Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kids Traumatized as Israeli Bombs Rain Down

From ArabNews.com - December 31, 2008

Kids traumatized as Israeli bombs rain down
GAZA CITY: "We are scared ... that we can die at any moment," said 11-year-old Mohammed Ayyad, still terrified hours after a massive Israeli bombardment of Hamas government buildings next to his house in Gaza.

Like the rest of Gaza's children, he has been traumatized by the four-day assault on Islamist Hamas targets which has transformed many areas of the overcrowded territory into piles of rubble and shattered glass.

"As they were hitting the center (of Gaza City), we heard an enormous explosion and our house was filled with dust," he said. "We immediately ran toward the ground floor." His six-year-old brother Ahmad "peed his pants. We were all scared because the planes are in the sky all the time and we could die at any moment."

Schools in Gaza have been closed since the Israeli strikes began on Saturday and children have passed the time examining the damage caused by the raids.

Near Ayyad's home, a group of children milled around rubble that used to be Hamas government buildings. One shrugged off the danger of being outside as the Israeli warplanes continued their sorties overhead. "I run the same risk if I am at home or in the street," he said.

Another boy, Mohammed Bassal, said he and his brothers were shaken awake by explosions in the night. "Debris from the broken windows fell on our heads, the electricity was cut off and we started screaming," he said. "My mother came and hugged us."

His 12-year-old brother Nidal added: "We're still scared. The Jews are crazy and they don't spare anyone, even children." Iyad Al-Sayagh, a mother who lives in the area, called the bombardment "a night of horror, the way the earth shook."

After the strikes began "I immediately got my kids down to my father's, who lives on the ground floor," she said. "With each missile the little ones became hysterical." The overnight raids "turned the night in Gaza into hell," said Sarah Radi, a 29-year-old teacher. "They say that they want to destroy Hamas, but it's not true. They want to annihilate the Palestinian people. What did the women and children do that they destroy their houses?"

According to Gaza medics, at least 39 children under 16 years of age have died as a result of the Israeli savage bombardment that have killed at least 367 Palestinians in Gaza since Saturday.

Among the latest victims were two sisters aged four and 11. "What's happening is a massacre that Gazans will remember for always," warned Samir Zaqut, a psychologist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP).

"When 360 people die under the bombs and the missiles, this causes post-traumatic stress amid children and adults, like depression, insomnia and schizophrenia," he added. The UN children's agency UNICEF has said it is "deeply concerned about the impact of the current violence in Gaza on children."

It urged "all parties to the conflict to abide by their international legal obligation to ensure that children are protected and that they receive essential humanitarian supplies and support."

Fires continue to burn across the Gaza Strip's main city, where five government buildings were badly damaged in air attacks. Rescue workers said 40 people were injured yesterday when warplanes dropped more than a dozen bombs on the government compound.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross says a delegation that visited Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa, has found conditions there had stabilized. "The situation is difficult but increasingly under control," Florian Westphal told The Associated Press.

Violence Against Women in Balochistan (Pakistan) Increased in 2008

From the Daily Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Violence against women in Balochistan increased in 2008

* NGO says 115 of 600 cases were of 'honour' killing
* Dialogue participant says nationalist and communal sentiments, colonial mindset confront those protesting against violence

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Aurat Foundation, a non-governmental organisation working for women's rights, has said violence against women in Balochistan intensified in 2008, but Baloch society still adopts a defensive attitude and justifies the killing of women in the name of honour and tradition.

In a dialogue with media representatives on 'Problems in accessibility of information about violence against women' on Monday, the organisation said Baloch women were victims of violence due to widespread illiteracy, entrenched tribal traditions, distorted interpretation of Islam and economic dependence of women on men.

Cases: The organisation said around 600 cases of violence against women were reported in 2008, which included the murder of 89 women in the first nine months of the year. At least 115 women were murdered in cases of honour killing. The reported cases included 255 incidents of women being subjected to domestic violence. People are unwilling to discuss the violence as a majority of Balochistan people justify such acts in the name of tradition, it said. In some other cases, violence against women in rural areas remains unreported in media because of inaccessibility of the area as well as the dominance of men in society, who believe the publication of reports of violence against women amounts to the disrepute of their respective tribes.

The year's most disturbing news concerning the plight of women came from Naseerabad district in Balochistan, where five women were allegedly buried alive by tribal elders in the name of honour. Federal Minister Mir Israrullah Zehri and Senate Deputy Speaker Jan Muhammad Jamli defended the incident on the Senate floor and called it "a part of Baloch traditions" and the government failed to expose the culprits and the motives behind the killings. The Naseerabad killings still remain a mystery. "Violence against women is a global phenomenon. It takes place in different parts of the world under varying pretexts," Aurat Foundation Balochistan Co-ordinator Saima Javaid said. She said, "Our biggest concern is that such violence is unabated, rampant and unnoticed." Dostain Khan Jamaldini, a researcher, said various hurdles hindered objective reporting of women's issues in the province. He said violence against women is not taken seriously or addressed at the community level.

Confront: Nationalist as well as communal sentiments and a colonial mindset confront those protesting violence against women. Political leaders remain defensive on the issue, and describe media and NGO reporting as an intrusion in internal matters and traditions. Similarly, communal segments of society dismiss such reports as Western propaganda against Islam. "We need to set our house in order before becoming defensive. The poor state of women's rights is a bitter reality in our society and we cannot ignore this serious matter for long under different subterfuges," Jamaldini said. The participants of the day-long dialogue agreed that print and electronic media could best highlight violence against women by describing it as a practice being promoted in the name of Islam and tribal traditions. Journalists and scholars should not use unqualified religious leaders as their primary source in write-ups and reports. Those who contend that Islam is responsible for the suppression of women and violence against women are oblivious to the true teachings of the religion. Islam gives equal status to women in the social, educational and economic spheres, according to one of the speakers.

Illahuddin Khilji, another Aurat Foundation representative, said gender discrimination towards women by male lawmakers, journalists and religious scholars contributed to 'biased reporting' of events, while their female counterparts often exaggerated the issues in their reports.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Premarital Sex on Rise as Iranians Delay Marriage, Survey FInds

From the Guardian

Premarital sex on rise as Iranians delay marriage, survey finds

   * Robert Tait
   * The Guardian, Monday 29 December 2008

Rising numbers of Iranians are spurning marriage and having sex illegally outside wedlock, Iran's state-run body for youth affairs has said.

A survey by the national youth organisation found that more than one in four men aged 19 to 29 had experienced sex before marriage. About 13% of such cases resulted in unwanted pregnancies that led to abortions. Sex outside marriage and abortion are outlawed under Iran's Islamic legal code.

The survey also revealed that the average marrying age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women, a blow to the government's goal of promoting marriage to shore up society's Islamic foundations.

The statistics were disclosed by the national youth organisation's social-cultural deputy, Ali Alkbar Asarnia, at a conference celebrating family values and were widely reported in Iranian media. However, the organisation later attempted to dismiss the findings as based on an unrepresentative sample and attacked media outlets that reported them.

Asarnia said Iran had around 15 million single young people and that 1.5 million more were becoming eligible for marriage each year. Seven million were already past the government's recommended marrying guideline age of 29. The trend was producing the "unpleasant and dangerous social side effects" of premarital sex, Asarnia said.

The government has already tried to boost the marriage rate, which had an unprecedented 1.2% decline in 2005. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced a £720m "Reza love fund" - named after one of Shia Islam's 12 imams - to provide marriage loans. Plans have been announced to establish marriage bureaux to help people find partners.

Many blame economic circumstances for their failure to marry, citing high inflation, unemployment and a housing shortage along with cultural traditions that expect brides' families to provide dowries and husbands to commit themselves to mehrieh, an agreed cash gift.

However, Hojatoleslam Ghasem Ebrahimipour, a sociologist, told Shabestan news agency that the trend was due to the availability of premarital sex, and feminism among educated women. "When a woman is educated and has an income, she does not want to accept masculine domination through marriage," he said.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Human Rights Watch Calls for Iran to Free AIDS Doctors

From Human Rights Watch

Iran: Free AIDS Doctors

Alaei Brothers Held for 6 Months on Illegitimate Charges

December 22, 2008

(New York, December 22, 2008) - On the six-month anniversary of Iran's detention of Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kamiar Alaei - Iranian brothers who are internationally known as HIV/AIDS physicians - international nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, and medical leaders from across the globe are asking Iran to free them immediately.

The doctors have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since late June 2008. They were indicted this month on charges of communicating with an "enemy government" according to their attorney, Masoud Shafie. Iran should drop these illegitimate and politically motivated charges, the groups and leaders said.

In an exclusive interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), Shafie said that the brothers have been indicted under article 508 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states that anyone found guilty of communicating with an "enemy government" shall be sentenced for one to 10 years in prison.

Bringing this charge against the Alaeis is likely to have a chilling effect on the Iranian medical community's ability to share their work and learn from global experts, which could undermine the health of the Iranian people.

The brothers have already been detained two months longer than Iranian penal code allows. According to Shafie, Articles 30-34 of the Code of Penal Procedure of the Islamic Republic of Iran allow for detentions but require that the investigating judge issue such detention orders for one month at a time and for no longer than four months.

The brothers are also legally eligible for bail, but the judge in the case has not issued bail or held a bail hearing.

More than 3,100 people from more than 85 countries have signed an online petition demanding their release, which can be viewed at http://iranfreethedocs.org/.

Several of the world's most accomplished HIV/AIDS and health experts have signed a letter urging the Alaei brothers' release, including: the Global Fund executive director, Professor Michel Kazatchkine; the Partners in Health co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer; Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, 2008 MacArthur Foundation Fellow MPH; Hossam E. Fadel, MD, of the Islamic Medical Association of North America; a 1993 Nobel laureate in medicine, Sir Richard Roberts PhD, FRS; and the Ugandan AIDS pioneer Dr. Peter Mugyenyi.

Dr. Kamiar Alaei is a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health in Albany, New York and was expected to resume his studies there this fall. In 2007, he received a master of science degree in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Dr. Arash Alaei is the former director of the International Education and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Since 1998, the Alaeis have been carrying out HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, particularly focused on harm reduction for injecting drug users.

In addition to their work in Iran, the Alaei brothers have held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers, and have worked to encourage regional cooperation among 12 Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Their efforts expanded the expertise of doctors in the region, advanced the progress of medical science, and earned Iran recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health Organization.

Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book

From the New York Times - December 22, 2008

Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book

David Ahntholz for The New York Times

Michael Muhammad Knight, the author of "The Taqwacores," which a college professor has called "The Catcher in the Rye" for young Muslims.

Published: December 22, 2008

CLEVELAND — Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called "The Taqwacores," about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

"This book helped me create my identity," said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. "When I finally read the book for myself," she said, "it was an amazing experience."

The novel is "The Catcher in the Rye" for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

Now the underground success of Muslim punk has resulted in a low-budget independent film based on the book.

A group of punk artists living in a communal house in Cleveland called the Tower of Treason offered the house as the set for the movie. The crumbling streets and boarded-up storefronts of their neighborhood resemble parts of Buffalo. Filming took place in October, and the movie will be released next year, said Eyad Zahra, the director.

"To see these characters that used to live only inside my head out here walking around, and to think of all these kids living out parts of the book, it's totally surreal," Mr. Muhammad Knight, 31, said as he roamed the movie set.

As part of the set, a Muslim punk rock musician, Marwan Kamel, 23, painted "Osama McDonald," a figure with Osama bin Laden's face atop Ronald McDonald's body. Mr. Kamel said the painting was a protest against imperialism by American corporations and against Wahhabism, the strictest form of Islam.

Noureen DeWulf, 24, an actress who plays a rocker in the movie, defended the film's message.

"I'm a Muslim and I'm 100-percent American," Ms. DeWulf said, "so I can criticize my faith and my country. Rebellion? Punk? This is totally American."

The novel's title combines "taqwa," the Arabic word for "piety," with "hardcore," used to describe many genres of angry Western music.

For many young American Muslims, stigmatized by their peers after the Sept. 11 attacks but repelled by both the Bush administration's reaction to the attacks and the rigid conservatism of many Muslim leaders, the novel became a blueprint for their lives.

"Reading the book was totally liberating for me," said Areej Zufari, 34, a Muslim and a humanities professor at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Fla.

Ms. Zufari said she had listened to punk music growing up in Arkansas and found "The Taqwacores" four years ago.

"Here was someone as frustrated with Islam as me," she said, "and he expressed it using bands I love, like the Dead Kennedys. It all came together."

The novel's Muslim characters include Rabeya, a riot girl who plays guitar onstage wearing a burqa and leads a group of men and women in prayer. There is also Fasiq, a pot-smoking skater, and Jehangir, a drunk.

Such acts — playing Western music, women leading prayer, men and women praying together, drinking, smoking — are considered haram, or forbidden, by millions of Muslims.

Mr. Muhammad Knight was born an Irish Catholic in upstate New York and converted to Islam as a teenager. He studied at a mosque in Pakistan but became disillusioned with Islam after learning about the sectarian battles after the death of Muhammad.

He said he wrote "The Taqwacores" to mend the rift between his being an observant Muslim and an angry American youth. He found validation in the life of Muhammad, who instructed people to ignore their leaders, destroy their petty deities and follow only Allah.

After reading the novel, many Muslims e-mailed Mr. Muhammad Knight, asking for directions to the next Muslim punk show. Told that no such bands existed, some of them created their own, with names like Vote Hezbollah and Secret Trial Five.

One band, the Kominas, wrote a song called "Suicide Bomb the Gap," which became Muslim punk rock's first anthem.

"As Muslims, we're not being honest if we criticize the United States without first criticizing ourselves," said Mr. Kamel, 23, who grew up in a Syrian family in Chicago. He is lead singer of the band al-Thawra, "the Revolution" in Arabic.

For many young American Muslims, the merger of Islam and rebellion resonated.

Hanan Arzay, 15, is a daughter of Muslim immigrants from Morocco who lives in East Islip, N.Y. In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, pedestrians threw eggs and coffee cups at the van that transported her to a Muslim school, she said, and one person threw a wine bottle, shattering the van's window.

At school, her Koran teacher threw chalk at her for requesting literal translations of the holy book, Ms. Arzay said. After she was expelled from two Muslim schools, her uncle gave her "The Taqwacores."

"This book is my lifeline," Ms. Arzay said. "It saved my faith."

David Ahntholz for The New York Times

Noureen DeWulf and Bobby Naderi, both actors, with Jay Verkamp, center, the sound mixer for the film version of Mr. Knight's novel. The film was shot in Cleveland.

Friday, December 19, 2008

ILGA delegation rallies support for UN statement

From ILGA - the International Lesbian and Gay Association

ILGA delegation rallies support for UN statement

UN: 66 States Condemn Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender


The statement read by Argentina and the counterstatement read by the Syrian
Arab Republic that immediately followed can be seen respectively at 2:25:00
and at 2:32:00 in the video archived on the UN website and marked as "18
December 08 General Assembly: 70th and 71st plenary meeting - Morning


ILGA delegation rallies support for UN statement
UN: 66 States Condemn Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender

(New York, December 18, 2008) – In a powerful victory for the principles of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 66 nations at the UN General
Assembly today supported a groundbreaking statement confirming that
international human rights protections include sexual orientation and gender
identity. It is the first time that a statement condemning rights abuses
against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has been presented in
the General Assembly.

The statement read by Argentina and the counterstatement read by the Syrian
Arab Republic that immediately followed can be seen respectively at 2:25:00
and at 2:32:00 in the video archived on the UN website and marked as "18
December 08 General Assembly: 70th and 71st plenary meeting - Morning


A delegation of international activists was present in New York to lobby UN
missions of various states. Thanks to the presence of the activists, it was
possible to rally more support for the declaration calling for
decriminalization of homosexuality. The presence of the delegation in New
York was made possible by the financial contributions of the Ministries of
Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Germany and the Netherlands to ILGA and
the cooperation with COC Netherlands.

The components of the delegation were:
Belissa Andia, ILGA Trans-secretariat, Instituto Runa (Peru)
Linda Baumann, Pan Africa ILGA, Rainbow Project (Namibia)
Gloria Careaga, co-secretary general ILGA, El Closet de Sor Juana (Mexico)
Beto de Jesus, ILGA-LAC, ABGLT (Brasil)
Anna Kirey, ILGA-Asia, Labrys (Kyrgyzstan)
Rev. Jide Macaulay, Pan Africa ILGA, House of Rainbow (Nigeria)
Pedro Paradiso Sottile, ILGA-LAC, CHA, Comunidad Homosexual Argentina
Renato Sabbadini, co-secretary general ILGA, Arcigay (Italy)

The mission was coordinated by John Fisher and Kim Vance of Arc-
International with the help of Joyce Hamilton and Bjorn van Roozendaal of
COC Netherlands.

The statement drew unprecedented support from five continents, including six
African nations. Argentina read the statement before the General Assembly. A
cross-regional group of states coordinated the drafting of the statement,
also including Brazil, Croatia, France, Gabon, Japan, the Netherlands, and

The 66 countries reaffirmed "the principle of non-discrimination, which
requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of
sexual orientation or gender identity." They stated they are "deeply
concerned by violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms based on
sexual orientation or gender identity," and said that "violence, harassment,
discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice are directed against
persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or
gender identity."

The statement condemned killings, torture, arbitrary arrest, and
"deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to
health." The participating countries urged all nations to "promote and
protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and
gender identity," and to end all criminal penalties against people because
of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to calculations by ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
Transgender and Intersex Association) and other organizations, more than six
dozen countries still have laws against consensual sex between adults of the
same sex.

The majority of these laws were left behind by colonial rulers (see Human
Rights Watch report The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core UN
treaty, held in a historic 1994 decision that such laws are rights
violations – and that human rights law forbids discrimination based on
sexual orientation.

Human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity
happen regularly around the world. For example:

• In the United States, Amnesty International has documented serious
patterns of police abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
people, including incidents amounting to torture and ill-treatment. The
United States refused to sign the General Assembly statement.

• In Egypt, Human Rights Watch documented a massive crackdown on men
suspected of homosexual conduct between 2001-2004, in which hundreds or
thousands of men were arrested and tortured. Egypt actively opposed the
General Assembly statement.

• The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has documented
how, in many African countries, sodomy laws and prejudice deny rights
protections to Africans engaged in same-sex practices amid the HIV/AIDS
pandemic – and can actually criminalize outreach to affected groups.

The signatories overcame intense opposition from a group of governments that
regularly try to block UN attention to violations based on sexual
orientation and gender identity. Only 57 states signed an alternative text
promoted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. While affirming the
"principles of non-discrimination and equality," they claimed that universal
human rights did not include "the attempt to focus on the rights of certain

At first, the Holy See had voiced strong opposition to the General Assembly
statement. Its opposition sparked severe criticism by human rights defenders
worldwide. In a significant reversal, however, the Holy See indicated to the
General Assembly today that it called for repeal of criminal penalties for
homosexual conduct.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, and the General Assembly statement reaffirms the reach and breadth
of UDHR principles. The statement is non-binding, but restates what UN human
rights bodies have repeatedly said: that no one should face rights
violations because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Navanetham Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, strongly
supported the statement. In a videotaped message, she cited South Africa's
1996 decision to protect sexual orientation in its Constitution. She pointed
to the "task and challenge to move beyond a debate on whether all human
beings have rights," to "secure the climate for implementation."

Since the Human Rights Committee's landmark decision in 1994, United Nations
experts have repeatedly acted against abuses that target lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender people, including killings, torture, rape,
violence, disappearances, and discrimination in many areas of life. UN
treaty bodies have called on states to end discrimination in law and policy.

Other international bodies have also opposed violence and discrimination
based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including the Council of
Europe and the European Union. In 2008, all 34 member countries of the
Organization of American States unanimously approved a declaration affirming
that human rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender

Earlier in the day, the General Assembly also adopted a resolution
condemning extrajudicial executions, which contained a reference opposing
killings based on sexual orientation. Uganda moved to delete that reference,
but the General Assembly rejected this by 78-60.

The signatories to the General Assembly statement are:
Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Central
African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece,
Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia,
Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro,
Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Poland,
Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Slovakia,
Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

For more information, please contact the following organizations issuing
this statement:
Amnesty International (in New York, Kate Sheill: +44-79-0439-8439)
ARC International (in Canada, Kim Vance: +1-902-488-6404)
Center for Women's Global Leadership (in New York, Cynthia Rothschild:
+1-917- 318-3593)
COC Netherlands (in New York: Björn van Roozendaal +31-62-255-8300)
Global Rights (in Washington, DC, Stefano Fabeni: +1-202-741-5049)
Human Rights Watch (in New York, Scott Long: +1-646-641-5655)
ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex
Association (in New York, Renato Sabbadini: +39-335-60-67-158 – In Brussels,
Inter-LGBT France (in New York, Philippe Colomb: +33-68-985-3109)
International Committee for IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) (in
New York, Louis-Georges Tin: +33-61-945-4552)
IGLHRC (in New York, Hossein Alizadeh: +1-212-430-6016)


Sunday, December 7, 2008

'Absolute Perversion of Islam' - Dr. Eboo Patel

From Rediff.com - December 4, 2008

Dr Eboo Patel, second from left, with Interfaith youth activists

'Absolute perversion of Islam'

Arthur J Pais in New York | December 04, 2008 | 17:27 IST

Chicago-based interfaith leader Dr Eboo (Ebrahim) Patel had seen enough of images of the Mumbai terror attacks; he had grieved for the dead and injured, and he had wondered why such attacks took place.

There was nothing left to shock, to move him, he thought.

"And then suddenly I saw this picture of the young boy, Moshe, besides his parents' coffin in Israel," Dr Patel, executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, said of the 2-year-old child of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah, who were slain by terrorists at Nariman House in Colaba, south Mumbai.

"I thought of my own son Zayd, who is almost the same age as Moshe," Dr Patel said. "And the more I thought of what had happened in Mumbai, I thought it was the absolute perversion of the cause of Islam."

Whatever the injustices, perceived or real, that prompted the attack, he said violence was not the solution.

"One does not solve the problem of the suffering of one group by inflicting suffering on another group," said the Mumbai-born Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University.

"The terrorists did not merely intend to kill and maim the innocent who happened to be at the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel or the Nariman House," Dr Patel said. "They intended to provoke a 'clash of civilisations', pitting Hindu against Muslim, India against Pakistan."

"The best way to honour those killed and injured in these attacks, and the best way to show solidarity with the people of Mumbai, is to work to defuse the crisis that these terrorists seek to advance," he said.

"We can do this by promoting religious pluralism -- the idea that we must respect, affirm and uphold one another's identities, and work together to advance the common good. We must take this message to the young throughout the world."

It was an elaboration of a thought he has often expressed in the past, as in an interview some years ago wherein he said, 'Only the smallest part of humanity wishes and acts upon the destruction of others. The pluralists are far larger. Those of us who believe in a world where we live together, we're far larger. The problem is we haven't made our case compelling across the world yet.'

It is this gap Dr Patel has been attempting to bridge, by bringing young men and women from different communities together and fostering interfaith understanding. As he, along with the rest of the world, monitored the Mumbai attacks as it developed, the urgency of this task was further impressed on him.

"My grandmother lived close to the Taj," Dr Patel said. "She welcomed people of all faiths in her home. She was known as Ashraf maaji (mother) to everyone, be it a Hindu, Christian or a Muslim. I learned the meaning of pluralism by watching her."

He had stayed with his grandmother for a few days some 10 years ago, along with a dear friend Kevin Coval, a Jew.

"My grandmother knew he was Jewish, and it did not bother her even for a minute."

Dr Patel, the author of Acts of Faith, a book that looks at the phenomenon of violence by young people, says his organisation is thinking of building bases in Mumbai and other Indian cities to further his aim of bringing young people of different faiths together.

"It appears that most of the terrorists involved in this incident are young people," he pointed out. "There is a youth bulge in religiously volatile regions of the world -- couple that with the phenomenon of a global religious revival, and we must acknowledge that heinous crimes like those we just witnessed are not going to cease on their own."

People with resources are training young people on the frontlines of terrorism, he points out. "Young people are being exploited by those with destructive end goals who have invested heavily in recruiting them. We need an equivalent investment in India, in Pakistan the United Kingdom, in America, in Canada to be made in young people who are focused on young people building interfaith cooperation."

Much of this is the thesis of his book.

"It is about how some young people become champions of religious pluralism while others become the foot soldiers of religious totalitarianism," he said. "Its central theme is simple: Influences matter, programmes count, mentors make a difference, institutions leave their mark."

"Every time we see a teenager kill someone in the name of God, we should picture a pair of shadowy hands behind him, showing him how to make the bomb or point the gun, giving him a manual with the prayers to say while committing murder, steadying his shaking hands with callused, steely ones, blessing him as he resolves to do the deed. And then we should ask: Why weren't the hands of people who care about pluralism shaping that kid instead of the hands of religious totalitarians?"

It is that sort of positive, benevolent influence the youth of the world lack, he believes. "We need people and groups with resources to be training young people to build relationships across difference, strengthen civil society, and serve the needs of their communities," Dr Patel says.

He believes Mumbai's need for an interfaith initiative is urgent.

"The cleaning up of the violence hit areas should involve various communities, and the healing process then would be growing in a natural way."

An opportunity to start such a project will come his way in 2009 when he, at the request of the United States government, will revisit sites in India that Martin Luther King Jr had visited 50 years ago.

"The greatest American visionary of the 20th century took great amount of inspiration from India," Dr Patel said. "Doesn't that thought inspire Indians to look at their own spiritual heritage and fight for a pluralistic society, where justice and dignity is possible for everyone?"

Complete coverage: Terror strikes at Mumbai's heart

URL for this article:
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Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai Attacks Stun South Asian; North American Muslim Organizations Condemn Terror Attacks

From the Daily Times of Pakistan - November 30, 2008

Mumbai attacks stun South Asia

* Civic bodies condemn attacks, demand swift justice
* Denounce terrorism, term attacks crime against humanity

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: While the Mumbai terrorist attacks have stunned the large South Asian population living in the capital and its adjoining areas, a number of Pakistani-American organisations have issued strong condemnations of the outrage and expressed sympathy for those who lost their lives.

The Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) denounced the brutal attacks that ended in the loss of innocent human lives. The group said it believes that no cause justifies indiscriminate attacks against civilians and no religion endorses terrorism.

The APPNA said it views these despicable acts in the context of global terrorism and considers them a vicious effort to further destabilise the region. While offering its deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and the wounded and expressing its solidarity with the people of India, APPNA urged Indo-Pak physicians living in North America to join hands and work towards bringing peace and prosperity to South Asia.

Expressing its profound sense of grief over the loss of precious lives in Mumbai, the American Muslim Alliance has condemned the co-ordinated terror attacks on India's premier city. The group said, "We urge the authorities to bring the culprits to justice. We also urge all concerned communities and countries to help restore calm and work for the eradication of the root causes of this violence."

The Islamic Medical Association of North America also condemned the terror strikes in Mumbai in the 'strongest possible terms', while expressing solidarity with the families of the victims.

Terrorism: Dr Hafeezur Rehman, president of the association, said, "No religion breeds terrorism and terrorism serves no good cause. Such heinous acts are crimes against humanity and they should be countered with the most severe response. Those responsible for these crimes against humanity must be brought to justice swiftly. Islam considers the use of terrorism for any purpose totally unacceptable."

The Pakistani American Leadership Centre strongly condemned the Mumbai attacks, which have left nearly 200 dead and close to 370 wounded. "Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and their loved ones," it said in a statement. The group said it is encouraged by the immediate repudiation of the attacks by the Pakistani government and notes that Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had just concluded talks in India with his Indian counterpart on terrorism, trade, and the loosening of visa restrictions between the two countries.

The statement hoped that discussions aimed at normalising Pakistan-India relations would continue, demonstrating the resolve of both nations to achieve sustainable peace for the benefit of the citizens of both countries and the world.

"Faced with the indiscriminate violence of terrorism, we must find our common humanity and unite to act as one against such acts to bring peace, prosperity, and stability to the region," the group said.

Mumbai: Behind the Attacks Lies a Story of Youth Twisted by Hate

From the Guardian - November 30, 2008

Mumbai: Behind the attacks lies a story of youth twisted by hate

The intense poverty and extreme religious culture of the southern Punjab have made the region a hotbed for Islamist terror groups. It is, claim the Indian media, the seedbed of last week's slaughter in Mumbai. Jason Burke travelled to the twin towns of Bahawalpur and Multan, home of alleged killer Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab, to discover what impels young men to unleash carnage.

Article continued from the Guardian.

Malaysia Should Adopt Iran's HIV Prevention Methods

From Bernama - Malaysian National News Agency

Malaysia Should Adopt Iran's HIV Prevention Methods - Noriah

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 (Bernama) -- Malaysia should adopt the HIV prevention methods of Iran as they have been acknowledged to be successful by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Noriah Kasnon said Iran had managed to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in HIV prevention in a Muslim country which was getting the endorsement of its clergy.

In her opening speech read by the Ministry's secretary-general Datuk Faizah Mohd Tahir, Noriah said Iran's AIDS prevention programme had been reported to be among the world's most progressive programmes.

She said Iran's harm-reduction programme had also been acclaimed by WHO as one of the most successful.

"The triangular clinic concept which integrates services for treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, injecting drug use and HIV/AIDS is something Malaysia would like to know about," Noriah said.

Faizah then launched the two-day joint seminar between Malaysia and the Islamic Republic of Iran on "Approaches to HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support", here, Monday.

Malaysia should also adopt a more spiritual aspect in eliminating stigmatisation and discrimination against HIV positives aside from using spirituality in enhancing current HIV prevention methods, the seminar also heard.

Iranian Shahid Behesti Medical University professor Dr Mohammad Esmaeel Akbari said HIV prevention methods taken from the West might not be as efficient in a Muslim country.

"In Islam, we are responsible for ourselves and our society. Stigmatisation and discrimination should not happen in Islamic society because as Muslims we are responsible for all our members.

"The clergy must also play a key role in educating the public on HIV prevention because we should not focus merely on the physical aspects of health but also on the spiritual aspects," Akbari said in his keynote address.

Pink Triangle Foundation chairman Hisham Hussein said that religious leaders played a key role in preventing HIV and discrimination as they had a strong influence on society through their sermons and advice.

He said although the foundation had advised the public on abstaining from sex outside of marriage and to stick true to moral and religious values, the reality was different.

"We are all human, sometimes we cannot help ourselves. I understand that giving free condoms can be a very sensitive issue with religious leaders. But we are not trying to promote extra marital sex.

"Stopping yourselves from committing the act is the best thing but being human, if you cannot stop yourselves, then practising safe sex is the next best thing," Hisham told Bernama.

Iran: More than 18,000 HIV-positive Citizens

 Iran has come out and revealed that there are over 18,000 citizens in the country who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS...........

From the Associated Press - December 1, 2008

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Monday that the country has registered more than 18,000 HIV-positive citizens and is worried that number could rise in a rare government disclosure about the AIDS causing virus.

Health Minister Kamran Bagheri Lankarani said increasingly Iranians were transmitting HIV through "illegal sexual relations," meaning adultery, prostitution and homosexuality, which are all illegal in Iran.

Talk of HIV, AIDS and sex outside of marriage is taboo in Iran, especially by government officials. Though Iranian officials have acknowledged HIV exists, it is also rare for the government to announce any figures or admit the virus was spreading through sexual contact.

"What we are worried about is a third wave of the AIDS epidemic through sexual contact given that a majority of our population are young people," Lankarani said on state television Monday to mark World AIDS Day.

Abbas Sedaqat, head of the ministry's AIDS Department, said the number of HIV infections was steadily increasing.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Iran | World Health Organization | Education Ministry | Welfare | World AIDS Day | HIV-positive

"There are 18,320 registered individuals who have tested HIV-positive, but the total number of Iranians infected with the deadly virus is estimated between 70,000 to 100,000," Sedaqat said. The U.N. AIDS agency estimates about 86,000 people are HIV-positive in Iran.

Sedaqat said about 69% of those infected were drug addicts who had used contaminated needles. The other 30% was through sexual contact, he said.

In recent years there also has been a growing interest in educating Iranians about HIV and AIDS. State television has shown programs emphasizing how the virus is transmitted and urging people to avoid sex outside of marriage.

The Education Ministry, which previously shunned AIDS awareness in schools, also recently permitted a booklet to be distributed to high school students that explained how HIV is transmitted, including information on sexual transmission. The materials also mentioned condoms but emphasized religion and family values — including avoiding sex outside of marriage. It also cautioned against using hypodermic syringes.

Iran's Social Security and Welfare, Abdolreza Mesri, said Monday that an effective policy to stop the spread of HIV was to provide marriage opportunities for young people.

More than half of Iran's 70 million people are under the age of 25, but economic hardships force many young people to delay getting married until they are older.

"Through promoting a culture of on-time marriage, many people can be saved from being infected with HIV now and in the future," the official IRNA news agency quoted Mesri as saying.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that about 33 million people have HIV.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nigeria: Islamic Group Educates Youths on HIV, Drugs

From AllAfrica.com

Islamic Group Educates Youths On HIV, Drugs

Daily Trust (Abuja)

7 November 2008
Posted to the web 7 November 2008

By Ahmed Mohammed Jos

The Muslim Aids Initiative (MAI) has educated youths in the 17 local government areas of Plateau State on the menace of HIV and drug abuse.

The sensitization workshop was organized by MAI in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Youth Development and the office of the Special Adviser on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the Bassa Local Government park and attended by hundreds of youths from within and outside Plateau State.

The coordinator of the group, Mohammad Hafizu advised the youths to know their HIV status and take preventive measures against the spread.

Coordinator Hafiz said about 4.2 million Nigerians were HIV-positive. He said at the end of the programme, they would examine the blood samples of all the youths that attended the workshop to let them know their HIV status, saying those that are positive would be assisted and advised on the best way to get medicine.

The representative of the Federal Ministry of Youth, Malam Abdullahi Mohammad warned the youths against drug abuse which he said is a dangerous thing that destroys brilliant future.

The representative of the Bassa Local Government Chairman, Prince Caleb Irmiya thanked the MAI for their initiative and advised them to take their campaign to all districts in the area and assured them of the government support.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Iranians Hope Obama Lives Up to His Name

From Time Magazine

An unidentified Iranian man wears a badge supporting President-elect Barack Obama in Tehran
An unidentified Iranian man wears a badge supporting President-elect Barack Obama in Tehran
Hasan Sarbakhshian / AP

Full article from Time.

Survey Shows High American Muslim Voter Turnout; 89% Picked Obama


Poll: 89 Percent of Muslim Voters Picked Obama
Survey shows high American Muslim voter turnout

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 11/7/2008) - The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) today released the results of a poll indicating that almost 90 percent of American Muslim voters picked Barack Obama in Tuesday's election. That survey of more than 600 American Muslim voters also indicated that just two percent of respondents cast their ballots for Sen. John McCain.

SEE: American Muslims Overwhelmingly Voted Democratic (Newsweek)

Poll Findings:

  • Of those who voted, 89 percent cast their ballot for Barack Obama.
  • Just two percent of respondents said they voted for John McCain.
  • Most of the respondents (78 percent) reside in ten states: Illinois, New York, Virginia, Michigan, California, Texas, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
  • Ninety-five percent of respondents said they voted in the presidential election, whether at the polls or by absentee ballot. This is the highest American Muslim voter turnout ever reported.
  • Of those who voted, almost 14 percent said they did so for the first time.
  • One-fourth of respondents said they volunteered for or donated money to a political campaign in this election.
  • American Muslim voters are increasingly identifying themselves with the Democratic Party. More than two-thirds said they consider themselves Democrats. Most of the rest, or 29 percent, still consider themselves independent. Only four percent said they are Republicans.
  • More than two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents said the economy was the most important issue that affected their voting decision. This was followed by 16 percent who said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the most important. (In January 2008, a sample of 1000 Muslim voters rated education and civil rights as the top issues.)

For complete poll results, click here.

At a news conference today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., representatives of AMT and partner organizations shared the results of the poll. Speaking at the news conference were AMT Chairman Dr. Agha Saeed, Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society-Freedom Foundation (MAS-FF), and Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

"We are pleased to see such a high turnout by American Muslim voters, particularly in states that helped determine the outcome of the election. This shows that the American Muslim community is fully engaged in civic life," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.

SEE: Muslims Drawn to Obama (Chicago Tribune)
SEE ALSO: Michigan Legislature Getting 1st Female Muslim (AP)

The poll, conducted by Genesis Research Associates, was commissioned by AMT. Random digit dialing was used to conduct phone interviews with individuals drawn from a large American Muslim voter database. A total of 637 Muslim voters were interviewed November 5 and 6, 2008. The margin of error is 3.87 percent.

AMT is an umbrella organization that includes: American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim American Society-Freedom Foundation (MAS-FF), Muslim Student Association-National (MSA-N), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), and United Muslims of America (UMA). AMT observer organizations include: Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and Islamic Educational Center of Orange County (IEC).

- END -

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail: ihooper@cair.com; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, E-Mail: arubin@cair.com

Monday, October 27, 2008

India: This Qazi is a Woman

From the Times of IndiaIndi - October 12, 2008

This Qazi is a woman

12 Oct 2008, 0239 hrs IST, Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN

Yojana Bhavan, at leafy Parliament Street in Lutyen's Delhi, is known more for planning the nation's destiny than housing a person whose heart
beats for poetry. But enter Room Number 111 at the Planning Commission's headquarters, and a poetic aura engulfs you. On a wall, complementing photographs of a woman captured in many moods are Urdu couplets by poet Kamla Bhasin. A couplet ponders: 'Desh mein aurat agar beaabru nashaad hai/Dil par rakh kar haath kahiye desh kya azaad hai? (If the country's women feel belittled and disheartened/ Put your hand on your heart and tell me if the country is free).'

It is in this room that Planning Commission member and activist Syeda Hameed spends most of her waking hours; that is, when she is not touring the backwaters of Muzaffarnagar in UP and Mewat in Haryana, chronicling the horror of 'honour' killings or scouring the villages of Orissa to fight the communal fires stoked by Hindutva's hate brigade. And it was in this room that she got a call from a Lucknow-based fellow activist, Naish, a couple of months ago. "She sounded desperate," Syeda recalls. "She told me that if I didn't agree to solemnise her nikaah with Imraan, also an activist, she would opt for a civil marriage."

What followed next was a historic and path-breaking step in the annals of Islam in India. On August 12 this year, after solemnising Naish's nikaah with Imraan, Syeda officially became India's first woman Qazi. The nikaah was also unusual because it had four women as witnesses instead of the traditional two male witnesses. A male witness was added at the last moment lest orthodox clerics declared the nikaah null and void.

Controversy trailed the event from word go. As the cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped, a frenzy gripped the lanes of Lucknow. Uninvited guests, including an intrusive media, showed up, sensationalising what was supposed to be a private affair. Someone approached an orthodox maulvi. "A nikaah solemnised by a woman Qazi is impractical and therefore not advisable," declared Maulana Khalid Rashid from Lucknow's Firangi Mahal, a religious organisation. Despite the severe criticism from orthodox clerics, Syeda remains steadfast: "It sent across a message that the time for change has come. Women can no longer be subjugated."

When the clergy couldn't find a convincing alibi because neither the Quran nor the Hadith (Prophet Mohammed's traditions) enjoins that only a male can officiate as a Qazi, a maulvi protested that some of the women at the ceremony had not covered their heads. "That is also an insinuation because the photographs and the videos of the marriage ceremony
prove that all the women had their heads well covered," says Syeda. Another maulvi declared that the nikaah was not legitimate because the Qazi was a Shia while the couple were Sunni Muslims. Syeda's reply is that in her family Shia-Sunni marriages were common. "My illustrious ancestor Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali was a Sunni. My mother was Shia while my father belonged to the Sunni sect. My sister is married to a Sunni. For the first time, I was made to realise that I am a Shia," explains Syeda who ensured that her three children, while growing up, imbibed Islam's eclectic spirit, not the divisive dogma propagated by some clerics.

Syeda says nothing inspires her more than the works of Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, the 19th-century Urdu poet. Musaddas-e-Hali (also called Ebb And Tide In Islam as it chronicles Islam's history in poetry) and Munaajat-e-Bewa (Lament Of The Widow) are some of his better known works. Hali's Munaajat, says Syeda, lambasts patriarchy and upholds the rights of women. "He was undeniably India's first feminist poet," she declares. And as we prepare to leave, hums another couplet on the wall: 'Chup hain lekin yeh na samjho hum sada ke haare hain/Raakh ke neeche abhi jal rahe angare hain (If I am silent, don't mistake it for my defeat/The embers beneath the ashes are burning).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Muslim-American Voices Heard in Presidential Race

From CNN - October 21, 2008

 Fatema Biviji, in white by sign, poses with members of the grassroots organization she founded in Texas.

Fatema Biviji, in white by sign, poses with members of the grassroots organization she founded in Texas.

State senate candidate Mohammad Ali Hasan with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a barbeque in Crawford, Texas.

State senate candidate Mohammad Ali Hasan with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a barbeque in Crawford, Texas.

A man cheers during day one of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado.

A man cheers during day one of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado.

By Ashley Fantz

(CNN) -- Muslim-Americans say they are more interested than ever before in the political process, in part because their religion has been reduced to a talking point in the presidential campaign.

Like many other Americans, the estimated 2.3 million Muslims living in the U.S. have been hurt by a limping economy, a problematic healthcare system and an unclear immigration policy. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also hit close to home.

Fatema Biviji, 32, had never given much thought to politics until she received an e-mail earlier this year that said -- falsely -- that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim. The Internet hoax, its origin unknown, was apparently intended to tie Obama to terrorism and swing support to his opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain.

"I was so mad," Biviji said. "The premise of that e-mail is that a person's religion should decide a person's character.

"We're America, the melting pot, the land of diversity, and that Americans would be buying into that psychology [of the e-mails] was upsetting," said the New Jersey-born Muslim, whose parents are from India. "The e-mail offended my American ideals."

Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a Christian and emphatically pledged his patriotism.

Biviji began to research Obama and could relate to his international background, his years in Indonesia as a young man, and his father's Kenyan roots. And his views on the issues aligned with hers.

So she began chatting with members of her community in Irving, Texas, encouraging people to register to vote and become more active. She began blogging about the presidential election and formed a grass-roots organization with about 100 members who have helped register dozens of people to vote, she said. Her blog is featured on Obama's campaign Web site.

But Biviji said it hasn't always been easy for Muslim-Americans to support candidates who don't usually seem to support them.

"Neither candidate has visited a mosque," said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group. "It might not be a gesture that's the politically right thing to do, but it's the morally right thing," Rehab said. CAIR has registered thousands of Muslim voters across the country.

He said he was approached by one of the major parties to run for office this year. But he decided against it.

"If you have one guy [Obama] who has a Muslim father that he really never knew and who isn't a Muslim being hounded, then imagine a guy like me who works so publicly in support of rights for Muslims," said Rehab. "I'm not sure I want to go through that."

But Asma Hasan, a 34-year-old from Colorado who writes the blog "Glamocracy" for Glamour magazine, said she thinks Muslims are more likely to jump into the political fray. "I think people tend to be more open to different points of view now than they were before," she said. "It's not a perfect environment, but it's getting better."

Her brother Mohammad Ali Hasan, 28, is Muslim and Republican.

He is running for a Colorado state Senate seat.

"If I don't win, it's not because I'm a Muslim," he said, laughing. "It will likely be because I'm a Republican."

Asma Hasan said it can be a challenge sometimes to reconcile being a Republican and being a Muslim.

"A lot of this election is about the Iraq war, the GOP's support for the war and ultimately how we handle that war now," she said. Several younger voters have e-mailed her about her blog items filed from the campaign trail with thoughtful, substantive political comments and questions. They are excited about the election and they plan to vote, she said.

"But that's the beauty of politics because it doesn't matter what your religion is or your cultural background or who your family is," she said. "You make decisions on who to vote for based on a lot of different factors -- not just one. And I think people are interested this year. There are definitely a lot of younger people, and a lot of younger Muslims, who are going to vote."

Asma Hasan echoed Rehab's frustration about the occasional fumbles of the candidates toward the Muslim community. She pointed to a June incident at an Obama rally.

Two women were told not to sit behind Obama because they were wearing head scarves. Campaign volunteers thought it would would look bad if the women were seen behind the candidate in a photo or on television.

The Obama campaign quickly apologized, and a campaign spokeswoman said that the incident was not reflective of Obama's message, according to the New York Times.

More recently, a woman at a McCain rally in Minnesota stood up and faced the candidate. She said she doesn't support Obama because "He is an Arab." McCain shook his head and replied, "No ma'am, no ma'am."

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a Republican, endorsed Obama for president on Sunday, praising Obama as a candidate who is "inclusive." Powell said he had heard members of his own party suggest that Obama is a Muslim.

"What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" Powell said. "No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim kid believing that he or she can be president?"

Powell made the endorsement on NBC's "Meet the Press" and went on to say that he was disturbed by recent attacks the McCain camp had lobbed at Obama.

"It troubled me. We have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. So those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about [1960s radical William] Ayers, not about who is a Muslim or who's not a Muslim," Powell told reporters after the endorsement.

"Those kinds of images going out on Al-Jazeera are killing us around the world," Powell continued. "And we have got to say to the world, it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are. If you're an American, you're an American."

"That was over the top. It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth," he said. "And to sort of throw in this little Muslim connection, you know, 'He's a Muslim and, my goodness, he's a terrorist' -- it was taking root. And we can't judge our people and we can't hold our elections on that kind of basis."

After Powell's announcement, McCain told Fox News he considered Powell and himself "longtime friends" and that he respected him.

Powell also referred to a photo essay from a magazine featuring a photo of a mother resting her head on the tombstone of her son at Arlington National Cemetery. The tombstone lists the soldier's awards, including a Purple Heart, that were earned in Iraq. The solider was Kareem Khan, a 20-year-old Muslim from New Jersey.

The soldier's father, Feroze Khan, said he wants to personally thank Powell for his statement.

"All my son wanted to do was serve his country," he told CNN. "Since he was a boy, he wanted to be in the Army. That was his dream. That's the only thing he ever wanted."

"It was not about how he was Muslim, it was about who he was and what he stood for," Feroze Khan said. "He told me, 'I am going to fight for my faith, not against it.'"

Feroze Khan doesn't want to talk about politics. What the candidates say about his religion is of little importance to him. His son defined what he believes in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Islam and Homosexuality Panel Discussion in Washington DC - 10/26/08 - 7:00 pm

For folks in the Washington DC area:

You are invited to join a diverse all-Muslim panel for a unique dialogue on the topic of Islam and homosexuality.

Sunday, October 26th - 7 PM

Marvin Center Continental Ballroom (3rd Floor)
800 21st Street NW (at the corner of 21st and H)
Washington DC 20052

For more information, visit islamandhomosexuality.com.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Youthful Voice Stirs Challenge to Secular Turks

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A Muslim couple leaving their wedding in Uskudar, Turkey. Religious traditions are mixed with a modern secularism in Turkey, unlike in many Muslim countries.

Full article from the New York Times.

Slideshow - A Fight to Wear Head Scarves


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan

Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan
"Christians and Muslims Must Work to Safeguard the Dignity of the Family"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 2008 - Here is a text published today by the
Vatican of a message sent to Muslims by the president of the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The message was sent
on the occasion of the end of Ramadan.

* * *

Christians and Muslims:

Together for the dignity of the family

Dear Muslim friends,

1. As the end of the month of Ramadan approaches, and following a now
well-established tradition, I am pleased to send you the best wishes
of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. During this
month Christians close to you have shared your reflections and your
family celebrations; dialogue and friendship have been strengthened.
Praise be to God!

2. As in the past, this friendly rendez-vous also gives us an
opportunity to reflect together on a mutually topical subject which
will enrich our exchange and help us to get to know each other better,
in our shared values as well as in our differences. This year we would
like to propose the subject of the family.

3. One of the documents of the Second Council Vatican, Gaudium et
Spes, which deals with the Church in the modern world, states: 'The
well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society
is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community
produced by marriage and family. Hence Christians and all men who hold
this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by
which men today find help in fostering this community of love and
perfecting its life, and by which parents are assisted in their lofty
calling. Those who rejoice in such aids look for additional benefits
from them and labour to bring them about.' (n. 47)

4. These words give us an opportune reminder that the development of
both the human person and of society depends largely on the
healthiness of the family! How many people carry, sometimes for the
whole of their life, the weight of the wounds of a difficult or
dramatic family background? How many men and women now in the abyss of
drugs or violence are vainly seeking to make up for a traumatic
childhood? Christians and Muslims can and must work together to
safeguard the dignity of the family, today and in the future.

5. Given the high esteem in which both Muslims and Christians hold the
family, we have already had many occasions, from the local to the
international level, to work together in this field. The family, that
place where love and life, respect for the other and hospitality are
encountered and transmitted, is truly the 'fundamental cell of

6. Muslims and Christians must never hesitate, not only to come to the
aid of families in difficulty, but also to collaborate with all those
who support the stability of the family as an institution and the
exercise of parental responsibility, in particular in the field of
education. I need only remind you that the family is the first school
in which one learns respect for others, mindful of the identity and
the difference of each one. Interreligious dialogue and the exercise
of citizenship cannot but benefit from this.

7. Dear friends, now that your fast comes to an end, I hope that you,
with your families and those close to you, purified and renewed by
those practices dear to your religion, may know serenity and
prosperity in your life! May Almighty God fill you with His Mercy and

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata Secretary

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bosnia's First Gay Festival to Close After Attacks

From Reuters

Bosnia's first gay festival to close after attacks

Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:11pm BST

By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia's first gay festival will close early after hooded men, some shouting Islamic slogans, attacked visitors on its opening night, injuring eight people, organizers said on Thursday.

About 70 men, some shouting "God is greatest" in Arabic, dragged festival-goers from their cars and beat others in the streets of the Bosnian capital on Wednesday.

Sarajevo, known for centuries for the peaceful coexistence of its Muslims, Christians and Jews, became a majority Muslim city after the 1992-95 war.

"We cannot guarantee the safety of visitors," said organizer Svetlana Djurkovic. "The festival is closing down."

Djurkovic heads a group that promotes the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual groups.

About 250 people attended the opening of the festival of art, film and workshops about sexual minorities, which was due to last four days. Police clashed with the attackers and said they would press charges against five men.

Srdjan Dizdarevic of the Bosnian branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said the attacks violated "civilized standards."

"The attacks hoped to annul individuality in society. The attackers used fascist rhetoric," Dizdarevic said.

Islamic papers and magazines had criticized the timing of the festival, organizedduring the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Anonymous death threats were made against organizers, who said the timing was coincidental.

(Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Opheera McDoom)

Pictures: Bosnia's First LGBT Festival Attacked


Sveltana Djurkovic (R), the head of Q association and organiser of Bosnia's first-ever gay festival gives an interview under protection of private security personnel after announcing in central Sarajevo that their festival is closed September 25, 2008. Organizers of Bosnia's first-ever gay festival in the capital Sarajevo decided on Thursday to close the event because of security fears after the attacks on its participants and visitors had marred the opening.


Slobodanka Dekic (L) and Sveltana Djurkovic, organisers of Bosnia's first-ever gay festival announce to reporters in central Sarajevo
that their festival is closed September 25, 2008. Organizers of Bosnia's first-ever gay festival in the capital Sarajevo decided on Thursday to close the event because of security fears after the attacks on its participants and visitors had marred the opening.


Protesters shout slogans against the first-ever gay festival organised in Bosnia in central Sarajevo September 24, 2008. Bosnian policemen stand in front of protesters during the first-ever gay festival organised in Bosnia in central Sarajevo September 24, 2008. Bosnian police clashed on Wednesday with young men attacking the country's first gay festival in Sarajevo. Police said at least eight people were injured when attackers dragged some people from vehicles and beat others in the street. A policeman was also injured.


Bosnian policemen scuffle with protesters during the first-ever gay festival organised in Bosnia in central Sarajevo September 24, 2008. Bosnian police clashed on Wednesday with young men attacking the country's first gay festival in Sarajevo. Police said at least eight people were injured when attackers dragged some people from vehicles and beat others in the street. A policeman was also injured.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bush Hosts Dinner for American Muslims

Bush hosts dinner for American Muslims

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 17, 2008; 8:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush told a dinner honoring American Muslims
that his administration has partnered with those practicing Islam
around the world to promote tolerance and spread freedom to millions.

"We reject bigotry in all its forms," the president said before
sitting down for dinner Wednesday with about 110 guests in the White
House State Dining Room.

During the past eight years, the Bush administration has held an
Iftaar dinner, a meal served at the end of the day during the holy
month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Bush sat next to Kuwait's prime minister, Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al
Sabah, who will return to the White House on Friday for a meeting in
the Oval Office.

This year's event highlighted American Muslims who have made
technological, artistic or innovative contributions to society. Bush
singled out Maysam Ghovanloo, an immigrant from Iran who is a
biomedical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is
working on an invention to help people with disabilities operate a
wheelchair or surf the Internet by moving their tongues.

"Stories like the professor's remind us that one of the great
strengths of our nation is its religious diversity," Bush said.
"Americans practice many different faiths. But we all share a belief
in the right to worship freely."

The guests, including members of Congress, military personnel and
members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, sat at nearly a dozen tables,
each adorned with four burning tapers and a bowl of flowers. The
guests dined on eggplant soup and halibut with a pistachio crust.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Muslim Officials Announce Ramadan Will Start Monday; Others Begin on Sunday & Tuesday

From the Associated Press - August 31, 2008

Muslim officials announce Ramadan will start Monday

CAIRO, Egypt — Religious authorities in much of the Middle East declared that Monday will be start of the holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

Official statements were issued late Saturday in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and the Palestinian territories. Religious authorities in Syria, Qatar and Kuwait agreed.

Ramadan starts the day after the sighting of the crescent moon that marks the beginning of a new lunar month. Some countries use astronomical calculations and observatories, while others rely on the naked eye alone, leading sometimes to different starting times.

Libya, for example, will begin the holy period on Sunday. The state-run Libyan news agency reported that religious officials there had already spotted the first tiny sliver of moon.

In Shiite Iran, newspapers reported that Ramadan would likely to start Tuesday.

In Iraq, some Shiites will follow the Iranian start, while Sunnis will begin on Monday, like Saudi Arabia.

Ramadan can last either 29 or 30 days, depending on when the first moon of the next lunar month is sighted. During the month, Muslims are expected to abstain during daylight hours from food, drink, smoking and sex to focus on spiritual introspection.

The start of the holy month has also caused some clock confusion in the region, as some countries went off daylight saving time to reduce the daylight fasting hours in soaring summer temperatures.

Ramadan begins around 11 days earlier each year. Currently, that brings it more and more into the long, hot days of summer.

Blog: Ramadan and Fasting in a Parallel Universe

From the Washington Post

Ramadan and Fasting in a Parallel Universe

Today's guest blogger is Usra Ghazi, an American Muslim living and working in Amman, Jordan. Usra is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, and has been involved with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) in a variety of ways, including being a former Board Member, intern, and a participant in IFYC & Jordan Interfaith Action's InterACTION Youth Exchange between Amman and Chicago.

It took me a minute to register the question. In a dimly lit café on the hills of West Amman, in Jordan, for the first time in a long time, I was at a loss for words.

"So, are you Muslim?"

I was meeting an acquaintance of a Christian Jordanian friend. Two years ago, when I visited Amman with Interfaith Youth Core, I met this woman and other Muslims and Christians who formed the Jordan Interfaith Action group. JIA consists of religiously diverse young people who combine interfaith dialogue with community service.

She introduced me as "an American who will be living and working in Amman." By this time, I grew accustomed to the raised eyebrows of those surprised that a short Pakistani woman in a headscarf and modest clothes could also be American. But on this particular night, the eyebrow was cocked and accompanied with a question.

"So, are you Muslim?
"What do you mean?"
"You're American, right?"
"And Muslim?"
"Am I not wearing hijab?"
"Yeah, you are....so you're Muslim?"

I credit old reruns of the sitcom Friends and the immediate availability of the latest Hollywood movie DVDs for the absurdity of this conversation. I've also been told that American women are "loose," that we are devoid of morality, and incredibly fat. It should come as no surprise to readers that as much as Arabs and Muslims are associated with terrorism or backwardness in the U.S., Americans are misjudged in the Arabic-speaking world.

The following week, when facilitating an English conversation club at the language center where I teach, I chose to discuss preparations for religious holidays in Jordan and America. If anything brings religions together, it's the arrival of the Islamic month of Ramadan. This year, it falls on the first week of September. I began by showing a photo slideshow of Muslim Americans breaking their fast on a long rug across the floor of the common room of an American mosque. There were images of families preparing the meal, young women at a college MSA praying side by side, and a photo of our President shaking hands with a Muslim leader for the annual iftar dinner at the White House.

I expected the raised eyebrows, as each picture appeared, and imagined the thoughts running through the students' minds.

"They eat communally, too?"
"Muslim Americans pray at University?"
"They have an 'Eid holiday stamp'? Amazing!"

What I didn't anticipate was the collective scoff, upon seeing President Bush recognize a holiday that millions of Americans observe. Surely, they knew by now that Americans celebrate Ramadan with even more jubilation than Jordanian Muslims!

I won't deny that the resentment stemmed from our President's political reputation, but there was more. Here, in a country where there is a significant minority of Christians--enough to warrant the presence of Churches alongside Mosques--the concept of interfaith bridge building is drastically new.

Although my Christian friend is part of a dynamic group of activists who donate food to various refugee camps for Ramadan, her interfaith experiences in this month are limited. As a Christian, she takes advantage of the deserted streets for calm walks, as masses of Muslims flock home for the sunset meal. That's how I've spent every Christmas for the past two decades. I'm in a parallel universe!

What makes Ramadan markedly different in America is that it truly brings all faiths together. Hindu friends refrained from food in solidarity with me during lunch breaks in high school. I've shared a day of fasting with non-Muslim peers for Fast-a-thon, a charity drive on the campus of DePaul University (and schools across the country). Last year, I was invited to "Iftar in the Sukkah" which celebrated the coinciding of the Jewish holiday Sukkot and Ramadan.

This is a time for the Muslim community to strengthen from within, as well. Contrary to popular belief, we're not just refraining from food. To make the most of the physical fast, we fast from negative thoughts and deeds--from being unkind or selfish. Not eating is a cakewalk in comparison with the spiritual demands of the month. Thus, to look across the table and see the encouraging faces of non-Muslim friends and fellow believers is uplifting. To bless the food in thanks recited in Arabic and Hebrew, in the words of our prophets and faith leaders, is sacred.

In desperate need of a spirituality recharge, I eagerly await Ramadan in a parallel universe where, for the first time, I'll hear the call to food and prayer echo through the streets and invite my non-Muslim companions to a Muslim American tradition.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ramadan to Start on Monday, September 1, 2008

From the Fiqh Council of North America


Ramadan 1429:  September 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Ramadan is on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 19:58 Universal Time (i.e., 3:58 pm EDT, and 12:58 pm PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, [the conjunction before sunset and moon setting after sunset in Makkah] first day of Ramadan is on Monday, September 1, 2008.

Eid al-Fitr 1429: October 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Shawwal is on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 8:12 GMT, 4:12 am EDT, 1:12 am PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, the first day of Shawwal is on Wednesday, October 1, 2008.

Mideast Running on Different Clocks at Ramadan

From the Associated Press - August 28, 2008

Mideast running on different clocks at Ramadan

Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt — The start of the holy month of Ramadan next week is
causing clock confusion in the Middle East. Egypt and the Palestinians
are falling back an hour far earlier than usual, trying to reduce
daylight hours for Muslims fasting until sunset in sweltering summer

Politics is also adding a twist. The Palestinian militant group Hamas
is ending daylight-saving time at midnight Thursday in the Gaza Strip,
which it controls — while the West Bank, run by the rival Fatah
faction, is waiting until midnight Sunday.

The Palestinians have traditionally changed their clocks at different
times from Israel in a gesture of independence. Now for the first
time, they're directing the gesture at each other, reflecting the
rival claims for power in the more than year-old split between the
Palestinian territories.

"Hamas just wants to show they're different from the Palestinian
government, to pretend that they are the real government here," said
Jamal Zakout, a spokesman for the prime minister of the West
Bank-based Palestinian Authority. He said the PA chose midnight Sunday
because Ramadan is expected to begin Monday.

Egypt will also move its clocks back one hour at midnight Thursday, a
full month earlier than usual. The switch will put Egypt two hours
ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and at least an hour later than its
Mideast neighbors.

The creeping-up of the clock change reflects the complications of the
lunar Islamic calendar.

Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each year. Currently, that brings
it more into the long, hot days of summer, making it particularly
tough for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink from sunrise to
sunset during the holy month. Even in September, temperatures in Egypt
are in the upper 90s.

Egypt's decision will enable its people to have their "iftar" evening
meal, breaking the fast, an hour earlier.

Israel goes off daylight-saving time on Oct. 5, before the Jewish holy
day Yom Kippur. It won't reduce the length of the 25-hour fast, which
goes from sunset to sunset, but makes it a bit easier by reducing the
number of daytime hours observant Jews must go without food or water.

Jordan and Lebanon will switch the clocks back as usual by the end of
October. Syria falls back in late September, while Saudi Arabia and
Iraq don't change clocks.

Ramadan, which commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the
Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, begins and ends with the sighting of
the new moon. During the month, families and friends gather for
sometimes lavish iftar meals, ending with the Eid al-Fitr, a three-day
holiday of the breaking of the fast.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Kill: Gays in Iraq

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Kill

Nobody wants to talk about gays in Iraq, much less who is killing them.

Lennox Samuels
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Updated: 2:58 PM ET Aug 26, 2008

Lennox Samuels
Gays in Bagdad keep their sexual orientation secret

When militiamen from the Mahdi Army came by the compact, two-story stone home in the Doura neighborhood of Baghdad, they weren't looking for Sunnis to harass. They were hunting gays. "Bring us your son's cell phone," one ordered the middle-aged man who came to the gate. They wanted to check if his son, Nadir, had been calling foreigners--and in fact he had only hours earlier called this reporter to set up a meeting, and he had repeatedly called a gay nongovernmental organization (NGO) in London. Fortunately, Nadir was ready for them and produced a "clean" phone he keeps for just such a threat. This time they left, but vowed to come back if they found any evidence he was gay--or was talking to undesirable foreigners. Now that Iraq's sectarian war has cooled off, it's open season on homosexuals and others whose lifestyles infuriate religious hardliners.

Sometimes the act of reporting a story is revealing in itself--especially when it proves particularly difficult. This was the case when NEWSWEEK began looking into the problems of Iraq's homosexuals after hearing reports of secret safe houses around Baghdad where many of them were taking refuge from the militias' self-appointed morality police. After weeks of inquiries, NEWSWEEK managed to find Nadir and persuade him to arrange a visit to one of the safe houses he helps run. Instead, the Mahdi militia rousted him the night before. Established in 2004, the militia is the armed wing of the organization led by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been an implacable foe of the Maliki government. Terrified, Nadir contacted people at the London-based gay NGO that finances the safe house, and they instructed him to break off the visit.

That was only one of many problems reporting on gays in Iraq. Iraqi authorities scoffed at the subject--when not scolding a reporter for even asking about it. Some of NEWSWEEK's own local staff were wary of the story. Virtually no government officials would sit for an interview. And the United Nations human-rights office, which has a big presence in Iraq, dodged the subject like a mine field. As with a number of Muslim societies where homosexuality is officially nonexistent but widely practiced, the policy in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule was "don't ask, don't tell." But that has changed. Iraqi LGBT, the London NGO that Nadir works for, says more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. For the country's beleaguered gays, it's a friendless landscape.

Many officials say they feel that in a country at war, there are more pressing concerns than gay rights. A Ministry of Justice judge rebuked a reporter for wasting time on such an issue, noting that "crimes of sodomy" are "very rare" in society and even rarer in the courts. "Most acts of homosexual people are being done in dark corners and, with corruption and paying bribes, they will be kept there for a long time, for it is not on the top of our priorities list, which is occupied by issues of terror, kidnapping and killing," said the judge, who would not allow his name to be used discussing gays. An adviser to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that of all the meetings he has attended, none ever touched on the rights--or even the existence--of homosexual Iraqis.

The only recourse for Iraqi gays seems to come from activists abroad. Iraqi LGBT, which was founded to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis, looks after about 40 young men between the ages of 14 and 28 in several Baghdad safe houses. There they are fed, can watch TV, hang out and sleep in cramped quarters, their beds inches apart. They stay away from neighbors and rarely leave their immediate area. "I hope you can see how sensitive and very important the security issue is for the safe houses," said Ali Hili, who fled Iraq and received asylum in Britain.

Hili continues to use a pseudonym to protect himself and insulate relatives still in Iraq. He has not returned home in eight years but does visit Syria and Jordan to raise money and check on an underground railroad that helps spirit some gay men out of Iraq. He says the government tries to monitor the group's activities. Saif, one of the older residents at an Iraqi LGBT house, recalls Saddam's repressive but secular regime wistfully. "Those were the most beautiful days of our lives," he says. "The fall [of Saddam] was the worst thing to happen."

Most people seem to prefer that the subject just go away. A written request for an interview at the Legal Section of the Ministry of Human Rights was greeted with a suggestion to delete the word "gays." A sympathetic senior government official warned that a direct request to talk to a minister about gays could result in a short conversation. "I would ask about women, displaced people, children and others before you get to that," he offered. Officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Human Rights ministry maintain that they do not keep statistics about gays, largely because the number is so small, "barely mentioned in Iraq" according to one of them.

Even relatively liberal people in Iraq seem to have harsh attitudes toward this subject. "These people are not welcome in the society because they are against the social, natural and religious rules," said one well-educated Iraqi who did not want to be identified more closely. A Baghdad executive said religion and tradition have made the overwhelming majority of Iraqis hostile to homosexuals. "Nobody is interested in talking about this at all," he says with a grim chuckle. A handful of gay men told NEWSWEEK harrowing stories about being cast out of their homes or savagely attacked by the storm troopers of virtue: Shia extremists among Badr Corps operatives (many of whom are now in the Iraqi Security Forces) or groups like the Mahdi Army, and sometimes both. But when told of such atrocities one Iraqi acquaintance blamed the victims, calling them "the lowest humans."

Persecution of gays will stop only if Iraqis can abandon centuries-old prejudices. They would have to acknowledge that human rights don't cover only the humans they like. Insisting that gays are just a few undesirable perverts who "should be killed"--as one Iraqi who works in journalism put it--encourages an atmosphere of impunity no matter the offense. Killing gays becomes "honorable." And raping them is OK because it isn't considered a homosexual act--only being penetrated or providing oral sex is.

Ali Hili says the government, security forces, judiciary and religious establishment are complicit in terrorizing gays. Since the late-evening visit by the militiamen, Nadir has moved to another part of Baghdad and stayed away from home. "They said, 'We will get you even if you fly to God'," he says. Changing Iraq's attitudes toward its gay minority may prove even harder than ending the war.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/155656
©  2008

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