News in Brief: UN relocating 600 staff after Taliban attack
- UN relocating 600 staff after Taliban attack
The United Nations said today that it is temporarily relocating more than half its staff in Afghanistan following last week's deadly Taliban attack.
The UN mission is still reeling from a pre-dawn assault on a guesthouse in the capital last week that left five UN staff dead.
The Kabul attack was the most direct targeting of UN employees during the organisation's decades of work in the country.
Some 600 non-essential staff will be moved for four to five weeks to more secure locations in and outside Afghanistan while the body works to find safer permanent housing, spokesman Aleem Siddique said.
The majority of the UN's 1,100 international staff in Afghanistan live the capital, spread out among more than 90 guesthouses.
The plan is to consolidate those living arrangements so staff can be better protected, Mr Siddique said.
He stressed this was not a pull-out or a scale-down in operations. About 80% of the UN's staff in Afghanistan are Afghan citizens.
"We've been here for over half a century and we're not about to go any time soon," Mr Siddique said.
Unrest as Iran marks embassy siege
Security forces have clashed with opposition protesters as thousands of Iranians gathered on the streets of the capital, Tehran, to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the US embassy.
Police used batons and tear gas to disperse several hundred activists who had gathered at Haft-e-Tir square on Wednesday to demonstrate against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, witnesses said.
Heavy security had been deployed to prevent opposition activists from using the annual event to voice their anger at the government.
PAS ‘Divorce’ Loyalty Oath Stirs Furor
KUALA LUMPUR — A loyalty oath taken by lawmakers of Malaysia’s Islamic party (PAS) to divorce their wives if they quit the party is provoking outcry in the Muslim country.
“This is an abuse and cruelty towards innocent parties,” said Jamil Khir Baharom, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, reported the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) on Saturday, November 7.
“Islam abhors cruelty and abuse.”
Proving loyalty to their party, PAS lawmakers are used to vowing to divorce their wives if they quit or jump the party.
“Divorce is not a trivial matter that can be put at stake just to prove one’s loyalty to a political party,” Baharom said.
Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, assistant secretary of the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers’ Association, described the oath as “morally wrong.”
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The ruling alliance Barisan Nasional (BN) also condemned the move.
“I cannot fathom how they could resort to something so degrading and mean,” Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said.
“What happens when their wives are apolitical? It’s just so sad.”
PAS enjoys strong support from the northern rural and conservative states such as Kelantan and Terengganu.
It is the first opposition party in independent Malaysia's history to defeat the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in a Malay dominated state.
The party has recently adopted a new agenda that gave it a new look, which helped it greatly in the March polls.
As part of its major facelift, the party fielded a non-Muslim candidate for the first time on its slate in the elections.
Malaysia has a population of nearly 26 millions, with Malays, mostly Muslims, making up nearly 60 percent.
Saudis Battle Yemeni Shiite Rebels
Heavy clashes at Saudi-Yemen border
Heavy clashes have been reported at the Saudi-Yemeni border as Saudi forces battle Yemeni rebels for the fifth straight day.
Saudi commanders said troops were shelling suspected Houthi positions on Saturday and plumes of smoke could be seen rising above the Jebel al-Dukhan peak that marks the frontier near the border town of Al-Khubah.
A medical official said seven Saudis, four of them women civilians, had been killed and 126 people wounded since the fighting erupted on Tuesday.
The Houthis claimed that they captured a number of Saudi soldiers on Friday.
Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, told Al Jazeera that the men were seized after Saudi ground forces crossed into Yemeni territory.
"We will carry out interviews with them ... they will be treated with respect," he said.
Abdel-Salam urged Riyadh to end the "unjust Saudi aggression" and to stop Yemeni forces from using bases inside Saudi territory to attack the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia has not commented on the claim, but has previously said that its operations against the Yemeni fighters have been limited to air raids and artillery strikes.
The Yemeni government accuses the Houthis of seeking to restore an imamate overthrown in a 1962 coup that sparked eight years of civil war.
The Houthis insist they are fighting to defend their community against government aggression and marginalisation.
Sudan 'regrets' independence call
Sudan has said it regrets a southern leader's call for regional independence in a referendum scheduled for 2011.
The governing Sudanese National Congress Party, or NCP, said on Sunday the call by Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, contradicts a peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war.
Kiir, a former guerrilla commander, said on Saturday that he backed independence for the semi-autonomous southern region in the crucial referendum.
He also warned that unity would make southerners "second-class" citizens.
Spain Imams Launch Umbrella Body
Spanish Muslims launched this week an independent, self-regulatory body to train imams in the southern European country.
“The Islamic Union of Imams and Preachers in Spain is the fruit of strenuous efforts of Muslim imams over the past years,” chairman Sheikh Alaa Said told IslamOnline.net on Monday, October 26.
The new body, launched Saturday, will be entrusted with training imams and preachers across the country.
“The growing Muslim community in Spain required the launch of an official Islamic body to unify efforts of imams and preachers nationwide,” said Said.
The umbrella body will have three specialized committees on fatwa, research and training.
“It seeks to upgrade the level of all those working in the field of Da`wa in Spain,” he said.
The Union was approved by the Spanish Interior Ministry last May.
“At first we encountered some obstacles with the Justice Ministry to register the Union,” said Said.
“But we later moved to the Interior Ministry to get the official approval after presenting the necessary papers to launch the body.”
A dignitary of Spanish officials and nearly 70 imams and preachers from across Spain took up in the launch of the Muslim Union.
Leading among attendees were Josep Maria Felipe, the general director of the immigration of the Valencian government, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and Sheikh Wanis Al-Mabrook, the head of the European Assembly of Muslim Imams and Spiritual Guides.
Muslim Tatars Dream of Crimea Mosque
Despite efforts by Muslim Tatars to have a mosque in the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula, the cherished dream is dying down on the rock of political differences in the eastern European country.
“Everyone realizes that their opposition doesn’t make sense, because they had already given us permission,” Muslim leader Refat Chubarov told The New York Times on Friday, October 30.
“Behind the scenes, they are saying: ‘Crimea is Russian Orthodox land. If they want to build a mosque, they should build it where no one can see it.’ "
The government gave permission to Muslim Tatars in 2004 to build the mosque in 22 Yaltinskaya Street in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
But the project stalled by the Simferopol local council on claims of opposition from locals.
“The mosque will be built, but only after taking into consideration the views of the public,” said Simferopol’s mayor, Gennady Babenko.
He said that the city council has suggested other sites for building the mosque.
The mosque plans are vehemently opposed by ethnic Russians, who make up the majority of the Simferopol residents.
They fear that the mosque would signal the revival of Muslim Tatars, who were brutally expelled from Crimean by former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The Tatars, who have inhabited Crimea for centuries, were deported in May 1944 by Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis.
The entire Tatar population, more than 200,000 people, was transported in brutal conditions thousands of miles away to Uzbekistan and other locations. Many died along the way or soon after arriving.
The Soviets confiscated their homes, destroying their mosques and turning them into warehouses. One was converted into a Museum of Atheism.
It was not until perestroika in the late 1980s that most of the Tatars were allowed back, a migration that continued after Ukraine became independent with the Soviet collapse in 1991.
More than 250,000 Tatars now live in Crimea, about 13 percent of its population of 2 million people.
The Tatars’ return has repeatedly touched off legal clashes over restitution of land and property, much of which is now owned by ethnic Russians.
Iraq’s Booming Funeral Market
BAGHDAD – With deadly attacks still claiming more lives in the war-torn country, the funeral market in Iraq has turned from a simple work into a booming business.
“Before US-led invasion, I had one ceremony to take care,” mourner Ali Abdel-Kareem al-Shuwafi, 48, told IslamOnline.net on Friday, October 30.
“But in the last four years, I had to hire 12 employees and other 15 who are used when we have many ceremonies to hold in the same day.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence plaguing Iraq since the US invaded the country in 2003 to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.
“Violence in Iraq changed my life. I know that it isn’t a nice sentence to say but it is the true,” said Shuwafi.
“The continuing killings in my country helped me become a wealthy man and able to give a very good life to my family who years ago were suffering with the need of everything.”
Before the US invasion, Shuwafi was hardly able to provide basics to his family.
But his life has totally changed after the US troops invaded the oil-rich country.
“I decided to open a shop in Baghdad two years ago which takes care of everything, the three days mourning process, the burying and other ceremonies asked by our clients,” he said.
Shuwafi had borrowed money from a friend of his to open his shop.
“After few months, I had enough to pay him back and open more two shops, one in Baghdad and one in Basra where my brother takes care,” he said.
“I know I’m successful today because of people suffering, however, I didn’t kill them and just made a way for families to be well supported in a so hard moment of their lives.
“The war changed my life for better but I sometimes I wish that things were like before and I would had been able to improve my living conditions under other ways offered by the government.”
Women Pants Ban Irks Acehnese
An official decision to ban women from wearing jeans and pants in West Aceh is stirring uproar in the Indonesian province, amid accusations of violating women’s rights.
"The enforcement of the regulation is an accumulation of the negative views against women," Norma Susanti, Head of the woman and children's division at Aceh Human Rights NGO Coalition, told The Jakarta Post Saturday, October 31.
Officials in West Aceh have forbidden women from wearing jeans and tight pants as of January.
Under the decision, Shari`ah police, tasked with enforcing Islamic law, will shred any offensive clothing and ask women to change the outfit into government-issued skirts.
The West Aceh district has already ordered 7,000 skirts of various sizes.
Norma argued that the decision was discriminatory and not in line with Islamic Shari`ah, applied in the autonomous province.
"Islamic Shari`ah is not discriminative against women," she said.
"But it's different when it is used as a political means by men to restrain women's movements."
The activist accused the local administration of enacting controversial laws to distract the people's attention away from their economical and social woes.
"There are many important issues the government should be handling rather than dealing with dress codes or someone's sins," Norma said.
"We are accused of being people who are against God when we criticize such policies. These accusations have made us tired of continuing the struggle."
Aceh enjoys autonomous rule since signing Helsinki Memo of Understanding (MoU) with the Indonesian government in 2005.
The historic agreement brought to an end three decades of bloody conflict between Aceh separatists and Indonesian forces in the region that had seen the death of some 15,000 people.
Muslims make up 98.6 percent of the province's 3.93 million population.
Holland Grapples With Muslims Integration
With right-wing politicians fueling anti-Muslim sentiments in the northwestern European country, the Netherlands is grappling with Muslim integration into society.
“Muslims are afraid of losing their identity, and Dutch society is afraid of them," Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Saturday, October 31.
Dutch Muslims have been in the eye of storm since the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a Moroccan immigrant in 2004 for his anti-Islam movie.
Though the crime was vehemently condemned by the Muslim community, attacks have been on the rise against Muslim targets across the country.
“It was as if, before Van Gogh, they had never seen a Muslim in the Netherlands,” Ahmed Marcouch, a Dutch citizen of Moroccan-origin, said.
“From one day to the next, they realized that Muslims existed and that shad to be done -- there was much panic.”
In a bid to prevent a spiral of retaliation, the western city of Amsterdam adopted an emergency plan to promote social cohesion and fight extremism.
Under the seven-million-euro plan, projects of immigrant associations were subsidized.
Dialogue was also launched with mosque representatives to help fight extremism.
Even a television reality show, featuring the daily lives of Turkish, Surinamese and Moroccan families, was also financed and broadcast on a local station.
Tribeca fest adds to Doha glitter
In a desert landscape teeming with the gilded novelties of imported Western culture, the gas-rich Gulf Arab nation of Qatar is staking its cultural reputation on a US film festival with a decidedly Middle Eastern spin.
Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, California, international celebrities are flocking to Doha this weekend to take part in the country’s first foray into the film festival circuit.
The Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF), in partnership with its New York namesake event, is the brainchild of Qatar's Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the daughter of Qatar's emir and the head of the Qatar Museums Authority.
Perched on an artificial island surrounded by the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf, Doha's Museum of Islamic Art is the home of the festival, which runs from October 29 through November 1.
The museum is also where, last November, the Sheikha announced her intent to bring Tribeca to Qatar with the help of its New York founders, Robert DeNiro, Craig Hatkoff and Jane Rosenthal.
German on trial over Muslim murder
A man accused of killing a pregnant Egyptian woman in court in a frenzied anti-Islamic attack has gone on trial in Germany in a case that inflamed tempers throughout the Muslim world.
Prosecutors say the defendant, identified as Alex W, stabbed Marwa el-Sherbini, who was wearing a hijab, at least 16 times on July 1, in the same courthouse in the eastern city of Dresden where the trial has opened.
El-Sherbini bled to death at the scene watched by her three-and-a-half-year-old son, Mustafa.
Prosecutors say the attack was motivated by "a pronounced hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims".
Elwy Ali Okaz, who was stabbed as he tried to protect el-Sherbini, his wife, was then shot in the leg by police who apparently took him for the attacker.
Rape, Hunger Stalk Somali Women
Caught between the rock of rape of kidnappings and the hard place of grinding poverty, helpless Somali women are living an open-ended ordeal.
“We are the breadwinners for our families,” Halima, a divorcee of 35, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“We have no husbands and our daily earnings are not enough to survive on.”
Known as a “shoulder shop”, Halima hawks goods from huts to another in refugee camps in northern Somalia.
The huts consist of acacia branches twisted into a dome shape and covered with ragged cloths and rice sacks.
At the camps, boys stand guard to prevent attacks on their families.
"Not a week goes by when we don't have a rape case," said Hawa Adan Mohamed, a women's rights activist who runs vocational training schemes and manufacturing projects in Galkayo.
"If you go to the police there's no follow up. They say that because of the clan issue they cannot touch the perpetrator.
"Here the strongest man takes all," said a United Nations official.
About 1.5 million Somalis, a sixth of the total population, have fled their homes because of the spiraling violence in Mogadishu, according to the UN refugee agency.
Huge numbers are concentrated in the north, in Puntland or Somaliland, a breakaway republic.
The Somali government has been battling against the militant Shehbab and Hezb al-Islam groups since May.
The fighting has left hundreds of civilians dead and hundreds of thousands of them displaced.
Many of the conflict- and drought-displaced Somalis trickle across the borders to neighboring Kenya.
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Tunisia prepares for 23rd year of democracy, Ben Ali style
Tunisians who dare to publicly criticise their veteran president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, often quip that he should really be named Ben "à vie" – for life – because after 22 years he looks like staying in power for as long as he possibly can.
This Sunday's presidential election is set to give the former soldier a fifth five-year term in office and bolster his ranking among Arab leaders – including Maghreb neighbours Muammar Gaddafi in Libya (40 years) and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak (a mere 28).
Europeans tend to see Tunisia as a land of golden beaches, couscous and Roman ruins. It is politically and economically stable, secular and boasts high levels of equality between men and women. Its much-vaunted democracy though, is circumscribed. Even in the Arab world, where there is no shortage of repression, it is considered one of the most repressive regimes of them all: internet and other media controls are especially strict.
'Egypt needs to wage war on drugs'
Nineveh ethnic divide fuels tension
Tensions between ruling Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh are threatening to spill over into ethnic violence and reverse security gains made in the region since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The chances of the Sunni-Arab al-Hadbaa party and the Kurdish Nineveh Brotherhood group reaching a power-sharing deal appear more difficult, after both sides failed to reach an agreement at specially-convened conferences in September this year.
Brotherhood List councillors are boycotting the new Mosul-based provincial administration dominated by al-Hadbaa, which won the largest share of the vote in provincial elections held earlier this year.
The Brotherhood won 12 of the 37 council seats and are demanding two of the top three positions – that of vice-governor and vice-president of the provincial council.
The current vice-governor, however, is a Kurdish member of the al-Hadbaa party who is not affiliated with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and has been a native of Mosul for generations.
Kuwaiti women win passport rights
Kuwait's constitutional court has granted women the right to obtain their own passports without the consent of their husbands and guardians.
The highest court in the Gulf Arab nation issued the ruling on Tuesday, abrogating an article in a 1962 law that required women to gain their husband's prior approval before travelling.
The court said the article was a violation of several provisions in the constitution that guarantee personal freedom and gender equality.
"It undermines her free will and compromises her humanity," the court said, according to a copy of the decision provided by a lawyer involved in the case.
The decision followed a complaint by Fatima al-Baghli, a Kuwaiti woman who petitioned the court for the right to obtain a passport without her husband's consent.
She said her husband had refused to give her and their three children their passports and other personal identification documents in an effort to prevent them from leaving the country, The Associated Press news agency reported.
Robert Fisk: End of an era for Lebanon's free press
For decades, Lebanese journalism has been applauded as the freest, most outspoken and most literate in the heavily censored Arab world. Alas, no more. Beirut's best-read daily has just shed more than 50 staff and LBC, one of the country's best-known television stations, has just fired three of its most prominent presenters. The Lebanese media are being hit – like the rest of the world – by the internet and falling advertising revenues. But this is Lebanon, where politics is always involved. Is something rotten in the state of the Lebanese press?
Is it by chance that An Nahar's culture editor – whose supplement campaigned against assassinated prime minister Rafiq Hariri's plans for rebuilding downtown Beirut – has been fired after the paper cosied up to the politics of Hariri's son Saad, now the Lebanese prime minister designate? Is it a coincidence that the three senior presenters on LBC represented the last supporters of the old Lebanese Forces (of civil war infamy) still working at the channel?
Neither An Nahar nor LBC are saying anything. But the Lebanese are waiting to find out which of their more than 20 dailies will be the next to shed staff for "economic reasons". Will the old lefty As Safir find that it has politically recalcitrant staff (unlikely) or will the lovely French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour – whose 18th century French is Royalist rather than Republican – have a battle with those writers who still love ex-General Michel Aoun, Maronite Christian ally of the Hizbollah?
'Honour killing' father collapses in court
A father accused of murdering his 15-year-old daughter in a so-called "honour killing" collapsed in court yesterday as his wife began giving evidence against him.
Mehmet Goren is alleged to have killed his daughter, Tulay, after consulting his two brothers. The three men are said to have objected after the girl fell in love with a man twice her age, 30-year-old Halil Unal.
Tulay disappeared in 1999 and is presumed murdered, although her body has never been found. The Old Bailey jury heard that police were only able to bring a prosecution when the girl's mother, Hanim Goren, finally agreed to give evidence against her husband.
Yesterday, she took to the witness stand, but her testimony was stopped when her husband collapsed in the dock. Jurors were ushered out of the court as staff called for first aid.
Before the incident, Mrs Goren, 45, had started to tell the jury about her family, explaining that she and her husband had three daughters – one of whom died aged 20 in a car accident in 2006 – and one son. Mrs Goren said her husband worked in a fish and chip shop, and that the family was also receiving benefits. She added that he used to gamble and that his brothers helped out financially.
The court heard that Tulay went to work in the factory where her mother was employed during her school holidays, where she met Mr Unal. "She wanted to buy some clothes for herself," Mrs Goren said.
After two or three days she was on the way back from work with her daughter when Tulay told her that Mr Unal, who was then 30, had "asked to be friends". "I said 'no, that is not possible, it can't happen'", the girl's mother told the jury.
She said she confronted Mr Unal and told him: "How can you do this? My daughter is only 15." When she was asked if there was any other reason, disregarding Tulay's age, that the pair should not have a relationship, she referred to where they came from in Turkey and the different branches of Islam they followed.
'They gave me $100 and told me to fend for myself in Baghdad'
Abu Yousif is back home, back to Baghdad, where his brother was murdered and where, he believes, the same fate awaits him in the hands of the vengeful killers.
Every day is spent living in fear that the gunmen will hunt him down. "They have not gone away from here. I am afraid of what could happen. I only sleep a little, and then I wake up and think, is this going to be my last day, wondering what is going to happen to my family," he says. "This is still a very dangerous place. People in England must realise that."
Mr Yousif, a 39-year-old engineer, was one of 40 Iraqis thrown out of Britain, where they had sought asylum, because the Home Office decided that their homeland was now a safe place to live. It was the first time that a return to Baghdad had been attempted since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
To the huge embarrassment of the British Government, 30 of the deportees were refused entry by the Iraqi officials and sent back. Ten others were taken off the plane with UK officials who promised that the local embassy would look after them. What actually happened, says Mr Yousif, was that they were given $100 each and told to fend for themselves.
Human rights groups, churches and refugee charities have condemned the British authorities for insisting on the deportation to a place visited daily by murderous attacks. A spokesman for Amnesty International said: "Given the reports of killings, bombings and other human rights abuses that continue to come out of Baghdad, it is hard to comprehend that the UK Government considers it a safe place to return people."