Tuesday, December 30, 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.
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
* 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
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.
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From the New York Times - December 22, 2008
Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book
"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."
Friday, December 19, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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Friday, December 5, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
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
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 - 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.
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.
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"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.