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Monday, March 30, 2009

Russia, China cooperate on new currency proposals: Kremlin


Moscow (ANTARA News) - Russia and China are coordinating proposals on a new global currency that could replace the US dollar as a reserve currency to prevent a repeat of the global economic crisis, the Kremlin said on Monday.

"We have received proposals from our colleagues in China, detailed proposals," President Dmitry Medvedev's top economic adviser Arkady Dvorkovich was quoted by AFP as saying. "Our positions are very similar.

"We have similar positions on the development of the international financial architecture," he told reporters.

Ahead of the Group of 20 summit in London later this week, the Kremlin has published a raft of proposals to overhaul the global economic order, including plans for a supra-national currency that could replace the US dollar.

China has come forward with similar ideas.

US President Barack Obama has said he does not see why the dollar should be replaced and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the summit would have more immediate issues to discuss.

"So far, not everybody is ready for that," acknowledged Dvorkovich. "We will insist on that at all levels."

Medvedev has said the international community should have a say when the world's richest countries make decisions with global implications, as in the US financial crisis, sparked by the collapse of the market for subprime or higher risk mortgages.

Moscow also understood however, that many countries were not ready to undertake additional "political obligations," said Dvorkovich, expressing hope that major economies would at least be open to consultations on the subject.

Dvorkovich said he hoped Russia and other major developing economies would also get an equal say and the attention they deserve during the G20 meeting.

"We are hoping that our voice will be heard but I would like to stress that we do not have a desire to pit our voice against that of our partners," he said, referring to developing economies Brazil, India and China who join Russia in what is known collectively as 'BRIC.'

"There will be no separate joint (BRIC) communique, nor should there be," Dvorkovich said. "This is the summit of the leaders of the G20 countries."

Critics have suggested China and the United States, whose economies are closely intertwined, would likely steal the show by promoting their own agenda and turning the G20 forum into a 'G2' summit.

Dvorkovich said the US and China would have ample time to discuss bilateral issues on the summit's sidelines

Separately, Dvorkovich said Medvedev would meet Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on April 1, just before the summit. Medvedev was also scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama, China's Hu Jintao and Britain's Brown that day.

Arab-Latam bid for a diverse world,


By Lucia Newman, Latin America editor
The Moors invaded and conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula in 711AD.

By the time they were driven out of Granada in 1492, the Arabs had left an indelible racial and cultural imprint.

Both the Spanish and Portuguese languages have a marked Arabic influence.

Yet when the Spanish and Portuguese crossed the Atlantic to conquer America, the close connection with the Arab world was somehow lost as the new colonies fought to establish their own identities.

More than five centuries later, the arrival of South American heads of state in Doha, Qatar, to attend a presidential summit with Arab leaders is a conscious effort on each side to rediscover the other and forge a relationship that is seen as long overdue.

For Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil, it is a priority.

"It is imperative for the countries of South America to establish a real understanding with the nations of the Middle East, with the Arab world, so that we can establish not just a commercial relationship, but a political and cultural relationship, so that we can be free of the ties and decisions of the so called rich countries," he said in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera.

Common ties

The effort to find common ground with the Arab region reflects Latin America's changing priorities.

In the last eight years, the political map has changed radically, with every major South American country, except Peru and Colombia, now being led by a left or centre-left government.

From Venezuela' fiercely anti-American president, Hugo Chavez, to Chile's and Brazil's more moderate leaders, all are staunch proponents of a multi-polar world, not dominated by a super power nor a bloc of industrialised nations.

"Ten years ago it would have been impossible to think of a meeting like this between the Arabs and Latin America or South America," Chavez said.

"It is now that the left-wing movements have managed to obtain political power and lead governments in Latin America, that this possibility has opened, because before our governments would always kneel before the US state department," he said.

Limited links

While they are on opposite sides of the globe and have very different cultures and political structures, the two regions share a common colonial experience.

Given the changing global political and economic map, South America and the Arab region are attempting to join forces, so their voices carry more weight, especially in multi-lateral forums such as the G20 group of leading industrialised nations.

South America's powerhouse, Brazil, is counting on Arab support to help push its candidacy for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council which, if successful, would give the Arab region an ally in a strategic arena.

The South American-Arab Leaders' Summit was the brainchild of the Brazilian president, who hosted the first such meeting in 2005 in Brasilia.

At the time it was little more than a declaration of good intentions to strengthen ties, yet it was as significant first step.

"Our relations with [the Arab world] were very limited, very small ... we had a trade balance of $8bn with the Arab world, and after that meeting, after that initiative of our government, our trade balance has climbed to $20bn," Lula said.

Something similar has happened in Argentina where, in just three years, exports to the Arab region have jumped from $1.8bn to $4.5bn, according to Sattam Al Kaddour, the secretary-general of the Argentine-Arab Chamber of Commerce.

Arabian origins

It should not be so surprising.

There are up to 20m Arabs and descendants of Arabs living in the region, most of them in South America.

In Brazil alone, there are an estimated 10m. About 8m of them are Lebanese - more than in Lebanon itself.

Argentina has an estimated 3.5m people of Syrian and Lebanese origin. Carlos Menem, Argentina's former president, is the son of Syrian immigrants.

Neighbouring Chile has the largest community of people of Palestinian origin outside of the Middle East, the vast majority Christian Palestinians who migrated from Beit Jala and Bethlehem.

The first exodus occurred in the mid-19th century, when Palestine was ruled by the Ottomans.

After the foundation of Israel in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes, many Christian Arabs followed their ancestors to the Americas.

The majority went to Chile, where the mountains and Mediterranean climate of Santiago's central valley seemed familiar.

Today, many Chilean Palestinians are prominent members of the business and political community.

Nevertheless, despite the large number of South Americans of Arab origin, the direct contact between the two regions has been limited.

It was not until last year that the first direct flight between a South American city (Sao Paulo) and an Arab country (Dubai) was inaugurated.

Trade benefits

So, why has it taken so long?

Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister, said: "Until now, both regions used to always look towards the United States or towards Europe, but never towards each other.

"The unprecedented push to bring the two regions closer is being applauded, especially by the South American business community.

"The potential here is unimaginable because, if we look towards the Arab world as a whole and Latin America, we see that the economies of the two regions compliment each other perfectly.

"In the Arab region they have large deserts and a very dry climate, and in Latin America we have green, fertile soil and 26 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply," Al Kaddour said.

The balance of trade so far is in South America's favour.

"The food export sector is the most important right now because the Arab region is a big buyer of food products and South America, especially Brazil and Argentina, are countries with a large agro-industry," Al Kaddour said.

It is hoped the second South American-Arab Leaders' Summit in Doha will give a push to the new found relationship.

The widespread sympathy for the Palestinian cause in South America, especially after Israel's recent war on Gaza in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, should contribute.

Venezuela and Bolivia went as far as to expel the Israeli ambassadors in their countries, and Chile and Brazil issued strong condemnations during the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

"It is very interesting to exchange views between Arab and South American leaders, to establish accords, no?" Chavez said.

"The most important thing, though, is the geopolitical relationship. I think this is the beginning of a path that we are building, in the construction of a multi-polar world."

Source: Al Jazeera

Doha summit to back Bashir


DOHA: An Arab summit in Qatar today is expected to back Sudan over an international arrest warrant for the Sudanese president and try to heal a deep rift between Arab states over how to deal with Iran.

President Omar Bashir arrived in Qatar yesterday, after visits to Egypt, Eritrea and Libya in the weeks since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the warrant for his arrest and accused him of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.

Qatar, which hosts a key US military base, said last week it had faced unspecified pressure not to receive Bashir but it repeated an invitation for him to attend.

Bashir’s presence poses a challenge for the summit of the 22-member Arab League, but it is expected to voice support for him.

In the Sudanese capital Khartoum, an official played down any risk of Bashir being apprehended during the trip. “There is no power on earth that will intercept the president when he travels. If he flew to France maybe they would try to apprehend him there, but none of them is going to come all this way to apprehend him,” said Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol at Sudan’s Foreign Ministry.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is leading the Kingdom’s delegation to the summit. The king, who arrived here in the evening, held talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani on the conference’s agenda.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has also flown in to the Qatari capital, will attend the summit despite the presence of Bashir, a UN official said.

“Sudan is a member of the United Nations while the International Criminal Court is an independent judicial body, which does not prevent the United Nations from dealing with Sudan,” the official said.

The Doha meeting had been expected to see Arab League states seeking to close ranks split largely over how to respond to Israel’s 22-day onslaught on Hamas-ruled Gaza, and amid the growing influence of Iran in the region.

Qatari Premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani urged foreign ministers who met ahead of the summit to strive for a unified front, beyond the show of solidarity with Sudan. “We have to live up to our responsibilities and work toward closing ranks,” he said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is staying away from the summit. Egypt will instead be represented by its legal and parliamentary affairs minister, Mufid Shehab.

Arab foreign ministers on Saturday approved a draft declaration calling for the annulment of the ICC measures against Bashir and urging all Arab states to reject the arrest warrant.

Source : Agencies

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Faisal Awards presented


Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News
RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah presented awards to this year’s winners of the prestigious King Faisal International Prize (KFIP) at a glittering ceremony here last night. The awards were presented in all five categories to recipients from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Kingdom, the United States, Morocco and Russia.

In the service to Islam category, Egypt’s Principal Shari’ah Society for Qur’an and Sunnah Scholars was honored, while two scholars from the UK and Russia shared and received the prize in the science category.

The presentation ceremony at the Prince Sultan Hall in the Al-Faisaliah complex in Riyadh was attended by a number of princes, Cabinet members, diplomats and senior government officials. Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who is also the director-general of the King Faisal Foundation (KFF) and chair of the KFIP board, welcomed the king and guests.

Abdullah Al-Othaimeen, KFIP secretary-general, read out individual citations for winners, who then received their prizes from King Abdullah.

King Abdullah first presented the Prize for Arabic Language and Literature to Abd Al-Aziz N. Al-Manie of Saudi Arabia, who is professor emeritus of Arabic literature at Riyadh’s King Saud University. In his acceptance speech, Al-Manie thanked the king for the award and said he has been “working, verifying and elucidating several Arabic literary works of the third and seventh century Hijrah through the years.”

Each winner of the award received SR750,000 ($200,000) in cash, a certificate outlining the laureate’s work and a commemorative 22-carat gold medallion. Speaking on the occasion, Al-Othaimeen cited Egypt’s Principal Shari’ah Society for Qur’an and Sunnah Scholars as the winner of the 2009 KFIP for service to Islam.

The prize was given in recognition of the society’s outstanding services to Islam and Muslims, which includes nearly 100 years of dawa work. The society’s services in Egypt include holding religious classes, extending true Islamic teachings and thought through its website, establishing more than 50 institutes for training Muslim preachers, and sponsoring orphans and students at Al-Azhar University.

The organization has also been rigorously contesting anti-Islamic propaganda, carries out a range of social services and has built more than 5,000 mosques across the world.

In the Islamic studies category, Abdessalam M. Cheddadi, a professor at the University Research Institute of Mohammad V University in Rabat, was cited for his pioneering works on Ibn Khaldoun. After receiving the prize from King Abdullah, Cheddadi said that he had been “working in this field for the last 30 years.” Cheddadi has elucidated the basis, concepts, terminology and types of Ibn Khaldoun’s famous theory of “Imran”, comparing them to modern social theories.

In the category of medicine, the prize was presented to Ronald Levy, head of the oncology division at Stanford University Medical School’s Department of Medicine. Levy thanked the king and KFF and said he had been recognized for his pioneering studies in cancer immunotherapy. “Our studies, our efforts and our treatment are for all humanity irrespective of color and religion,” he said.

Almost 30 years ago, he developed antibodies that could distinguish between malignant and benign tumor cells.

Levy, in his works, showed in 1980 that monoclonal antibodies against a tumor-associated antigen could be employed to treat patients with B cell lymphoma. Many of these patients responded well to the treatment. In the last 11 years, the drug he discovered has been used to treat a large number of lymphoma patients with remarkable remission and survival results. In his more recent work, Levy has used patients’ immune system to mount immune responses against their cancer cells.

In the science category, Sir Richard Henry Friend, chairman of the British Council of the School of Physical Sciences and Cavendish professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, and Rashid Alievich Sunyaev, chief scientist at the Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Science and director of the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, shared the prize for their distinguished contributions. Friend, in his speech, thanked KFF and said that he had a pleasant surprise on hearing news of his nomination for the prize.

“Friend has pioneered the physics and engineering of semi-conductor devices made of plastic materials,” said Al-Othaimeen in the citation. On the other hand, Sunyaev has made pioneering and fundamental contributions to astrophysics and cosmology, he added.

Sunyaev’s theoretical works on cosmic background radiation laid the foundation for observational exploration of the structure of the universe. His work on black holes and binary stars has been critical in advancing the field of X-ray astronomy.

In his acceptance speech, Sunyaev appreciated the role of the Kingdom under the leadership of King Abdullah in promoting research, knowledge and scholarly works. Recalling the contributions of Arab scientists and scholars especially in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, he said that the UN has declared 2009 as the year of astronomy. “This is indeed a rare field that needs to be explored more and recognized,” said the space scientist, while referring to Arab contributions in this field.

The King Faisal Awards were established in 1979. The prize is considered the Arab Nobel Prize. Several winners of the King Faisal prize have also won the Nobel Prize.

Topics for the 2010 King Faisal International Prize were also announced. Mathematics will be the subject for the KFIP in the science category, while non-arthroplasty management of degenerative disease will be the topic in the medicine category. Studies dealing with Arabic grammatical thought will be the topic in the Arabic language category, while studies dealing with religious endowments in Islam will be the subject of the prize in the Islamic studies category.

The deadline for nomination for 2010’s KFIP is May 1, 2009.

The King Faisal Foundation was established in 1976 by the eight sons of the late King Faisal. Of the many philanthropic activities of the KFF, the King Faisal International Prize is the most widely known. By drawing attention to important issues and rewarding gifted scientists, the prize’s direct and indirect effects are far reaching. Nominations for the prizes are accepted from international institutions and organizations only, and not from individuals or political parties. Learn more Faysal: Saudi Arabia's King for All Seasons

Arab reconciliation tops Doha summit agenda


By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor
Doha: The Arab summit opens in Doha to address a plethora of issues plaguing the region, but initial optimism the meeting would consolidate an Arab reconciliation drive was dealt a blow by the absence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who arrived in the Qatari capital on Monday, leading the UAE delegation, expressed hope Arab leaders would work together and take an effective unified position in the face of current regional challenges.

"The summit is held amid critical circumstances that require from us to activate cooperation and coordination between our countries to arrive at common views and unified stances in view of the growing challenges and dangers facing our Arab nation," Shaikh Khalifa said in a statement on his arrival.
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Qatari Prime Minister Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jabr Al Thani, late on Saturday said that Doha respects Mubarak's decision to stay away. "The level of the representation is up to the Egyptians," he said.

Egypt's delegation to the summit will be headed by the Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mufeed Shehab. As for Qatari-Egyptian relations, Shaikh Hamad added: "I can't say they are perfect," but the bilateral relations have long and deep roots. Egypt is a big Arab country, and we respect it."

High on the summit agenda will be an attempt to heal a growing rift on key regional issues, such as Palestinian divisions and Iran's military backing of fighter groups. As for Iran, Shaikh Hamad shrugged off some Arab states' concerns over Qatar's relations with the non-Arab state.

"Qatar doesn't need permission from any side for its relations with Iran or any other country. It also doesn't give its approval for anybody's relations with others," he said. Prior to the Doha summit, press reports said some countries had warned they would send low-level delegations to the meeting in case President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited.

Iran is expected to send its Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki to attend the summit as an "observer".

Ban and Al Bahir at summit

Doha: UN chief Ban Ki-moon will attend the opening of the Arab summit on Monday despite the presence of Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir who faces an international arrest warrant, a UN official said on Sunday.

"Sudan is a member of the United Nations while the International Criminal Court is an independent judicial body, which does not prevent the UN from dealing with Sudan," the official told reporters. The ICC issued on March 4 an arrest warrant against Al Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

In Doha, Al Bashir was given a warm welcome by Qatar's Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. A Sudanese newspaper earlier reported Al Bashir would not be attending the summit. Arab heads of state were expected to give their support to Al Bashir over the warrant.

- Gulf News Report

Iranian film industry thriving, Hollywood learns


By Elham Khatami, CNN

It appeared an unlikely meeting: Earlier this month, representatives from Hollywood, home of the anything-goes lifestyle and anything-can-happen film, traveled to Iran, where censorship and constant government supervision are a fact of life for the film industry. But the two sides had more in common than it would appear, said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"It was thrilling to be in Iran, just plain old thrilling," said Ganis. "We talked. ... We spoke the same language, the language of movies."

In Iran, "the language of movies" has thrived since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite strict censorship laws, said Duke professor Negar Mottahedeh, author of "Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema." A number of post-revolution Iranian films have screened at international film festivals, and some, such as Abbas Kiarostami's "Taste of Cherry," have won international awards.

Creativity and prohibition often have an "intimate relationship," Mottahedeh said, observing that "film cultures have flourished oftentimes when they have been under restrictions."

Iran's film association, known as the House of Cinema, was host of the Hollywood trip. The American delegation, which included Ganis, producer Bill Horberg and actress Annette Bening, took part in a cultural dialogue with prominent Iranian screenwriters, actors and directors, sharing their ideas on filmmaking and taking part in workshops and film screenings.

"It's hard to get Iranian films distributed in Iran because ... there aren't that many cinemas," Ganis said. "And then, of course, the government intrudes on the process with a certain censorship set of rules and [regulations]."
But, citing a recent Iranian film called "About Elly," directed by Asghar Farhadi -- scheduled to be screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival -- Ganis said Iranian filmmakers are still able to release high-quality films. "We are expecting the Iranian film industry to continue to flourish in terms of the creativity that we saw when we were there," Ganis said.

"At the moment, I think [Iranian cinema] does have wide exposure," Mottahedeh said. "I do think that Iranian filmmakers are already thinking about the foreign market."

Ironically, things were different before the revolution, Mottahedeh said. Iranian cinema generally emulated American film instead of finding its own niche, which didn't endear it to a number of Iranians.

"Iranian melodrama from the 1960s and 1970s replicates American melodrama," she said. "What the [Shah Mohammed Reza] Pahlavi regime did was to make a commodity of women ... make them wear Western fashion and become alien to Iranians."

The Islamic Republic has also enforced constraints on the film industry with its requirement of modesty, Mottahedeh said. But Iranian cinema has actually had its greatest artistic success in recent years, taking on issues raised by the 1979 revolution and the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. The impact of those events "has created a condition of creativity to express the trauma that the nation has experienced," said Columbia University Iranian studies professor Hamid Dabashi.

"This is not in defense of censorship, obviously," Dabashi added, but when it comes to Iran, censorship "creates a creative barrier that filmmakers have to cross."

Horberg, a producer who worked with Iranian actors on the set of "The Kite Runner," said that members of the House of Cinema did not openly discuss the government's policies, although censorship is "a real issue for them."

"It's a paradox that cinema there is known for its ultra-realism and ultra-naturalism and that feeling like you're not even watching a movie, you're watching life. But a lot of what they're able to dramatize is limited," Horberg said.

Despite their limitations, filmmakers have raised Iranian cinema to new heights, winning awards and critics' praise across the globe. Officially, Iran's citizens are unable to watch a number of these films, including director Jafar Panahi's films "Offside" (2006) and "Circle" (2000), which address women's rights, and Kiarostami's award-winning "Taste of Cherry," which deals with suicide. All are banned inside the country.

But that doesn't stop Iranian moviegoers from seeing the films.

"When a film is banned, people are even more eager to see it," Dabashi said, pointing out that many Iranians acquire films through the black market.

"The Iranian audience is among the most appreciative audience for film anywhere," said Horberg. "They seem to have seen everything."

People outside the country are also eager for the country's production and talent. Dabashi said Iranian cinema has been prominent on the international scene for years, adding that many Iranian actors are beginning to cross over to the American film industry -- from veteran Iranian film actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who starred opposite Ben Kingsley in 2003's "House of Sand and Fog," to newcomer Golshifte Farahani, who starred as Leonardo DiCaprio's love interest in the 2008 thriller "Body of Lies."

Iran's House of Cinema was enthusiastic about the Hollywood delegation's visit, according to CNN International Correspondent Reza Sayah.

"This was very special to them," Sayah said. "They're the best in the business in Iran and what I did see was that connection and camaraderie between filmmakers. ... You can tell that all of them were in their element and they spoke the universal language of film and television."

The Iranian government didn't seem to share the excitement.

Shortly after the delegation's arrival, Javad Shamghadri, the arts adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the Academy representatives should apologize for Hollywood's depiction of Iran through the years. Citing films like "300" and 1991's "Not Without My Daughter," Shamghadri said Hollywood has repeatedly attacked Iran.

But, Ganis said, "We were there to talk to filmmakers, not to get into politics and the rhetoric of problems that exist or are perceived to exist between the two countries."

Ganis added that he hopes the visit will help relations between Iran and the United States.

"It's a start," Ganis said. "Maybe we made the tiniest inroad into understanding each other better, having not talked to each other for 30 years or so."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Quran is compatible with modern US values: Film

DUBAI (Mona Moussly)

Despite being revealed some 1,400 years ago, Islam's holy book is compatible with contemporary American values, Indian filmmaker Faruq Masudi argues in his new documentary that describes the Quran as a "matrix that leads you into a spiritual journey like none other."

Quran Contemporary Connections, set to be released online in the coming months, is a documentary-type film based on research by a group of American professors who were asked to delve deep into the minds of Muslims and find out if the Quran is out of step with modern times.

“In Islam, sex is a good thing. Allah is not a Muslim specific God; even Arabic speaking Jews and Christians use the word Allah in their liturgies. Polygamy is a blessing. Muslims do not worship Muhammad. Everybody is a born Muslim," Were among the panel’s findings according to the documentary's website.

"The film talks about the major themes of the Quran, including the most controversial ones, like jihad, women, sex, polygamy, peace and violence," Masudi told AlArabiya.net.

Masudi explained that the documentary places Islam in a modern context and refutes the view that Islam is out-dated by linking the Quran to modern concepts like democracy, charity and diversity.

"There are so many similarities between Islam and the West because the Quran was meant to be for all of mankind, Muslims do not have a monopoly on Islam, on the book or on Allah," Masudi said.
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Polite Americans
Masudi, who has produced several soap operas and television shows, said he was inspired to make the film to correct the general Western misconceptions about Islam, which spiraled out of control after the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"I made this film for the very obvious reason that we Muslims are being judged wrongly by non-Muslim communities and it was high-time a professional Muslim set the record straight," Masudi explained.

Islamophobes are constantly trying to create a divide between the faith and America whereas they are essentially very similar, he explained. He described American people as "civil, sophisticated, polite and generous" and said these are in fact the core principles laid out in the Quran.

"The basic values are the same although the lifestyles may differ," he said.

The seasoned filmaker also argued that critics who say Islam does not grant women equal rights have it backwards because ayats, or verses, are twisted and taken out of context by Islamphobes to condemn Islam and by patriarchal Muslim societies to subjugate women.

"This subjugation is man-made and condemned by God, as Allah repeatedly says in the Quran that all creatures are equal in front of Him," Masudi explained.

Media and Muslim failure

The media and Muslims are equally responsible for the negative misconceptions about Islam and both play a vital role, according to the filmaker, who said both are responsible for many misconceptions.

"I don’t expect a media person to read the entire Quran before they do a story," he said, adding "I think we Muslims have failed, we should hold the responsibility of not communicating with the media in the right way, at the right time and at the right place.”

Quran Contemporary Connections aims to reach out to the media as well as government officials and decision makers to give them a "fresh first hand uncorrupted insight into what Quran is about."

Critics

Despite having received a good response from focus groups, the filmmaker said so far mainstream distributors have not been very sympathetic to the film and have shied away from putting it in the market.

Distributors have primarily criticized the film's lack of objectivity.

"What they actually mean is to do a 'Fitna' by a Muslim about the Quran, which I refuse to do," he said referring to the 2007 anti-Islam film released by far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders that has been widely condemned for equating Islam with terrorism.

Anti-Islamic films made by islamophobes purporting to delve into the teachings of the Quran like Fitna and the psuedo-documentary Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West have gained notoriety in recent years, often monopolizing the media conversation about Islam’s teachings.

The biggest problem is the lack of intelligence in discussion about Islam, which though often passionate is full of extremism on both sides, he added., so too often people on either side miss the point entirely.

"Nobody has taken the trouble of looking into the Quran and seeing what it talks about," he said. This film will delve into the details and, he hopes, correct the destructive misconceptions propogated by films like Fitna and Obsession.

Source : Al Arabiya

Sudan to expel foreign aid groups

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, has accused foreign aid groups of providing false testimony against him and his government and says he wants them to leave the country within a year.

In a speech to thousands of Sudanese security forces on Monday, al-Bashir said he had ordered Sudanese aid groups to take over the distribution of all relief inside the country.

"We need to clear our country of any spies," he told the crowd at a rally in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

"We directed the ministry of humanitarian affairs to Sudanise voluntary work. Within a year, we don't want to see any foreign aid group dealing with a Sudanese citizen," he said.

"If they want to bring relief, let them drop it at airports or seaports. Let the national organisations deal with our citizens."

Aid expulsion

Al-Bashir expelled 13 international aid groups earlier this month after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's western Darfur region.

He also shut down three local aid groups, including one of the largest local groups operating in Darfur.

The Sudanese government accused the aid organisations of co-operating with the ICC against al-Bashir, though the aid groups deny working with the court.

Al-Bashir on Monday also accused the aid organisations of using the Darfur conflict to embezzle money from Sudan.

He said humanitarian groups claim to spend billions of dollars in Dafur, but according to Sudanese government calculations, aid groups spend less than $100m every year.

Al-Bashir said the government is ready to match that amount.

'War crimes'

The United Nations says that more than 180 foreign aid workers have left Sudan since Khartoum's order to expel the aid groups.

The ICC charged al-Bashir on March 4 with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the Darfur conflict, which the UN estimates has killed between 200,000 and 400,000 people.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.

Al-Bashir has dismissed the ICC's charges as a ploy by Western powers and the move has led to angry protests in Khartoum.

Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to ever receive an arrest warrant from the ICC.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

India seeks Saudi help on Haj passports


Siraj Wahab, Arab News

JEDDAH: Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed yesterday called on the Saudi government to exempt Indians intending to perform Haj 2009 from having international passports.

The Kingdom recently ruled that only those having valid international passports would be allowed into the country for the pilgrimage. The government said the step was taken for security measures.

Until last year, pilgrims from many countries, including India, were allowed into the Kingdom on a passport of limited validity. In India, these passports are known as “pilgrim passes” and are issued without going through the cumbersome and time-consuming bureaucratic process of acquiring an international passport.

In his meeting with Deputy Haj Minister Hatem Qadi here yesterday, Ahamed sought to postpone for Indian pilgrims the application of this rule by one year. “I explained to the Saudi authorities the difficulties our pilgrims face in acquiring international passports. Most of our pilgrims are from rural areas and it is very difficult for them to acquire international passports at such short notice.”

Speaking to Arab News, Ahamed said India would ensure that all pilgrims coming for Haj 2010 had international passports. “We are only asking for a one-year waiver because it is practically impossible for those who have applied for Haj this year to get international passports in time,” he said.

The minister said the Saudi deputy Haj minister had promised to look into Indian government’s request. “It will be actively considered,” Ahamed quoted the deputy Haj minister as saying.

Other countries too have requested Saudi Arabia to relax the international passport ruling for pilgrims. “However, coming from India, the request will definitely be carefully looked at,” said Ahamed. “I have come here in person just to make this request. We have excellent ties with the Kingdom and I am very hopeful Saudis will understand our situation.”

A series of delegations comprising top Indian Muslim religious leaders have met officials at the Saudi missions in New Delhi and Mumbai making a similar request.

If the Saudi government does not agree to the waiver, then the Indian Haj Committee chief Iqbal Ahmad Saradgi said he would request his government to simplify the procedure for issuing international passports.

“As everybody knows, the procedure for getting a normal passport is very time-consuming and complex; it could cause great hardship to a large number of pilgrims, especially those coming from rural areas,” said Saradgi.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bashir 'to attend Doha Arab summit'


Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, has accepted an invitation from Qatar to attend the annual Arab summit set to take place in Doha.


The decision was confirmed by Sudan's ministry of foreign affairs as the International Criminal Court (ICC) urged Qatar to co-operate with its arrest warrant against al-Bashir.

The ICC wants al-Bashir arrested on charges of war crimes in the western Sudanese province of Darfur.

Qatar, which is not a signatory to the Rome statute that established the ICC, invited al-Bashir.

The Arab League summit is set to take place on March 30.

Laurence Blairon, the ICC spokeswoman, told AFP: "The court counts on the co-operation of states and therefore of Qatar, but it does not have its own police force."

She said that Qatar may not be a member of the Rome Statute but that it was a member of the United Nations.

"The [UN] Security Council resolution that requires all states to co-operate with the court therefore applies to Qatar," she said.

Suspension calls

Because the ICC cannot try al-Bashir in absentia, it depends on countries to execute their orders.

However, several African and Arab states have already called for the warrant to be suspended.

The ICC charged al-Bashir on March 4 with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity on for his involvement in the Darfur conflict, which the UN estimates has killed between 200,000 and 400,000 people.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.

Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to ever receive an arrest warrant from the ICC.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Hong Kong to develop market for Islamic finance




Donald Tsang (R), chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, attends the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce Industry luncheon in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 29, 2008. Outlining Hong Kong's plan to develop a market for Islamic finance, Tsang said the city can play a significant role in structuring and financing Islamic investment products to meet the needs of Mainland Chinese borrowers. (Xinhua Photo)

Alert over web of child porn

By REBECCA TORR

CHILD molesters are increasingly targeting children in the Middle East because of the lack of laws protecting them, it has emerged.

More than 60 per cent of youngsters in the Gulf have been contacted by a paedophile through chat rooms or via e-mail, according to a regional study.

Conducted by Saudi Arabia-based Al Watan newspaper journalist Mohammed Al Matter, it revealed that 83pc of children under 18 had received an e-mail containing inappropriate content.

The study also found that 62pc of children had been approached through e-mails or chat forums by strangers who had tried to encourage them to form relationships with them.

"The number of children exposed to pornography and bullying is very high," said Bahrain Women's Association for Human Development president Dr Soroor Qarooni.

Dr Qarooni said many countries in the West imposed tough penalties on paedophiles, but in Bahrain and other Middle East countries there were no specific laws and that attracted more child molesters to come to this part of the world.

"Overall our laws are weak in this area," she told the GDN.

"In the UK, British Telecom has links with parliament and we need to do something similar here."

The Be Free Centre will hold the first conference in the Arab region to discuss effective strategies to stop online chid abuse, trafficking and pornography later this year.

International non-governmental organisations, telecom companies and UN experts will share their experiences on how to combat the problem.

MPs and Shura Council members, academics, social workers, teachers, lawyers and people involved in child safety are invited to attend. It will be held under the patronage of UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography Najat Majid Maala.

The event is being supported by the British Embassy, which is covering the travel and accommodation costs of experts coming from the UK.

An opening ceremony will be held at the Cultural Hall, near Bahrain National Museum on May 8 and the conference will be held on May 9 and 10. The venue will be announced soon.

"In this conference we want to raise awareness about the importance of this issue in all sectors," said Dr Qarooni.

Winners of the Be Free Centre's International Award for the Best Practice in the Prevention of Child Abuse, supported by Zen-Do Bahrain, will be announced at the conference.

The four award categories are: organisations that work directly or indirectly with children such as schools and hospitals; non-governmental organisations; individuals; and children and teenagers under 18.

The winner of each category will receive $2,000 (BD756), a Best Practice trophy and a certificate.

Awards are presented for best practices in child protection and prevention that utilise creativity and new dimensions.

"We are now in the process of choosing the winners," said Dr Qarooni. "We have had 22 applications from various countries and we are now evaluating them.

"We will choose four winners - one from each category and they will share their experiences at the conference."

Nominations closed in February, but the centre is still accepting applications from one category - children and teenagers under 18.

Nomination requirements are as follows: a maximum of 500 words description of the practice; related materials such as CDs, photos, media, newspapers, quotes and two recommendation letters.

Nominations and supporting materials should be sent to Be Free Centre, PO Box 19562, Manama, Bahrain or via email.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Obama follows Bush path on Iran

Agencies

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama yesterday extended one of the many levels of sanctions against Iran, imposed in 1995 over claims Tehran dealt in terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction.

The sanctions, prohibiting US companies from aiding the development of the Iranian oil industry and halting trade, export/import and investment ties with Iran, were imposed by the Bill Clinton administration and have been extended on an annual basis by successive presidents. They would have expired without Obama’s formal action to extend them.

“The actions and policies of the government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and the US economy, Obama said in a message to Congress.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the US move as “childish.”

“If you (world powers) had not blocked the road, Iran would not have become a nuclear power and would not have had a presence in space,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency in Assalouyeh.

“They thought that through such childish and harassing moves they can stop a great nation’s scientific path toward perfection,” he added while inaugurating a gas refinery there.

“You take your decisions, and we do our work ... Knowingly or unknowingly, you have opened our nation’s path to progress ... You are too small to block our path,” he said.

The Iranian president described yesterday’s commissioning of Phases 9 and 10 of the South Pars field, Iran’s single biggest natural gas deposit, as a “happy gift” for the Iranian nation, which is also the world’s fourth-largest oil producer.

The investment amounted to about $4 billion, media said.

“This grand achievement happened under conditions in which some in the world with immorality and misbehavior did not fulfill their promises,” Ahmadinejad said.

“They signed contracts to provide equipment and spare parts but ... some of the equipment and spare parts remained aboard ship and were taken back,” he said, in an apparent reference to Western firms scaling down their investment plan in Iran.

The sanctions are one portion of the large range of punitive US, United Nations and international measures imposed against Iran, for various reasons, including Tehran’s alleged nuclear drive.

Washington has steadily upped sanctions against Iranian entities in hopes of pressuring Tehran to pull back on its nuclear program — which the US says is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

The United States says Iran must also halt its alleged support for groups Washington has labeled “terrorist,” including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian groups.

Obama came to power promising to offer diplomatic engagement to US foes, including Iran, to test if there might be scope for negotiated solutions to conflicts.

That was a clear shift from President George W. Bush, who rejected talks unless Iran halted uranium enrichment, the process which makes fuel for nuclear power plants but can also be used to produce the core of an atomic bomb.

In January, Obama said: “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists, they will find an extended hand from us.”

Obama asks Indonesia to ‘join hands’

Erwida Maulia , The Jakarta Post

US President Barack Obama called his Indonesian counterpart Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday to express Washington’s willingness to involve Jakarta in tackling , including the environment and the financial crisis.

Obama also told Yudhoyono in the 10-minute phone conversation that he wanted to build “a comprehensive partnership” between the two countries, said Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal.

The US president also thanked Indonesia for the “warm” and “friendly” welcome it had extended to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited the country last month, Dino said.

“President Obama said he wanted to work together with Indonesia in coping with global issues, such as climate change,” Dino told The Jakarta Post.

“The two leaders also discussed the prospects and preparations ahead of the G-20 Summit in London this April, and they pledged to make it a success.”

Yudhoyono and Obama will attend the annual summit of the group of the world’s largest economies, in which Indonesia and the United States are members.

Regarding bilateral relations between Indonesia and the United States, Dino said Obama agreed with Yudhoyono’s proposal on a comprehensive partnership between the two countries, and was willing to realize it.

The partnership was proposed by Yudhoyono during their first phone conversation in November last year. Yudhoyono was on a stopover in Seattle on his way back home from the APEC Summit in Lima when he received then president-elect Obama’s phone call.

Secretary Clinton said during her visit to Jakarta that “building a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia is a critical step on behalf of the United States’ commitment to smart power”.

“The partnership is welcomed by President Obama, who wants to realize the proposal,” Dino said.

He added Obama still maintained his fluency in pronouncing Indonesian words.

“When President [Yudhoyono] began with, ‘Apa kabar?’ [How are you?], Obama answered in Indonesian, ‘Baik-baik’ [I’m fine],” Dino said.

But he said the two leaders did not specifically discuss relations between the United States and the Muslim world.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla touched on this issue when he met with his US counterpart Joe Biden in Washington in early February.

Kalla said during the meeting that Indonesia hailed the changes Obama had initiated, but was curious to see if they would have an impact on relations between the West and the Muslim world, which took a hammering under the administration of former president George W. Bush.

Iran signs $3.2-billion natural gas deal with China

By Borzou Daragahi

Reporting from Beirut -- Iran announced a $3.2-billion natural gas deal today with China, a move that underscored the difficulty of using economic sanctions to pressure Tehran to bow to Washington's demands on its nuclear program.

Iranian state television quoted a senior government official as saying the deal with a Chinese consortium, announced two days after the Obama administration renewed U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, would eventually include an unnamed European country as a partner.

Under the three-year deal, China will help develop the South Pars field, a sprawling cavity beneath the Persian Gulf seabed that is part of what geologists describe as the world's largest natural gas reservoir.

Washington has routinely renewed embargoes on doing industrial-scale business with Iran since the 1990s, even barring foreign companies that do more than $10 million a year of business with the Islamic Republic from operating in the U.S.

Under Washington's pressure, the French energy giant Total has quietly scaled back plans to develop Iranian gas fields. But many companies still do business with Iran, especially from the rapidly expanding Asian economic and political powerhouses of India and China and in countries with few commercial ties to the U.S., such as Russia.

Iran says it supplies China with 14% of its oil and recently announced that it was signing a $1.3-billion deal for two methanol plants with the Danish firm Haldor Topsoe and a $260-million deal for a tire factory with Italy's Maire Tecnimont.

On Thursday, the Obama administration extended U.S. sanctions for another year, a move Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed as "childish." President Obama has called for talks with Tehran as a way of resolving a years-long dispute over the nature of the Iran's nuclear energy program and its support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups opposed to Israel.

Some European officials, frustrated after years of attempts at dialogue with Iran, say that Obama must work harder to coordinate his policies with Moscow and Beijing.

"The big challenge will be to get the Russians and Chinese on board for tougher actions and sanctions once [the Americans] try to engage and fail," said a Western diplomat in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Advocates of sanctions say they keep Tehran's ambitions in check and its leadership isolated by denying Iran revenue and technical expertise.

But Iranian officials say sanctions hurt mostly ordinary people while convincing all Iranians of the need to forgo Western partners in favor of cultivating their own technological advances. That includes Iran's controversial drive to master the enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used to produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb.

Source : Los Angeles Times

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Universities offer enough places, says Al-Anqari


P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH: Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari said yesterday the new universities opened in different parts of the Kingdom would help accommodate more students, including those who have already joined foreign universities.

“The new universities offer enough number of places for Saudi students who wish to complete higher education in the Kingdom,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the minister as saying.

Al-Anqari said the standard of many programs offered by some private universities abroad was not up to the mark. “In light of these findings we have decided to advise our students not to join such universities,” he added.

The minister also spoke about plans to restructure the teacher training colleges in accordance with labor market requirements. “The Higher Education Council has already taken a decision in this respect and it covers 100 colleges,” he said.

Saudi Arabia opened 12 new universities and several colleges in different parts of the country over the past four years as part of efforts to achieve balanced development in all its regions. This has raised the number of government-run universities in the Kingdom to 20. The government recently approved two new private universities: Dar Al-Hekma in Jeddah and Dar Al-Uloom in Riyadh.

Last year Al-Anqari signed a number of contracts worth more than SR1.23 billion to establish higher education institutions in various parts of the Kingdom.

Al-Anqari will officiate the annual ceremony for the distribution of Prince Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Sudairy Prize for Educational Excellence at Khalediya Ranch in Ghat today.

Fahd Al-Sudairy, chairman of the prize committee, said 102 outstanding students and teachers in Ghat, Majma and Zulfi would be honored during the ceremony. Established in February 1989, the prize is given to students who score top marks in final examinations at all levels.

Abu Dhabi targets 3,000 extra rooms for F1 debut


by Andy Sambidge

Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) said on Thursday that the UAE capital's accommodation stock would increase by more than 3,000 rooms in 2009.

The expansion in tourism facilities will be completed in preparation for November's inaugural Etihad 2009 Formula 1 Grand Prix, officials confirmed.

Despite the global economic uncertainty, the authority said that all previously announced tourism projects would be delivered according to plan this year.
"The additional accommodation coupled with the new events provides Abu Dhabi with a competitive edge in an environment when many other destinations are feeling the impact of the current economic downturn," said Nasser Al Reyami, ADTA's director - Tourism Standards Division.

He told news agency WAM that hotels across the emirate, the largest of the seven which make up the UAE, continue to achieve average occupancy rates of more than 80 percent.

He was commenting as Abu Dhabi participated in ITB Berlin, one of the world's largest travel shows being held in Germany.

Source : ArabianBusiness.com

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ICC decision not helpful: Kingdom

P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia yesterday expressed its strong dissatisfaction over the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Kingdom said it would only complicate the Darfur problem rather than solving it.

The Council of Ministers, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s support for Sudan, saying Riyadh would stand by Khartoum to confront “whatever undermines its sovereignty, stability and territorial integrity.”

The Kingdom urged the relevant parties to continue their efforts to counter the aftermath of the ICC decision. “We call upon the UN Security Council to shoulder its responsibility toward preserving Sudan’s peace and stability,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted the Cabinet as saying.

Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said the Cabinet also approved new regulations on sales of residential, commercial, office, service and industrial plots and buildings.

“It has banned the sale of such real estate properties or announcements about them in the local and foreign media or marketing them in the Kingdom or displaying them at exhibitions, except after receiving approval from the relevant committee,” the new law said.

The Cabinet set up a committee at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to look into applications for real estate development, set out conditions for the technical and financial qualifications of developers as well as conditions for consumer rights and management of joint benefits.

“The committee will also work out conditions for the declaration of sold real estate properties and the mechanism to protect consumers from the sale of a single property to a number of people by developers and middlemen,” SPA said, quoting the Cabinet decision.

The Cabinet also decided to implement the Saudi Construction Code on an experimental basis for two years. The code aims at achieving public safety and protecting public health by ensuring the strength and stability of buildings and institutions and creating a healthy atmosphere, adequate ventilation and light, conserving the use of water and energy and safeguarding people and property from danger.

The Cabinet expressed the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon in its endeavor to maintain stability, peace and national unity. The Kingdom welcomed the upcoming joint summit of Arab and Latin American countries in Qatar on March 31 and hoped Latin American countries would support Arab causes, especially the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

CAIR new leadership, new vision


WASHINGTON — Working for Muslim unity, supporting Muslims' blending into the U.S. society and defending their rights and freedoms are some of the pressing items on the agenda of the new chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim civil rights group.

"We have to make a more concerted effort to educate others on who we are, what we stand for, and why we will settle for nothing less than the full rights and liberties guaranteed to us by the constitution," Senator Larry Shaw, the newly-elected CAIR Chairman, told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.

Shaw, the member of the North Carolina Senate General Assembly and the former member of the North Carolina House of Representatives General Assembly, was elected new CAIR Board Chair last week.

Shaw, who served on CAIR’s national board for three years, was America's highest-ranking Muslim elected official until the 2006 election of Keith Ellison as the country's first Muslim Congressman.

The new CAIR chairman has a long set of targets and challenges for his group in the coming period.

"We have to be the vanguard in opposition to states wanting to ban headscarves and profiling individuals just because of a bias few," he said.

"We have to do more with interfaith dialogue and coalition building with faith groups, civil rights groups and other organizations in which we share a common interest."

Shaw believes that another important task for CAIR is to help bring Muslim groups from across the US under one unifying umbrella.

"It is a necessity that we become more coalition driven in our quest for equality and justice; to the inclusion of obtaining the American way of life."

Established in 1994, CAIR is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC, with 32 offices and chapters across the US and Canada.

According to its mission, it strives to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

* Hardships

Senator Shaw believes that CAIR has achieved a notable success given its short history.

"The success was the establishment of a political organization that is national in scope and unlimited in resources."

He notes that during such brief history, CAIR has emerged as the prominent Muslim civil rights organization in America.

"CAIR has been very effective in keeping up with the relevant issues and attacking discrimination issues that impact Islamic communities in America, which are many."

Yet, he admits that the organization had its share of challenges too.

"I would not use the word failure, but plateau," says Shaw. "I think its activities and success have leveled off because it has reached a milestone."

Shaw believes one of the biggest hardships is that since CAIR has become a mature organization, some parties have sought its demise.

After 9/11, CAIR became a vocal player in the public debate as it developed relationships with members of Congress and had FBI officials frequently attending its meetings.

However, the group faced fierce attacks from some media outlets and officials over so-called ties to terrorist organizations and sources of funding.

The FBI decided earlier this year to server cooperation with CAIR on the pretext of its links to some radicals.

Senator Shaw regretted the "negative and counterproductive" policy-shift.

"The FBI’s misguided policies, after many years of a very productive relationship with FBI district offices and CAIR chapters [in] the last days of the Bush administration, sought to take parting shots at CAIR," he said.

"[This] insinuates a very negative stigma."

U.S. Muslims

The new CAIR board chair believes US Muslims have been through much over the recent years.

"After 9/11, there were wide sweeping legislation and regulations that were aimed directly at the Islamic community and other immigrant communities in America."

American Muslims, estimated at nearly seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights since 9/11, with many complaining of being discriminated against on religious bases.

Senator Show cited the recent presidential election campaign as a proof of the stigma still haunting the community.

"Then Candidate Barack Obama constantly defended himself against the accusations of being a Muslim. This had a very poisonous effect in the media being played on television, the internet, and all of the mass media outlets routinely."

He insists that despite the challenges facing them, American Muslims have to end the trend of disengagement with the US political life.

"This trend must be reversed…It is very negative and it doesn’t help our cause but it helps our enemy."

Shaw sees some hopeful signs emerging, with so many Muslims being elected to public offices.

He believes that it’s the mission of CAIR to encourage Muslims to engage with their country’s politics and to get better integrated in the wider society.

"The work that we do today is for the next generation and not so much for ourselves. It is all the more important that all of us across the country have to get involved."

Source: IslamOnline

Gaza family sues Israel over deaths


A Palestinian family is suing Ehud Olmert, Israel's outgoing prime minister, and other government officials over the deaths of their relatives during the recent assault on Gaza.

The al-Samouni family, which saw 29 of its members killed in the conflict, filed the case in Jerusalem on Tuesday, seeking $200m in damages for "criminal negligence".

More than 1,300 Palestinians died during Israel's three-week war last December and January, one-third of them children.

The al-Samounis say Israeli soldiers raided their homes in the middle of the conflict, and moved the extended family together into one house.

According to the survivors' accounts, partly corroborated by the International Red Cross and the United Nations, shells and missiles fired by the Israeli military hit the house the following day, leaving 29 people dead.

"This was a barbaric action. They said that there was resistance here, and I don't know what. But there was no resistance," Naela al-Samouni, one of the survivors, said.

Homeless family

Two months after the attack, the remaining al-Samounis live in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of their former home.
Tuesday's lawsuit names Olmert and Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, as defendants, and accuses the Israeli military of "criminal negligence" for killing innocent civilians.

Mohammad Fukra, a Palestinian Israeli attorney, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the al-Samouni family, saying the family had the right to sue Israel and its officials.

Israeli courts in the past have, however, rejected claims from Palestinians harmed in conflicts.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, has claimed the Palestinian group Hamas was responsible for the deaths, saying the group used civilians as human shields.

Israel undertook the Gaza offensive with the purported aim of stopping rocket fire from the territory into southern Israel.

Source: Al Jazeera

Monday, March 9, 2009

Remembering the Prophet’s teachings

Dr. Mohammed Abdo Yamani, Arab News

All praise be to Allah the Almighty, Lord of the Universe, Who honored and praised His last Prophet and Messenger Muhammad, saying: “Verily you have the great manners (morals).” (Qur’an, Al-Qalam: 4)

Peace and prayers flow to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his honorable family and all his Companions, up to the Day of Judgment, Ameen.

I think that it is of vital importance for all of us and especially for our young people and children to know about the very high rank of our Prophet whose birth and advent was a gift from Allah and a mercy to all mankind. Hence, it is important that, on the occasion of his birthday, we should pause to reflect on his Sirah (biography) and tell miracles that took place during and after his birth.

It is a known fact that in Islam there are only two Eids (feasts). These are, namely, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. But, other Islamic functions such as the mawlid (birthday) of our Holy Prophet, the Prophetic Hijrah (emigration) from Makkah to Madinah, which marked the beginning of a new history of man, the emergence of a new super force, state and community (Ummah), as well as the Prophet’s Isra’a (night journey) from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest One, are all occasions of great importance for Muslims all over the world. We need to remember and commemorate all these occasions, which remind us of the greatness and high-ranking of our beloved Prophet. When I talk about commemorating these events, this should not be understood that we call on Muslims to turn them into Eids or festivals that involve wrongful practices, which are common in some places in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

But, it is also true that we are living at a time when the enemies of Islam are using every possible means to destroy and conquer the Ummah of the Prophet from within and without, with no sign of mercy or conscience, and that there are very few believers, in fact, who are able to confront them. This may be because we have reached a time of a new jahiliyah (period of darkness and ignorance), among both Muslims and non-Muslims, so much that the truth has become a commodity. It is obvious that those who have power in their hands claim that they have the right to defend the truth, in the form they like it to be, propagate and market it. Thus, the truth itself has become a trademark or a fabricated commodity, and one of their innocent victims.

The blood of Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere has become cheap to the extent it is not even worth talking about or caring about. As a result, the dignity, sacred symbols and divine values of Muslims have become the main target and the shortest way to name and fame. The Danish cartoons and movie that were designed to defame our Holy Prophet, the recent show on Israeli Channel 10, which included direct insults on both Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ (peace be upon them) are but a few examples of the ongoing vigorous campaign against Islam and Muslims.

Hence, it is our duty to make use of every opportunity to show our deep love and veneration for our Holy Prophet, who stands very high and above all in the hearts of believers and those who love the truth. The enemies of Islam should know that any attack on our Prophet will never be acceptable to Muslims and that they will pay for it a very high price.

It is very important for us now to take every occasion to aggrandize our beloved Prophet, speak out to Muslims and non-Muslims about his merits, teachings and judgments on every aspect of life, and tell about the miraculous signs that accompanied his birth. Furthermore, we should take the opportunity of the mawlid to make it clear to all peoples that the religion of Ibrahim, Noah, Jacob, Moses, Sulayman, Dawood, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) is one and the same. That Islam is the universal religion for all mankind and that it stands for peace, love, brotherhood, equality, justice and tolerance. We also need to make it clear that the cause of Islam has nothing to do with violence and terrorism; that it is the identity of all lovers of truth, East and West; and that the truth in Islam never changes for the sake of politics, or to suit the purposes of anyone.

For all these reasons, I think celebrating the mawlid of our Prophet, if observed without any sinful practices, is a good innovation (bida’a hasanah) as long as it comes out of good intention (husn al-maqsad), Allah knows best.

— Dr. Mohammed Abdo Yamani is Saudi Arabia’s former minister of information.

He heads several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Ending violence against women

By Adam Makary

In many countries women are active participants in the political process and have made progress toward some economic equality. However, women's rights to life, to physical integrity, to health, to education, to freedom from violence, remains largely unfulfilled.

Nowhere is this more evident than for women living in poverty.

International Women's Day, March 8, is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world.

On the occasion of the Day, Al Jazeera interviewed Hibaaq Osman, the founder and chair of Karama, a regional movement of activists collaborating across eight civil society sectors to end violence against women in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2002, she was appointed the Special Representative to Africa, Middle East, and Asia for V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women inspired from Eve Ensler's play, The Vagina Monologues.

Osman was in New York attending a UN commission on the status of women.

Al Jazeera: Global activists have often complained of challenges in translating good will into action. What are these activists up against?
Osman: Without the full and active participation of girls and women and the incorporation of their needs and concerns, UN meetings will not have much substance.

Without their perspectives on all levels of decision-making, the UN's goals of equality and development cannot be achieved – no matter how many conventions are ratified, no matter how many resolutions are signed. It's a reaffirmation that without the participation of women, a commission on the status of women would not be here today.

Their needs and interests must be taken into account because it's an integral ingredient for democracy to properly function. It's their very pain and strife that can bring us together in solving global problems.

How have conventions and UN resolutions helped the status of women around the world?
They touched bases with the issues of violence targeting women at a conference in Nairobi in 1985, but governments didn't really negotiate on how to stop such atrocities within their own countries.

The Vienna World conference on Human Rights in 1993 was a watershed moment for women's rights because it was the first time for people to start realising that women's rights are an entirely special set of issues, recognising abuses like violence of all kinds targeted against women.

It was only through intensified efforts of women's rights groups that brought along more change, they are the ones who can take a lot of the credit of transforming goodwill to action. So it's no longer alien to talk about women's rights.

But women's rights are still lagging in so many countries, such that women can't drive in Saudi Arabia or women who run for public office in ultra-conservative societies like parts of Pakistan are targeted in honour killings.

What concrete steps can governments do to drive social and institutional change?

Governments can enforce women's rights from the best document there is, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), an expert body was that was established in 1982.

It's a fantastic guideline that can really put governments in check on how to ensure that their women feel safe and protected.

Therefore it's a matter of education, governments need to invest in their children so they can utilise what their country has to offer. They need to put an investment into empowering their women.

It's not just about building 10 schools and saying, "hey – I did my job" it's about making sure the government can protect them on their way to school, making sure that they get jobs after graduation, that they can enter all levels of employment their country has to offer.

And you see stories like that happening in Egypt and Kuwait where it's possible for women to come out on the top.

But then there are governments who assign their women political positions but they're just trying to do some "PR" for their country, like in Zambia when they boast about how 20 per cent of their national assembly is comprised of women. But then you talk to these women and they don't even know the first thing about how to change policies in their own country, or the obstacles they would have to face simply because of their gender.

Governments need to facilitate and maximise the role in women, not just pretend they're doing so.

In Egypt for example, there are mechanisms for monitoring the government's commitment to Cedaw, and then delegations are sent to New York to report on what their government has done and what they haven't done.

What should women's rights organisations focus on within the next decade?

It's hard to say because so long as there is war, there will be poverty, so long as there is poverty, women's rights will always be an issue.

The onus is really on the governments and NGOs to come together and fight what unfortunately seems to be a trend within the human condition, and NGOs will always have to focus on ending violence against women.

The stronger and more homegrown these efforts are from a domestic level, the stronger of a role the international community can play in solving global issues, and it's the international community who has more control in fixing these issues. When international organisations are better informed, the policies they come up will affect everyone alike.

One of the reasons why I set up the Arab Women's Fund was to help women in the Middle East to find the resources to change society in their own way with their own agenda cause it's different everywhere.

The Netherlands, Norway and EU are the most generous when it comes to women's rights. The US even has some of the best private organisations.

But I really think the UN's Millennium Development Goal-3 (MDG3), which is a global call to action in promoting gender equality around the world promoted by the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, is a great idea.

The Netherlands came up with the money and other donor governments to give NGOs around the world the resources they need to finance gender equality and invest resources for women to do their work and fund their groups.

After a certain period of time, they look at the results. These are matters worth praising.

Do you think a woman could become a president in the Arab world?

Why not? I'm extremely optimistic.

Women can't be afraid of running for political office, nor should they be afraid of finding the resources their country might offer in helping them help themselves.

If Barack Obama could become president of the US, why can't a woman in the Middle East be president? You have to be optimistic because hope, optimism, faith - these things are the catalyst for change.

Like Ellen Sirleaf, she had no idea she'd be the first female president of Africa, let alone, Liberia. But she made it. A female Arab president - that's just a matter of time.

Women are on the move for bringing change, not just in the Arab world, but everywhere, and nothing can stop us.

Media reports show an increase in the trafficking of women in the sex trade, with some countries used as conduits. What do organisations such as yours do to raise awareness of this issue?

This is a decisive issue for women's rights, and its important we understand this problem with an understanding mind. If we were to legalise prostitution for example, the sex trade would increase, if we were to keep it illegal, then women will continue to be beaten, enslaved, etc.

Everything goes back to poverty and I think that women should always have a choice at the end of the day.

I absolutely believe that when you're living in Europe or other privileged parts of the world, you're in a position to believe that sex trade is something that women are forced into, but that's precisely because people say this from privileged areas.

But when you're living in these poor countries, and you try and put yourself in their shoes, and someone offers you money, of course they are tempted. Surely, no mother would sell their kids in their own right mind, but their minds aren't right.

Poverty is so bad that it drives them to do things that we normally would not. And if we don't resolve poverty as a global challenge, then we're going to have the problem of sex workers constantly popping up in all parts of the world.

It's a lucrative business, unfortunately.

Source: Al Jazeera

Iran's Ahmadinejad meets UN General Assembly President in Tehran

TEHRAN, March 9 (Xinhua) -- Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann here on Monday, Iran's presidential website reported.

"Iran's president and UN General Assembly President met this evening and exchanged views on the important regional and international issues," the website said.

Ahmadinejad highlighted the necessity of basic changes in the world's situation and pointed out that "All have to do attempts to remove the blocks and to do changes in the world on the basis of spirituality, justice, morality and humanity."

For his part, d'Escoto referred to Iran's important and influential role in the improvement of the world's situation and pointed out that "(We) have to do attempts to improve the condition of the human beings and to remove poverty in the world."

Earlier on Monday, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, addressing the Iranian foreign ministry's international and political studies center, said that "the major problem of the United Nations is the lack of cooperation on the side of the U.S. with the world body," according to semi-official Fars news agency's report.

"When the UN was established, it had two major goals. One of them was avoiding wars and the other one was establishing peace and security," he said.

"Now, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have blocked establishment of peace and security, because of their(overwhelming) authority."

Brockmann, who is on his first and six-day visit to Iran, is to attend a summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in Tehran on Wednesday.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Muslim Davos

Asim Siddiqui, guardian.co.uk

This week saw the meeting of the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), the equivalent of the Muslim world's Davos, held this year in Jakarta. In attendance were heads of states and senior government figures from across the Muslim world, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, UAE and Qatar, with delegates from 38 countries.

The purpose of the WIEF is to increase trade and business activity among Muslim countries and beyond. I had the privilege of chairing one of the sessions. Fazil Irwan, director at the WIEF Foundation explained to me that WIEF's central pillar is to develop itself as a networking conduit between the Muslim and non-Muslim world, as they believe business collaboration can generate greater prosperity and mutual understanding. Established in 2004, WIEF gives particular focus on investing in women and the young; understandable given the high levels of unemployment among these two categories in Muslim countries.

The Muslim world's economic performance is generally dire. Despite making up one-fifth of the world's population, it produces a measly 7% of its output. Much of the discussion at the WIEF revolved around the global economic meltdown and its impact on Muslim countries that are now facing economic contraction, job losses and greater poverty due to the reckless model of unfettered market liberalism. With the interconnectivity that comes with globalisation, no state is immune. The systemic failure of the current banking model has generated much more official interest in Islamic finance. Shariah-compliant finance is based on financing secured against underlying tangible assets and involves risk-sharing between the parties in the pursuit of genuine commercial activities, rather than profiteering from paper instruments whose trail often led back to highly leveraged low-quality debt (better known now as toxic debt). There was a widespread view among those attending (including non-Muslims) that Islamic finance could provide one possible way out of the current malaise and become an important foundation in a new, more stable world economic order.

One official pointed out that it is not the labeling of products as "Islamic" that is the solution, as it is perfectly possible for a shariah-compliant bank to create sophisticated financial products that end up mirroring the conventional system. What is needed is ethical standards for the financial system based on transparent risk assessments and controlled debt levels. Whether such a model of greater fairness and integrity should be necessarily labelled with the exclusive term "Islamic" is a separate debate. Gordon Brown yesterday, in his speech to Congress, spoke in similar terms when he said that "markets should be free but never values-free, that the risks people take should never be separated from the responsibilities they meet".

The conference showed the efforts the Muslim world is making to help pull the world out of recession. Indonesia itself is home to the world's largest Muslim population, the third largest democracy and the fourth largest population, at 230 million. It is also a member of the G20. Its stable democracy and impressive economic growth over the last decade has marked Indonesia out as a front-line state in the west's greater desire for a more respectful engagement with the Muslim world after the Bush years.

Indonesia is seen as a possible template of how to deal with Muslim democracies and markets, new and old. In her recent visit to Jakarta in February, Hillary Clinton asked colleagues whether Indonesia held lessons for Pakistan, a state with the sixth largest population but far less stable. Given the different role Islam plays in Pakistani and Javanese culture and public life it is not immediately clear what those lessons might be. Indonesia is also strategically important given its commanding presence over the narrow Strait of Malacca, through which supertankers transport Middle Eastern oil to the Pacific Rim. There is great excitement here that President Obama may choose Jakarta to deliver his promised address to the Muslim world from a Muslim capital, the home of his childhood school.

The way out of the current economic crisis will require innovative thinking and a meeting of minds. The WIEF provides one such forum.

Serbia, Iran to sign free trade agreement

BELGRADE, Serbia—Serbia says it plans to sign a free trade agreement with Iran to boost economic cooperation.

A statement by Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic says Serbia's exports to Iran have grown in the past few years. Dinkic says relations with Iran are "good and stable."

The statement was issued Friday after a meeting between Dinkic and an Iranian delegation led by the Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Mottaki will also meet with Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic. Serbian media have reported that Iran is interested in buying a fertilizer factory outside Belgrade.

The Serbian government statement quoted Mottaki as inviting Serbian companies to take part in infrastructure projects in Iran.

Source : Boston.com

Islamic banking

Terry Lacey , The JAKARTA Post

The Fifth World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) opened on Monday in Jakarta. The global Islamic financing industry has over US$1 trillion in assets. But Indonesian Islamic finance accounts for less than 3 percent of banking assets and lacks the know-how, staff and infrastructure to expand faster.

Indonesia is maintaining economic growth at over 4.5 percent and bank lending growth rates at over 15 percent.

If Indonesian conventional banking is doing quite well amidst a global banking crisis, why is Islamic banking in Indonesia moving so slowly?

The signing at the Forum of Memorandums of Agreement (MoAs) pending final negotiations on four Indonesian projects worth $ 3 billion was encouraging.

But an MoA is maybe half way to a full MoU, and in Indonesia too many MoUs evaporate. The road to nowhere can be paved with good intentions.

The problem in Indonesia and Muslim countries in transition is how to get from intention to im-plementation, as testified by the unfinished concrete pillars of the Jakarta monorail, monuments to lack of capacity, corruption and incompetence.

Now WIEF is five years old. It will be judged in the next five years by Muslim opinion on what is finished and not on what is half agreed.

The long list of Indonesian projects needing financing at the back of the Islamic Forum 2009 agenda highlights Indonesian needs for investment in toll roads, water supply, bridges, ports and power stations as well as biofuel, agriculture and tourism.

Yet performance in "Tapping Islamic funds" has fallen far short of potential, especially in government infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships.

There is a history of low capacity, poor project preparation, bureaucratic delays, slow reform of regulatory frameworks and poor enforcement, corruption, confusion and under-capacity in the implementation of decentralization.

Despite Indonesia*s predominantly Muslim identity there is also a discernable communication gap between the Indonesian bureaucracy and the more modern style of Gulf-based potential investors and developers.

There is a language gap. Many Indonesian officials cannot do business in English or Arabic. Many can recite prayers in Arabic, but cannot use it as a working language.

The Indonesian tendency to engage Arab culture and Arabic only at the level of religious ritual needs to be complemented by a more comprehensive commitment to modern dialogue with the Arab world on economic, social and political partnerships for Muslim modernization, moderation and democracy.

We cannot assume automatic affinity of interest based on the similarity of Muslim rituals, across very diverse cultures, unsupported by greater realities.

These communication gaps may help explain the relative modesty of the flow of resources from the Middle East so far and why in Indonesia there remains a huge gap between declarations of support for sharia banking and reality.

The Deputy Governor of the Bank of Indonesia, Siti Fadjrijah said in Jakarta in January that sharia banking could not reach the national 5 percent target in terms of national banking assets because " It's impossible during these hard economic times ".

Why is it impossible if there is $1.6 trillion of liquid assets in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia waiting to be invested, despite the recession ?

Indonesian sharia banking reached 3.79 million customers in 2008 via 1,452 bank outlets, compared to 6,500 conventional bank outlets. The latter backed by 97 percent of banking assets, and the former by only 3 percent. Why so little capital ?

Indonesian sharia banking disbursed only 589,000 loans in 2008 compared with 512,000 in 2007. Why so few ? Sharia banking "Loan disbursement is like a walking tortoise" said Siti Fadjrijah.

The sharia banking industry, to reach the 5 percent of banking assets target, would need an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 extra staff.

Given the global economic crisis, this would seem the right time to properly engage Middle Eastern partners, to speak Arabic as a language of business alongside English and Chinese, to invest in the huge Islamic banking potential of Indonesia, to hire the staff, create the jobs, and move more loans. So why doesn't Indonesia do it ?

The Council of Ulema, the Muhammadiah, the Nahdlatul Ulama, the conservatives, the liberals, the sharia banks, the sharia banking training and promotional agencies, the university departments, the NGOs and the little sharia banking lending groups should combine their efforts to bring this about, to deploy the uniqueness of shared profit and loss, one of the great innovations of sharia finance, to finance power and water for the poor and SMEs, to the benefit of the whole society.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Opportunists ruling the country: Sharif

Azhar Masood, Arab News

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said yesterday that the country was being ruled by “opportunist judges and generals.”

Addressing a national conference on the restoration of the judiciary, Sharif said justice could not be ensured in the absence of a free judiciary. He said the governor’s rule in Punjab province could have been averted.

The former prime minister said Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar had offered to give a favorable verdict, “if the PML-N leadership accepted extension in his tenure as chief justice of Pakistan.”

The Pakistan Muslim League-N chief said his party would again rule Punjab since it enjoyed massive mass support. The Supreme Court last month upheld last year’s Lahore High Court verdict that disqualified Sharif because of his conviction concerning his attempts to block the landing of a plane carrying Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was then the army chief.

Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif was disqualified on grounds of tax evasion and defaulting on a bank loan. The decision led to the collapse of his Punjab provincial government.

Meanwhile, Rana Iqbal, speaker of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, called a session of the house defying the restrictions put by the imposition of the governor’s rule. A total of 213 members reposed confidence in Shahbaz.

Speaking at a press conference later, Shahbaz said, “Our majority is intact and so the governor was hesitant to call the assembly session.”

Shahbaz said during his tenure as chief minister he had received intelligence reports about a possible attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. He said the attack had been carried out because the governor’s rule was imposed and high-level changes were made in police and other security agencies. The major reshuffle torpedoed the security plan for the cricket team, Shahbaz said.

In another development, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Sharif yesterday announced a long march plan for the reinstatement of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Basically it will be a “long march” by lawyers but the two parties announced their support to the program. Tehrik-e-Insaf led by Imran Khan has already decided to participate in the protest.

According to the program, the march will begin simultaneously from Quetta and Karachi on March 12 reaching the Sindh city of Sukkur in the evening. Groups of lawyers will go to Lahore from Multan on March 14. The protesters will likely reach Islamabad on March 16 and stage a sit-in on Constitution Avenue for an indefinite period.