its own interest as prime due to foreign and Western pressures without analyzing its disastrous consequences," he claimed.
The EU at war with Israel: The prospect of an Irish-led EU-wide boycott
Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s foreign minister, said recently he shall seek a boycott of Jewish West Bank settlements throughout the European Union:
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said Ireland may push for the EU to ban goods from Israeli settlements if Israel does not quickly change its settlements policy in Palestinian territories.
Furthermore, Gilmore also seeks the banning of some Jewish settlers from entering the EU due to “violence”:
Mr Gilmore has also said the Government may seek to have certain extremist settlers banned from the EU if they do not stop their violence in settlement areas. […]
“I think at that stage if there isn’t a change in Israeli policy in relation to settlements in particular, I think we may have to look at some additional measures,” the Tánaiste said.
These “additional measures” are largely left unsaid but if he wishes to censure settler communities then it is possible they will be treated in a similar fashion to terrorist organisations. He may suggest proscribing settler advocacy groups, individuals convicted of violence against Palestinians, and even those associated with activism. Somewhat similar ideas were proposed by EU diplomats in an official report last year, concerning “settlers” in East Jerusalem.
The statement is of note as Gilmore said he spoke for the Government, and their policy will be pursued further when Ireland gets the rotating EU presidency next January. Additionally, Gilmore holds more than the foreign ministry. By possessing the role of Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) in the current government, he stands as the second most senior politician in Ireland. He is also the leader of the Labour Party, partners in the two-party coalition government.
The EU’s frequent criticism of the Jewish State attempts to appease the Arab-Islamic world. It is also an opportunity to appear holier than thou, and to date Europe’s hostility toward Israel has resulted in a substantive amount of prejudicial hot air over human rights, which has contributed in a gradual albeit very significant way to Israel’s delegitimisation.
However, the present boycott proposal should be deemed a more intensive immediate threat, judging by overall trends in EU policy toward Israel, and European trends at a more national level, such as with the UK and Denmark, to isolate produce associated with Jewish settlements. Goods produced in the settlements have no entitlement to any EU import exemptions, unlike the rest of Israel.
Meet the man who might be Egypt's president: the Muslim Brotherhood's second choice, and 9/11-denier, Mohamed Morsi.
BY SHADI HAMID|JUNE 7, 2012
Egypt is on the cusp of its first real experiment in Islamist governance. If the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi comes out on top in the upcoming presidential runoff election, scheduled for June 16 and 17, the venerable Islamist movement will have won control of both Egypt's presidency and its parliament, and it will have a very real chance to implement its agenda of market-driven economic recovery, gradual Islamization, and the reassertion of Egypt's regional role.
Over the course of Egypt's troubled transition, the Brotherhood has become increasingly, and uncharacteristically, assertive in its political approach. Renouncing promises not to seek the presidency and entering into an overt confrontation with the ruling military council, the Brotherhood's bid to "save the revolution" has been interpreted by others as an all-out power grab. Egypt's liberals, as well as the United States, now worry about the implications of unchecked Brotherhood rule and what that might mean for their interests.
Things couldn't have been more different two years ago. Under the repression of Hosni Mubarak's regime, the Brotherhood's unofficial motto was "participation, not domination." The group was renowned for its caution and patient (some would say too patient) approach to politics. When I sat down with Morsi in May 2010 -- just months before the revolution and well before he could have ever imagined being Mubarak's successor -- he echoed the leadership's almost stubborn belief in glacial but steady change. He even objected to a fairly anodyne description of the movement's political activities: "The word 'opposition' has the connotation of seeking power," Morsi told me then. "But, at this moment, we are not seeking power because [that] requires preparation, and society is not prepared." The Muslim Brotherhood, being a religious movement more than a political party, had the benefit of a long horizon.
Morsi wasn't well known back then. He was an important player in the Brotherhood, but did not seem to have a particularly distinctive set of views. He was a loyalist, an enforcer, and an operator. And he was arguably good at those things. But being, or becoming, a leader is a different matter. Despite heading the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc and later leading the group's newly formed Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Morsi struggled to command respect across ideological lines. He rarely spoke like someone who liked making concessions or doing the hard work necessary for building consensus.
Like many Brotherhood leaders, he nurtured a degree of resentment toward Egypt's liberals. They were tiny and irrelevant, the thinking went, so why were they always asking for so much? In May 2010, the opposition seemed to be coming alive, but in a uniquely Egyptian way. At one protest in Tahrir Square, each group -- Islamists, liberals, and leftists -- huddled in its own part of the square. I asked Morsi why there wasn't greater cooperation between Islamists and liberals. "That depends on the other side," he said, echoing what the liberals were saying about the Brotherhood.
This thinly veiled disdain could be papered over when liberals, leftists, and Brotherhood members were facing a dictator they all hated. And, during the revolution, Brotherhood members, Salafists, liberals, and ordinary Egyptians joined hands and put the old divisions aside -- if only for a moment. When Mubarak fell, though, there was little left to unite them.
The international community, particularly the United States, shares the liberals' fear of Islamist domination, but for a very different set of reasons. Historically, the Brotherhood has been one of the more consistent purveyors of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment. While some Brotherhood leaders, particularly lead strategist Khairat El Shater, are less strident in their condemnations and less willfully creative with their conspiracy theories in private, Morsi is not. In a conversation with me, he volunteered his views on the 9/11 terrorist attacks without any prompting. "When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter," he said, shifting to English, "then you are insulting us. How did the plane cut through the steel like this? Something must have happened from the inside. It's impossible."
According to various polls, such views are held by most Egyptians, including leftists and liberals, but that doesn't make them any less troubling. It is perhaps ironic, then, that out of the Brotherhood's top officials, Morsi has spent the most time in the United States. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and, interestingly, the father of two U.S. citizens -- a reminder that familiarity can sometimes breed contempt. At a recent news conference, Morsi discussed his time living abroad, painting a picture of a society in moral decay, featuring crumbling families, young mothers in hospitals who have to "write in the name of the father," and couples living together out of wedlock. We don't have these problems in Egypt, he said, his voice rising with a mixture of pride and resentment.
Mosque near Olympics site in â€˜terror linkâ€™ investigation
I mean to post this yesterday - I got it into other places, then I had to go out. This is the latest report this afternoon from the London Evening Standard.
A London mosque is under investigation over alleged links to terrorism. The Charity Commission has launched a probe into Masjid-al-Tawhid — next to the Olympics site — amid concerns that it may be promoting extremist Islamist ideologies.
The investigation is understood to centre on sermons delivered at the mosque between 2004 and 2010 by Haitham al-Haddad, a preacher by whom notorious “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab claims he was influenced.
The Leyton mosque, which propagates the extremist Salafi strand of Islam widely practised in Saudi Arabia, has also hosted several leading al Qaeda clerics in the past, including Abu Qatada and Anwar al-Awlaki.
In a letter leaked to the Standard and the BBC, the Charity Commission last week announced a “statutory inquiry” into Masjid-al-Tawhid. “The investigation will look at whether the trustees have allowed individuals with potential links to terrorist organisations to use the charity to promote and/or express extremist views and ideologies and/or controversial points of view,” it wrote.
The sexual exploitation and grooming of young vulnerable white girls is a 'particular problem in Asian communities', one of Britain's top prosecutors admitted for the first time today.
In a year when several paedophile gangs were convicted of raping and prostituting victims in north west England, Nazir Afzal says it is impossible not to notice 'that the perpetrators were Asian and the victims were not.'
The Chief Crown Prosecutor for the region added that 'cultural baggage and the status of women among some men in these communities contributes to their disrespect for the rights of women.'
It was claimed last month that fears they would be branded racist meant that police and social services left one group free to rape up to 50 white girls, and Mr Afzal said today he would not 'turn a blind eye.'
It came as the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee announced yesterday a day of evidence next week because its members and chairman Keith Vaz are 'very concerned by the recent cases of child exploitation.' The Labour MP for Leicester East has previously said: 'I do not think it is a race issue.
Speaking to The Times today Mr Afzal said: 'Exploitation happens in every community but these cases demonstrate that group grooming is a particular problem in Asian community. I will not turn a blind eye to crimes in any community.' He spoke out as two Asian men, Mahfuzur Rahman and Abdul Hannan, (these are Muslim names) were convicted of raping or sexually assaulting four young white women in their area after they picked them up and got them drunk.
In an originally botched prosecution in 2009, victims gave detailed evidence about being violently raped by Rahman before charges were dropped because evidence was said to lack credibility.
One of the witnesses is in no doubt however.
Pretty teenager Toni-Marie Redfern thought she’d found the perfect boyfriend. Polite, handsome, and seven years her senior, he drove a silver BMW, wore designer suits and bought her dinner at her favourite pizza café
Yet Toni-Marie eventually learned the truth about Abid Mohammed Saddique.
While they were going out, the British-born man of Pakistani origin was orchestrating what is believed to be the biggest sex-abuse ring ever discovered in Britain, involving up to 100 young girls. Last year, Saddique and his accomplice, Mohammed Liaqat, whose Derby-based gang groomed girls (most of whom were white and aged between 12 and 18) for sex, were jailed for bringing a ‘reign of terror’ to the North Midlands city. A court heard how the pair — who had undergone arranged marriages in Pakistan — cruised the streets in a BMW or a Range Rover, which Saddique referred to as the ‘Rape Rover’
Key to the men’s conviction was Toni-Marie, now 20, who bravely gave evidence against her ex-lover.
‘When I discovered what he had done to those girls, I felt physically sick. He was the puppet master and all his mates were his puppets. Everyone did whatever he told them to do,' she said.‘I was a white girl who he wanted to control and prove that he could convert to Islam. I saw him and the gang tell non-Muslim girls they were “slags”. I believe it was the religion and culture of these men that made them act like that.
‘In one of the last conversations I had with him, he referred to his Land Rover as the “Rape Rover”. That is when I knew I had to escape. I’d had enough.'
Hardeep Singh, a freelance journalist and broadcaster and Press Secretary for the Network of Sikh Organisations makes the same point in the Telegraph this evening.
Is it time to stop using the word "Asian"? In recent weeks Britain's Sikh and Hindu communities have complained angrily about the use of the misleading term in reporting of the Rochdale grooming convictions of men of Muslim Pakistani descent. Headlines like “Asian grooming – why we need to talk about sex crime”, “Child sex grooming: the Asian question”, and “Grooming offences committed mostly by Asian men, says ex-Barnardo's chief” show the problem.
Obviously Sikhs and Hindus and other "Asian" non-Muslims, including Jains, Zoroastrians, Christians and Buddhists, don’t want to be associated with sexual grooming of vulnerable white girls. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want to either. The girls targeted in Rochdale, Derby and now in Luton are all non-Muslim. This is nothing new for British Hindus and Sikhs, who have complained about targeting of their girls for decades; Indians refer to the practice as "love-jihad".
Judge Gerald Clifton, who sentenced the men in Rochdale, indicated they thought the victims were “worthless” and “beyond any respect”. He asserted that one of the motivations behind this was “they were not part of your community or religion”. This is not the first time that this has been suggested: at a Hindu Forum conference in 2007, the then Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, revealed how the police were working to clamp down on “aggressive conversions” of vulnerable girls. The following year, a blog site called "Sikh4aweek" which called on Muslim "soldiers" to "hunt" down Sikh university students during freshers week was forced to close following complaints to the police and Google. The common denominator: targeting of non-Muslim girls.
It is for the Muslim community and its leaders to decide what is behind the trend, and what to do about it; but it is time for politicians and the press to bear in mind that in the context of these sex crimes, as with violent extremism, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour killings, the vague term "Asian" serves no purpose. Worse, it besmirches entire swathes of Britons with roots in the Indian subcontinent. . . But the problem continues: commentators are unwilling to label the perpetrators "Muslim", opting instead to hide behind the fudge of "Asian".
Of course we have to be careful not to label all Muslims sex offenders: but it is simple cowardice to pretend that grooming is not a problem for the Muslim community, but Asians in general.
JERUSALEM, Israel -- Hamas shut down the Gaza Strip's sole power station late Wednesday, following a hijacking by Islamist militias in the Sinai Peninsula.
Terrorists in Sinai hijacked oil tankers delivering 150,000 liters of fuel from Qatar, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported, quoting Palestinian sources.
Some trucks were stolen and others torched, allegedly forcing Hamas to shut down the power station Wednesday night, according to the report.
Hamas blamed Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority for the attack, the Palestinian Authority's Ma'an News Agency reported.
"Since the Qatari fuel has not entered, and in light of not having the necessary fuel to maintain the sole power plant in Gaza, the power plant stopped working," Hamas officials said.
Miraculously, the entire shipment arrived at the power station Thursday evening.
Egypt sent "emergency reinforcements" to escort the fuel tankers to the Gaza border.
Way back in November 2008, the P.A. accused Hamas of staging blackouts in Gaza as a propaganda tool.
Nearly a year before in January 2008, Hamas staged a similar show after shutting the plant down. The Palestinian faction ruling Gaza invited journalists to a candlelight session of its legislative council.
Journalists later reported the shades had been drawn while the council met, though they could see daylight peeping through.
One P.A. official at the time accused al-Jazeera of broadcasting images of women and children sitting in candlelight to win sympathy for Hamas
Fareed Zakaria, "One Of The Top One Hundred Global Thinkers"
From the Huffington Post:
Fareed Zakaria's Harvard And Duke Commencement Speeches: Too Close For Comfort?
Prominent CNN host Fareed Zakariais under fire and stands accused of giving identical commencement speeches at both Harvard University and Duke University.
“I spoke to him while he was here,” a Duke employee told the Boston Globe, “and I got the strong impression from him that his Harvard speech would be a different presentation. Oh, well, at least Duke got it first.”
Zakaria started both speeches with an anecdote about missing his own college graduation. In both talks, he discussed cellphones and referenced American humorist Art Buchanwald.
Zakaria said an apology is unnecessary.
“I don’t see how I could have come up with two completely different speeches without giving one group a second-rate talk," he told the Boston Globe. "I’d rather come up with the same important message I think they need to hear.”
New York magazine said Duke was Zakaria's "safety school" this year and said he jumped ship when a "real Ivy" came knocking.
Zakaria is a big draw on the commencement circuit. Some have noted similarities in the speeches he gave at Brown in 2009, Yale in 2007 and Johns Hopkins in 2011.
Check out both speeches. Can you tell the difference?
Yemen group calls for liberation of Saudi-occupied lands
A Yemeni human rights group Aseer called on Wednesday for retrieving all Yemeni lands that are occupied by neighbor Saudi Arabia.
Aseer classified the districts of Najran, Jizan and Aseer – currently in southwest Saudi Arabia close to the Yemeni border – as occupied lands.
The group accused former dictator Ali Abdallah Saleh of conceding the lands for, what it considered, a “Saudi occupation,” through the Taif and Jeddah borders agreements that were signed by the two countries in 2000.
Yemeni opposition groups claim that Saleh surrendered the region of Aseer for $18 billion, which was then distributed amongst high-ranking officials in Saleh's regime.
“Regaining Yemeni lands is a first step towards regaining sovereignty and independence from Saudi hegemony,” the group said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
The statement also refused Saudi control over Yemeni decision-making.
Aseer's spokesperson, Abdulrahman al-Ashoul, considered the regaining of the lands a national issue that concerns all Yemeni people, adding that this “political fight should not be exploited in any political struggle between political parties.”
Al-Ashoul condemned any Yemeni who would benefit from Saudi support, calling for taking a stand against such people.
The group is scheduled to meet with a number of legal consultants to discuss the possibility of filing a case against the Saudi occupation and recognizing Yemen's right to the disputed regions.
These discussions will be held “with specialists in international law, geography, legal consultants and historians in Sanaa and Beirut to prepare a complete project and work plan.”
Yemen shares a 1,800km with Saudi Arabia, The two countries finalized a border agreement in 12 June 2000, but Asser does not recognize such a deal as it was done under Saudi-backed dictator Saleh.
Early this year, Saudi Arabia, along with the United States, played an important role in pushing Saleh aside in a deal that was aimed at retaining its interests and influence in the impoverished Arab state.
What is Iran? Is it a nation ruled by savage mullahs who are the world's prime sponsors of terrorism, who seek a nuclear capability in order to advance their hegemonic aspirations, and who order the murder, rape and torture of their political opponents in order to protect their illegitimate regime? Yes. Is it also a country populated by freedom-seeking people, inheritors of a grand civilization, who, after more than 30 years of soul-crushing theocratic rule, find themselves filled with warm feelings for America and what it stands for? Also, yes.
The Atlantic.com's international channel posted a pair of pieces this week that make the unassailable, if by-now stale argument, that most Iranians actually like the U.S. Christopher Thornton, the author of the pieces (one is a travel narrative, the other a photo essay) writes in a faux-naive, or honestly-come-by, naive style, but a style laced with condescension -- condescension directed at Americans, who, he claims, without evidence, are ignorant of the "real" Iran. The only thing Americans care about, he argues, is the alleged perfidy of the Iranian government. Thornton's introduction to his photo essay will give you a sense of his mission:
The version of Iran that Americans see in the media can certainly seem like a frightening, hostile place: stern mullahs, clandestine nuclear programs, angry (if often staged) anti-American protests. Yet Iran seen first-hand is very different, and much friendlier. Approximately half of Iranians are willing to tell pollsters they hold a favorable view of Americans, but when visiting the country it seems like many more share that view. The many Iranians I've met have been eager to tell me how much they like Americans and the U.S., the many commonalities they see between the two countries, and of course their desire to visit--and remain permanently if at all possible. I hope this other side of Iran comes through in these photos I've taken on my visits to the country. These are not nearly as disturbing or frightening as the Iran-related images you're likely accustomed to, but they show the "real" Iran that outsiders rarely see.
The photos include images of children playing in a fountain and of women buying fabric, One photo comes with this immortal caption: "Men laugh over the poultry at a bird market in Esfahan."
But do Americans really believe that Iranian children don't play in fountains, and that Iranian women don't buy fabric? Or that Iranians don't eat chicken?
Thornton's project -- and not just the stilted, propagandistic quality of his photo captions -- reminded me of a display I once saw in a hotel lobby in Soviet-era Moscow. The blown-up photos of the happy proletariat promised hotel guests the "international friendship of the Soviet peoples." But in a non-democratic society, of course, the friendliness of disenfranchised citizens is not only unsurprising -- there's nothing like living in a repressive society to make a person yearn for America -- it is not relevant. It is relevant, of course, if you are sitting in the Pentagon, devising plans to undermine or overthrow of the regime. But it is not entirely relevant if you are an American policymaker confronting, say, the Iranian government's aggressive, destructive and anti-American policies in the Persian Gulf.
Thornton tells us that he was treated with kindness everywhere he went in Iran. This is undoubtedly true, because Iranians are, indeed, very warm toward Americans (I have experienced this myself in Iran) but it is also true because Thornton didn't seem to ask any hard questions, or explore any of the regime's barbaric and anti-democratic policies. If you behave like a journalist in Iran, well, your reception won't be so friendly. Contrast Thornton's article with that of Laura Secor, of the The New Yorker, who, because she's an actual reporter, asked actual questions on her last visit to Iran, and got into actual trouble because of it. Her piece makes for compelling reading. Here is the moment she first meets trouble:
My translator and I left Alef just before noon. I was supposed to fly to Dubai that night, and was racing to make my final interviews. Soon after we stepped onto the street, a wiry man in a black nylon jacket stopped my translator and talked to him intently. This did not strike me as unusual: Iranians often talk to strangers at such length, and with such warmth, that at a glance it is hard to tell old friends from people who have just met.
But the conversation intensified into a relay of insistence and objection. My translator's face was a mask of tension. He would translate nothing, despite my repeated requests. A car idled in the street, and he nudged me in its direction. "We have to get in the car," he told me, looking away. The man in the nylon jacket got in the front passenger seat; the waiting driver was larger and silent. I asked who they were and where they were taking me. Silence. My translator finally said, "Passport and visa office. They want to have a short conversation."
Read Secor's whole piece; it's fantastic.
There seems to be a purpose to Thornton's argument: To convince Americans that Iran poses no threat to the United States or its allies because its people are friendly. The editor of The Atlantic.com's international channel, Max Fisher, described Iran, sardonically, on Twitter: "A weak impoverished country a zillion miles away, full of people who love Americans, our 'greatest enemy(.)'" But obviously Fisher and Thornton both know that weak, impoverished countries sometimes pose threats to the United States -- Afghanistan, a weaker, more impoverished country than Iran, was the indispensably important launching pad for the 9/11 attacks. They also must know that, in the age of transnational terrorist threats and ICBMs, distance by itself does not protect America; and they also know that the love of the Iranian people for America is not nearly so relevant as is the hatred of those Iranians who make regime policy. (For more on how the regime treats dissenting citizens -- or citizens it merely imagines are dissenting, along with gays, Baha'is, etc. -- please visit Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which both do exhaustive work exploring the lives of real Iranians.)
Are the Iranian people natural allies of the U.S.? Of course. Is the regime an adversary? Of course. And it's a dangerous adversary: Obama Administration officials have estimated that at least a quarter of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq can be attributed directly to Iranian-backed organizations. It's worth pointing out that many Iranians want to see their country be more like the U.S., but there's no good reason to make believe that Iran today is a benevolent place.
Egyptian women have been vocal protesters against the post-Mubarak regime, despite continuing sexual harassment at marches and gatherings. Photograph: Amel Pain/EPA
A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment in Cairo, as attackers overwhelmed male supporters and molested several of the marchers in Tahrir Square.
Some victims said it appeared to have been an organised attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample the pro-democracy protest movement.
The attack on Friday follows a spate of smaller-scale assaults on women in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak to step down last year.
Earlier in the week, an Associated Press reporter witnessed around 200 men assault a woman who eventually fainted before others came to her aid.
Friday's march demanded an end to all sexual assaults. Around 50 women participated, surrounded by a larger group of male supporters who joined hands to form a protective ring around them. The protesters carried posters and chanted. After the marchers entered a crowded corner of the square, a group of men waded into the women, heckling them and groping them. The attackers chased the the marchers as they tried to flee. Several women were cornered against railings and groped, according to reports. Eventually, the women found refuge in a nearby building.
"After what I saw and heard today I am furious at so many things." wrote Sally Zohney, one of the event's organisers on Twitter.
Ahmed Mansour, a 22 year-old male medical student who took part in the march, said: "Some people think it is targeted to make women hate coming here."
During the uprising against Mubarak last year, women said they briefly experienced a "new Egypt". Women participated as activists, protesters, medics and frontline fighters against the security forces. They have continued to play a leading role over the past 15 months. However, assaults on women protesters have been common, mainly perpetrated by men opposed to their presence and the security forces. Lara Logan, a US correspondent for CBS television, was sexually assaulted by a mob in Tahrir Square on the day Mubarak stepped down, as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated.
In a defining image of state violence against women, soldiers dispersing a protest in December were captured on video stripping a woman's top off and stomping on her chest, as other troops pulled her by the arms across the ground. That incident prompted a march by 10,000 women through Cairo.
In contrast, the small size of Friday's march could reflect the fear felt by women in the square.
Sexual harassment of women, including against those who wear the hijab, is common in Cairo. A 2008 report by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights said two-thirds of women in the country experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis. A string of mass assaults on women in 2006 during Eid, the feast following Ramadan, prompted police to increase patrols.
"Women activists are at the core of the revolution," said Ahmed Hawary, who attended Friday's protest. "They are the courage of this movement. If you break them, you break the spirit of the revolution."
"Thought-Leader" Fareed Zakaria Gives A Commencement Speech
A commencement speech that the world will little note, nor long remember, but everyone will remember that Fareed Zakaria was unable to think of anything new to say in the speech he delivered a few weeks later at the Harvard commencement. And consider how empty -- not the least display of mind -- both the Duke version, and the scarcely-distinguishable Harvard version, turn out to be.
The following speech was delivered to Duke graduates, their families and other attendees on Sunday, May 13, in Wallace Wade Stadium
Durham, NC - Thank you so much President Brodhead, Chairman Wagoner, the Board of Trustees, parents, students. To the students in particular, I have to tell you I am in awe of you because you're already way ahead of me on this day in my life. You see, I actually didn't make it to my commencement day celebration. I celebrated a bit the night before and -- I did a kind of anticipatory celebration of what was meant to be the night after. Well, I didn't make it for most of it. This is a chance to do a re-do, so thank you.
You know I've always felt these events are very strange for me. I think of commencements as great advice-giving events and I try to think of myself still as young enough not to really have much advice to give anyone, as being vaguely post-graduate. I don't know quite what to say. I have a vivid memory of Woody Allen's movie "Radio Days," where this young kid spends all his time listening to the radio in the 1930s and it drives his mother crazy. These were the days when people thought that listening to Gershwin and Cole Porter was bad for your morals. And the mother tells him, "You've got to stop listening to the radio." And he turns to her and says, "But ma, you listen to the radio all day." And she looks at him and says, "That's different. My life is ruined already."
I tend to think my life isn't ruined already so I've still got a little while to go. I'm not quite sure what to say. The best commencement speech I ever heard, or heard of, was the humorist Art Buchwald, who gave a very short one. He looked at the sea of young people in front of him and he said, "Now remember boys and girls, we are leaving you a perfect world. Don't screw it up."
I think there are very few people who would look at the world right now and feel that way. You're entering, as you well know, a very difficult economic climate in the United States. There are problems that people talk about abroad, from Iran to the Middle East. There are the larger issues of climate change that people are concerned about, and all these concerns are real. But I want to sketch out for you with perhaps a little bit of historical context the kind of world you are really entering into.
The world you are entering into is, first of all, at peace -- profoundly at peace. This is historically a very rare phenomenon. You don't have major wars, proxy wars, arms races among the richest counties of the world. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar circumstance. I know you read about and watch a bomb going off here and there and think we live in scary and dangerous times, but trust in the data. The data says the number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war and yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is of course down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II.
We are living in astonishingly peaceful times and this peace, this political stability, has allowed the creation of a single global system in which countries around the world are participating for the first time. In 1979, the number of countries that were growing at about 3 percent a year was about 30, 31 or 32. The number of countries even after the financial crisis that are growing at 3 percent a year or more, thriving in this global economy, is 90, three times that number. It was 125 before the financial crisis hit. So you are living in a world where people have an extraordinary ability and opportunity to prosper, to thrive, to make something of themselves. Even in the current climate, which seems depressed, keep in mind that this decade the global economy as a whole will grow 10-20 percent faster than it did a decade ago, 50 percent faster than it did three decades ago and five times as fast as it did 60 years ago.
We are living in an astonishing period of progress and you only need to think about that progress in one sense to grasp it, which is -- think of the cell phones that you have in your pockets ... and many of you are actually looking at right now. Don't think I can't see you. The cell phones you have now have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule, and that capsule couldn't even Tweet. So just imagine the opportunities you have in that sense. And they're only beginning. Moore's Law,which says that the computing power of a computer will double every 18 months while the price halves, continues to apply except it has accelerated in one very important field. The human genome is being sequenced faster than Moore's Law. So when I think of our student speaker who is a biomedical engineer, I imagine the kind of data and capacity he is going to have to help solve the problems that we all confront.
You can see this in terms of the increases in human life expectancy. We gain five hours of life expectance every day. Think about that -- without even exercising. The reality is that medicine has produced almost unimaginable progress. Atul Gawande, this wonderful surgeon who also writes about medicine for The New Yorker, recalls the 19th century operation in which the surgeon was trying to amputate the patient's leg. He did that but accidentally amputated his assistant's finger as well. Both patients, I suppose one would call them, both patients died of sepsis and an onlooker died of shock. It is the only known medical procedure to have a 300 percent fatality rate. You can be assured that thanks to efforts of places like Duke, medical technology and medical procedures have gotten much, much better. You can see it in this extraordinary rise in life expectancy around the world.
The data goes on and you could look at and cut it any way you like. You look at the number of college graduates we will have globally. It has risen fourfold in the last four decades for men. It has risen sevenfold for women. If you are wondering whether women are in fact smarter than men, the evidence now is overwhelming: The answer is yes. My favorite example of this is there was a study done over the last 25 years in which it found, per person, female representatives in the House of Congress were able to bring back $49 million more in federal grants than their male counterparts. So even in pork barrel politics, it turns out women are better than men. So we can look forward to a world with increasing female participation.
Now when I tell you all these things I don't want you feel I am urging some kind of complacency. I'm not. What I am pointing out is that there have been extraordinary challenges over the last 50 years, 75 years -- a Depression, a World War, a Cold War and many, many smaller ones. But we have overcome them. Human action, achievement, has managed to solve the problems in ways that would have been unimaginable decades ago. And when we look forward to the problems we face -- of possible wars, of economic crises, of depressions, and of climate change and problems with regard to access and scarcity of water -- keep in mind, these problems are real but the human reaction and response to them is also very real. We can often spend a great deal of time mapping out the problem and we forget that there are these extraordinary opportunities that human beings have to solve these problems. That is what you will be doing. And what I urge you to remember is that you will have a profound effect when you do that.
Let me give you one example. In 2009 the H1N1 virus broke out in Mexico. Now if you looked back and saw the trajectory of these kinds of viruses, it is quite conceivable that you would have had one like the Asian flu in 1957 or 1968, in which 4 million people died. But the Mexican health authorities in this case identified the problem early, shared the information with the WHO, learned best practices fast, tracked down the outbreak exactly where it was, quarantined people, vaccinated people -- they went on a full-scale alert. In a Catholic country it was not allowed to go to church for three Sundays. Perhaps more importantly, you weren't allowed to go to soccer games for three weeks. And that had the result of massively containing the problem to the point where three months later, people wondered what the big fuss was about and did we overreact. We didn't overreact; we reacted, we responded, we solved the problem. That is what we often forget when we confront these challenges.
Now if you look at this and say 'That's all wonderful for the world at large but what does this mean for this country that this great university is in?' Well, I can only remind you that you are living in a country that has the most dynamic economy in the world, that continues to have the greatest technology companies in the world, that continues to have the greatest universities in the world. There are three lists that rank universities -- top 20, top 50, top 100. America dominates all those lists and you can be sure of that because Duke is on all of them.
The United States remains the only county in the industrialized world that is demographically vibrant, by which I mean we add 3 million people to the country every year. That itself gives it a powerful life force and that life force is perhaps renewed and made especially new by the fact that so many of these people are immigrants. They come to this country with aspirations, with hunger, with drive, with determination. And you look at that picture of a country that is economically, technologically, and in societal terms, vibrant and dynamic. And you say to yourself, 'Will I as an individual have the opportunity to make an impact, to solve some of these problems?' I think the answer clearly is yes.
So I say to you: Yes, you may be going through a particular year or two that are more difficult than others have been, but this is an extraordinary world to come into. This is an extraordinary country to come into. I think you will find that if you work at it, you can achieve anything you want. Now people often say to me, "What specific advice do you have for people going out there? Should you go into nanotechnology or bioengineering or investment banking?" Well, I guess fewer people ask about investment banking these days. I will say honestly: I have no idea. I don't know what will be the trends of the future, the waves of the future, the industries of the future. But one thing I do know is that human beings will reward and honor those talents of heart and mind they have always honored for 10,000 years. Those are intelligence, hard work, discipline, courage, loyalty and, perhaps above all, love and faith. Those are the qualities that, at the end of the day, make you live a great life, one that perhaps is rewarded by the outside world, and a good life, one that is rewarded only by those who know you best. And those are the things to strive for, as they have always been. Those are the things that people built statues for 5,000 years ago. That's what people will build statues for today. Well, nobody builds statues any more, they build weird modernist doodads with pieces of metal falling off of them, but you get my idea. The point is just trust yourself; you know what you should do. You know the kind of life you should live. You don't need an ethics course to know what you shouldn't do. Just trust in your instincts, be true to them and you will make for yourself a great life.
I said to you that I don't have any grand piece of practical advice or wisdom at my age but there is one thing that I will tell you in conclusion that I am absolutely sure of. For all of you who are graduating students, trust me, you cannot possibly understand the love that your parents have for you until you have children of your own. So on Mother's Day, make sure you go out and hug your mom and tell her you love her.
Secrets Revealed of the 2007 Israeli Strike against the Syrian al-Kibar Nuclear Facility
Amidst the plethora of allegations of official leaking of covert ops from the White House and In Jerusalem, there is new book out, Israel versus Iran: The Shadow War co-authored by Jerusalem Post military analyst Yaakov Katz and Yoaz Hendel. With all the news about IDF Unit 8200 on cyber warfare, Stuxnet and Mossad, it is instructive to read this excerpt published in today’s Jerusalem Post. The excerpt contains background on what led to the successful IDF strike that demolished the Syrian al-Kibar nuclear bomb factory in September 2007.
Clare Lopez, V.P. of the Intelligence Summit told us that their research indicated that components/elements of the nuclear reactor may have come from the uncompleted installation of late Saddam Hussein. Iraqi truckers interviewed indicated that the ultimate destination of those shipments in early 2003 was the out in desert on the outskirts Syrian city of Dayr az-Zawr located on the southern banks of the Euphrates River. The information was derived from translations of Saddam Hussein's audio tapes.
The fascinating aspects of this excerpt are the means by which the Israelis acquired the target intelligence and the involvement of the Islamic Republic and its partner the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) in funding and building the al-Kibar nuclear bomb factory. A motivating factor for accomplishing the successful attack was the retrieval of reputation of former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert frequently discredited for his disastrous management of the IDF conduct of the Second Lebanon War in July 2006 against Hezbollah. The book may provide insight in how the IDF might conduct covert ops against Iran’s nuclear program using Israel’s high tech weapon arsenal.
As in other operations by the Mossad, this one – in late 2006 – also began when Unit 8200, the IDF’s Signal Intelligence unit, incidentally intercepted a phone conversation and an electronic reservation a senior Syrian official in Damascus had made in a London hotel.
According to various reports, Israeli and US agencies had tapped the Syrian official’s communication lines since 2002. He had cultivated contacts over the years with North Korea, and his numerous trips to Pyongyang had attracted the attention of the CIA and Mossad.
At this stage though, the existence of a Syrian nuclear program was based simply on speculation and mainly on a number of phone calls between North Korea and a place in northeastern Syria called al-Kibar intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
While antennas at Unit 8200’s base north of Tel Aviv received the Syrian official’s reservation, a group of young agents sitting not far away at Mossad headquarters were busy discussing the Second Lebanon War.
Similar to the rest of the Israeli defense establishment, the Mossad was not immune to public criticism after the war. For two years, Mossad agents had carried out dozens of secret missions and had risked their lives to collect information about Iran and its proxies scattered across the Middle East. They had paid particular attention to the smuggling routes Iran used for its nuclear project and scrutinized the smallest clues related to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ activities in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere.
Some of this information enabled the Israel Air Force to destroy Hezbollah’s long-range missile arsenal on the first night of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Nevertheless, the intelligence achievements and successful covert operations could not prevent the agents at Mossad headquarters from castigating themselves.
The young men and women in the espionage agency were part of the Mossad’s Caesarea Branch, known for its covert operations overseas. Despite the months that had passed, they were still frustrated for having been “frozen” during the war. All of the men had served in combat units; almost all of them had undergone arduous training. But during the war, the Mossad did not let them enlist with the reserves. “You are too valuable,” explained the head of the department, himself a graduate of an elite IDF unit. “Besides, think about if you were needed for an immediate operation here.”
The war was still on everyone’s mind, and the decision makers were preoccupied with public relations aimed at saving Prime Minister Olmert’s image and with approving operational plans for the army. They pushed the Mossad aside.
The call that came through on the red secure phone startled everyone in the room. On the line was the head of the department, who updated them about the Syrian official’s trip to London. The agents were familiar with the protocol in these situations and immediately set preparations to put a new operation into motion.
Two days later, after studying the Syrian official’s facial features and the layout of the prestigious London hotel where he was supposed to be staying; the agents split up and boarded various planes to different destinations. They would rendezvous at the European capital and wait for their target at the airport and the hotel.
During their last briefing before leaving on the mission, their instructions had strongly emphasized gaining access to the official’s laptop or, to be more exact, the information it contained. Two days after arriving at the hotel, the intelligence operatives had reportedly succeeded in installing a Trojan horse on the computer and gleaning all of its contents.
The hard drive contained construction plans, letters, and hundreds of photos that showed the al-Kibar complex at various stages of its development. In photos from 2002 the construction site resembled a tree house on stilts, complete with suspicious-looking pipes leading to a pumping station at the Euphrates. Later photos showed concrete piers and roofs, which apparently were meant to make the building look inconspicuous from above or as if a shoebox had been placed over the structure to conceal it.
The pictures of the facility’s interior, however, left no room for doubt. The Syrians had built a nuclear reactor.
Despite the signs and speculations during the two years preceding the Mossad’s operation, the agents still found this evidence shocking. No one in Israel’s intelligence establishment had imagined that Syrian president Bashar Assad, who had succeeded his father seven years earlier, had decided to break all known taboos and defy all intelligence assessments to develop a nuclear bomb. Most startling was the advanced stage at which Syria’s program was discovered.
The intelligence community also was taken aback by the discovery that Iran was involved and had provided funding and support so that Syria could build a reactor right across the border from Israel and at a time when the future of Iran’s own nuclear program was so unclear. Officials in the CIA, the Mossad, and the IDF’s Aman scoured old files, searching for clues that they might have overlooked and categorized as insignificant but could now help piece together the Syrian nuclear puzzle.
It was possibly the biggest intelligence discovery since the beginning of the decade. (READ MORE)
Religious Freedom Disappears from State Department Human Rights Report
May 24th the US State Department Released a delayed annual Report on Human Rights without any reference to Religious Freedom sections for countries swept up in the Arab Spring and others in the Muslim ummah. This smacks of compliance with Organization of Islamic Cooperation Islamaphobia diktats. Perhaps it is a reflection of last December's Istanbul Process gathering on UNHRC Res/ 16/18 with OIC member nations, other foreign represetatives, US Department of Justice and Homeland Security repersentatives seeking best practices about 'combating intelorance' meaning criticism of Islam. The deracination of religious freedom findings, especially in OIC Muslim countries makes Christian and other endangered religious minorities virtual non-persons with no human rights under Shariah. This action on the part of the State Department means that the only governmental group responding to the lack of religious freedom in the Muslim world is the Congressionaly-chartered US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), that nearly didn't receive a three year lease on life last December. When that the last USCIRF Annual report on Religlious Freedom was issued, it only covered 2010, just prior to the eruption of the Arab Spring. Is the Obama Administration sending a message about its priorities on Human rights - excluding something we thought paramount under our Constitution, religious freedom?
This action is beyond apalling; it smacks of appeasement to the OIC. But that is nothing new from an Administration engaged in dilaogue with the Muslim Brotherhood here at home and more recently at the Saban Center Brookings Instiuttion 9th US -Islam World Forum in Qatar.
The U.S. State Department removed the sections covering religious freedom from the Country Reports on Human Rights that it released on May 24, three months past the statutory deadline Congress set for the release of these reports.
The new human rights reports--purged of the sections that discuss the status of religious freedom in each of the countries covered--are also the human rights reports that include the period that covered the Arab Spring and its aftermath.
Thus, the reports do not provide in-depth coverage of what has happened to Christians and other religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East that saw the rise of revolutionary movements in 2011 in which Islamist forces played an instrumental role.
Leonard Leo, who recently completed a term as chairman of the USCIRF, says that removing the sections on religious freedom from the State Department's Country Reports on Human Roghts is a bad idea.
Since 1998, when Congress created USCIRF, the State Department has been required to issue a separate yearly report specifically on International Religious Freedom.
But a section reporting on religious freedom has also always been included in the State Department's legally required annual country-by-country reports on human rights--that is, until now.
And this is the first year the State Department would have needed to report on the effect the Arab Spring has had on religious freedom in the Middle East--had its reports, as always before, included a section on religious freedom.
“The commission that I served on has some real concerns about that bifurcation, because the human rights reports receive a lot of attention, and to have pulled religious freedom out of it means that fewer people will obtain information about what’s going on with that particular freedom or right. So you don’t have the whole picture because they split it up now,” Leo told CNSNews.com.
Former U.S. diplomat Thomas Farr says it’s possible that the move to totally separate religious freedom from the human rights reports could simply be a bureaucratic maneuver.
But another possibility is much more likely.
“The other possibility is the Obama administration is downplaying international religious freedom,” Farr said.
Farr, who served in the State Department under both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, was the first director of the Office of International Religious Freedom.
“I mean, it is important to note here that I do not know--I have no personal knowledge of the logic that went into removing religious freedom from the broader human rights report; but I also have observed during the three-and-a-half years of the Obama administration that the issue of religious freedom has been distinctly downplayed,” Farr said
Currently a visiting associate professor of religion and world affairs in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Farr directs the program on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy and the Project on Religious Freedom at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown.
He told CNSNews.com that far more resources have been allocated by the Obama administration to other human rights issues than have been directed toward religious freedom.
“(T)he ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, for example, who is the official charged by the law to lead U.S. religious freedom policy, did not even step foot into her office until two-and-a-half years were gone of a four-year administration,” he said.
“Whereas other human rights priorities of the administration, such as the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, were in place within months. So that tells you something.
“It tells me that this has never been a priority for the Obama administration, and it’s not now,” he said.
“So it seems to me plausible to at least question the removal of religious freedom from the human rights report, although, as I say, there could be other explanations, less insidious, if you will.”