Posts Tagged ‘ Muslim ’

Car bomb kills 37 in Pakistan

As Reported By Adil Jawad for The Associated Pres

car

A car bomb exploded outside a mosque on Sunday, killing 37 people and wounding another 141 in a Shiite Muslim dominated neighborhood in the southern Pakistan city of Karachi — the third mass casualty attack on the minority sect in the country this year.

No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, but Shiite Muslims have been increasingly targeted by Sunni militant groups in Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub and site of years of political, sectarian and ethnic violence, as well as other parts of the country.

The bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque as people were leaving evening prayers in Pakistan’s largest city. Initial reports suggested the bomb was rigged to a motorcycle, but a top police official, Shabbir Sheikh, said later that an estimated 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives was planted in a car.

Col. Pervez Ahmad, an official with a Pakistani paramilitary force called the Rangers, said a chemical used in the blast caught fire and spread the destruction beyond the blast site. Several buildings nearby were engulfed in flames.

Men and women wailed and ambulances rushed to the scene where residents tried to find victims buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings. The blast left a crater that was 2 meters (yards) wide and more than 1 meter (4 feet) deep.

“I was at home when I heard a huge blast. When I came out, I saw there was dust all around in the streets. Then I saw flames,” said Syed Irfat Ali, a resident who described how people were crying and trying to run to safety.

A top government official, Taha Farooqi, said at least 37 people were confirmed dead and 141 more were wounded.

Sunni militant groups have stepped up attacks in the past year against Shiite Muslims who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million people. Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban view Shiites as heretics.

Tahira Begum, a relative of a blast victim, demanded the government take strict action against the attackers.

“Where is the government?” she asked during an interview with local Aaj News TV. “Terrorists roam free. No one dares to catch them.”

It was the third large-scale attack against members of the minority sect so far this year. Two brazen attacks against a Shiite Hazara community in southwestern city of Quetta killed nearly 200 people since Jan 10.

Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombings, which ripped through a billiard club and a market in areas populated by Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago. Most Hazaras are Shiites.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to attack Shiites.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed last year in targeted attacks across the country, the worst year on record for anti-Shiite violence in Pakistan. The human rights group said more than 125 were killed in Baluchistan province. Most of them belonged to the Hazara community.

Human rights groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites, and many Pakistanis question how these attacks can happen with such regularity.

A resident who lived in the area where the bomb went off Sunday said there had been another blast nearby just a few months ago.

“The government has totally failed to provide security to common people in this country,” Hyder Zaidi said.

After the Jan. 10 bombing in Quetta, the Hazara community held protests, which spread to other parts of the country. The protesters refused to bury their dead for several days while demanding a military-led crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group. Pakistan’s president dismissed the provincial government and assigned a governor to run Baluchistan province.

No operation was launched against the militant group until another bombing in February killed 89 people.

The government then ordered a police operation and has said some members of the group have been arrested. One of the founders of the group, Malik Ishaq, was among those detained and officials said he could be questioned to determine if his group is linked to the latest violence against Shiites.

The repeated attacks have left many Shiites outraged at the government. After the last blast in Quetta, Shiites in Karachi and other cities also demonstrated in support for their brethren in Quetta. Shiites in Karachi set fire to tires and blocked off streets leading to the airport. Many Karachi residents planned to strike on Monday as a form of protest following Sunday’s attack in their city.

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

India and Pakistan: The Truth of the One Nation Theory

By Aakar Patel for FirstPost

The first time I came to Pakistan, I was taken aback at how good some of the infrastructure was. The airports at Karachi and Lahore were small, but they were efficient and well designed. I think my host told me the Japanese had built one or both of them, and those airports were a very different thing from the ones I had just taken off from in India.

This was when the government made the airports and as with all things the Indian government takes up, our airports were clumsy and barely functional. But a few years later this changed. Today the airports at Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are pretty good. They’re not world class (nothing in India can ever be), but they are not embarrassing as the earlier ones were.

The differences that I had thought were significant turned out not to be so.

This led me to think of how similar we were as nations. Not in the sense that Mohd Ali Jinnah meant. I think it is fairly obvious that the character of India and of Pakistan is different when we observe their constitutions. India’s secularism is fundamentally Hindu in its nature. Pakistans constitution is Islamic by design and in appearance.

Though this is an important aspect of nationhood, however, it is only one aspect.

What I mean is how we are one nation in all the negative aspects. Our neighbourhoods and streets are among the most shameful in the world, because we are selfish and blind to the concern of others. Delhi’s drivers are as terrible as those in Lahore (and the women of Delhi and Lahore would concur on the behaviour of the loutish men of those cities). Half of us are illiterate and the half who are literate don’t really read much. The comments sections of Indian and Pakistani websites are the most dreadful in the world, without qualification. Hateful and pedantic, the product of minds who are only functionally literate. We think time will bring some big change in our society but it isn’t easy to see where this change is going to come from.

I know of few other nations where people would not be embarrassed at the thought of keeping servants. Few cultures would be so unaffected, so uncaring of privacy to not mind the constant presence of the servant in the house. I am not even talking about the bestial manner in which we treat them, because every reader of this piece, whether Indian or Pakistani already knows what I mean.

We divide ourselves into nations based on things like which animal the other eats or does not eat. The outsider probably sees no difference between us, and rightly.

We produce very little of meaning to the outside world, and it is tough to think of what our contribution is to the nations from whom we take so much. In science and technology we have nothing to offer the West, despite the boasts of Indians that we gave the world Arabic numerals and zero (I agree with that; we have given the world zero).

Pakistanis stake claim to Islams golden age. Daily Jang columnist Hassan Nisar often takes up this point. He says that the Arabs laugh when Pakistanis owns Islams achievements. What aspect of the conquest of Spain or the scientific revolution in Baghdad did Punjabis and Sindhis participate in?
To the world we are one people in that sense.

My friend Col Iftikhar, from Musharrafs batch in the Pakistan Military Academy, said he discovered this horrifying fact when he went to Mecca a few decades ago for Haj. He met some Saudis, one of whom asked him where he was from. Lahore, said Ifti. Where’s that, the Saudi asked (this was in the 70s). Pakistan, said Ifti proudly. Where’s that, the puzzled Saudi asked. Ifti took out a map and pointed. Ah, said the Saudi to his friends, he’s Hindi.

Our problems are so primitive that they should make us stop and repair ourselves immediately. But they don’t seem to affect us at all. Our media carry on like we are normal people. Reading the militant bombast of the strategic affairs experts in the newspapers of these two nations, the outsider would never suspect that these were two nations unable to even keep their public toilets clean.

An American Muslim’s Thanksgiving

By Dr. Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

I know how much I didn’t know 15 years ago.

After landing at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York as an exchange visitor, I was faced with a culture shock. I knew the word “Manhattan” but I didn’t know what it actually meant. Was it a fruit? A car? A newspaper? I knew the name Michael Jordan but I didn’t know who he actually was. A singer? A scientist? A politician? I knew Thanksgiving was an important holiday in America but I didn’t know what to do on thanksgiving? Eat? Pray? Love?

Don’t forget. This was 1996, when internet was not ubiquitous and search engines meant using a pillow sized book called Yellow Pages. But despite spending a lot of time, the Yellow Pages could not expand my understanding of the above three queries.

So I did what we doctors do best: read a book. It was a book about American cultural literacy.

Reading about the history of thanksgiving, however, opened up a Pandora’s Box of controversies. Is it a Christian holiday? Is it a secular holiday? Is giving thanks to God a good idea or should we be thanking our fellow human beings? Or is it a reminder of the “genocide of the native Americans” and therefore should not be celebrated at all.

This was all too complicated for a medical doctor who was now having second thoughts about learning the history of Manhattan or Michael Jordan. “Who knows … they may turn out to be just as controversial?” I thought.

Which left me with the loaded question: What should I, as a Muslim in America, do on Thanksgiving?

One good thing about medical residency was that sometime a holiday would simply pop-up on your schedule and you literally had to do something with it. So my first reaction to “do something” with my first Thanksgiving was to thank God. Thank Him for giving me peace, security and opportunity in America.

To that end, I found a rainbow of Quranic verses exhorting Muslims to thank God in various ways. Here is one for each color in the rainbow.

Want a promising violet, try: “… If you are grateful, I will, surely, bestow more favors on you;” (14:8); How about an acknowledging indigo: “(Abraham was) thankful for His bounties; God chose him and He guided him unto a straight path” (16:121); Or the true blue thanks of another prophet “Assuredly, he (Noah) was a grateful servant” (17:3); Or a the combination of a green encouragement with a yellow warning: “Remember Me so that I will remember you, and give thanks to Me and do not be ungrateful to Me” (2:152); Or consider the simply orange truth: Surely, Allah is gracious towards mankind, but most of them are not thankful…’ (10:61); and if all fails, here is the red hot chastisement: “If you are thankful I will add more unto you. But if you show ingratitude My punishment is terrible indeed” (14:7).

But God was simply missing from most American Thanksgiving celebrations. Why? Because many atheists claim that giving thanks to our fellow human beings, those who make a true difference in our day to day lives, is more important than thanking a nebulous (in their opinion) entity.

There is much credence, (in my opinion), to the atheist’s point of view of thanking our fellow humans. Prophet Muhammad also reminded Muslims, “The one who does not give thanks for a small blessing will not give thanks for a great blessing, and the one who does not give thanks to people will not give thanks to Allah” (Abu Dawud). By helping the poor, respecting the elders, giving up his seat for a guest, showing unconditional love and exercising fairness in every day affairs, the prophet taught Muslims an important lesson. Thank you is not just a word; it’s an attitude.

Making the thanksgiving holiday a focal point of the Native American controversy is an over simplification. So I will leave it for a separate discussion.

15 years later, as a naturalized US citizen, there is much that I still don’t know about a lot of things. But I do know what an American Muslim should do on Thanksgiving: Give thanks.

Let’s thank our beautiful country, let’s thank our living constitution, and let’s thank the people around us. Only then can we truly thank God.

By the way, adding Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, and a pumpkin pie to the day would be a fantastic idea too.

Faheem Younus is the Adjunct Faculty for Religion, CCBC; Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, UMD

Arundhati’s Statement From Srinagar: Full Text

By Arundhati Roy
October 26, 2010
Noted Indian Hindu writer Arundhati Roy Tuesday said her speeches supporting the call for azadi were what “millions” in Kashmir say every day and were “fundamentally a call for justice”. Following is the full text of the statement that she has issued.
 
“I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villags in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.  

“Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

“In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.”

Arundhati Roy is a novelist, essayist and human rights activist. She won a Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. For more on her read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Arundhati Roy’s courageous plea to her country is to be lauded. Although branded a traitor by many in India and within the government, she knows that she stands for peace, justice and fairness for all humanity. She wants self determination for all Kashmiris, be they Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Christian.

We at Pakistanis for Peace want nothing more than peace between India and Pakistan and therefore understand that Kashmir is the one and single most important issue between the two countries. Solve it and you do not have the threat of cross border attacks, friction, animosity, perpetual war and a tense border between two neighbors of nearly 2,000 miles. If we continue to ignore it then it will eventually be the crisis that starts a 4th and possibly nuclear war between the two neighbors. A war that neither the neighborhood nor the world can afford.

Obama Calls For Religious Tolerance

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

In a news conference on the eve of Sept. 11, he speaks of his own Christianity, the economy, and asks Americans to remember they’re not at war with Islam, but with terrorists that distort the faith.

President Obama spoke of his own Christianity on Friday while calling on Americans to turn away from religious divisions and join together as “one nation, under God.” It was a rare personal reference from the president, coming in a news conference that sounded more like a homily to the nation before a somber anniversary.

“As somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise,” Obama said. “But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles.”

In his first news conference in several months, Obama talked up his plans for stimulating economic growth and complained about Republican obstruction to his proposals. He said people should remember that there is still a terrorist threat to Americans nine years after Sept. 11, even though U.S. troops overseas are successfully compromising the ability of extremists to carry out new plots.

Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, is a high priority, he said, though it “doesn’t solve all our problems.”

But as a Florida preacher held out the possibility of a Koran-burning demonstration on Saturday, tying it to plans for the development of a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attacks, even Obama’s messages about the economy and overseas conflict were interwoven with a larger message about religious tolerance.

If there is an increase in suspicion and resentment of Islam in this country, Obama said, it arises during trying times when the country is feeling a sense of general anxiety. He said he worries that the threat of a Koran burning could endanger American troops and cause others around the country to think it’s a good way to get attention.

The proposed New York City mosque has run up against the “extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11,” he said. “But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam,” Obama said. “We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.”

Americans, he said, must cling to the shared belief in religious tolerance. “We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country,” he said. “They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our co-workers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?”

Obama devoted a substantial portion of his Friday remarks to the economy, beginning with the announcement that he is naming Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee to head his Council of Economic Advisors. Goolsbee is an economist with expertise in tax policy.

The president refused to characterize his proposal to spend money on infrastructure as a “second stimulus” plan, despite one reporter’s prodding and even though he said he has “no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and hiring.”

“I would assume that’s what the Republicans think we should do, to stimulate growth and jobs,” Obama said. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky fired off a speedy critique, saying Americans are more interested in lower taxes and reductions in federal spending.

“The president spent a lot of time blaming others and talking about more government spending,” McConnell said. “But Americans want to know that Washington is going to stop the reckless spending and debt, the burdensome red-tape and job-killing taxes.”

But McConnell and others hastened to echo the president’s words about who, exactly, the U.S. is targeting with its war effort. “I agree wholeheartedly with the president that we need to do everything we can to fight Al Qaeda, while being clear who the enemy is,” McConnell said. “This war on terror goes on,” McConnell said. “We are confident in the strength and goodness of our cause and our country.”

For US Muslims, a 9/11 Anniversary Like No Other

By Rachel Zoll for The Associated Press

American Muslims are boosting security at mosques, seeking help from leaders of other faiths and airing ads underscoring their loyalty to the United States — all ahead of a 9/11 anniversary they fear could bring more trouble for their communities.

Their goal is not only to protect Muslims, but also to prevent them from retaliating if provoked. One Sept. 11 protest in New York against the proposed mosque near ground zero is expected to feature Geert Wilders, the aggressively anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker. The same day in Gainesville, Fla., the Dove World Outreach Center plans to burn copies of the Quran.

“We can expect crazy people out there will do things, but we don’t want to create a hysteria,” among Muslims, said Victor Begg of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. “Americans, in general, they support pluralism. It’s just that there’s a lot of misinformation out there that has created confusion.”

On Tuesday, the Islamic Society of North America will hold a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington “to address the growing tide of fear and intolerance” in the furor over the planned New York mosque.

Islamic centers in many cities are intensifying surveillance and keeping closer contact with law enforcement. Adding to Muslim concern is a fluke of the lunar calendar: Eid al-Fitr, a joyous holiday marking the end of Ramadan, will fall around Sept. 11 this year. Muslim leaders fear festivities could be misinterpreted as celebrating the 2001 terror strikes.

“We’re telling everyone to keep their eyes open and report anything suspicious to authorities and call us,” said Ramzy Kilic of the Tampa, Fla., chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Other efforts around 9/11 aim to fight bigotry. Muslims will clean parks, feed the homeless, and give toys to sick children as part of Muslim Serve, a national campaign to demonstrate Islamic commitment to serving humanity.

Separately, groups are distributing ads to combat persistent suspicions about Islam. One spot, called “My Faith, My Voice,” features American Muslims saying, “I don’t want to take over this country.”

Sept. 11 anniversaries have always been challenging for U.S. Muslims, who have been under scrutiny since the attacks. This year, the commemoration follows a stunning summer in which opposition to a planned Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site escalated into a national uproar over Islam, extremism and religious freedom.

Islamic centers as far away as Tennessee and California faced protests and vandalism. In western New York, police said a group of teenagers recently yelled obscenities, set off a car alarm and fired a shotgun during two nights of drive-by harassment at a small-town mosque near Lake Ontario.

Usama Shami, board chairman for the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said a new mosque the congregation has been building for years drew little attention until recently, when some resistance emerged in the neighborhood and from some in city government. Recently, vandals broke into the new building, spilled paint on the floor and broke expensive windows.

Shami believes the ground zero dispute is partly to blame for the trouble, along with passions unleashed by Arizona’s strict new law that would require police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

“All of these issues came at the same time,” Shami said. “When things like that happen, I think they bring out the worst in some people.”

On Sept. 11 in Chicago, Zeenat Rahman, a 34-year-old native of the city, will visit a local nursing home with Muslim and non-Muslim friends to spend time with residents and help serve a meal.

“This is when people are going to look at our community, and when they do, what are they going to see?” said Rahman, a policy director for the Interfaith Youth Core, which promotes pluralism. “Sometimes, saying `Islam means peace,’ feels a little defensive and apologetic, whereas service is really core to our faith.”

Unity Productions Foundation, a Washington-area group that specializes in films about Islam and Muslim Americans, will hold an interfaith talk on Sept. 11 at the Washington Jewish Community Center.

Speakers include Monem Salam, the subject of a Unity Productions film titled, “On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly.” Unity recently launched groundzerodialogue.org, where visitors can view films and use them for community discussion about Islam in the U.S.

Salam, 38, of Bellingham, Wash., usually spends the Eid weekend with his wife and three young children, but said he persuaded his wife he had to participate in the event.

“I have to leave them and go across the country to answer questions about Islam,” said Salam, a portfolio manager who was 4 years old when his family left Pakistan for the U.S. “It’s unfortunate. It’s the time that we live in.”

Bomb Strikes Shiite March in Pakistan

As Reported by The Associated Press

Three bombs ripped through a Shiite Muslim religious procession in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, killing 25 people and wounding about 150 others, officials said.

The explosions appeared to be the latest in a string of attacks by Sunni extremists against the minority Shiites they consider infidels. Allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban, the bombers are also seeking to destabilize Pakistan’s U.S.-backed government.

The blasts were the first major attacks since Pakistan was hit by devastating floods more than a month ago. Lahore, the country’s political capital and home to much of its military elite, has been regularly targeted by militants over the past two years.

The bombs exploded at three separate sites Wednesday evening as 35,000 Shiites marched through the streets of Lahore in their traditional mourning procession for the caliph Ali, one of Shiite Islam’s most respected holy men.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the blasts in a statement and said the attackers would not escape justice.

After the blasts, the marchers erupted in fury, setting fire to a police station, another police facility, two police cars and three motorcycles, said Zulfiqar Hameed, a senior police officer. Police lobbed tear gas canisters at the crowd and fired shots in the air to disperse the assailants, he said.

The first blast was a time bomb that exploded in the street near a well-known Shiite building, Hameed said. Footage of that explosion shown on Geo television showed a small blast erupting amid a crowd of people on the street followed by a large plume of smoke. Hundreds of people fled from the blast, while others rushed to carry the wounded to safety.

Minutes later, with the streets in chaos, a male suicide bomber who appeared about 18 years old tried to force his way into an area where food was being prepared for the marchers to break the traditional Ramadan fast and exploded, Hameed said. Soon after, another suicide bomber detonated himself at an intersection near the end of the procession.

Abbas Kumaili, a prominent Shiite scholar as well as a senator, called for three days of mourning over the attack and lashed out at the bombers.

”They are our enemies, both Shiites and Sunnis should remain united and foil their evil designs,” he said.

The blasts killed 25 people and wounded about 150 others, said Sajjad Bhutta, a top local government official.

Hours earlier, three people were wounded in a shooting near a similar Shiite procession in the southern city of Karachi, but senior police officer Iqbal Mahmood said the incident did not target the march.

Islamist extremists have a history of attacking Shiites, non-Muslims and others they deem unacceptable.

In July, twin suicide attacks at Pakistan’s most popular Sufi shrine killed 42 people. Another suicide bomber wounded eight worshippers at a Shiite mosque in eastern Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded near a police vehicle in the town of Shabqadar in northwest Pakistan, killing one passer-by and wounding 15 people including one police officer, police officer Nisar Khan said.

The bombings came after Pakistan army jets and helicopters targeted militant hide-outs near the Afghan border, killing 60 people identified as insurgents or their family members, including children, said security officials and a witness.

The attacks occurred Tuesday and Wednesday in different parts of the region.

There was no independent confirmation of the casualty figures because the area is too dangerous for outsiders to visit.

The raids Tuesday took place in several villages in Teerah Valley in the Khyber region and killed 45 people, the officials said. One official said some vehicles rigged with explosives had also been destroyed. He could not say how many.

He described the dead as insurgents, but said it was possible that people living with them could also have been killed. Separately, an intelligence officer said some women and children had been killed in the attacks.

Jihad Gul, who lives near one of the villages, said he had seen the bodies of at least 20 women and children.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said reports of civilian casualties were unconfirmed.

The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

An air attack Wednesday in the adjoining district of Orakzai killed 15 suspected militants and wounded 10 others, according to local government official Jamil Khan and a brief army statement.

Pakistan’s army has been fighting Islamist militants in different parts of the northwest for more than two years.

Militants who fled major operations in the South Waziristan and Orakzai tribal regions are believed to have set up new bases in Khyber, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the main city in the region, Peshawar.

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.

India, Pakistan and the Musical Gurus of Peace

By Varun Soni for The Huffington Post

In July, India and Pakistan will begin a new round of talks in hopes of reviving their diplomatic efforts and renewing their peace process. While there are many pressing political issues to discuss, these talks could also be a remarkable opportunity for an innovative public diplomacy initiative between the nuclear neighbors. Although public diplomacy is often thought of as a form of state-to-state engagement, it also has the power to engage populations on a person-to-person level as well, especially in the age of social media and networking. Given the fact that many Indians and Pakistanis sing the same songs and listen to the same music, there is a unique opportunity now to promote popular music as a form of public diplomacy.

Although India and Pakistan are politically divided, their cultural roots still bind them together. Nowhere is this more apparent than Punjab — a region that was partitioned to create the modern nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947, and further divided into the Indian states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in the 1960s. Despite these geopolitical divisions, Punjabis in both India and Pakistan remain united by “Punjabiyat,” a shared cultural heritage that has developed over millennia.

The historical Punjab is the only region in South Asia where Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are all represented in large numbers. Even as Punjab’s history is one of conflict and communalism, it is also one of overlapping musical and religious traditions. For example, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh canonical text, contains within it not only the devotional compositions of Guru Nanak and his Sikh successors, but also verses from poets now considered Hindu and Muslim, such as Namdev and Baba Farid. Likewise, the Sikh devotional music of kirtan draws from similar lyrical sources and employs a similar instrumentation as Hindu bhajan music and Sufi qawwali music. For contemporary musicians, the devotional syncretism of Punjab remains a powerful model for how music can provide an encompassing framework for both unity and diversity.

Earlier this year, I interviewed the Sufi rock star Salman Ahmad as part of a USC book launch series focused on religion, popular culture, and diplomacy. As the founder of Junoon, Pakistan’s most popular rock band, Ahmad discussed his experiences performing in both India and Pakistan and explained how rock and roll empowers and connects the youth in both countries. In the name of rock-and-roll diplomacy, Ahmad organized last year’s Concert for Pakistan at the UN General Assembly Hall as a way of raising money and awareness for the three million internally displaced people of the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Inspired by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s famous Concert for Bangladesh, the Concert for Pakistan brought together prominent Indian and Pakistani musicians, diplomats, and entrepreneurs in solidarity and support for Swat.

Another powerful moment in India-Pakistan musical diplomacy occurred in August of 1997, when India and Pakistan celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries of independence as nation-states. In order to commemorate this occasion, the virtuoso Indian music composer A.R. Rahman recorded with the late great Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Together, the most famous musician from India and the most famous musician from Pakistan composed “Gurus of Peace,” an impassioned plea for peace between India and Pakistan. “Gurus of Peace” proved prescient, as the following year both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, prompting President Clinton to call the India-Pakistan border the world’s most dangerous region. But A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had reminded the region the year earlier that India and Pakistan could unite through musical fusion instead of divide over nuclear fusion.

In the 1950s, the US State Department began sponsoring jazz luminaries, such as Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, to perform concerts overseas and serve as American cultural ambassadors. This public diplomacy initiative was aimed at winning the hearts and minds of potential allies in the Cold War, but the concerts also connected communities and ideas at a person-to-person level, and inspired artistic movements throughout the world. Likewise, India and Pakistan should sponsor and promote a series of musical concerts, workshops, and exchanges as a way of creating connections and engaging communities on a non-state level. Musical diplomacy certainly has its limits and should only be one part of a broader public diplomacy strategy, but after more than 60 years of missed public diplomacy opportunities, it’s time for India and Pakistan to follow the lead of A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and give music a chance.

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