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News in Brief: Kashmir militants rebuild their lives as hopes of a lasting peace grow

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  • Zafar Khan
    Kashmir militants rebuild their lives as hopes of a lasting peace grow Veterans of the insurgency come back from Pakistan as India s once violent state
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2013
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      Kashmir militants rebuild their lives as hopes of a lasting peace grow
      Veterans of the insurgency come back from Pakistan as India's once violent state embraces policy of rehabilitation
      Jason Burke in Shopian, Kashmir
      The Observer, Sunday 21 July 2013


      Shabir Ahmed Dar has come home. His children play under the walnut trees where he once played. His father, white-bearded and thin now, watches them. The village of Degoom, the cluster of traditional brick-and-wood houses in Kashmir where Dar grew up, is still reached by a dirt road and hay is still hung from the branches of the soaring chinar trees to dry.

      But Dar has changed, even if Degoom has not. It is 22 years since he left the village to steal over the "line of control" (LoC), the de facto border separating the Indian and Pakistani parts of this long-disputed former princely state high in the Himalayan foothills. Along with a dozen or so other teenagers, he hoped to take part in the insurgency which pitted groups of young Muslim Kashmiris enrolled in Islamist militant groups, and later extremists from Pakistan too, against Indian security forces.

      "I went because everyone else was going. The situation was bad here. I had my beliefs, my dream for my homeland. I was very young," he said, sitting in the room where he had slept as a child.

      The conflict had only just begun when he left. Over the next two decades, an estimated 50,000 soldiers, policemen, militants and, above all, ordinary people were to die. Dar's aim had been to "create a true Islamic society" in Kashmir. This could only be achieved by accession to Pakistan or independence, he believed.

      But once across the LoC, even though he spent only a few months with the militant group he had set out to join and never took part in any fighting, he was unable to return. "I was stuck there. I made a new life. I married and found work. I didn't think I would ever come back here," Dar said.

      But now the 36-year-old has finally come home, with his Pakistani-born wife and three children. He is one of 400 former militants who have taken advantage of a new "rehabilitation" policy launched by the youthful chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah.

      Dar's father heard of the scheme and convinced his son to return last year. "I am an old man. I wanted to see my son and grandchildren before I die. I wanted him to have his share of our land," said Dar senior, who is 70.

      The scheme is an indication of the changes in this beautiful, battered land. In recent years, economic growth in India has begun to benefit Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. At the same time, despite a series of spectacular attacks on security forces by militants in recent months, violence has fallen to its lowest levels since the insurgency broke out in the late 1980s. The two phenomena are connected, many observers say.

      It is this relative calm that has allowed Dar and the others to return – and allows even some hardened veterans who have renounced violence to live unmolested. "A few years ago the [Indian intelligence] agencies would have shot this down because they would have seen it as another move to infiltrate [militants from Pakistan]," Abdullah, the chief minister, said.

      The scheme is not, however, an amnesty. "If there are cases against them they will still be arrested [and] prosecuted … Largely this scheme has been taken up by those who have not carried out any acts of terrorism. Either they never came [across the LoC], or if they came we never knew about it," Abdullah said.

      So far there have been only two cases – one unproved – of people becoming active again in the insurgency on returning to the Indian side. Police officials confirm that the "returnees" live quietly. One reason for this is that most of them, like Dar, left during the first wave of early enthusiasm for "the cause" which swept Kashmir amid repression in the late 1980s, but were swiftly disillusioned. Ehsan ul-Haq, who now runs a shoe shop in central Srinagar after spending 21 years in Pakistan, remembered how he crossed the LoC with 300 others one night in 1990. A political campaigner, the 53-year-old remembered how he "wanted to make Kashmir into Switzerland" but "through the years saw only destruction".

      "Once money entered into it, the cause was lost; all purpose, all direction, was gone," said ul-Haq, who left his political party soon after arriving on the Pakistani side of the LoC. He married a local girl, had five children and ran a stationery business. Of the original 300 who had crossed with him, he said, 100 were killed fighting in the insurgency, a dozen had returned to the homes they had left as "returnees" under the new scheme, and the rest had remained across the LoC. In all about 4,000 men were still "over there", he said.

      Some former militants did not wait for the returnee scheme. Abdul Ghaffar Bhatt, 55, joined the Hizbul Mujahideen group, which is still active, in 1989. Bhatt had long been involved in a political Islamist organisation, but the transition to violent militancy came after authorities in Srinagar bulldozed the car workshop he had recently set up. "They had attacked my identity and my culture. They had detained me and my friends. But this was a direct attack on my income, my life. One day I was a king; the next a beggar. I had a family, three children. I made my decision and left them," Bhatt remembered.

      For three years, Bhatt was a senior commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, running operations against Indian troops and local security forces in and around Srinagar and sheltering in the militant camps across the LoC when necessary. These were years of intense violence in Kashmir as security forces struggled to contain an insurgency with significant local support. Human rights abuses were committed systematically by all involved.

      "We fought for an independent Kashmir. Religion was important for me, of course, but we were all together – secularists, nationalists, Islamists," he remembered.

      However, infighting and the growing influence of Pakistani intelligence services – still officially denied by Islamabad – led Bhatt to lay down his arms. "We had been united. Now we had all different groups. We were no longer a Kashmiri movement. Now I look back and I think we were used by Pakistan against India, like the US used the Afghans against the Soviets," Bhatt said.

      The veteran militant returned to Kashmir secretly seven years ago, slipping through India's almost unguarded border with Nepal. Recognised and detained, he spent months in prison being interrogated before being released. Now he spends his days in Srinagar with the children he did not see for decades. His 26-year-old son, Bilal, earns 7,000 rupees (£85) a month selling newspapers. He does not want to follow his father's path. "We have to struggle for our freedoms but peacefully, with no blood, no violence. This is what humanity demands. It is what most of my friends feel," he said.

      However, those who have returned under the official scheme do not find life easy. Places in schools are hard to come by and government promises of vocational training are unfulfilled. Life is toughest for the wives of returnees who, with relations between India and Pakistan still poor, are unable to go back to see families and friends in Pakistan.

      "It is a kind of hell I am living now," said Farhat, 33, who married a former militant codenamed "Asgar" 15 years ago and came back with him to his native village in the hills of north Kashmir earlier this year.

      The stunning view from their new home across orchards to the shimmering expanse of Wular lake is no compensation for her previous life. "We had a house, land, work, schools, everything over there. Here we have nothing. We made a terrible mistake. We have tried to go back, but cannot," Farhat said. Her 13-year-old son, Hamza, is now angry, moody and sometimes violent.

      In Degoom village, Dar, too, says he regrets his decision. "My wife is so unhappy," he says. "No one should come back until there is freedom here."

      Abdullah, the chief minister, has suggested some kind of peace and reconciliation commission for Kashmir. "Ultimately we want to heal wounds. We want to be able to answer questions," he said. "A lot of people have said that [a commission] is a post-conflict measure. My question is: what sort of benchmarks for violence do you want to set?

      "I think Kashmir would be ready. I am not sure that India and Pakistan are ready."

      First School for Blind Muslims in Malawi
      By Khalid Abubaker,
      OnIslam Correspondent
      Friday, 19 July 2013 00:00


      LILONGWE – Helping blind Muslims to pursue their education, an Islamic school has been opened in Malawi to cater for the needs of visually-impaired students in the southern African country.

      "We founded this school as a direct response to rising levels of neglect and discrimination Muslims with visual impairments especially children are being subjected to," Ibrahim Amin, a founder of An-Noor Madrassah for the Blind, told OnIslam.net.

      Located in the commercial city of Blantyre, the school enrols children between 9-21 years of age.

      "Because of the stigma attached, most parents are shy to identify themselves with visually impaired children as a result," Amin said.

      France's headscarf war: 'It's an attack on freedom'
      With rioting breaking out in Paris over the weekend, the row over Muslim headwear has erupted again. Will it lead to a new law against women wearing headscarves? And could that fan the flames of a French identity crisis?
      Angelique Chrisafis
      The Guardian, Monday 22 July 2013 18.37 BST


      When Youssra's three-and-a-half-year-old son started nursery school, he really wanted his mum to come on a school trip. So she signed up to help out on a cinema visit. She buttoned the children's coats outside their classroom and accompanied them to the front hall. But there, she was stopped by the headteacher, who told her, in front of the baffled children: "You don't have the right to accompany the class because you're wearing a headscarf." She was told to remove her hijab, or basic Muslim head covering, because it was an affront to the secular French Republic. "I fought back," she says. "I brought up all the arguments about equality and freedom for all. But I was forced home, humiliated. The last thing I saw was my distressed son in tears. He didn't understand why I'd been made to leave."

      The French charity worker is now part of the protest group Mamans Toutes Égales, or Mothers All Equal. Based in Montreuil outside Paris, it has blocked school coaches, boycotted outings and staged street demonstrations in protest at the growing number of mothers in headscarves being barred from school trips. "This is an attack on freedom and democracy in state schools. They seem to want to wipe Muslim women off the landscape," says Youssra, 36.

      Almost 10 years after France banned girls from wearing veils in state schools in 2004 – along with other religious symbols such as crosses or turbans – the Muslim headscarf is once again being pushed to the top of French political debate. France was shaken by two nights of rioting and car-burning in the Paris suburb of Trappes at the weekend after a police identity check on a French woman wearing a niqab, or full-face Muslim veil, raised questions about Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial 2011 law banning the niqab from public places. But even before the Trappes riots shocked the political class, tension had been rising for months in France over the broader issue of Muslim headscarves, including the simple hijab. Far from the headscarf debate being the preserve of the French right, the current Socialist government was already considering tightening laws on standard headscarves, despite France having some of the hardest-hitting legislation on veils in
      Europe. The headscarf, a piece of fabric which one Socialist MP complained was a French "obsession", is still a major political issue in François Hollande's France. MPs are now considering passing a new, tighter law limiting the professions in which headscarves can be worn, including banning carers in private nurseries from wearing it in front of young children.

      "The veil: the left wants its own law," ran a headline on the front page of the leftwing daily Libération in March. The debate is raging on several fronts. First, mothers in hijab petitioned the government about being excluded from school trips, to no avail. Then the focus turned to babies' nurseries after a high court ruled in March in favour of a woman it said was unfairly dismissed from her job in a private creche for wearing a headscarf. The judgment sparked a political frenzy. Intellectuals and politicians criticised the court for backing the woman and warned that headscarves worn in private childcare centres could be a danger to impressionable young children. Hollande said a new law was needed over whether religious symbols such as headscarves could be worn by staff in private creches, perhaps extending the law to other areas of the private sector. Tension has been heightened by recent violent attacks on women in headscarves in Argenteuil, a Paris
      suburb, where a pregnant woman who was attacked miscarried days later. Hundreds of protesters at a street demonstration in Argenteuil last month condemned the toxic nature of the debate around the veil, weeks before the Trappes riots. Islamophobic attacks in France more than doubled between 2011 and 2012– with women in headscarves the principal target, accounting for 77% of victims of physical or verbal attacks, according to the French Collective Against Islamophobia. After the attacks on veiled women in Argenteuil, the French Muslim Council warned: "Attacks on women in headscarves multiply around the time of each debate about the wearing of the Muslim veil."

      Rioters set Paris ablaze over ban on Islamic veil
      JOHN LICHFIELD Author Biography PARIS SUNDAY 21 JULY 2013


      Twenty cars were burned and four people arrested early today in a second night of violence in a Paris suburb after allegedly heavy-handed police action to enforce France’s ban on the full-face Islamic veil.

      Riot police were on patrol in the same suburb west of Paris this afternoon when a fire broke out in a disused furniture warehouse, but it was not immediately clear whether this had been started deliberately. Six young people were arrested in the suburb of Trappes on Friday night when 200 rioters besieged a local police station to protest against police violence. A 14-year-old boy suffered a serious eye injury.

      Interior Minister Manuel Valls appealed for calm. Community leaders said that the riots were a response to the frequent violence and insulting language used by police, rather than a protest against the two-year-old law banning burkas or other full-face coverings.

      On the second night of protest about 50 young people burned cars and threw Molotov cocktails at riot police. Both sides agree the protests began when a three-man police patrol stopped a young woman wearing a face veil on Friday night. The woman’s mother and husband became involved in an argument with the officers.

      Police say the older woman rammed one officer with a pushchair, and her husband punched another and then tried to throttle him.

      According to the other woman, named as Cassandra B, 20, the officers pushed her mother and then grabbed her by the veil and pushed her over the bonnet of a car. Trappes was the childhood home of the former Arsenal and France footballer Nicolas Anelka and the actor and comedian Jamel Debbouze.

      Local people and community leaders said that the protests followed persistent identity checks, insults and violent behaviour by police towards young people of North African origin.

      “Do you think this started with just one arrest which went bad?” a 30-year-old man said to Le Monde. “It’s the whole atmosphere of Trappes which makes us want to revolt.”

      Anti-Muslim Attacks on Rise in France
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Thursday, 04 July 2013 00:00


      The guide Jennifer Lopez should have read before she sang in Turkmenistan
      Do you know your Kazakhstan from your Kyrgyzstan? Read on to avoid singing happy birthday to a despotic ruler in this region


      It isn't just David Cameron who has been criticised this week for cosying up to a repressive dictator in a former Soviet state – Jennifer Lopez performed at an event in Turkmenistan on Saturday night. In a statement to Associated Press, Lopez's publicist said: "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended." Here we present a handy guide to the "-stans" so no pop star need be caught out by accidentally singing happy birthday to a despotic ruler in this region ever again.


      It really does say something about Kazakhstan's values that in trying to rehabilitate its image away from human rights abuses and the lasting legacy of Borat, the person they call in is Tony Blair. The former prime minister (in a deal rumoured to be worth $13m a year) paved the way for Cameron's trade mission this week. I know, it's just so easy to forget the 15 people killed by security forces during a demonstration and the imprisonment of opposition party leaders when you're dazzled by all that lovely oil money. Cameron at least had the decency to look a bit sheepish in the photographs with Nazarbayev. Blair never looks sheepish. It remains to be seen whether the endorsement – "I would vote for him!" – from Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocratic president, will be used on Conservative election posters.

      Amnesty says: "Mass detentions followed [protests in 2011] and allegations of torture were credible. Independent media outlets have been branded 'extremists' and closed down."


      On Saturday night, J Lo performed at an event hosted by the China National Petroleum Corp, and "graciously obliged", said her publicist, when a last-minute request came in to sing happy birthday to president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

      It had been hoped that Berdimuhamedov would break with the personality cult regime of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died suddenly in 2006. Niyazov erected a giant gold statue to himself that revolved so it was always facing the sun, changed the names of the months (naming one after his mother, and another after the title of his book), and built an ice palace in the desert.

      Although Berdimuhamedov reversed some of Niyazov's decisions, such as re-opening internet cafes that had been shut down, media is still state-controlled and he presides over a country described by Human Rights Watch as "one of the world's most repressive".

      Amnesty says: "Opposition figures, journalists and human rights defenders continued to suffer harassment by the state. Torture and other ill-treatment by security forces remained widespread. In February 2012, Berdimuhamedov was re-elected with 97.4% of the vote."


      Last month, five pop stars were banned by the state from performing because they didn't sing songs that "praise the motherland". Strangely, even Gulnara Karimova, the socialite and non-banned pop star daughter of Uzbekistan's dictator Islam Karimov, doesn't sing songs about the "motherland". It's not clear whether Sting, who was paid more than £1m to perform in a concert put on by Karimova in 2010, also sang songs praising Uzbekistan.

      Recent news stories have focused on Uzbekistan's use of forced child labour and human trafficking, and forced sterilisations. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Uzbekistan the sixth most censored country. Mindful of strategic borders with Afghanistan, the west has dropped sanctions and overlooked human rights abuses, including torture.

      Amnesty says: "Human rights defenders and journalists continue to be harassed, beaten, prosecuted and detained. The use of torture and other ill-treatment is frequent."


      Access to the internet and sites such as Facebook (described as a "hotbed of slander" by the state after reports of posts criticising the president) are regularly blocked and journalists are targeted. BBC reporter Urunboy Usmonov, who was arrested in 2011, complained of torture. As a leaked WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy in the country put it: "From the president down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption. [President] Rahmon and his family control the country's major businesses, including the largest bank, and they play hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large."

      Amnesty says: "Torture and other ill-treatment remains widespread and impunity for perpetrators continues. Freedom of expression was still under attack, despite some liberalisation in the law."


      Relatively speaking, the least troubling of the –stans, but by no means perfect. The journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov is serving a life sentence on charges that are seen as politically motivated, and corruption is still a problem, but is improving. Kyrgystan's president was democratically elected – although there were questions raised over the election processes in which Almazbek Atambayev won, the head of the election observer mission sent by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said "we are cautiously optimistic about the future in Kyrgyzstan".

      Amnesty says: "While arbitrary arrests of mainly ethnic Uzbeks appeared to have become less frequent in the past year, reports persisted of serious human rights violations."

      Aussie Muslim Minister Defends Qur’an Oath
      OnIslam & Newspapers
      Tuesday, 02 July 2013 00:00


      CAIRO – Australia's first Muslim minister has been racially abused over social network after he took the oath of office on the noble Qur’an.

      "I am who I am," Ed Husic, who was appointed as a parliament secretary to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and parliamentary secretary for broadband on Monday, told The Telegraph on Tuesday, July 2.

      “I couldn't obviously take my oath on a bible and I didn't want to affirm. [I] see that as a natural part of democracy and a good thing that people can ask those questions.

      “But I also think that you'll have, from time to time, people at the extremes - there are people definitely that are extreme within my faith and there are people that are extreme outside it - and they will always seek ways in which to divide people.”

      Husic, of Bosnian origin, is the first Muslim to be appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary to the deputy Prime Minister in his capacity as the Minister for Broadband.

      Hours after taking the oath on Monday before Governor-General Quentin Bryce, his Facebook page attracted posts from people angry at his decision to use the Koran instead of a Bible to take his oath.

      "You have created history of the worst order, to swear in on a Koran!! This is Australia with Australian Laws," said one poster calling themselves Dinki Di Sheila.

      "Swore to serve Australia using the same book terrorists do to serve Al-Qaeda ....Disgusting," said another.

      “Shame, Shame, Shame," wrote Ross Peace.

      "I am so disappointed in this government that they don't have the spine to stand up for the Australian way of life."

      “You are the shame of our great nation. Australian politics has gone to the dogs, and committing the treasonous act of swearing in on the Qur’an, you are the biggest mutt in the yard!,” another user, Steve Kerr, wrote.

      Husic, 43, made history in 2010 when he was elected a member of parliament for western Sydney.

      He took the oath with his hand put on a copy of the Noble Qur’an.


      Husic’s decision to take Qur’an oath was defended by different politicians, rejecting the racial comments as an “appalling” criticism.

      “Criticism of @edhusicmp for being sworn-in on the Qur’an is a disgrace - we live in a democracy where we must respect freedom of religion,” a Liberal MP, Josh Frydenberg, who is Jewish, tweeted.

      Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said people should respect Husic's choice.

      "I respect his choice," he told reporters in Melbourne, AAP reproted.

      "I think the Australian people should as well."

      Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.

      Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.

      In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.

      Germany-Turkey diplomatic row intensifies
      Ambassadors of both countries summoned after Chancellor Merkel criticised Ankara's crackdown on anti-government rallies.
      Last Modified: 21 Jun 2013 17:44


      Tawbah in a Taxi Trip (Repentance Story)
      By Abdullah Ash-Sherif
      Saturday, 15 June 2013 00:00


      ‘Banned’ Ramadan for Uighur Muslims
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Thursday, 13 June 2013 00:00


      BEIJING – Unlike millions of Muslims around the world, Uighur students returning for summer vacations in northwestern China are banned from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

      "They are extracting guarantees from parents, promising that their children won't fast on Ramadan," Dilxat Raxit, Sweden-based spokesman for the exile World Uighur Congress (WUC), told Radio Free Asia on Thursday, June 13.

      Chinese authorities have reportedly imposed restrictions on Uighur Muslim students returning for summer vacations in the northwestern region of Xinjiang ahead of Ramadan.

      Under the restrictions, Uighur students under 18 are banned from fasting during Ramadan or taking part in religious activities.

      Students defying the restrictions are being reported to authorities for punishment.

      "They have also made groups of 10 households responsible for spying on each other, so that if a single child from one family fasts for Ramadan, or takes part in religious activities, then all 10 families will be fined,” Raxit said.

      "It's called a 10-household guarantee system.”

      Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, is set to start next month.

      In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

      The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.

      Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.

      It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.

      Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.

      Islam in Dubai: It's not just for Arabs
      In the UAE's biggest city, you are hard-pressed to get much of anything in Arabic - unless it is religion.
      Last Modified: 29 May 2013 11:03


      Mali: Timbuktu's literary gems face Islamists and decay in fight for survival
      Ancient manuscripts on science and history are symbols of Africa's cultural heritage, say guardians of priceless library
      Afua Hirsch in Timbuktu
      The Guardian, Tuesday 21 May 2013


      There is a proverb in Timbuktu, the legendary medieval city in Mali's desert, that says: "The ink of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr."

      What Ahmed Baba, the 16th-century intellectual who said it, would make of recent developments is hard to imagine. At the multimillion-dollar Timbuktu institute bearing his name, fragments of ancient texts litter the corridors. The charred remains of not just scholarly ink, but the antique leather-bound covers that protected them against the harsh desert elements are blown by the hot Saharan wind.

      During the last days of the Islamist occupation of northern Mali, the al-Qaida-linked groups who seized control of the territory for almost nine months turned on the Ahmed Baba Institute. In what many people believe was a final act of revenge, and a senseless crime against some of Islam's greatest treasures, they set the manuscripts alight.

      "When the French started bombing, [the Islamists] set the manuscripts on fire as they were leaving," said Abdoulaye Cissé, interim director of the institute. "Even after most had fled the town, a small group of jihadists returned to make sure that the fire was still burning."

      "We are all Muslims, and in Timbuktu our practical version of Islam has existed for centuries," added Cissé, a native of the city who remained there throughout the occupation.

      "But they practise an archaic Islam and do not consider these writings as the authentic Qur'an because they cover not only religion but science, astronomy, history and literature. That's their ideology and we don't support it."

      Cissé, who wears a distinctive silver ring engraved with an Islamic blessing that he had to remove under Islamist rule, foresaw that Timbuktu's occupiers could target his precious charge. He and colleagues in Bamako, along with guards at the institute, th e nightwatchman and his son, and numerous co-operative drivers and boatmen, worked for months by night, carefully packing most of the institute's 45,000 manuscripts and ferreting them away by road or pirogue boat to the capital in the south.

      Somaliland waits for worldwide recognition
      Citizens and leaders in the autonomous region of Somalia say they are historically and politically a separate country.
      Last Modified: 18 May 2013 09:13


      The Horn of Africa has been ravaged by war and famine for decades, and now one of Somalia's regions, hopes to become an independent state.

      Somaliland sits on the Gulf of Aden and is officially regarded as an autonomous region of Somalia. The two were, however, separate until 1960. During the civil war in the 1980s, 40,000 people from Somaliland were killed, and nearly half a million fled.

      The region then declared independence in 1991. Since then, it has held four peaceful elections.

      Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo, the president, told Al Jazeera that Somaliland would like to retain its independence, despite Somalia's calls to be united with region.

      "I think I have been very clear too, that we are going to retain our independence," he said.

      "We would like to remain friends with Somalia, we would like to cooperate with them.

      "But as far as our independence is concerned. It is not I who has decided, it's not my government who has decided.

      "It the people of Somaliland, and the history of Somaliland, which has decided that Somaliland is going to be, and has always been a different country."

      Foreign investment

      Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Hargeisa on Friday, said that while war has raged in Somalia for decades, Somaliland has managed to unite its people.

      "It is now the biggest exporter of livestock to Saudi Arabia," she said. "Much of the progress has been down to Somalis sending money from abroad."

      Poverty, however, remains high and because Somaliland is not recognised as an independent state, it is not eligible for international development loans.

      The UN and the African Union have both rejected calls to recognise Somaliland.

      "Without recognition, it cannot get the foreign investment it needs," our correspondent said, adding that aid is instead sent to Somalia.

      On Tuesday, in response to a move by Somalia to assume full control of Somalia's entire airspace, including Somaliland, Mohamud Hashi Abdi, Somaliland's civil aviation minister, issued a ban against all UN flights from its airports.

      "We had already signed an agreement which allows an independent panel to control the airspace," Hashi was quoted by local media as saying in Hargeisa.

      Elsewhere in southern Somalia's Jubaland, a "warlord" assumed presidency of the region on Wednesday.

      Ahmed Madobe was elected Jubaland's "president" by a conference of about 500 elders and local leaders, but was challenged by Barre Hirale, a former Somali defence minister.

      "I was nominated president of Jubaland by the elders ... I call on the people to support my presidency to assist me in bringing peace," Hirale said.

      The irony of Muslim terrorism
      Terrorism is the vilest crime because it robs people not only of their lives, but also of their safety and freedom.
      Last Modified: 29 Apr 2013 15:09
      Mohamed Ghilan
      Mohamed Ghilan is a neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, Canada, and a student of Islamic jurisprudence.


      It is truly a sad state when the group affected the most by the current climate following the Boston marathon bombings have to wait for an outsider to speak some sense on their behalf. It is not that Muslims lack the capacity to express themselves and engage in an intellectual dialogue. But when the rhetoric all over the media continues to assert the label "radical Islam" whenever these events and their like are discussed, being a Muslim is equated with at the very least being suspicious.

      What makes it worse is that radical comes from the Late Latin, meaning "roots". According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term radical means, "of, relating to, or proceeding from a root; of or relating to the origin". In other words, what is being said is that the Tsarnaev brothers and anyone else who allegedly gets involved in terrorist activities are the ones who are properly practising the root teachings of Islam. This makes it highly problematic that Muslims have embraced such terminology as they try to defend their faith and community from being stigmatised and defined by these acts.

      Moreover, the manner in which Tamarlan Tsarnaev has been supposedly "radicalised" into an "extremist" form of Islam gives the impression that he was really being a practising Muslim in the extreme sense. Thus further embedding the idea that Islam is the problem, which is a simpleton's conclusion.

      The problem Muslims have in this circumstance is that any attempt at clearing Islam from such a tainting by the media is immediately met with scepticism. After all, these are not good odds to be up against. The suspects are Muslim, they speak in religious rhetoric, and the media puts all it can into making sure that every time they speak of tragic events like the one in Boston, Islam must be part of the red-coloured capital-lettered headline.

      It is possibly the largest mass scale Pavlovian conditioning experiment ever conducted, because the public is the subject. Of course, Muslims cannot even dream of attempting to engage in an inquiry on the non-religious reasons why these attackers have allegedly done what they had done. Such an attempt will seem like a form of justification or at least a siding with the alleged terrorists. Somehow explanation is confused for justification.

      Violence erupts in China's restive Xinjiang
      State media reports 21 deaths, including 15 police or social workers, during outbreak of unrest in divided region.
      Last Modified: 24 Apr 2013 14:38


      Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev have shamed all Chechens, family says
      Father in Russia tells Dzhokhar – a 'true angel' – to hand himself in while uncles in Maryland ask for victims' forgiveness
      Matt Williams in New York
      Follow @mattywills
      theguardian.com, Friday 19 April 2013 18.03 BST


      AP Stylebook revises 'Islamist' use
      By DYLAN BYERS | 4/5/13 12:15 PM EDT


      The Associated Press made waves earlier this week when it announced that it was dropping the term "illegal immigrant" from its Stylebook. But another significant change made yesterday seems to have flown under the radar.

      On Thursday, after much prodding from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the AP moved to disassociate the term "Islamist" from its negative connotations with "Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists."

      CAIR had complained late last year that the AP's old definition of "Islamist" -- a "supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam [and] who view the Quran as a political model" -- had become a pejorative shorthand for extremist Muslims or "Muslims we don't like."

      Dozens killed as biggest earthquake in 50 years hits Iran
      Force of 7.8 magnitude quake could be felt from Kabul to Delhi and Dubai
      ANDREW BUNCOMBE Author Biography TUESDAY 16 APRIL 2013


      A large earthquake, said to have been the most powerful to hit Iran in the past 50 years and which sent tremors across the region, has killed dozens of people and flattened homes. Yet Iranian officials have insisted the damage is much less than originally feared.

      The 7.8 magnitude quake struck at 15:14 local time (10:44 GMT) close to the Iranian border with Pakistan. The force of the tremor could be felt from Kabul to Delhi and Dubai. In the Pakistani city of Karachi many buildings were evacuated.

      Iran’s Press TV initially said at least 40 people had been killed but it later withdrew the claim, suggesting casualties were much lower. Meanwhile in Baluchistan province in south-west Pakistan it was reported that up to 34 people had lost their lives. The Pakistani authorities said emergency teams were flying to remote villages in the quake zone with assistance.

      Reuters reported that despite initial fears, it appeared that Iran had escaped relatively unscathed. Hatam Narouyi, governor of Sistan and Iran’s Baluchistan province, told the ISNA agency: “Fortunately, the earthquake resulted in no fatalities.”

      Experts said if this was true, among the reasons for the relatively light toll could be the depth of the tremor. The US Geological Survey said the quake hit at a depth of around 51 miles. It said the epicentre was 123 miles south-east of the city of Zahedan and northwest of Turbat in Pakistan.

      “It might be the depth, it might be nature of the seismic waves. It might be that there are a lot of smaller villages that have not yet been reached,” said Dr Steven Godby, an earthquakes expert at Nottingham Trent University. “I don’t think we will know for another 24 hours.”

      People in the Iranian city of Zahedan reportedly poured into the streets when it struck. Iranian Red Crescent official Morteza Moradipour said emergency crews, including dog teams to sniff through the debris for any buried survivors, had reached the area.

      Tuesday’s tremor was the second big quake to hit Iran in a week. On April 9, a powerful 6.3 magnitude quake struck on the Gulf coast close to Iran’s only nuclear power station, killing 37 people and injuring 850.

      Iran sits on major geological faultlines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes. The deadliest was the 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that flattened the city of Bam, in Iran's far southeast. More than 25,000 people were killed.

      Tuesday’s quake was felt over a vast area of west and south Asia. Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi, where people in panic came out from offices and homes. There were similar scenes in Delhi.
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