Articles of Interest, May 27, 2008

'Elizabeth', who was raped by 10 UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. Picture courtesy of Save the Children

‘Elizabeth’ was raped by 10 UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast

Peacekeepers ‘abusing children’

Children as young as six are being sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers, says a leading UK charity.

Children in post-conflict areas are being abused by the very people drafted into such zones to help look after them, says Save the Children.

After research in Ivory Coast, southern Sudan and Haiti, the charity proposed an international watchdog be set up.

Save the Children said it had sacked three workers for breaching its codes, and called on others to do the same.

The three men were all dismissed in the past year for having had sex with girls aged 17 – which the charity said was a sackable offence even though not illegal.

Vet Faces Lawsuit For Flying American Flag

CLERMONT, Fla. — A Central Florida war veteran faces a lawsuit for flying the American flag on a pole in his front yard.

“I don’t understand why it would bring down the values of our homes by flying the American flag from a pole in my front yard,” homeowner Jimmie Watkins said.

Watkins and his wife, Ria, received a final notice from the Sussex homeowners’ association in Clermont that they must remove the flag or face legal action.The former retired U.S. Navy communications officer said he refuses to back down for the American flag.”Our people are serving today to give us freedom to do as we like here within the law of America,” Watkins said. “It is my right to fly my flag from my pole and until a court of law tells me to haul that down, I will not haul it down. I think about all of the people who have served our nation and all of the lives that it’s cost and all of the friends that I’ve lost.”

Celebrating Malcolm X

I am part of the generation – the post civil-rights generation, post-black power generation – that turned Malcolm X into a T-shirt and cap. He was our symbol of racial discontent and political angst. Though we did not live through the brutal repression of Jim Crow, we knew for ourselves, in our own way, the effects of racial inequality. We saw the systematic destruction of urban communities, the incarceration of our peers, the violence and drugs that ravaged our neighborhoods. We knew that even the new opportunities and unprecedented accomplishments that previous generations made possible for us were often marked by racial isolation and insults.

We met Malcolm through the prism of popular culture, and we embraced him as a commodity, to signal our own disbelief in the American dream.

On Malcolm X’s birthday, those of us who embraced him as a pop icon need to encounter him again. We need to revisit Malcolm, because he has resisted all of our attempts to craft a single, well-packaged, vision of him. We need to unpack the things about him that remain elusive, difficult, messy and challenging.

We need to pause to think about him, because he left, for us, important social and political lessons.

Though Malcolm’s life was short, it was marked by dramatic change. He was born into poverty, madness and racial violence. His youthful arrogance, crime and indulgence led him to jail. But prison was no end for him; through a religious and political awakening, he found freedom in the context of imprisonment. He became an organization man, an orator, a world citizen and a free thinker with a cosmopolitan vision of the world.

Trips to barbershop inspired entrepreneur

Brian Egeston of Stone Mountain grew up with a truck driver dad who was happy with what he had.

Egeston grew into a man who was always looking for something better. An entrepreneur, a dreamer.

Someone crazy enough, in a bad economy and with a newborn son, to start a free local magazine about barbershops. Someone driven enough to load 20,000 copies of Barbershop Digest each month into a Chevy truck his dad gave him and deliver them to 600 shops all over metro Atlanta.

He and his pages celebrate the barbershop as a sanctuary from the societal message that African-American men aren’t valued. For Egeston, this is where life became vivid and full of possibility.

It was the rare common ground Egeston shared with his dad.

“My dad never taught me how to play catch. Never taught me how to shoot a basketball or throw a football. But he always took me to the barbershop when I needed a haircut,” Egeston said.

“It’s really the only constant I remember about our relationship. That’s probably when and why I fell in love with barbershops.”

Unlike his dad’s steady work for a paycheck, the men in the barbershop were hustlers. They always sought a way to make life better, even if it meant selling quickly thawing chicken parts to the guys in the barber chairs.

Egeston listened to their stories, laughed at their jokes, felt their pain of a job or family lost.

Starting in January, he put all that and more in his magazine. Politics, gossip, advice — everything you hear in a shop is there in black and white.

Would someone really kill Barack Obama? How low will baggy pants go? Need a “side hustle” to make ends meet?

Between the lines is Egeston’s story, about fathers and sons, what he remembers about his dad and what he wants for his own son.

Bill Clinton says wife is victim of a ‘cover up’

(CNN) — Former President Bill Clinton said that Democrats were more likely to lose in November if his wife Hillary Clinton is not the party’s presidential nominee, and suggested some people were trying to “cover this up” and “push and pressure and bully” superdelegates to make up their minds prematurely.

“I can’t believe it. It is just frantic the way they are trying to push and pressure and bully all these superdelegates to come out,” he said at a South Dakota campaign stop Sunday, in remarks first reported by ABC News. “’Oh, this is so terrible: The people they want her. Oh, this is so terrible: She is winning the general election, and he is not. Oh my goodness, we have to cover this up.'”

The former president added that his wife had not been given the respect she deserved as a legitimate presidential candidate. “She is winning the general election today and he is not, according to all the evidence,” he said. “And I have never seen anything like it. I have never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.”

“Her only position was, ‘Look, if I lose I’ll be a good team player. We will all try to win — but let’s let everybody vote, and count every vote,’” he said.

The former president suggested that if the New York senator ended the primary season with an edge in the popular vote, it would be a significant development. “If you vote for her and she does well in Montana and she does well in Puerto Rico, when this is over she will be ahead in the popular vote,” said Clinton.

“And they’re trying to get her to cry uncle before the Democratic Party has to decide what to do in Florida and Michigan” – which the party would need to do “unless we want to lose the election. ”

Clinton’s Grim Scenario

If this campaign goes on much longer, what will be left of Hillary Clinton?

A woman uniformly described by her close friends as genuine, principled and sane has been reduced to citing the timing of Robert F. Kennedy‘s assassination as a reason to stay in the race — an argument that is ungenuine, unprincipled and insane. She vows to keep pushing, perhaps all the way to the convention in August. What manner of disintegration is yet to come?

For anyone who missed it, Clinton was pleading her cause before the editorial board of the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader on Friday. Rejecting calls to drop out because her chances of winning have become so slight, she said the following: “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don’t understand it.”

The point isn’t whether you take Clinton at her word that she didn’t actually mean to suggest that someone — guess who? — might be assassinated. The point is: Whoa, where did that come from?

Setting aside for the moment the ugliness of Clinton’s remark, just try to make it hold together. Clinton’s basic argument is that attempts to push her out of the race are hasty and premature, since the nomination sometimes isn’t decided until June. She cites two election years, 1968 and 1992, as evidence — but neither is relevant to 2008 because the campaign calendar has been changed.

In 1968, the Democratic race kicked off with the New Hampshire primary on March 12; when Robert Kennedy was killed, the campaign was not quite three months old. In 1992, the first contest was the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 10; by the beginning of June, candidates had been battling for about 3 1/2 months — and it was clear that Bill Clinton would be the nominee, though he hadn’t technically wrapped it up.

This year, the Iowa caucuses were held on Jan. 3, the earliest date ever. Other states scrambled to move their contests up in the calendar as well. When June arrives, the candidates will have been slogging through primaries and caucuses for five full months — a good deal longer than in those earlier campaign cycles.

So Clinton’s disturbing remark wasn’t wishful thinking — as far as I know (to quote Clinton herself, when asked earlier this year about false rumors that her opponent Barack Obama is a Muslim). Clearly, it wasn’t logical thinking. It can only have been magical thinking, albeit not the happy-magic kind.

Clinton has always claimed to be the cold-eyed realist in the race, and at one point maybe she was. Increasingly, though, her words and actions reflect the kind of thinking that animates myths and fairy tales: Maybe a sudden and powerful storm will scatter my enemy’s ships. Maybe a strapping woodsman will come along and save the day.

Clinton has poured more than $11 million of her own money into the campaign, with no guarantee of ever getting it back. She has changed slogans and themes the way Obama changes his ties. She has been the first major-party presidential candidate in memory to tout her appeal to white voters. She has abandoned any pretense of consistency, inventing new rationales for continuing her candidacy and new yardsticks for measuring its success whenever the old rationales and yardsticks begin to favor Obama.

It could be that any presidential campaign requires a measure of blind faith. But there’s a difference between having faith in a dream and being lost in a delusion. The former suggests inner strength; the latter, an inner meltdown.

What Clinton’s evocation of RFK suggests isn’t that she had some tactical reason for speaking the unspeakable but that she and her closest advisers can’t stop running and rerunning through their minds the most far-fetched scenarios, no matter how absurd or even obscene. She gives the impression of having spent long nights convincing herself that the stars really might still align for her — that something can still happen to make the Democratic Party realize how foolish it has been.

Clinton campaigns as if she knows she will leave some Democrats with bad feelings. That’s the Clinton way: Ask forgiveness, not permission. But every day, as more superdelegates trickle to Obama’s side, it becomes a surer bet that she will not win. She and her family enjoy good health and fabulous wealth. They’ll be fine — unless, while losing this race for the nomination, Hillary Clinton also loses her soul.

McCain says he and Obama should visit Iraq together

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Republican John McCain on Monday sharply criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama for not having been to Iraq since 2006, and said they should visit the war zone together.

“Look at what happened in the last two years since Senator Obama visited and declared the war lost,” the GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting told The Associated Press in an interview, noting that the Illinois senator’s last trip to Iraq came before the military buildup that is credited with curbing violence.

“He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time,” the Arizona senator added. “If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn’t had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly.”

THE DEMONIZATION OF ISLAM

Dr. Eqbal Ahmed was born in Bihar, India in 1933. He migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He earned his PhD in Political Science and Middle Eastern History from Princeton. He taught at University of Illinois at Chicago and Cornell University. In the 60’s he became known as one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of American policies in Vietnam and Cambodia. Dr. Ahmed died in Islamabad on May 11, 1999.

According to David Barsamain, Eqbal Ahmed was a rare combination of scholar and activist. He not only shared his knowledge with progressive movements for social change but he participated in them. He cared about people and he cared about justice.

David Barsamian is the producer of the award-winning syndicated radio program Alternative Radio. He is a regular contributor to The Progressive and Z Magazine. He interviewed Dr. Eqbal Ahmed in August 1998. Following is an excerpt from an interview with him.

Where do you trace chronologically when Islam, Muslims, Arabs become targeted as a threat or an enemy of the West?

This is not a completely new phenomenon… In the tenth century, for the first time you saw a certain notion of demonizing Islam. At that point, it wasn’t so misplaced from the European point of view, because Islam was an expansionist civilization, and therefore considered…a threat and a menace. The Crusades witnessed the first instance of demonization along religious lines, that is, demonization of Islam itself rather than of Arabs or Turks… Next you notice it in the period when British and later French colonialist encountered Muslim resistance.

There was the case of the Mahdi, who besieged and killed General Charles George Gordon in 1885 in Khartoum. That particular moment saw a great deal of emphasis on Islamic fanaticism. Colonial battles were never remembered unless a Custer was killed or a Gordon besieged. Millions of people may die, but the memories are of Custer and Gordon.

This third time… in the last 1,400 years that there is this organized attempt to demonize Islam. This time it’s more organized and sustained, because the means have changed. Today there is mass communication.

Does this process of demonization come from a shared consensus that is not articulated? Or are people meeting at Harvard and saying, “OK, we have to get together and demonize Arabs and Muslims?”

I don’t think there is a conspiracy… Great imperialism needed a legitimizing instrument to socialize people into its ethos. To do that it needed two things: a ghost and a mission. The British carried the white man’s burden. That was the mission. The French carried la mission civilisatrice, the civilizing mission. The Americans had manifest destiny and then the mission of standing watch on the walls of world freedom, in John F. Kennedy’s ringing phase. Each of them had the black, the yellow, and finally the red peril to fight against. There was a ghost and there was a mission. People bought it.

After the Cold War, Western power was deprived both of the mission and the ghost. So the mission has appeared as human rights. It’s very strange mission for a country, which for nearly a hundred years has been supporting dictatorship in Latin America and throughout the world. Chomsky and Herman wrote about this in The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism.

In search of menace, they have turned to Islam. It’s the easiest, because it has a history.

How is Islam similar to Christianity and Judaism?

Judaism Christianity, and Islam, in contrast to Hinduism and Buddhism, are all monotheistic faiths that worship the God of Adam, Abraham, and Moses-creator, sustainer, and lord of the universe. They share a common belief in the oneness of God (monotheism), sacred history (history as the theater of God’s activity and the encounter of God and humankind), prophets and divine revelation, angels, and Satan. All stress moral responsibility and accountability, Judgment Day, and eternal reward and punishment.

All three faiths emphasize their special covenant with God, for Judaism through Moses, Christianity through Jesus, and Islam through Muhammad. Christianity accepts God’s covenant with and revelation to the Jews but traditionally has seen itself as superseding Judaism with the coming of Jesus. Thus Christianity speaks of its new covenant and New Testament. So, too, Islam and Muslims recognize Judaism and Christianity: their biblical prophets (among them Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus) and their revelations (the Torah and the New Testament, or Message of Jesus). Muslim respect for all the biblical prophets is reflected in the custom of saying “Peace and blessings be upon him” after naming any of the prophets and in the common usage of the names Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Daoud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), and Issa (Jesus) for Muslims. In addition, Islam makes frequent reference to Jesus and to the Virgin Mary, who is cited more times in the Quran than in the New Testament.

However, Muslims believe that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity-that the Quran is the final and complete word of God and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets. In contrast to Christianity, which accepts much of the Hebrew Bible, Muslims believe that what is written in the Old and New Testaments is a corrupted version of the original revelation to Moses and Jesus. Moreover, Christianity’s development of “new” dogmas such as the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the doctrines of redemption and atonement is seen as admixing God’s revelation with human fabrication.

Peace is central to all three faiths. This is reflected historically in their use of similar greetings meaning “peace be upon you”: shalom aleichem in Judaism, pax vobiscum in Christianity, and salaam alaikum in Islam. Often, however, the greeting of peace has been meant primarily for members of one’s own faith community.

Leaders of each religion, from Joshua and King David to Constantine and Richard the Lion-Hearted to Muhammad and Saladin, have engaged in holy wars to spread or defend their communities or empires. The joining of faith and politics continues to exist in modern times, though manifested in differing ways, as seen in Northern Ireland, South Africa, America, Israel, and the Middle East.

Islam is similar to Judaism in its emphasis on practice rather than belief, on law rather than dogma. The primary religious discipline in Judaism and Islam has been religious law; for Christianity it has been theology. Historically, in Judaism and Islam the major debates and disagreements have been among scholars of religious law over matters of religious practice, whereas in Christianity the early disputes and cleavages in the community were over theological beliefs: the nature of the Trinity or the relationship of Jesus’ human and divine natures.

How do Muslims view Judaism? Christianity?

Both Jews and Christians hold a special status within Islam because of the Muslim belief that God revealed His will through His prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

Say, We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what has been sent down to Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring, and what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus and to all the prophets of our Lord. We make no distinction between them and we submit to Him and obey. (Quran 3:84)

The Quran and Islam regard Jews and Christians as children of Abraham and refer to them as “People of the Book,” since all three monotheistic faiths descend from the same patrilineage of Abraham. Jews and Christians trace themselves back to Abraham and his wife Sarah; Muslims, to Abraham and his servant Hagar. Muslims believe that God sent his revelation (Torah) first to the Jews through the prophet Moses and then to Christians through the prophet Jesus. They recognize many of the biblical prophets, in particular Moses and Jesus, and those are common Muslim names. Another common Muslim name is Mary. In fact, the Virgin Mary’s name occurs more times in the Quran than in the New Testament; Muslims also believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. However, they believe that over time the original revelations to Moses and Jesus became corrupted. The Old Testament is seen as a mixture of God’s revelation and human fabrication. The same is true for the New Testament and what Muslims see as Christianity’s development of “new” and erroneous doctrines such as that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus’ death redeemed and atoned for humankind’s original sin.

Group promotes understanding of Islam, one Quran at a time

CHICAGO — As Marcia Macy chatted with her dog walker in the driveway of her Wheaton, Ill., home Thursday, a young Muslim man passed her and hooked a plastic bag containing a Quran on her doorknob.

Unlike most religious solicitors, the man didn’t try to speak with her or engage her in debate. He simply left her a 378-page paperback English translation of the holy book of Islam.

“I’d read it just to see what it says, but I believe in Jesus, not Allah,” said Macy, a longtime Christian.

“They have a right to do it … but I feel pretty strong in my faith.”

If Macy reads the text, she will have fulfilled the goal of the Book of Signs Foundation. The Muslim organization says that since July it has distributed more than 70,000 free English-language Qurans to homes in the Chicago area and an additional 30,000 around Houston.

The Christian stronghold of Wheaton is the group’s latest stop. The foundation spent the previous three weeks in Chicago’s Hyde Park and Jackson Park neighborhoods.

Organizers said their aim is to help people develop their own opinions about Islam instead of being misled by common misconceptions about the faith that have been especially egregious since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We’re just trying to be honest brokers of information,” said Wajahat Sayeed, founder and director of the Book of Signs, which also is known as al-Furqaan Foundation.

“You make your own judgment.”

Distributing free scripture is not new, of course. Many Christian groups pass out Bibles; Gideons International distributed almost 450,000 Bibles in September in a weeklong “New York Bible Blitz.” And other Muslim groups have given away free Qurans. Lake County, Ill.’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Community reports distributing more than 1,000 since 2005, with a boom in requests for Spanish-translated Qurans in the last year.

But the Book of Signs’ long-term goal is particularly ambitious: that each household in the U.S. possess a Quran, even if the residents are not Muslims.

Muslims believe the Quran to be the word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Experts said reading the Quran can be difficult for the average non-Muslim because it’s not written in chronological order and requires some context about the period in which it was written.

The Signs book includes a phone number where people can leave a message if they have questions or comments, and Sayeed checks those messages daily. He said about 30 percent are appreciative. An additional 30 percent are indifferent and request that someone return to pick up the book. The rest are often expletive-laden.

Muslims Try to Balance Traditions, U.S. Culture on Path to Marriage

As imam of one of the Washington region’s largest mosques, Mohamed Magid counsels married couples, including those with a problem he sees among Muslim Americans: husbands and wives who were virtual strangers before they wedded.

Islamic practice bans unsupervised dating, and in transient 2008 America, traditional Muslims may wind up far from families who once oversaw the connection of two single people. Many African American Muslims are converts and do not have Muslim relatives who can help with the process.

A few years ago, Magid, imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, started something new: required premarital counseling for people who marry at the mosque. His wife recently launched a singles program meant to honor modesty and cut to the chase: participants meet in groups to discuss scriptural problems, read stories, and make lists of what they think are the most important characteristics for a Muslim wife or husband in the United States.

Although premarital counseling and singles programs are common for some faith groups, they are new in U.S. mosques, placing Magid and his wife on the vanguard of a drive to update Muslim practices and institutions surrounding marriage. The movement stems from concern among many Muslim American leaders that families are not keeping up with cultural changes, leading people to divorce and marry multiple times, or become alienated either from Islam or from mainstream American life.

Key issues include what Islam says about interfaith marriage, how well Muslims can know each another before they marry, and what the modern version is of a “wali,” or guardian, a figure in Islam who is supposed to help women pick the right husbands.

“Generation gaps, cultural differences when people from the United States marry someone from overseas, interfaith marriage — the issue of marriage is one of the most important in Islam here right now,” Magid said. “Anytime there is a program at the mosque about these things, it’s completely packed.”

A commonly discussed problem is the surplus of single Muslim women. This stems partly from Islamic practice’s broader acceptance of men marrying outside the faith than women.

Daisy Khan, a New York activist who counsels couples with her husband, an imam, organized a Valentine’s Day event for singles — 15 men and 63 women attended. Although she used to feel torn about interfaith marriage, she is now concerned that women will either be left unmarried or leave their faith. She tries to connect Muslim couples but also thinks pious Muslim women should be able to marry non-Muslims who also are pious.

“It’s my obligation to shift a little, to give a little because it’s important for them to stay within the faith,” she said. “You have to clear up the mandate of: What is God’s mission? I see God’s hand in this.”

In a Pew Research Center poll of Muslim Americans released last year, 54 percent of women said interfaith marriage is acceptable, compared with 70 percent of men.

Marriage practices are a growing issue among Muslims in part because melding into the mainstream is increasingly their goal, experts said. This is true for many first- and second-generation Muslims and U.S.-born converts. It is a complex balance, however, testing relations between parents and children and within new couples.

Many Muslim dating and marriage traditions exist to promote sexual reserve, particularly among women, but in 2008, separation between potential mates has lost its cultural moorings.

Muslim TV channel to stage interfaith game show

Britain’s first interfaith game show is to be launched, pitting Jews against Muslims, Sikhs against Christians and Hindus against Buddhists, with contestants competing for cash prizes.

Faith Off, the working title of a series on the Islam Channel, will attempt to promote good relations and mutual respect between Britain’s religious communities. Two teams of four will go head to head in each episode, answering quick-fire and general knowledge questions in the eight-part series hosted by the Muslim comedian Jeff Mirza.

There will be a multiple choice current affairs segment in addition to a home or away round, when contestants can answer questions on their own faith or the opposing team’s for further points.

Players will also have to identify religious figures, such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope, from blurred footage.

The programme is likely to have all the elements of a traditional gameshow – a garish set, flashing lights, puns and loud buzzers – plus the added twist of headscarves, turbans and yarmulkes.

Participants in the show, the makers say, will have varying degrees of knowledge. Some of the contestants responded directly to online adverts on Muslim websites, while others were found via the Islam Channel’s networks.

The show is not aimed at theologians or scholars, said its producer, Abrar Hussain, who also produced the programme Model Mosque, a national competition to find Britain’s best mosque.

Hussain said: “We’re living in a multifaith, multicultural society. I know a bit about Christianity but nothing about Judaism.

“You learn about religions at school and then you forget, so it’s about transferring the basic blocks of knowledge … It’s also about learning the similarities between religions, instead of focusing on the differences.”

He conceded that the prizes were modest. “We’d like to offer more but it’s not about winning, it’s about taking part.”

One of the Jewish contestants, 42-year-old Danny Judelson, said: “A gameshow is an original idea, to say the least … I thought it was interesting that the channel were taking seriously the opportunity to educate their audience. There’s a very serious purpose behind it.”

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