Archive for the ‘ Muslims ’ Category

Church Plans Quran-Burning Event

By Lauren Russell for CNN

In protest of what it calls a religion “of the devil,” a nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to host an “International Burn a Quran Day” on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. 

The Dove World Outreach Center says it is hosting the event to remember 9/11 victims and take a stand against Islam. With promotions on its website and Facebook page, it invites Christians to burn the Muslim holy book at the church from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it’s causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times,” Pastor Terry Jones told CNN’s Rick Sanchez earlier this week.

Jones wrote a book titled “Islam is of the Devil,” and the church sells coffee mugs and shirts featuring the phrase.  Muslims and many other Christians — including some evangelicals — are fighting the initiative. The church launched a YouTube channel to disseminate its messages.

“I mean ask yourself, have you ever really seen a really happy Muslim? As they’re on the way to Mecca? As they gather together in the mosque on the floor? Does it look like a real religion of joy?” Jones asks in one of his YouTube posts.

“No, to me it looks like a religion of the devil.”

The Islamic advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Muslims and others to host “Share the Quran” dinners to educate the public during the month long fast of Ramadan beginning in August. In a news release, the group announced a campaign to give out 100,000 copies of the Quran to local, state and national leaders. “American Muslims and other people of conscience should support positive educational efforts to prevent the spread of Islamophobia,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper in the release.

The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest umbrella evangelical group, issued a statement urging the church to cancel the event, warning it could cause worldwide tension between the two religions. “The NAE calls on its members to cultivate relationships of trust and respect with our neighbors of other faiths. God created human beings in his image, and therefore all should be treated with dignity and respect,” it said in the statement. Dove’s Facebook page, set up for the September event, has more than 1,600 fans. “Eternal fire is the only destination the Quran can lead people to, so we want to put the Quran in it’s [sic] place — the fire!” the page says.

But another Facebook group with more than 3,100 fans says it stands “against the disrespect and intolerance that these people have for the Muslim people” and encourages people to report Dove’s page to Facebook. Targeting another group it calls “godless,” the Dove center is also hosting a protest against Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe, who is openly gay, on Monday at Gainesville’s City Hall. The group previously fought — unsuccessfully — to derail Lowe’s election campaign.

“We protest sexual perversion because the Bible protests it. What is acceptable to today’s leadership becomes acceptable to tomorrow’s society,” the church says in its blog entry about the event. Lowe and other government figures and media outlets received e-mails from the church about the event, The Gainesville Sun reported. Lowe isn’t concerned with Monday’s event.

“I’ve got other things to do,” he said, The Sun reports.

On the outreach center’s front lawn, alongside a sign reading “Aug. 2 Protest, No Homo Mayor, City Hall,” stands not just one, but three signs bearing the slogan “Islam is of the Devil.”  One of the signs — one reading “Islam” on one side, “Devil” on the other — was vandalized. On its blog last week, the church said the sign will be replaced. “This is private property and vandalism is a crime here in America,” the blog says. “In Islam, many actions that we consider to be crimes are encouraged, condoned or sheltered under Islamic teaching and practice, though. Another reason to burn a Quran.”

Arab Guilty of Rape After Consensual Sex with Jew

By Jo Adetunji and Harriet Sherwood for The Guardian

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

Although Kashur was initially charged with rape and indecent assault, this was changed to a charge of rape by deception as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not “a classical rape by force,” the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish.

The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” they added.

The court ruled that Kashur should receive a jail term and rejected the option of a six-month community service order. He was said to be seeking to appeal.

Segal said: “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.”

Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, was quoted as saying: “I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?

“Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.”

Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s population, but relationships between Jews and Arabs are rare. There are few mixed neighbourhoods or towns, and Arabs suffer routine discrimination.

Israeli MPs are considering a law requiring prospective Israeli citizens to declare loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state”. Many Arabs would balk at swearing allegiance to a state which they see as explicitly excluding or marginalising them.

Dan Meridor, a deputy prime minister in Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, is opposed to the proposal. “Why does every bill need the word ‘Jewish’ in it – to show the Arab citizens that it doesn’t belong to them? Then we’re all shocked when they radicalise their stance.

“The majority doesn’t need to remind the minority that it is in fact a minority all the time,” he added.

Religious Freedom in America Includes Everyone

By Alex Howard for The Pueblo Chieftain

One of the fundamental freedoms we enjoy as citizens is to worship in whatever manner we want to and wherever we want to.

There are virtually no restrictions on this freedom, even when a particular exercise of a belief might be illegal for the general public. Within the scope of religious expression, even the use of drugs can be legitimate. For example, the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus, is legit for members of Native American communities but illegal for the rest of us.

Moreover, the freedom of religion principle extends well beyond what most people think of as acceptable.

While all the mainstream religions are represented within the military services, we also find niches carved out for not-so-common expressions.

Wicca, also known as witchcraft, druidism, paganism and other names, is officially recognized by the United States military as a legitimate form of religious expression.

So, what I’m saying is that the freedom of religious expression is wide-ranging and as diverse as the citizenry in America. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, Sikhs, Scientologists, Baha’i and all the others have their places in the worldwide religious worship palette, including here in America.

And I’ve named just a few religions. There are many more, some with which our culture has no familiarity despite a large number of adherents.

So, what should we think when a group of citizens objects to the construction of a place of worship by a religious group? We’d have to wonder whether that basic freedom of religion has some kind of limits, wouldn’t we?

Yet, this is exactly a discussion that’s taking place in New York City right now. A group of Muslims that has been using a building not too far from the site of the former World Trade Center for religious and cultural purposes wants to demolish it and build a new mosque and cultural center.

Survivors and family members of victims of the terrorist attack are not happy. The general feelings they express are of anger and unresolved emotional pain over the death of family members, friends and co-workers.

They blame (accurately of course) the attack on those who flew the airplanes and their co-conspirators. Sadly, however, the anger at the attackers has been enlarged to include Muslims in general.

That being acknowledged, prejudicial and misguided as it is, the discussion is taking on the aura of denial of the freedom of religious expression. What those objecting to the construction of the mosque seem to have ignored is that the Muslims who want to build it are American citizens, some of them second- or third-generation Americans.

These are not people who are trying to establish a radical, wacko religious cult on foreign soil. They’re Americans exercising their freedoms, just as you and I are free to do.

Should the pain of those who lost loved ones in the villainous attack on the WTC hold sway over the decision to build the mosque near that site? I don’t think so. Otherwise, any group with an emotional connection to an event could claim the right to object to some other religious building. American Muslims have just as much right to freedom of worship as other Americans. To think otherwise is, well, un-American.

-Alex Howard is a retired Episcopal priest.

Breaking Pakistan’s Sufi Heart

By Mira Sethi for The Wall Street Journal

The two suicide bombers chose midnight on July 1, when the throng of worshipers in the ancient Data Darbar shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, was at its peak, to blow themselves up. Forty-five people were killed and 175 were injured. The attack on the 1,000-year-old center of Sufi Islam—the religion’s mystical, unorthodox face—was the first Taliban attack of its kind in Punjab province, the heartland of the country’s moderate, majority Barelvi sect.

The day after the attack on the shrine, Lahore’s students, politicians, traders and housewives took to the streets in loud, visceral protest. Major commercial centers were shut down, and in a rare show of sympathy, students from religious seminaries blocked roads and burned a few tires.

Pakistanis are now asking themselves: Is this America’s war or is it ours too? How can we fight it? Why did our military nurture these warriors for three decades and why has it turned against them now? How and when are we going to be at peace with our neighbors, especially India with which the military is obsessed and for whom these non-state actors were originally spawned?

To understand why this attack is so shocking, one must first look at Pakistan’s religious history. The majority of Pakistanis are Barelvis, who respect the inclusive traditions of the Sufis who brought Islam to the Indian Subcontinent. This is completely unlike the harsh version of Islam imported from Wahabi Saudi Arabia after the petro-dollar boom in the Middle East in the 1970s.

So the bombing of the Sufi shrine has symbolic resonance: Sufism has always thrived as a reaction to the politics of the state. In modern Turkey Sufism grew as a response to Ataturk’s secularism; in the Soviet Union, it grew as resistance to the state’s official policy of promoting atheism; in Algeria, it was a reaction to French colonialism. In Pakistan, Sufism has thrived as an alternative to the state-sponsored Wahabi Islam of the Deobandi jihadi sect.

If there’s one thing that Pakistanis are proud of, it’s their Sufi heritage. The shrine attacked in Lahore housed the tomb of one of the most famous Sufis to have ever lived, Ali Hajwiri, affectionately known by Lahoris as Data—one who facilitates the fulfillment of aspirations. Hajwiri wrote a seminal text in Sufi thought, the Kashf-al-Mahjub or “Unveiling of the Hidden.” An early example of Sufi doctrine, the book’s importance has grown over the centuries.

Although not a native of Lahore, Hajwiri decided to settle in the city for the last 34 years of his life at the end of the 11th century. Even then, Lahore’s fame as a center of culture was widespread. It was known for its old fortified city, a nourishing river, and a collection of free-spirited artists, artisans, and musicians. During his 34 years of residence, Hajwiri became a revered dervish, offering an inclusive mystical path to Lahore’s non-Muslim population, many of whom were subject to a punishing caste hierarchy.

Hajwiri’s shrine remained protected through centuries of rising and falling empires in the Punjab. Even the Sikh marauder Maharaja Ranjit Singh left the shrine untouched as he plundered many of Lahore’s riches.

In attacking Hajwiri’s shrine, the Taliban have grossly miscalculated. They had hoped to provoke anger at the Pakistani government for fighting America’s war. Instead they have managed to convince more and more Pakistanis that this is now their war, not just America’s.

Pakistani Hotel Cleaner Returns $50,000 in Cash Left Behind By Forgetful Guest

By Rob Crilly for The Telegraph

 

A hotel cleaner who earns minimum wage has been hailed a national hero in Pakistan after he returned $50,000 in cash left behind by an absent minded guest.

Essa Khan found the bag of notes stuffed in a safe deposit box while carrying out a routine inspection of a room vacated by a Japanese NGO worker before another guest arrived.

After years of negative publicity from terror strikes and political unrest, politicians have lauded the housekeeper’s honesty as the “real face of Pakistan”. But Mr Khan told The Daily Telegraph he was simply doing his job.

“I have a responsibility as a human being, as a Pakistani, a Muslim,” he said on Sunday. “I never thought about keeping the money.” Mr Khan, 50, has worked for the past 20 years at the Gilgit Serena Hotel, which stands amid dramatic scenery at the foot of the Karakoram mountains, in northern Pakistan.

Hotel staff managed to track down the guest, who works for the Japan International Co-operation Agency, and return the money, which was intended to fund a feasibility study into tourism projects in northern Pakistan.

Rashid Uddin, the hotel’s general manager, said the Japanese man, who has not been named, was embarrassed to learn he had lost the cash.

“Even after three days, he had no clue that he had left the money,” Mr Uddin said by telephone from Gilgit. “He came in the next day, and it was easy to see from the look on his face just how relieved he was.” The hotel has given Mr Khan a 10,000-rupee (£77) reward for his honesty. But his general manager said his actions deserved wider recognition. “In these economic conditions, and in a region of poverty, we should be very, very proud of people like this,” said Mr Uddin.

The story has been taken up by politicians in a country tired of negative publicity. Years of suicide bombings mean tourist hotels have struggled to survive as foreigners stay away. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, declared Mr Khan a “national hero”. “He’s a humble housekeeper and we are really proud of him,” he said. “This is the face of Pakistan that people don’t see normally.” He telephoned Mr. Khan on Sunday to promise him another reward and to invite him to Lahore for a ceremony in his honor.

Pakistani woman appointed to Canadian Senate

By Latafat Ali Siddiqui for Dawn

 Salma Ataullahjan on Friday became the first Canadian woman of Pakistani origin to get into the Senate when Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed her to fill a vacancy from the province of Ontario.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Salma Ataullahjan to the Senate of Canada,” said Prime Minister Harper in a statement on Friday evening.

“A professional, artist, parent and strong activist for the South Asian community in the Greater Toronto Area, Ms Ataullahjan brings a remarkable dedication and energy to her new role as a senator for the province of Ontario,” he said.

The appointment comes into effect immediately. “I’m delighted to hear the good news of my appointment as a senator,” said Ms Ataullahjan, who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan 31 years ago, becoming a Canadian citizen in 1989.

She pledged to support the government in its efforts to make the Senate more democratic and accountable, including bringing in legislation to limit the Senate’s tenure and to allow provinces to elect senators.

Ms Ataullahjan, who belongs to the family of the late Khan Abdul Wali Khan, has settled in Toronto and is associated with the real estate sector for 21 years.

She has served several organizations, including as founder and chairperson of the Parent Council of David Lewis Public School, as member of the South Asian Regional Council and on the executive of the Pakistani Canadian Professionals and Academics.

She has also worked for the Toronto chapter of the Citizens Foundation, a charity that builds not-for-profit schools in poor districts of Pakistan. Ms Ataullahjan is an accomplished artist and paints in watercolours. She and husband Saleem have been married for 31 years and have two daughters.

“This Passport is valid for all the countries of the World, except Israel”

By Junaid Ghumman for Mideast Youth

The world Zionist movement should not be neglectful of the dangers of Pakistan to it. And Pakistan now should be its first target, for this ideological State is a threat to our existence. And Pakistan, the whole of it, hates the Jews and loves the Arabs. This lover of the Arabs is more dangerous to us than the Arabs themselves. For that matter, it is most essential for the world Zionism that it should now take immediate steps against Pakistan.” Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel.

This speech was first published in Jewish Chronicles on 9th August 1967. This statement risen many controversies bloggers like me have quoted it many times; various explanations were also given to disprove this statement, but still we read it on every article related to Pakistan and Israel.

Pakistan and Israel do share some history and ideology. These are only two countries in the world created in the name of Religion; Pakistan for Islam, Israel for Judaism and both countries have taken independence from same British Empire after World War II.

Then why my passport still says, “This Passport is valid for all the countries of the World, except Israel”?

Pakistan claimed its independence from foreign invaders after two centuries of struggle. In 1757 after Battle of Plessey, East India Company started ruling Indian Sub-continent. The first armed resistance was Battle of Independence in 1857 after which the power was transferred to British government. In 1885 the political movement of independence started as Indian National Congress. Some of the Muslim leaders soon separated and launched new movement in 1906 as All India Muslim League for separate Muslim state which led to the creation of independent Islamic state Pakistan on 14th August 1947, which then became Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1973.

For Israel the timings was same and the rulers were also same as of Indian sub-continents, but events and circumstances were totally different. Israel declared its independence on 14th May 1948 from British Mandate of Palestine. But Israel independence movement was not against British Occupation; rather it was a movement of creating a Jewish State by silently invading the markets, trades and areas to make Jewish settlements. Hovevei Zion or Hibbat Zion refers to organizations that are considered the foundations of the modern Zionist movement. These movements led to creation of Rishon LeZion in 1882 which is the first Jewish settlement in Palestine; which was at that time under Ottoman Empire. First Zionist Congress held in 1897 started the unified Zionist Movement which was converted to World Zionist Organization in 1960. This movement was successful in legalizing its demand of separate Jewish state in Palestine after Balfour Declaration 1917, in which British Mandate of Palestine’s (1917 – 1948) foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote letter to the leader of British Jewish Community Baron Rothschild, pledging British Empire support of creation of Jewish State in Palestinian Land.

So what kind of relationship does Pakistan and Israel has over period of 60 years?

While writing this blog I also tried to ask couple Pakistanis; their view points about Pakistan-Israel Relationship. Yousaf is Pakistani Engineer living and working in Saudi Arabia. Being in the region, Pakistanis here are emotionally and regionally attached to Middle East crisis. I asked him what kind of relationship both countries have. “Relationship between Pakistan and Israel are tied to the fact that how Israel government treats the Palestinians. In general, as Jerusalem is considered as one of the holiest places in Islam; this fact serves as a thorn in the eyes of Pakistanis.” Yousaf said.

Pakistan is among those 20 UN member nations which do not recognize Israel as an independent state. These 20 countries also include Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Chad, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Unofficial media reports say that first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion send secret message to Muhammad Ali Jinnah to formally accept its existence, but no response was given back to him. At the time of independence of Pakistan, it was reported that some 2,000 Jews remained in Pakistan, mostly Bene Yisrale Jews. Many left to Israel after its declaration of independence. Jews from Karachi, Pakistan, now live in Ramla, Israel, and they also built a synagogue they named Magen Shalome after the Pakistani Synagogue which was demolished in 1980.

60s, 70s and beginning of 80s were the decades when for the first time both countries came face to face when Arab-Israel war started. In “Six-day Arab Israeli War” of 1967; Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were flying under a joint command. PAF pilot Flt. Lt. Saiful Azam became the only pilot from the Arab side to have shot down 3 IDF/AF aircraft within 72 hours.

In 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, 16 PAF pilots volunteered to support Syria and Egypt. On 23 October 1973 Flt. Lt. M. Hatif shot down the Israeli Phantom. On 26 April 1974, PAF pilot Flt. Lt. A. Sattar Alvi became the first Pakistani pilot, during the Yom Kippur War; to shoot down an Israeli Mirage in air combat. He was honoured by the Syrian government. Nur Khan, who was the Wing Commander received praised from Israeli President Ezer Weizman who wrote in his autobiography that: “He was a formidable fellow and I was glad that he was Pakistani and not Egyptian”. Pakistan also sent medical ambulances to Egypt and Syria.

After the Israeli attack on Iraq’s under-construction French-built nuclear Osirak-type reactor, Tammuz-I, south of Baghdad on 7 June 1981, Pakistan’s then President President Zia-ul-Haq directed PAF Air Headquarters (AHQ) to make contingency plans for a possible Israeli attack on Kahuta. Kahuta is noted for its nuclear research studies and nuclear development technologies in Kahuta Research Laboratories. On 10 July 1982, a special contingency plan was issued. In the event of an Israeli attack on Pakistan’s strategic installations, plans were drawn up for a retaliatory Pakistani strike on Negev Nuclear Research Centre. The Negev Nuclear Research Centre is an Israeli nuclear installation located in the Negev desert, about thirteen kilometres to the south-east of the city of Dimona.

On political level many statements were given. As chair of the Second Islamic Summit in 1974, then Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said: “To Jews as Jews we bear no malice; to Jews as Zionists, intoxicated with their militarism and reeking with technological arrogance, we refuse to be hospitable.”

In of his speeches in National Assembly of Pakistan, before Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979, he said, “Mr. Speaker Sir! This is not Desi (local) conspiracy, it’s an international conspiracy. Let me make it quite clear for the history, whatever the future and fate of this individual will be; that doesn’t matter, but let me tell you again this is not a desi (local) conspiracy, this is not PNA conspiracy, this is massive, huge and colossal international conspiracy against the Islamic State of Pakistan.” (PNA was Pakistan National Alliance against the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party). Nowadays people like to refer this international controversy as Zionist or Israeli Conspiracy.

A controversial book was published in 2003, named Charlie’s Wilson war which conspire about use of Israeli weapons supplied to General Zia ul Haq to fight Soviets in Afghanistan (1979 – 1989). Famous Hollywood movie Charlie’s Wilson War was also released in 2007. After that the back door politics started between Pakistan and Israel.

The President of Pakistan General Zia ul Haq was assassinated in plane crash on 17 August 1988. Among the conspiracy theories; Mossad (Israeli Intelligence Agency) involvement is also believed to exist. In the fall 2005 World Policy Journal, John Gunther Dean, a former US ambassador to India, blamed the Mossad for orchestrating Zia’s assassination in retaliation for Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon to counteract India and Israel.

Ali is my friend living in Middle East. I asked him, can there ever be any friendship or peace between Pakistan and Israel, to which he replied, “Yes there can be, Israel is a small country with a group of people belonging to a group of faith. And also it is in its interest that it should be at peace with every country, and especially those countries that it feels can threaten its existence.”

It is believed that, at the time of Benazir Bhutto’s Government both countries had very strong relationship especially in countering terrorism. In 1993 Benazir Bhutto, along with her then-Director-General of Military Operations, Pervez Musharraf, intensified the ISI’s liaison with Mossad in 1993, and she too began to cultivate the American Jewish lobby. Bhutto is said to have had a secret meeting in New York with a senior Israeli diplomat, who flew to the U.S. during her visit to Washington, D.C. in 1995.

In 1996, Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency, FIA, started a secret war against Extremist in Pakistan under Rehman Malik. According to sources, FIA also contacted Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to help and send its officers to investigate the extremism. Even after these strong ties, controversies never left the scenario. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 in one political rally. This was considered to be typical Mossad Assassination style. It is believed that she was the one knowing the reality of 9/11 being inside job and death of Osama Bin Laden, which she also publicly stated in David Frost TV program. That program was edited before telecasting. But Jewish Journals and Media still believed in the opposite way. According to Jewish media, Miss Bhutto asked for Mossad help to protect her on her return to Pakistan as she was afraid she will be killed.

In 1998 Pakistan and Israel were again on the verge of war. On 27 May 1998, day before Pakistan conducted its nuclear test in Chaghi, Southern Province of Baluchistan, Pakistan; unidentified F-16 was found hovering around skies on border areas of Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force; taking is as repetition of Israeli Conspiracy similar to 1981, Air Bourne its fighters to foil any attack. But Pakistan and Israeli UN delegation met in UN soon after Pakistan Nuclear tests in 1998 to give assurance that Pakistan will not transfer its technologies to Iran, the arch enemy of Israel.

Musharraf’s nine years of rule was also golden times for both countries. In 2003, General Pervaiz Musharraf said on television interview, “Mainly Muslim Pakistan must seriously take up the issue of recognizing Israel and avoid dealing with it on emotional grounds”. This statement gave birth to local opposition, esp. among Religious Parties in Pakistan. “Jerusalem is not just an Arab issue, it is linked to the faith of every Muslim” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan, the largest and oldest religious political party. “Presenting Palestine as a sole Arab issue is a heinous conspiracy of the imperialists and colonists aimed at disintegrating the Muslims and shattering the concept of Muslim unity. It is for the same reason the colonist forces are trying to portray every Muslim issue as regional or bilateral” said Qazi.

In 2005 Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom met in Istanbul after Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza, Palestine hoping to start peace talks. However, following the meeting Musharraf said, “Pakistan will not recognize the state of Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established”.

An unofficial Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum was created the next day of the meeting. It was created by 3 friends Waleed Ziad (Pakistan), Dror Topf (Israel), and Michael Berenhaus (US), all currently based in Washington, DC. This forum was an unsuccessful attempt to lobby in UN, US, Israel and Pakistani political establishments, hoping that Pakistani might accept Israel as independent legal state.

Pakistan and Israel are also secretly involved in Weapons and Arms Development Race. Close ties between India and Israel, and arms business between them forces Pakistan to keep an eye on Israel’s weapons industry. Like for example; Pakistan Ordinance Factory (POF) developed POF Eye Gun and exhibited in 2008 to counter the Israeli made Cornershot Rifle which is also known as Jews Gun in Arab World.

Shall Pakistan recognize Israel as an independent state to which Yousaf and Ali shared the same answer, “Pakistan should only consider recognizing Israel if it gives an independent state to the Palestinians with Jerusalem at its capital. And completely cut off itself from the internal affairs of that state, only then Pakistan should even start to consider recognizing them.”

I thought why not to ask some of Palestinians who have been living in exile for almost six decades. Abdul-Rahman is originally from Nabulus, West Bank and Qasim is from Gaza. I asked them what role Pakistan can play any role in solving Middle East Crisis, to which Abdul Rahman replied, “May be or may be not. Pakistan has its own problems with India, in Kashmir and in Afghanistan.” And Qasim said, “Pakistan cannot play any role especially with the current government which is only thinking of business but not Islam or Muslims.” Which actually hit me hard but truth is truth. On inquiring the Pakistan’s nuclear threat to Israel, Abdul Rahman said, “Israelis are even scared of stones so obviously Israel want end to Pakistan’s Nuclear technology, the Islamic Bomb.” But Qasim stuck to his same point, “If Pakistani government wants it can use nuclear technology against Israel, not in war or something but also to play politics.” Then in the end I asked, shall Pakistan Recognize Israel as independent country. Both of them came up with different and interesting answers. Abdul Rahman said, “There is should be a procedure of acceptance. Israel should balance the power and control of every city between themselves and Palestinians, then Pakistan can recognize Israel.” Whereas Qasim said, “Pakistan should recognize Israel. Sitting outside and ending any communication will not resolve the Middle East problem. We need to enter the region to solve the problem and if Pakistan wants it can do that by taking first step of recognizing Israel.”

It was interesting journey going through all the historic events which Pakistan and Israel share and knowing different ideas and opinions. All these events which I have mentioned above, cannot be confirmed from any credible or authentic source as all this happened back stage, behind the camera. But whatever governments’ relationship may be it is true that people of Pakistan still want to call every conspiracy as Zionist conspiracy and this will keep on going until some peaceful solution is devised to Middle East crisis between Muslim Palestinians and Jewish Israelis

Son Pleads for Help as Mother Awaits Stoning in Iran

By Gena Somra for CNN

Sajjad Mohammedie Ashtiani travels to a Tabriz jail in Iran every Monday to see his mother. And for 15 minutes each week, he speaks to his mother, Sakine Mohammedie Ashtiani, through the prison glass that divides them. Neither mother nor son ever know if the visit will be their last

Convicted of adultery in 2006, Ashtiani has been sentenced to be stoned to death for her alleged crime. Originally sentenced to 99 lashes for her alleged “illicit relationship outside of marriage,” Ashtiani endured that punishment in front of her then 17-year-old son. “The authorities asked if I wanted to wait outside. I said no. I could not leave my mother alone.”

Sajjad says it is a day he will never forget. But, he says, that day he thought the worst was over. “I was thinking, OK, they hit her, now it’s finished. They told me this process was finished. She’s done. She’s free to go. “But then a judges’ panel in Tabriz suspected Ashtiani of being involved in her husband’s murder and re-opened her case. She was cleared of the murder charges, but the panel re-examined Ashtiani’s adultery sentence, and based on unspecified “judges’ knowledge,” decided she should be put to death for the alleged affair.

“At that time it should have been finished. They should have punished her only once,” says her son. “Her documents say she is innocent. She paid for the crime five years ago.” Human rights activist Mina Ahadi, herself forced to flee a death sentence in Iran almost 30 years ago, has also taken up Ashtiani’s cause, working with Sajjad and his sister Farideh to get their message out. She says pressure from outside Iran can make a difference.

“Legally, it’s all over, and we have no chance. It’s a done deal. Sakine can be stoned at any minute. But we have experienced again and again that when we organize events world-wide, when we protest world-wide, and in particular when we contact European governments and these governments put pressure on the Islamic regime in Iran, sometimes we have a chance.” So far, there has been no response from Iranian officials about the Ashtiani case.

And with all legal appeals virtually exhausted, Sajjad says the Tabriz court has told him there is only one thing that can stop his mother’s imminent execution. “They told me if supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei … or Judiciary Chairman Sadegh Larijani grant my mother a letter of pardon, she will go free.”

Sajjad says he traveled to Tehran six times to obtain that letter, but has been unable to gain an audience with either man.  But he refuses to give up. He is turning to the international community in hopes the Iranian government will hear his voice. “It is crucial I tell these men what I have to say. “Dear Mr. Khamenei, Mister Ahmadinejad, and Mister Larijani:

“All I ask for is a letter. I want a letter for my dear mother. Please write this letter of pardon because she is innocent, 100 percent innocent. If you do not have respect for what I am saying, just take look at her file. You will see she is innocent.

“To the people of the world, I want to say, for this situation we are in: Help us. Whoever can tell the government to stop this, please do. If you can pressure Ayatollah Khamenei or Sadegh Larijani to give my family a letter, please get them to send it to us.” Sajjad knows he is taking a risk by speaking out so publicly, but says he is not afraid for his own safety.  “I am just fighting for what is right,” he says. “My mother is a housewife, a good person, a caring mother,” Sajjad says. And she has grown weary of what seems to be a punishment without end. On his last visit with her she told him, “I can’t stay in this prison any longer.”

And so Sajjad and his sister Farideh are reaching out in any way they can to try and save their mother’s life. In their open letter to the international community circulated on websites, Facebook pages and through human rights organizations late last week their anguish is clear. “Today we stretch out our hands to the people of the whole world,” the letter reads. “It is now five years that we have lived in fear and in horror, deprived of motherly love. Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it? “We resort to the people of the world, no matter who you are and where in the world you live. Help to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality. Save our mother.”We are unable to explain the anguish of every moment, every second of our lives. Words are unable to articulate our fear.”

Full-Body Security Scanners Scrapped at Dubai Airports, Officials Say the Device “Contradicts Islam”

By Aliyah Shahid for The NY Daily News

Forget about London and France — in Dubai, airport screeners won’t be able to see your underpants.

Dubai police said full-body security scanners will not be used at the airports because the devices do not correspond with national customs and ethics, according to local press reports on Tuesday.

The scanners “contradict Islam,” said Ahmad Mohammad Bin Thani, head of airport security. He said the idea was scrapped”out of respect for the privacy of individuals and their personal freedom.”

The scanners will be replaced with other inspection systems that protect passengers’ privacy, Thani said. He told the Gulf News that police are considering the use of face-recognition cameras.

Recently, American officials have been encouraging use of the full-body scanners.

Authorities say the scanners could have stopped a Nigerian man who planted explosives in his underwear in an attempt to bring down a plane bound for the U.S. last Christmas.

Several European countries have tested the technology, including the Netherlands, Britain and France. South Korea and Japan have begun test programs.

But the machines have remained controversial. Critics have argued the scanners violate passenger privacy by producing”naked” pictures and liken the procedure to”virtual strip searches.”

Sectarianism Has Poisoned Pakistan

By Basim Usmani for The Guardian

The recent attacks on a prominent shrine in Lahore demonstrate how the unrest in Pakistan is caused by a minority of few who cannot tolerate the plurality of beliefs in Pakistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban are lying through their teeth when they claim that they do not attack public places. It’s becoming more and more apparent that these militants aren’t resisting American hegemony; this a war to determine Pakistan’s future and, by proxy, the future of Islam.

Whether the Tehrik-e-Taliban actually arranged the bombers’ suicide belts is irrelevant; they have created a domino effect that’s likely to spread from commercial capitals such as Lahore to cities with historic shrines and Pakistani historical sites, such as Multan, or Taxila.

Unlike Baghdad, where violence between Islamic sects is a product of the war America is waging, the onus of last Thursday’s blasts falls squarely on us, the citizens of Pakistan. We have been complacent about sectarianism for too long.

A good friend who works for a transportation company told me in 2007 that in villages along the highways to Waziristan where the Taliban had seized control were the bodies of butchered Shia Muslims. That year, Lahore’s public was too busy mobilising about the judiciary and President Musharraf to pay the violence any mind.

Sectarianism has a brutal history in Pakistan that existed long before militants in Afghanistan began calling themselves the Taliban. I remember as a child in Lahore the broadcasts of gun violence outside Shia houses of worship during the early 1990s.

Many Pakistanis feel that the attacks on two Ahmadiyya mosques last May, where gunmen unloaded bullets and grenades on Friday prayer-goers, were unprecedented. Certainly the Ahmadiyya community doesn’t think they are.

To have a Pakistani passport requires citizens to assert that they are not part of the Ahmadiyya community. In a sense, holding that passport also makes you complicit in the blasts that killed dozens in Lahore’s most famous Sufi shrine last week. Our inability to understand that this war is about national identity is rooted in the same complacency.

We are OK with the state deciding for us who is or isn’t Muslim. In this regard, the Pakistani government has the weakest moral fibre in taking on this growing strand of extremism. It is hypocritical to fight the Taliban in Waziristan if we are okay about denying citizenship to millions of Muslims born in Pakistan.

It may sound extreme of me, but we should be jailing clerics in Pakistan that give edicts declaring believers to be non-Muslim or anti-Pakistani. It may seem extreme to an American that writers who deny the Holocaust are imprisoned in Europe, but extreme contexts call for extreme measures.

Pakistanis must stress how being born or raised in their country is enough to be Pakistani; laws preventing Ahmadis from referring to themselves as Muslims were amended to the constitution by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s.

I remember being uneasy at my desk in middle school when I was studying at Aitchison College in Lahore, and some of my classmates were getting bullied for having marks on them after returning from Shia processions during Muharram. Pakistanis themselves are the only ones capable of stamping out this discriminatory culture.

Some proactiveness is necessary on our part to make it clear that mystics, Shias, Ahmadis and Christians are all fellow Pakistanis. When you are pulled over by street police in any major Pakistani city, the first bit of information the police ask for is your family name. From one name your caste, religious beliefs and affluence is determined.

This came as a shock to all of my family who have emigrated away: that collectively our stock in our own nationhood has plummeted so. In a sense, these problems are all accrued debt we’ve accumulated for being so complacent. In the light of our bigoted constitution and deterministic culture we have to – for ourselves – decide that being Pakistani is enough to make us all countrymen. Otherwise, we might as well just refer to ourselves as Taliban, Muslim extremists, Islamic militants, and so forth.

A Pakistani American Celebrates July 4

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Thousands of Pakistani Americans celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with their friends and families across the United States today. As different as Pakistan and the United States may be as countries and societies, one thing they both have in common is that both countries were founded on religious reasons. Unfortunately, that is where their similiarites end as the religious freedom experience in these present day countries varies greatly.

The earliest settlers of these United States were in fact Europeans who felt persecuted in the old countries of Europe for their religious beliefs. Many of these Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom.  Their hope was to escape the religious persecution they were facing in their countries and so the United States was founded on religious grounds.

Pakistan too is a country that sees the basis of its founding for a religious purpose. The nationalist movement for an independent India from British rule also caused communal conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims as there were calls by many Muslim leaders for a separate country for the Muslims of India since many felt being a minority in a Hindu dominated country would come at the expense of their rights. So a separate country for the Muslims of India and for their right to practice their religion gained momentum and indeed on August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became independent, a country founded on religious freedom for the Muslims of India.

This is not to deny the fact that Muslims still exist in India and are free to practice their religion under a Hindu dominated country. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in present day Pakistan. However, many Muslims at the time of partition felt that they would be freer to practice Islam in a Muslim country rather than a Hindu one. It is an open debate whether people in Pakistan today have more freedom to practice their religion. If you are a member of either a minority Muslim group as Shiite or if you happen to be a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jew In Pakistan today, you have far less freedom of religion than a comparable religious group in present day India. There is absolutely a very low level of tolerance in Pakistan today for other religions or ways of life different than the majority group.

The promise of religious freedom that saw the founding of both Pakistan and the United States has seen the two countries go separate ways in realizing the dream of each countries forefathers. While the American Founding Fathers dream of a nation that respects freedom of religion and honors a separation between church and state held true, Pakistan unfortunately  has become a country that has become intolerant of other religions. Many religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and even Muslim Ahmadis are routinely persecuted or attacked by Muslims who see these groups as infidels and heathens and not merely as human beings with different religious beliefs. The influx of Taliban and religious extremists inside Pakistan has further made life difficult for anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. On many occasions, the police does not investigate or prosecute attacks on religious minorities by various extremist groups leading to a constant fear of their lives and properties.

As Pakistani as well as Muslim Americans across the United States today celebrate the the July 4 holiday, they are keenly aware  that their brethren back in their original countries are not as free to practice their religion, speak their minds, and or protest peacefully as they are able to do in the United States. For this nation indeed guarantees freedom and liberty for all and not just a certain religious or ethnic group.

That is why Pakistani Americans such as myself and Muslim Americans across the US are appreciative of the fact that in this, our adopted country, our religious and civic freedoms are safe guarded in that greatest of living documents, the US Constitution. I have long felt that after the three great religious books of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, the US Constitution is the next best thing that man ever wrote down on paper. The Founding Fathers of America were indeed some of the greatest minds in history for crafting a document that continues to make the United States the freest country in the world and one that stayed true to its founding of liberty and freedom for all. Happy Birthday America, May you have many more!

–Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American plans to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day with family and friends at a picnic with fireworks and by watching a parade.

Vengeful New Militant Group Emerges in Pakistan

By Kathy Gannon for The Associated Press

Pakistani authorities now believe a dangerous new militant group, out to avenge a deadly army assault on a mosque in Islamabad three years ago, has carried out several major bombings in the capital previously blamed on the Taliban.

The emergence of the Ghazi Force was part of the outrage among many deeply religious Pakistani Muslims over the July 2007 attack by security forces against the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, a stronghold of Islamic militants.

The fierce attack, in which scores of young, heavily armed religious students died, inspired a new generation of militants. These Pakistanis have turned against a government they felt has betrayed them and, to their dismay, backed the U.S. role in neighboring Afghanistan.

The brief but bloody history of the Ghazi Force illustrates the unintended results of Pakistan’s policy of promoting Islamic extremists to fight India in the disputed area of Kashmir. That policy — which Pakistan denies it pursues — now threatens regional stability as the U.S. and Pakistan’s other Western partners pour billions of dollars into the country to stop the rise of Islamic militancy.

The new group is made up of relatives of students who died in the Red Mosque assault. It is named after the students’ leader, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was also killed. The mosque’s religious school, or madrassa, had been a sanctuary for militants opposed to Pakistan’s support of the U.S.-run war in Afghanistan.

Private television stations broadcast vivid scenes of the assault — commandos in black fatigues rapelling down ropes, the crackle of gunfire, bodies of black-shrouded girls carried out through the smoldering gates. Those images stunned the nation, especially families of the students and Pakistanis with deep religious feelings.

“Before the Lal Masjid, militants hadn’t yet declared war on the state of Pakistan. That changed with Lal Masjid,” said Zahid Hussain, author and terrorism expert who has written extensively about Pakistan.

Islamabad’s inspector general of police, Kalim Imam, told The Associated Press that the Ghazi Force was behind most of the deadliest attacks in the capital during the last three years. The attacks targeted the military, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency or ISI — which had ties to a number of militants — and a five-star hotel frequented by foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The Ghazi Force helped recruit a security official who blew himself up inside the office of the World Food Program last October, killing five people, according to Imam. The force also sent a suicide bomber in September 2007 into the mess hall of the commando unit that attacked the Red Mosque, killing 22 people, he said.

Ghazi Force members may also have been involved in the audacious June 9 attack north of the capital that killed seven people and destroyed 60 vehicles ferrying supplies to NATO and U.S. soldiers next door in Afghanistan, Imam said.

Many of those attacks had been attributed to the Pakistani Taliban, which operates in the remote tribal areas of the northwest along the border with Afghanistan. There is evidence of close ties between the Ghazi Force and the Pakistani Taliban, which the government has vowed to crush.

The Ghazi Force is believed to be headquartered in the Orakzai region of the border area, where the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, held sway for years. The leader of the Ghazi Force is believed to be Maulana Niaz Raheem, a former student at the Red Mosque.

Anger over the bloodshed at the mosque was all the greater because many of the militants and their supporters felt betrayed by a government that had once supported them. Both Ghazi and his brother Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who was freed on bail this year after two years in jail, were widely believed to have been on the payrolls of both the government and the ISI intelligence service.

Their father, Maulana Mohammed Abdullah, enjoyed a close relationship with the late President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, and the mosque was a center for recruiting volunteers to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

As opposition grew to Pakistan’s support of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, the mosque became a center of religious agitation against the government, with armed students taking over the complex and police laying siege.

A former senior official in the Interior Ministry told The Associated Press that the police wanted to storm the mosque and end the siege at its outset, send the students home and shut down the religious school and a neighboring library until tempers cooled.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf refused, the official said, even though police knew that members of al-Qaida’s affiliate organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is banned in Pakistan, were bringing in weapons for the students.

Musharraf relented and ordered the assault after militants kidnapped several Chinese nationals running a massage parlor in Islamabad, accusing them of prostitution. The death toll remains in dispute. Red Mosque officials say hundreds died. The government says fewer than 100 were killed.

In a rare interview, Abdul Aziz Ghazi told AP he warned the government that an assault on the mosque would unleash forces that no one could control.

“I have been in jail. I did not form this force and I don’t condone the violence but they are angry at the injustices done,” he said this week.

Although the assault turned many Islamic hard-liners against the government, Pakistan remains unwilling to break all ties to the militants, instead following a high-risk strategy of coddling “good militants” while fighting those deemed “bad militants,” analysts say.

“The military and the ISI have given importance to these militants as assets. But those who have openly declared war, and there is no chance of them returning back to the state, the army is going after them,” said Manzar Jameel, a terrorism expert and researcher on the growth of extremism in Pakistan. “Yet they still believe that some are still assets and that they can keep control of the assets. It’s a failure of strategy.”

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas denies any assistance to militant groups, saying past ties have long since been severed. He says the Ghazi Force is among the groups the 120,000 Pakistani soldiers waging war in the tribal regions are fighting.

Yet Anatol Lieven, a terrorism expert with the Department of War Studies at London’s King College, said it’s clear that the ISI continues to protect some militant groups, even if it has broken with others.

In a June report, the Rand Corporation think tank also alleged that Pakistan’s military and intelligence still support some militant groups “as a tool of its foreign and domestic policy.”

“A key objective of U.S. policy must be to alter Pakistan’s strategic calculus and end its support to militant groups,” the report said.

Christine Fair, a co-author of that report and an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, said the battle against extremists in Pakistan is mired in layers of subterfuge by Pakistani intelligence and a “mystifying” acceptance by the CIA of Pakistan’s “good-militant, bad-militant” policy.

She said U.S. intelligence knows Pakistan protects one group — Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blames for the 2008 Mumbai assault and Afghanistan accuses of masterminding deadly attacks against the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

“Lashkar-e-Taiba remains intact. I have had conversations with … officials in Washington. It is not their priority. Lashkar-e-Taiba is not an issue,” she said in an interview. “Yet Lashkar-e-Taiba has been attacking us in Afghanistan since 2004.”

Pakistan Set to Ban More Web Blasphemy and Monitor Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, Bing…

By Rik Myslewski for The Register

Pakistan announced Friday that it will monitor Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon, and Bing, and will block links and content that it deems anti-Islamic.

“If any particular link with offensive content appears on these websites, the [link] shall be blocked immediately without disturbing the main website,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokesman Khurram Mehran told the Associated Press.

In addition to the link-blockage of the seven named high-traffic sites, Pakistan web-watchers have also completely blocked 17 lesser sites, including, for example, Islam Exposed, which includes links to blaspheming articles such as “Muhammad, A Symbol Of Terrorism” along with over-the-top posts such as “Joe Lieberman Spews Excrement!”.

The monitoring and blockage comes in response to a court order, as did Pakistan’s recent ban on Facebook due to its hosting of an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” page — a page that was subsequently taken down, although Facebook officials claimed to have had no part in its removal.

The complete banning of Facebook was lifted after censorship official Najibullah Malik was satisfied that the site had lifted all all “sacrilegious material”.

In addition to the Facebook ban, Pakistan last month blocked, then unblocked YouTube for depictions of the prophet Muhammad, a practice that many Muslims find blasphemous.

“We decided that this kind of information was going to hurt people’s feelings. We have directed the [Pakistan Telecommunications Authority] to block all and any sites that display those caricatures,” Malik told The Guardian at the time of the YouTube ban.

The Guardian, reporting on internal controversy surrounding the YouTube ban, quoted one Pakistani tweeter as tweeting: “Way to go assholes. Why don’t you just cut us off from the internet and get it over and done with.”

Despite lifting the Facebook and YouTube bans, Pakistan hasn’t given up its censorship efforts. “At least 800 individual web pages and URLs have been blocked since the government’s orders to shut Facebook and YouTube,” Wahaj us Siraj, a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), told AFP.

In perhaps the most bizarre development in the country’s campaign to remove blasphemy from its interwebs, Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General recently launched a criminal investigation against Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his role in the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” dust-up.

Although no charges have been filed in the case, the Pakistani newspaper The News International reports that the law that prompted the Zuckerberg investigation, Section 295-C of the penal code, carries with it penalties of “death, or imprisonment for life”.

Not all Pakistanis, of course, are in support of their government’s draconian crackdown on what Section 295-C refers to as “Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet … either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly.”

“It’s absurd,” journalist and filmmaker Hasan Zaidi told The Guardian. “They haven’t thought this through. The logical conclusion is that we should shut our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ban the entire internet, even email.”

Nadeem Paracha of Pakistan’s Dawn news service wrote in his “Smokers’ Corner” column: “By continuing to tolerate a psychotic faith-based fringe for so long, we have actually helped it metamorphose into an unrestrained monster that has zero tolerance for what we think or do.” The problem, Paracha told The Guardian, is that “Anything to do with Allah, or the prophet, and everyone keeps quiet.”

And it must also be noted that the more extreme members of the Muslim world aren’t alone in taking angry offense at what they perceive as “blasphemy”. Remember, for example, the hue-and-cry that resulted from artist Chris Ofili’s elephant dung–encrusted The Holy Virgin Mary, or the attacks on the US National Endowment for the Arts over works such as Andres Serrano’s photograph, Piss Christ. But, to be fair, we must also note that neither Ofili nor Serrano were subject to a possible government-sanctioned death sentence.

–Editor’s note for Pakistanis for Peace- A true  democracy should  protect freedom of speech, no matter how hateful and unpleasant. Banning and censoring content on the interent is the action of communist states, dictatorships, monarchies or theocratic nations like Iran, not a democracy that Pakistan aims to be. There are certainly bigger problems in Pakistan than people visiting websites that are disparaging to Islam.  This is a clear indication of the power in the society still held by the mullahs~

At Talks, Pakistan, India Close the Gap

By Anita Joshua for The Hindu

Conscious of the historical baggage, but unwilling to be burdened by it, India and Pakistan on Thursday inched closer to each other during the Foreign Secretary-level talks here and both sides held out the possibility of some tangible outcome after the July 15 ministerial engagement.

However, both Foreign Secretaries refused to be drawn into chalking out a road map or identifying goal posts. “There is a constituency for peace in both countries, and we should avoid stock phrases like road map,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said at a “joint press stakeout” here, shortly after spending a greater part of the morning with her Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir.

The talks, according to Mr. Bashir, began as an exploratory venture, but “after this round, we are much more optimistic of good prospects at the Foreign Ministers meeting.” He summed up the talks as a “good essay in mutual comprehension,” a phrase he admitted to have borrowed from Ms. Rao.

Optimism apart, both conceded that this would be a protracted process that may not yield quick results, but decided to work on the doables in the interim. As to how they proposed to insulate the process from another freeze in relations in the eventuality of a flashpoint, Ms. Rao said this would also be a subject of discussion.

The first indication of some forward movement came with the announcement of the “joint press stakeout” soon after the talks had wound up, and the Foreign Secretaries were breaking bread in the Foreign Office.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bashir said the two sides decided to work towards restoring confidence and building trust to make it possible for a comprehensive, sustained and substantial dialogue.

Speaking in a similar vein, Ms. Rao described the talks as forward-looking with both sides trying to understand each other’s position. “We reflected on the modalities for restoring trust and confidence to pave the way for a comprehensive, sustained and meaningful dialogue in all areas. We have agreed that dialogue is the best way forward.”

Asked whether terrorism was discussed, she said both sides agreed that terrorists must be denied the opportunity to derail the process of dialogue while pointing out that Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had made an important commitment when he told his counterpart that efforts would be made to ensure that the Pakistani soil was not used for attacks on India.

Unlike in the past, when the two countries appeared to be speaking at cross purposes, this time the Foreign Secretaries seemed to complement each other.

If Ms. Rao deftly side-stepped a leading question on India’s reluctance to continue with composite dialogue by saying there was no issue over nomenclature, Mr. Bashir returned the favour by echoing this remark and refusing to be drawn into commenting on why Pakistan was not raising the issue of Indian-sponsored terrorism in Balochistan.

Instead, he broad-brushed the issue, stating that terrorism impacted Pakistan and was a concern to the region and the world. “Essentially, we have agreed to move from the rhetoric to the ways and means of addressing these concerns,” he said.

Indian and Pakistani Players Join Forces to Promote Peace Through Wimbledon

Valerie Amant for Peace-Support.org

Lotto spokesmen Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, Indian and Pakistani respectively, have decided to join forces as a doubles team at Wimbledon to help promote peace.

The two players, along with Peace and Sport, the Monaco-based and neutral international organization that works towards bringing together divided communities worldwide by encouraging dialogue and reconciliation through sport, have decided to team up at this prestigious sporting event, in order to help maintain and promote peace in their neighbouring countries.

Together with their technical supplier, Lotto Sport Italia, Bopanna and Qureshi have decided to promote this initiative by designing specially made t-shirts and sweatshirts with the high impact slogan “Stop War, Start Tennis”. The t-shirt will be worn during training sessions, whilst the sweatshirt will be used when entering the court before play.

Rohan, currently ranked 54th doubles player in the world, and Aisam, currently ranked 46th, have been friends for over ten years and have teamed up successfully for the last three years. Their respective countries have lived in a situation of unease and tension in the region of Kashmir since it won its independence from the British Empire in 1947. Peace and Sport would like to emphasise how much sport unites, as highlighted by the two players’ partnership.

The two tennis stars took the initiative to promote peace through sport after having noticed that communities from both countries forget hostility when they support them in international competitions. Indeed, during the first ATP tournament in Mumbai in 2007, Pakistani flags were waved inside the stadium during the final.

With the message “Stop War! Start Tennis!” Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi remind us that sport is a universal language that facilitates dialogue, going beyond political, racial, religious, ethnical and social differences.

Joël Bouzou, President and Founder of Peace and Sport, said: « Rohan and Aisam are big stars in their respective countries. Their story of friendship through sport is a real inspiration for youngsters. By transmitting a message of peace, they hope to change the mentalities and attitudes in India and Pakistan as well as other areas of the world destabilized by conflict. We are extremely proud to support this message that will benefit from the extensive publicity that Wimbledon attracts.

Alberto Fraticelli Marketing & Communications Director, from Lotto Sport Italia adds : « It is with great pleasure and good will that we decided to develop this initiative, in fact we already support “FreeFromLaces”, the movement that through blogs, forums, social networks, music and video, collects and proposes to the entire web community content and ideas that invite the user to reflect and ponder on “laces” that limit our daily routine: those personal, mental, virtual, social, cultural and physical ties that often seem impossible to untie. Through their initiative and personal backgrounds, Aisam et Rohan are perfect incarnations of this philosophy; thanks to sport we can rise above the hate and prejudice that condemns mankind to perpetual conflict, and we are extremely proud to have international representation of our brand, through players like Rohan and Aisam.”

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