Archive for April 29th, 2010

Afghanistan Is Feel-Good Element in Twenty20

By Huw Richards for The New York Times

Cricketing contrast rarely comes more vividly than it will Saturday when India plays Afghanistan on day two of the World Twenty20 tournament on the West Indian island of St. Lucia.

India is cricket’s economic giant, generating around three quarters of its income. Its players count both their fans and their personal fortunes in millions. They have just been playing in the India Premier League, the hugely lucrative competition that has brought unprecedented riches — accompanied by allegations of corruption — into the game.

Afghanistan is the tournament newcomer, taking its first steps on the game’s biggest stages. It is cricket’s almost-too-good-to-be-true story.

A team from an impoverished and war-torn nation with no real cricket history has risen with incredible speed. That this success is a bizarre byproduct of those wider sufferings, with Afghans learning the game in refugee camps in Pakistan, only adds to the joyous unlikelihood of the whole story.

Saturday will be Afghanistan’s first competitive meeting with any of cricket’s established giants. Its players bring with them not only the fearlessness of youth — none admits to being older than 26 — but whose life experiences put mere sporting disappointment in context.

As Graeme Smith, captain of South Africa, the third team in the same initial pool, said when told that an Afghan batsman had declared himself unafraid of paceman Dale Steyn: “I wouldn’t be either, if I had grown up in a war zone.”

Afghanistan, a fifth-division team in the International Cricket Council’s league system only two years ago, should, logically, have finally reached the limit of its abilities. Yet that has been said of it at most stages in its rise. India will be wary. It remembers its elimination by Bangladesh in the 2007 World Cup, the last major tournament played in the West Indies. Lose to the Afghans and it will be tough for India to find a way back — it plays its second pool match only 24 hours later against South Africa, traditionally a fast starter in big tournaments.

There is nothing like an early shock to animate a championship. Ireland, the other qualifier from outside the 10 test-playing nations, will hope to provide one before Afghanistan even takes the field, when it plays host West Indies on Friday.

The West Indians will be seeking success on and off the field. It needs the 12-team, 27 match, 17 day tournament — the final is May 16 in Barbados — to be everything the 2007 World Cup was not. Then, overpriced tickets and heavy-handed crowd control seemed expressly designed to eliminate the distinctive ambience of Caribbean cricket.

It also needs its team to play with the vibrant spirit shown by Trinidad and Tobago in the Champions League competition for regional and national title-holders. Trinidad contributes four men to its 15-strong squad including the volcanic hitter Keiron Pollard.

In the tournament opener, Sri Lanka, runner-up in the 2009 World Twenty20, takes on New Zealand. The Sri Lankans field a 40-year-old member of Parliament, Sanath Jayasuriya, and a clutch of unorthodox but highly effective bowlers.

Predicting Twenty20 matches is notoriously tough. The short length of matches — only 20 six-ball overs apiece — and the limited number of international contests make for the unexpected.

There are, though, indications that Australia — which has won the World Cup, in which teams have innings of 50 overs, three times in a row — is coming to terms with the shorter format. It has won four of its last five official matches, drawing the other. Its teams dominated the Champions League. Paceman Doug Bollinger has emerged as a real force. On the other hand, it lost its warm-up contest against Zimbabwe.

This is the third Twenty20 World Cup. Pakistan won last year and was the runner-up in 2007. It comfortably has the best winning percentage in this format.

Pakistan should, by logic, be a prohibitive favorite. Logic, though, is in short supply in Pakistan. Several of its winning team, including inspirational captain Younis Khan, have since been thrown off the team following internal disputes.

Afghanistan owes much of its aggressive playing style to examples set by Pakistan. It must be hoped it will take its administrative models from elsewhere.

The pool stages might see Bangladesh trouble Pakistan’s traditionally slow starters. Two weeks beyond that, it would be no surprise to see Australia and Sri Lanka reprise their roles as finalists in 2007 World Cup in the 50-over format.

France Pushes Ahead With Controversial Law To Ban The Veil in Public

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has ordered the French government to draw up legislation that will allow for the total ban on the Islamic veil or niqab. This includes not just state or government offices or buildings, but in fact it will make it illegal anywhere in public. The government of Sarkozy is pressing ahead with writing and planning to enact this law despite many legal analysts in France and in Europe stating that it could eventually prove to be unconstitutional.

Despite having Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, France was one of the first to enact laws outlawing the veil in government buildings and schools in 2004. The move comes after a French driver was stopped last week for driving while veiled in the French city of Nantes. She was penalized a 22-Euro or $29 fine as police cited her for posing a “safety risk” while driving.

French government spokesman Luc Chatel said that the proposals for a full ban on the niqab and burqa would be submitted to parliament in the coming months and could theoretically be made into law by this summer.

The plans to ban the veil, he stated, were “in line with the wishes of the head of state”, who has made clear on numerous occasions his opposition to face covering garments prevalent in the Muslim culture. “The ban on the full veil must be total in all public places because women’s dignity cannot be watered down,” said Chatel, as he kept to the official view that a ban would be in keeping with “republican French values of gender equality and secularism.”

He added: “Everything must be done to ensure that no one feels stigmatized because of their faith or religious beliefs. The president and the prime minister have asked all members of the government to commit to this point.” Clearly, these are contradicting actions to many Muslims across France and Europe as they feel signaled out for the differential treatment. There is no attempt to include other religious articles of clothing from being banned such as the turban for Sikhs or the habits for the Catholic nuns.

Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party and other groups within France have been lobbying for well over a year in support of the ban. The French Council of State, a body made up of legal experts and is a part of the executive branch in charge of giving the government legal advice, has said that the burqa ban may be unconstitutional under French and European law as it violates the protections for religion. In fact, the French Republic is based on the principle of “laicite” or freedom of conscience preserved in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Undeterred, French president Sarkozy is pressing ahead with his attempts to push the law through in the next few weeks.

The Muslim veil has become the symbol of a cultural clash between a secular France concerned with preserving its Christian and Western identity, with the rise of a Muslim population that is estimated at roughly 5 million people, making 1 in 10 Frenchmen, a Muslim. Although the presence of Muslims in France started in the 8th century when Muslims had conquered Spain and pushed into France. But Islam then totally disappeared from France until the 20th century. After World War II, many people emigrated from former colonies in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and elsewhere, putting Islam in a distant second place as next most practiced religion after Catholicism which is roughly 85% of the population. Of France’s estimated 5 million Muslims, only as little as perhaps 3,000 women wear the veil, according to French government estimates.

The ban on the veil is not constitutional as it conflicts with the country’s freedom of religion and conscience that are ingrained in the French constitution and indeed psyche. Furthermore, to explicitly single out the Muslim religious articles of clothing, the law is blatantly discriminatory and certainly therefore unconstitutional. There is a big concern in France and indeed across Europe over the Arabization or Talibanization of Europe.

Many people in France see the Muslim religion as being repressive towards women and the veil is the symbol of that oppression. It may even seem commendable that France is standing up for the rights of oppressed Muslim women. However, the banning of the veil will certainly be seen by the Muslims of France as a direct assault on their personal and religious rights of expression. In a country where the majority of Muslim women do not wear the veil and have successfully assimilated into French society, the ban will actually serve to further divide and alienate the Muslim population already feeling stigmatized in France and across Europe since 9-11.

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