News in Brief: "Fitna" Screening Irks US Muslims
- "Fitna" Screening Irks US Muslims
WASHINGTON — The screening of an anti-Islam film by a controversial far-right Dutch lawmaker inside Capitol Hill on Friday, February 27, is infuriating American Muslims and raising eyebrows.
"I am a strong an advocate of First Amendment free speech. However, this is not about free speech, but rather an issue of propriety, timing and venue," Representative Keith Ellison said in a statement mailed to IslamOnline.net.
Conservative Republican Senator John Kyl has invited Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom, to screen his controversial film in a cozy chamber of the Capitol Hill known as the L.B.J. Room.
"Senator Kyl has every right to host anyone he chooses, however it becomes a question of propriety to use the United States Capitol as a venue for the condemnation of an entire religion," insisted Ellison.
The documentary, entitled "Fitna" – an Arabic word for sedition or strife – accuses Qur'an of inciting violence.
It also juxtaposes verses from the Muslim holy book with reports of the 9/11 attacks, as well as gruesome images of the 2004 Madrid bombings and the 7/7 London bombings.
The film release has drawn condemnation from Muslims worldwide and anti-discrimination groups.
The Dutch government has distanced itself from the documentary and its content.
Wilders was recently denied entry by the British government because of his extremist views.
He was detained by immigration officials at Heathrow Airport on Thursday, February 12, and forced to board the next flight back to the Netherlands.
Radwan Masmoudi, from the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, also criticized the screening of the controversial film in the Capitol Hill.
"I know he doesn't have a beard and he looks nice with his blond hair, but his views and his opinions are extremely mirror image, exactly mirror images of what al Qaeda has been trying to teach," he told CNN.
"He is the al Qaeda of the Netherlands."
Wilders is notorious for his fierce criticism of Islam.
He had called for banning the Muslim holy book described it as "fascist" and comparing it to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.
In January, a Dutch court ordered that Wilders be prosecuted for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.
Ellison, America's first Muslim Congressman, said screening Fitna in the Capitol Hill sends a wrong message to Muslims.
"At a time when President Obama has said to the Muslim world, ‘We are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest,’ the showing of a film that denigrates the faith of 1.4 billion of the world’s citizens does not foster mutual respect or mutual interest."
The Obama administration has promised to turn a new leaf in America's relations with the Muslim world after eight rocky years under George W. Bush.
In his inauguration speech, Obama vowed to seek a "new way forward" with the Muslim world.
His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, in her first foreign trip hoping to restore US image.
"At a time when the US should be providing renewed leadership for peace and more understanding between the West and the Muslim world, one has to question the wisdom and judgment of promoting a film that erroneously condemns an entire religion—especially in the US Capitol," Ellison insisted.
Kosova's Muslim World Dilemma
On Tuesday, February 17, 2009, Kosova was celebrating its first anniversary as an independent state.
One year ago, this small Balkan state, which was a de facto UN protectorate since 1999, was completing a long quest for freedom and independence in face of a vehement and fierce opposition from Serbia.
The basis of Kosova's declaration of Independence was a proposal put forward in early 2007 after almost three years of extensive negotiations by a UN envoy, former president of Finland Martti Ahtisaari, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Dec. 2008.
Ahtisaari proposed independence for Kosova supervised by the European Union. This was supposed to be the final puzzle to be put in place in the Balkans, a region whose name became notorious due to the kind of atrocities committed in Croatia, Bosnia, and finally in Kosova.
What Is Needed
But, although all relevant actors agree that independence is irreversible, it still remains incomplete, because Serbia refused the UN-mediated compromise, even after additional UN mandated efforts to find common ground with Belgrade, led by the European Union- the United States-Russia troika.
Nevertheless, Kosova accepted it and declared its independence from Serbia.
With its 2.2 million people, of which absolute majority are Albanians, Kosova’s first year as a state was surprisingly peaceful, considering the widely believed predictions that once independence is attained, ethnic conflict will be renewed.
It was widely predicted that streams of minority Serbs will be leaving the country under the threat of violence and that Kosova will destabilize the whole region.
None of these gloomy predictions happened. Quite the contrary, while Kosova actually helped the region become more stable, it was Serbia and extremist Serbs in Kosova that proved themselves— again— to be the real troublemakers.
All year long they tried to provoke a conflict and block the new state from breathing normally.
Backed by its strong and big brother in faith Russia, Serbia has continuously blocked Kosova’s progress and integration in the international community.
Belgrade’s agents in Kosova were sabotaging the newborn state, using even violence, most notably in the Serb-controlled areas north of the country, where the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica still serves as a reminder that there are still some things that are incomplete.
With the Serbian hard-line position still remains potently unchanged, Kosova has to face other challenges as well; State-building is a difficult task under any circumstances, and a new state, especially an economically weak one, needs assistance and help even under the best of circumstances.
Together with Moscow, Belgrade was continuously successful in preventing the Kosova's independence to be endorsed by the UN Security Council.
While extensive diplomatic efforts from Serbia and its allies have had an effect, Kosova is still waiting for full political recognition from the world and full integration into international community's institutions.
So far, 55 countries have recognized independent Kosova, including the United States of America and 22 out of 27 European Union members.
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KHARTOUM — Many young Sudanese professionals who grew up abroad are returning to their home country to help contribute to its development and improve its image.
"Sudan has an image problem because we don’t know how to market ourselves to the rest of the world," Issraa El-Kogali, a freelance photographer who grew up in Egypt, the UK and the US, told IslamOnline.net.
Conflict in Darfur, commonly described as a "genocide" pitting Arabs against Africans, has brought much international media attention to Sudan.
"There isn’t a genuine interest in the cultural of Sudan; the focus is on political conflicts and economic difficulties," regrets El-Kogali, 29.
Critical of international media coverage of her country, she came back in 2003 after spending twenty-one years of her young life abroad and decided to work as a communications professional.
She uses her talent to "present positive images of Sudan."
Her recent exhibition, "Zeina: A Photo Iconography," was held in Khartoum, London and Washington DC, presenting iconic images from northern Sudan.
"We have two images of Sudan; [the first] is a distorted media-created identity that focuses [only] on civil war and hunger," explains Malak Abubaker, 26, who was born and raised in Kuwait and educated in the United Arab Emirates.
"But what sinks my heart is that beautiful images of Sudan are not published; we have a lot to show for and present."
She also returned to Sudan three years ago and is a communications manager with a management consultancy company.
Troops sent to Punjab amid riots
Thousands of people have rioted in Pakistan for the third day in protest over a court order banning Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the country's biggest opposition party, from running for office.
Pakistani paramilitary troops were sent to Punjab on Friday after the protests erupted over the imposition of direct federal rule over the province.
The street protests followed a ruling by Pakistan's supreme court on Wednesday that barred Sharif, the former prime minister, from running for office in general elections set to take place in 2013.
The court also barred Sharif's brother Shahbaz from elected office, effectively unseating him as chief minister of Punjab, the country's largest and most powerful province.
While it remains unclear as to when a new provincial government would be formed, Punjab will remain under temporary control of the governor, a Zardari appointee.
The development is a sign of deepening turmoil in Pakistan at a time when Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, is struggling to stave off political instability.
It has also intensified the confrontation between Pakistan's two leading parties - Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
Sharif, who together with Shahbaz Sharif has a strong political base in Punjab, has claimed the ruling was meant to keep him out of politics and then called for nationwide protests.
"I assure the nation [that] if they back us, we will establish a democratic set-up in this country," Sharif said on Thursday in a televised media conference.
"I don't believe in violence and do not want any destruction, but if people want to express their feelings against this decision, who can stop them?" Sharif said.
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Decommissioning the arms trade
When government agencies cloak arms exports to Israel in secrecy, we have a moral and legal right to prevent their damage
guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 February 2009 12.00 GMT
During the night of January 17 2009, the last day of the Israeli attack on Gaza, six peace activists climbed the fence of a Brighton arms factory EDO MBM. Entering through broken windows and wielding hammers, they systematically smashed computers and machinery, and destroyed records. Hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of damage was caused. They then lay down on the floor and waited to be arrested. Prior to the action, the six recorded their motivation in a video briefing. In the words of one protester, Elijah Smith:
"I don't feel I'm going to do anything illegal tonight, but I'm going to go into an arms factory and smash it up to the best of my ability so that it cannot actually work or produce munitions ... [which] have been provided to the Israeli army."
Four of the six are now out on strict bail conditions, while two, including Elijah Smith, are on remand in Lewes prison. While property was damaged, their actions involved no violence to persons.
What would make someone smash up a factory on an industrial estate and then wait calmly to be taken into custody? Perhaps a belief that the only way to prevent atrocity is not to politely petition the arms traders but to actively disarm them. And perhaps a knowledge that while our government may indulge in public handwringing over civilian casualties, it veils in secrecy a highly profitable arms supply industry to Israel.
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Many dead in Mogadishu fighting
At least 20 people have been killed and 50 others injured in clashes between government troops and opposition fighters in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
Witnesses said that fighting broke out on Tuesday after an armed group attacked police and African Union peacekeepers in the capital's southern Taleh district.
The fighting came a day after Sharif Ahmed, Somalia's newly elected president, returned to the country from Djibouti.
Witnesses said that heavy machine guns and artillery were used in Tuesday's fighting and that the fighters shelled the presidential palace.
Several residents said that two civilians had been hit by stray bullets near the scene of clashes and three others were killed when a mortar shell struck a house.
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The disenfranchisement of young people is a growing problem in the Arab world
Nayla Tueni, the 26-year-old daughter of Gibran Tueni, the murdered Lebanese journalist and politician, has announced that she will follow him into politics by declaring her candidacy for the Lebanese elections in June. Having already emulated her father with a writing career at his an-Nahar newspaper, she now intends to address the issue of youth engagement by standing on a platform of putting, "young people's voices in parliament". However, the mountain of youth disenfranchisement in Lebanon and the wider Arab world is a huge one to climb. Despite Ms Tueni's laudable intentions, it will take more to surmount it than the election of one youthful MP.
Like most Arab states, Lebanon has an expanding young population for whom the future looks bleak. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 26% of Lebanese aged 15-24 are unemployed – nearly twice the world average. Moreover, many have little say in their future as only 21-year-olds are eligible to vote –the subject of much debate in Beirut at present.
Were Nayla Tueni to be elected, she would be a decade the junior of the next-youngest MP in a parliament dominated by an older generation. Though the Cedar Revolution of 2005 was hailed by many as a breakthrough in the Arab world for youth involvement in politics, the young participants and organisers of the million plus protests subsequently (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4702142.stm) complained that their cause was hijacked by the usual political elites. The result was a rivalry exclusively dominated by the older generation, whilst the young felt ignored.
The situation is worse for Lebanon's Arab neighbours. Sixty-three per cent of the population of the Middle East is under 29 and a quarter of them are unemployed. The global economic downturn is being felt hard. As well as domestic recession, the rapid decline of the Gulf economies is sending home a new pool of skilled expatriates to flood an already tight job market, further squeezing out the young. While most would demand employment rather than revolution, these authoritarian regimes provide few forums to complain, and even the limited avenues allowed for political expression are geared towards those who are older. In Egypt and Jordan for example, a candidate must be over 30 to become an MP, with the majority well over 40, which excludes over half the population from running. The lack of interest in formal political structures among the youth is therefore hardly surprising, with 67% of Egyptian young people not even bothering to register to vote in 2004
– despite theoretically facing a fine or imprisonment.
Yet Arab youths are far from apathetic. Egypt's own protests of 2005-06 that saw the Kifaya movement lead public demonstrations against the Mubarak regime with a substantial youth presence. Groups such as Youth for Change emerged to lead protests in universities and coffee shops. Yet, like their Lebanese counterparts, the young grew frustrated at their inability to affect the agendas of the old. Young people working for al-Ghad, Ayman Nour's liberal opposition party that was prominent in Kifaya, complained of the sidelining of youth issues and the strict age-orientated hierarchical structure.
In contrast, the internet is proving to be a youth-dominated arena for political expression. The vast majority of Arab political bloggers, for example, are young or appeal to a younger audience. Similarly, Samantha Shapiro's recent article about Facebook in Egypt highlights it as an alternative forum for Arab youth to vent their frustrations. The potential for social networking sites to organise protests and opposition in states where civil society is discouraged or actively suppressed was not lost on the Syrian government which promptly banned the site in 2007. However, even as Damascus set about blocking Facebook, Syrian internet cafes were using proxy sites and alternative networks to maintain their access.
Will these protests be constrained to cyberspace? Recently, just under half of the youths polled in a survey of six Middle Eastern states believed their country wasn't going in the right direction, highlighting the broad desire for change. With youth unemployment set to rise even further by the end of the year, the potential for social and political unrest is clear. The recent protests over the Gaza war, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood-led demonstrations in Egypt, might prove the shape of things to come. Though prompted by the Israel-Palestine conflict, these youth-dominated marches soon descended into anti-regime anger protesting unemployment and poverty as much as Gaza. If such regimes, and even the liberal opposition, don't turn their attention to youths' feelings of disenfranchisement soon, more radical groups could offer an appealing alternative.
Even Ms Tueni, for all her good intentions, does not offer a real solution. Should she win in June, her election would represent more the continuation of her family's political dynasty than signifying a new youth-friendly era in which less well-connected young Lebanese could follow her into parliament. Rather than celebrating her own youth, it must be hoped that she highlights the need for governments to offer Arab youth a real stake in their economies and polities in Lebanon and beyond.
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