Archive for August, 2010

The Next Ronald Reagan?

By James T Hackett for The Washington Times

Ronald Reagan was an American original and a unique political phenomenon. He combined unusual charm and personality and showed common sense that connected with the average American. He was attacked viciously by the political elites, who saw his popular appeal – and his opposition to big government and high taxes – as a threat to their domination of the nation’s politics.

Conservatives have been searching for a new Ronald Reagan, so far without success. But perhaps the Gipper’s heir is in sight. Sarah Palin is remarkably similar to the late president. The Mama Grizzly from Alaska is certainly an American original, and her success in picking political winners against the odds has shown that she is no less a political phenomenon. And the policies she supports are similar – small government and low taxes, plus energy self-sufficiency and a balanced budget.

Just as Reagan was denigrated as an ex-movie actor with limited education, Mrs. Palin is portrayed as an ex-model with limited education, which means she did not go to Harvard or Yale, like most recent presidents and much of the liberal elite. The fact that elites from those institutions have nearly destroyed the economy and bankrupted the country does not reduce their arrogance or diminish their efforts to hold onto power.

Mrs. Palin was roundly criticized when she left the office of governor of Alaska, but since then, she has been riding a populist wave accompanied by Tea Party activists who want a return to common sense and responsible spending. President Obama promised change, which many sought after the budget excesses of the George W. Bush years and the pork-obsessed Republican Congress. But candidate Obama was unclear, telling each audience what it wanted to hear.

Now we know what he meant by change – a much bigger federal government, excessive government spending, harsh new energy and environmental regulations on business, spending in support of labor unions and the bailout of profligate state governments. Under Mr. Obama, the environmentalists are running amok, spending billions on windmills, electric cars and other green-energy schemes while blocking oil drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration does not care that giving money to the states only perpetuates their overspending while doing little to help unemployment. At the same time, their anti-oil bias and excessive regulation are reducing jobs in the all-important private sector. The Keynesian economists in control will not accept that their policies are aggravating the problem.

Most Tea Party activists are grass-roots Americans who see what Washington elites cannot, which is why they keep winning. Sarah Palin has become a political power by encouraging Republican women to run for office and by her amazing ability to pick winners – and often help them win – even against heavy opposition spending. With Mrs. Palin’s support, Republican women are becoming politically successful in growing numbers.

Mrs. Palin has endorsed more than 20 winners in Republican primaries this year, many underdogs who were given little chance against the party’s chosen candidates. Among her notable successes have been the nominations of Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, for governor of South Carolina; Carly Fiorina, a former corporate executive running against Sen. Barbara Boxer in California; Rand Paul, a maverick candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky; and Susana Martinez, running for governor of New Mexico. Now she is supporting another maverick, Sharron Angle, in her high-profile race against Harry Reid, the Democrats’ Senate leader.

But Mrs. Palin’s biggest success has to be the amazing turnaround in last week’s Alaska election for the Republican Senate nomination. It is very hard to oust an entrenched incumbent such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, daughter of a former senator and governor, with eight years in office. Her opponent, a virtually unknown lawyer, Joe Miller, was considered a hopeless candidate, with polls showing him far behind and practically no one picking him to win, except Sarah Palin.

Yet, with Mrs. Palin’s endorsement, he came from behind to win the Election Day count by 1,668 votes. The final result waits for the counting of absentee and contested ballots, but the turnaround has nonetheless been spectacular. Mrs. Palin has shown she is a force to reckon with, which is why the left is attacking her so relentlessly.

The question is whether she can apply her keen political instincts and the grass-roots support she generates to become the next Ronald Reagan. The liberal powers clearly fear that she can.

 

-James T. Hackett is a former Reagan administration official and Heritage Foundation writer.

Two With Ties To Detroit Area Held In Terror Plot

By Nathan Hurst, Robert Snell and Mark Hicks for The Detroit News

Two men with ties to Metro Detroit are being held in Amsterdam after one was suspected of making a trial run in preparation for a terrorist attack, federal authorities said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said suspicious items were found in the checked luggage of one passenger, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi of Tuscaloosa, Ala., flying on a United Airlines flight Sunday night from Chicago to Amsterdam. Another man, Hezem al Murisi of Memphis, was also detained.

“Suspicious items were located in checked luggage associated with two passengers on United Flight 908 from Chicago O’Hare to Amsterdam last night,” department officials said in a statement Monday.

“The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items.”

Dutch authorities arrested the two men at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on charges of preparing for a terrorist attack.

A Transportation Security Administration official said al Soofi had originally booked a ticket from Birmingham to Chicago and onward to Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International and then to Dubai and Yemen.

In Birmingham on Sunday, al Soofi’s checked luggage drew the attention of TSA screeners, who found a taped bundle of watches, a similar bundle of cell phones, multiple knives, a box cutter and a cell phone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, among other suspicious items that were thought to be nonthreatening, allowing him to continue to Chicago.

Al Soofi was also carrying $7,000 in cash when boarding the flight in Birmingham.

His brother, Murad al Soofi, said the charges were so ludicrous that family members “were laughing about (the incident) when we heard it.”

“It’s ridiculous,” said Murad al Soofi, who owns a convenience store in Tuscaloosa, Ala., about an hour west of Birmingham.

He said his brother moved to Michigan from Yemen in 1997 and has a wife and five children — three boys and two girls — in his homeland. He moved to Tuscaloosa earlier this year in search of work after losing jobs in Detroit and Monroe, his brother said.

Murad al Soofi said his brother was flying to Yemen to visit his family, but had no explanation for why he wanted to change his flight in Chicago.

Al Soofi’s luggage made it to Chicago and to Washington, despite the fact he did not board the flight from Chicago to Washington.

Instead he changed his ticket at United’s hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for the flight to Amsterdam. Normally, baggage and ticketed passengers must travel together, but it appears United officials didn’t notice the diverted baggage until the luggage arrived in Washington.

It was at Dulles where Customs and Border Patrol authorities stopped a Dubai-bound United flight and had it brought it back to the gate after it was discovered that al Soofi’s luggage was on board but he wasn’t. The luggage was off-loaded and the wide-bodied Boeing 777 arrived in Dubai about an hour late Monday morning, flight records show.

Both of the detained men are friends who lived and worked in Dearborn, said Imad Hamad of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The al Soofi and al Murisi families are prominent within the Yemeni-American community in Dearborn, Hamad said.

Both men worked at area restaurants and grocery stores, and it is typical to spend several months working in Michigan and travel home once or twice a year to visit relatives in Yemen.

“When the news broke, people were surprised because they knew them as good people, respected people who always worked and worked hard,” Hamad said.

Al Soofi was believed to have recently lived at the Hidden Trail Apartments in Monroe.

Neighbors said he hadn’t been at the complex for at least a year. They remember him as a quiet man who associated with other local laborers. They said he sometimes covered his windows with cardboard.

Learning of his alleged involvement in preparing for a terrorist attack is “very upsetting,” said resident Stacy Louks, 32, who has lived in the complex for several years.

The incident echoes the Christmas Day bombing attempt of Flight 253 over Detroit’s skies.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is being held at the federal prison in Milan awaiting trial on terrorism charges related to that flight, which authorities say he failed to blow up using improvised explosives strapped in his underwear.

The incident sparked intense scrutiny of U.S. homeland security and border control policies and procedures. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian native, was able to secure and retain a multiple-entry visa for the United States despite being denied entry by the United Kingdom and warnings from his own family to U.S. authorities that he was a potential terrorism risk.

His trial is slated to begin next year in Detroit.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- If found guilty, these two individuals should be thrown in jail for life with no possibility of parole at the very least. Individuals like these do not really even deserve the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all Americans, but nonetheless should get their due process and if found guilty, deserve to have the book thrown at them and put away for life. Also, we are thankful that the authorities foiled this potential attack and request everyone to be vigilant as the September 11 anniversary approaches and we pray no acts of violence take place in the US or anywhere else taking innocent lives.

If We Scrap Religious Freedom, Terrorists Win

By Sloan R Piva for South Coast Today

I must remind readers that this is the United States of America.

In the United States of America, the supreme law is the Constitution. The Constitution is the framework for the organization of the United States government. Within the Constitution, the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, specify the inalienable rights afforded to all American citizens.

Among those rights is the freedom of speech, which allows me to write this letter. Freedom of the press allows publications like The Standard-Times to communicate news, and opinions like this, to communities. And of course there is freedom of religion, which protects each individual American citizen’s right to free exercise of religion.

This means that any American citizen, including the men and women behind the Islamic center in New York City, may practice their religion anywhere on American soil without prejudice or interference.

To interfere with these freedoms is to defy the laws of the land, shamelessly shunning the doctrines assembled by the nation’s forefathers.

America was attacked nine years ago by cowardly and radical religious zealots. It was a devastating tragedy that affected all of us. But the proposed mosque simply cannot be regarded as a “radical Islamic” center. To say that a small, radical percentage of a religion’s members represents the entire religion is unfair. To disallow American Muslims a place of worship, on any available land in the country we share, is unjust.

If Americans truly think it is acceptable to negate the Constitution because of 9/11, then the terrorists have already won. If the nation is divided, and the freedoms associated with our flag are abolished, then we too have become radical.

On Tuesday night, Aug. 24, a 21-year old white man attacked and stabbed a cabbie in New York after asking if he was Muslim. Maybe he thought he was following in the endless line of so-called Americans suddenly claiming that certain religions are allowed in certain places in this so-called “free country.” Ever think so-called debates like this send the younger generation mixed messages about religious tolerance in America?

And shame on the citizens attacking the president for supporting the freedoms of the land which he serves. It would be much more troubling if the president of the United States of America denounced the Constitution and dictated who is allowed where and what religions can be practiced.

To me, that sounds a bit like Nazi Germany. I’m so glad that we do not have a leader enforcing “no Muslims here!” because a group of radicals committed a horrendous crime against our nation. The answer is not to now disallow our citizens their rights. Just because the planners of the Islamic center are Muslim does not make them radical terrorists. Such an assumption would be ignorance and bigotry.

To combat a related issue, the president’s middle name is completely irrelevant to any debate regarding any subject! Here are the main facts: He was born in America, and he is our president. Stating his whole name in support of some ridiculous conspiracy theory is petty, naive, and downright un-American.

My grandfather’s name was John. My mother’s stepfather, whom I also call Grandpa, is named Lee. Does that mean that, because they share the same common first names of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, my grandfathers are presidential assassins? By the same theory that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim that supports terrorism, I suppose my grandfathers John and Lee are killers.

What about non-Muslim terrorists like Timothy McVeigh? He was Irish, and he came from an Irish Catholic family. Does that mean that Catholic churches are disallowed in the area of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Irishmen in the area may not practice their beliefs? No, because he did not act on behalf of all Irish-Americans, and his terrorist motives were not the motives shared by his family’s religion.

Again, this is the United States of America. It’s a land of freedoms. Go against those inherited freedoms, you’re un-American. Attack the president of the United States with slanderous fallacies, you’re out of line. I applaud my fellow Americans who have taken the right and just stance on these issues, and shake my head in shame at the bigots who are just as hypocritical as the cowardly and radical religious zealots.

-Ms Piva is a resident of Dartmouth and this is her letter to the editor for a local paper in Massachusetts.

The American Debate: Where Has All The Love Gone?

By Dick Polman for The Philadelphia Inquirer

As we navigate the waning days of our xenophobic August, with so many opportunists in high dudgeon about Muslims in our midst, perhaps it’d be wise to quote a notably tolerant Republican – somebody whose words might possibly shame the fearmongers who currently pervade his own party.

For instance: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms, and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect. . . . They love America just as much as I do.”

On Sept. 17, 2001, so said President George W. Bush.

Hey, I’m starting to miss the guy. Notwithstanding all the disastrous aspects of his presidency, his generous, inclusive attitude toward immigrants of color – particularly Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11 – was always in the finest American tradition. We could use a sustained dose of his tone today.

Unfortunately, the conservative movement that he twice led to victory now seems to have shelved that pluralistic tradition, preferring instead to sow fear to reap short-term political gain. And not a single prominent Republican politician has had the courage – heck, it’s not even courage, it’s a duty – to step forward and denounce the roiling irrationality that currently infects our political discourse.

So we’re stuck with the faux issue of a “ground zero mosque” that’s actually not just a mosque (it’s a proposed community center with an interfaith board of directors) and not at ground zero; with Newt Gingrich equating all Muslims with Nazis; with myriad attacks on mosques in Florida (pipe bombs, bullets); with Sarah Palin Twittering her simplicities; with an evangelical pastor who plans to mark the 9/11 anniversary by burning copies of the Quoran (when asked what he knew about the Quoran, he replied, “I have no experience with it whatsoever”); with a tea party blogger who writes that all Muslims are “animals” who worship a “monkey god,” and whatever else the haters are doing in our name.

Since no elected Republican dares to utter a peep, let us try to quell the hatred, however briefly, by skimming the cream of the Bush ouevre. What you’re about to read was mainstream Republican thinking just a few scant years ago.

From the president’s second inaugural address, on Jan. 20, 2005:

“In America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character – on integrity and tolerance toward others . . . . That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Quoran . . . .”

From remarks on June 27, 2007, at the rededication of the Islamic Center in Washington:

“We come to express our appreciation for a faith that has enriched civilization for centuries. We come in celebration of America’s diversity of faith and our unity as free people. And we hold in our hearts the ancient wisdom of the great Muslim poet Rumi: ‘The lamps are different, but the light is the same.’ “

From remarks on Sept. 17, 2001:

“Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens . . . were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Quoran itself: ‘In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.’ The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

Compared with what we’re hearing on the Republican right these days, Bush sounds like a “Kumbaya” folkie in the tradition of Peter, Paul, and Mary. But even at the time, he was no starry-eyed naif. Aside from the fact that his calls for tolerance were in the best American tradition, there was also a dash of calculation. He and his advisers knew that al-Qaeda wanted to frame the war on terror as a clash of civilizations. Therefore, it ill-served America to behave as though it were at war with Islam. It was smarter to embrace the followers of Islam, as a way of isolating the violent extremists who had perverted its tenets. Basically, this was a national-security priority. It still is.

Bush’s former chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, understands that. He’s one of the only Bush alumni who has spoken out; in a recent newspaper column, he reiterated the Bush credo: “A president not only serves Muslim citizens, not only commands Muslims in the American military, but also leads a coalition that includes Iraqi and Afghan Muslims who risk death every day fighting Islamic radicalism at our side.”

In other words, Americans who attack their fellow Muslim citizens – and politicians who inflame such attacks or remain mute – are weakening America. As Gerson put it, treating Muslims as bogeymen, and assailing their Lower Manhattan project, will “undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.”

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the post-Bush GOP has done nothing to quell the Muslim-bashing. Its priorities are decidedly short-term. Forget the war on terror; this party is primarily focused on the war for control of Congress. Its conservative base is angry, fearful, and ginned up for November. Muslim American voters are far less numerous, and the liberals and moderates who lament the current hysteria aren’t likely to vote Republican anyway – or even to vote at all this year.

So it’s probably futile to wave the flag and quote George W. Bush again, but let’s give it one last try. Six days after 9/11, he warned his fellow citizens that Muslims “must be not intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value.”

Is that really so hard to agree with?

It’s Not Just Cricket

By Alan Black for The Huffington Post

The English in their empire conquests to India and Pakistan brought the game of cricket in their armory, best understood as complicated. With the pavilion hosting tea, the sound of the leather ball on the willow bat soon spread across the verdant lands of the subcontinent. The locals embraced a game played by spectacularly white men with unimpeachable manners, in spectacularly white clothes.

Today, India and Pakistan are as mad for cricket as they are for being at each others nuclear throats. Cricket has helped keep the peace by allowing Indians and Pakistanis to throw cricket balls at each other. But while democratic India has become a stage for Western capital and its values, Pakistan sinks deeper into a sticky wicket of terrorism, biblical style floods and now something disabling and disastrous for the nation’s identity — the Pakistani national cricket team, the pride of the nation, have been caught red handed in a betting scandal that has knocked the tea cups off the saucers, spoiling the cucumber sandwiches.

Currently, Pakistan is playing England at the home of cricket in London, a sporting venue grandly named Lords. Over the last weekend, a national UK newspaper revealed a sting operation conducted by undercover journalists, who paid a man around $250,000 for information on when certain Pakistan players on the field were going to cheat. The operative, it is claimed, is linked to illegal gambling syndicates. Sure enough, the players cheated on cue and the sounds of the London bobbies running to catch the villains came shortly after. Now, the Pakistanis require something slightly stronger than tea — high powered lawyers will be a start, maybe a stolen plane to make their getaway.

For years, Pakistani cricket has been suspect. Investigators in the past were stumped and failed to prove what seemed obvious to any sentient viewer — Pakistan was cheating, throwing games to cash in on payments from gambling crime, the cricket version of baseball’s Black Socks. Pakistan has been on the back foot over the claims denying it as a conspiracy against them. But this scandal has bowled them out. The News of the World has all the evidence on videotape. It’s irrefutable — in flagrante delicto.

The London police and cricket’s governing authority are using much diplomatic nuance at this stage of the criminal investigation, Only recently, the British Prime Minister David Cameron insulted Pakistan while he was visiting their enemy, India. And now this! Cheats at Lords, the home of English cricket. This stain on the linen will provide more ammo for the prejudice merchants loading another flare to fire at poor old Pakistan — how can you trust them?

Should Pakistan be banned from international cricket, somewhat unlikely but possible if the poison goes all the way to the top of their game, the impact back home will be enormous. For millions of Pakistanis, cricket is more important than life or death. It is Pakistan’s rope to the world. A chance to show how great they are at a tremendously demanding and skillful sport. Add one more disaster to a nation seriously down on its luck.

Cordova Christians Put Out Welcome Mat For New Mosque

By Lindsay Melvin for The Commercial Appeal-Memphis, TN

When pastor Steve Stone initially heard of the mosque and Islamic center being erected on the sprawling land adjacent his church, his stomach tightened. Then he raised a 6-foot sign reading, “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” The issue for Stone and the 550-person Heartsong Church in Cordova, came down to one question: What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor,” Stone said.

The Memphis Islamic Center, a nonprofit organization formed three years ago, is two weeks from breaking ground on the first phase of a multimillion-dollar complex. While plans for Islamic centers across the country and just miles away have triggered vitriolic responses and divided communities, here in Memphis it’s been a peaceful process.

On a 31-acre stretch at Humphrey Road and Houston Levee, Memphis Islamic Center leaders plan to build a massive gathering place during the next several years. It will include a mosque, youth center, day care center, indoor gym, sports fields, medical clinic and retirement home.

While the 4,000-square-foot worship hall is being completed, Heartsong has opened its doors to its neighbors throughout the monthlong observance of Ramadan. Under a gigantic cross constructed of salvaged wood, nearly 200 area Muslims have been gathering each night to pray.

“I think it’s helped break down a lot of barriers in both congregations,” said Islamic center board member Danish Siddiqui. Yet, only a four-hour drive east of Memphis, Murfreesboro saw intense protests, with billboards going up to try to block plans for a similar Murfreesboro Islamic Center.

Even televangelist Pat Robertson weighed in against it.

Elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, plans for a Brentwood mosque were defeated in May after residents mounted a campaign raising suspicion over mosque leaders having ties to terrorism. The most publicized of the debates has been the furor over an Islamic center proposed near ground zero in New York. “I’ve got fear and ignorance in me, too,” said Stone, referring to his and some of his congregants’ early apprehension toward the Memphis center.

But as members of the Christian congregation take the opportunity to sit in on Ramadan prayers and meet people at the nightly gatherings, much of that mystery and fear has dissipated.

“People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor. The peaceful tone in the Bluff City has been refreshing for Qadhi, 35, who recently moved to Memphis from Connecticut, where early this month his Bridgeport mosque was descended on by angry protestors yelling slurs at families as they arrived for evening prayer. “We’re living in a climate of Islamophobia,” he said.

The Memphis project hasn’t been entirely free of criticism. Bloggers and religious publications have speculated that the Memphis group is receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, which the local Islamic board says is completely false.

“If the community can’t put it together, it’s not worth it,” said Siddiqui, a Germantown resident. Other accusations have been lobbed at Shaykh Qadhi for anti-Semitic comments made a decade ago.

“I made a very major mistake,” said Qadhi, adding that he has spent years apologizing for the statements he made as a young student discounting the importance of the Holocaust.

The Islamic scholar’s track record since has been one of promoting peace. He recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he joined other Islamic and Jewish leaders to draw awareness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“I’ve learned one of my biggest lessons since that time. We have to separate our theology from politics,” he said. The overarching fear being voiced in protests going on across the country is that Islamic centers will become hubs for teaching extremism.

But Islamic center board members say it’s to the contrary. Islamic community centers help form solid Muslim-American identities and keep young kids and adults from feeling marginalized, they said.

Without a place to call home, young Muslims are more likely to seek more radical interpretation of the Quran online, says Arsalan Shirwany, a board member and father of three.

When it is finished, the new facility will be a center for the whole community, and a place for interfaith cooperation, Shirwany said. “This is what we need to fight extremism,” he said.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Pastor Stone and The Heartsong Church in Cordova  Christians deserve applause and praise for their very generous acts of kindness to their fellow God fearing American citizens. And this especially at a time when the country is experiencing clearly an uptick in Islamophobia and acts of both violence and hatred towards a whole group of people over the handful few. On this weekend where a “popular’” cable TV host held a march on Washington asking to Restore America, it is important to remember that Dr Martin Luther King Jr  stated that we should be “judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

Judging the millions of patriotic, decent and hard working American Muslims by the content of their character rather than their religion or ethnicity is the true beauty of a wondrous place called America. This good neighborly act of kindness goes to show that despite all the hate and negative news one hears towards Muslim Americans recently, there are also acts of kindness and fellowship that illustrate the goodness in many every day Americans towards their fellow citizens of an alienated faith.

Aging Philanthropist is Pakistan’s Mother Teresa

By Chris Brummit for The Associated Press

The aging man in mud-splattered, frayed clothes has barely lowered his body onto the sidewalk when the money starts piling up. Heeding his call for donations for flood victims, Pakistanis of all classes rush to hand over cash to Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose years of dedication to the poor have made him a national icon.

He thanks each donor, some of whom ask to have their photo taken next to him. Four hours later, the crowd remains — and the equivalent of $15,000 is overflowing from a pink basket in front of him.

Edhi has been helping the destitute and sick for more than 60 years, filling the hole left by a state that has largely neglected the welfare of its citizens. Part Mother Teresa, part Gandhi, with a touch of Marx, he is the face of humanitarianism in Pakistan.

Funded by donations from fellow citizens, his 250 centers across the country take in orphans, the mentally ill, unwanted newborns, drug addicts, the homeless, the sick and the aged. His fleet of ambulances picks up victims of terrorist bombings, gang shootings, car accidents and natural disasters.

Pakistan’s corruption-riddled government acknowledges Edhi and other charities do the work that in other nations the state performs. The country has no national health service, insurance program or welfare system, and few state-run orphanages or old people’s homes.

The foundation offers an alternative to charitable work performed by hardline Islamist groups in Pakistan, some with alleged links to terrorism. The spread of these organizations has triggered concerns in the West, including their work in the aftermath of this summer’s floods.

Edhi is a devout Muslim, but critical of Islamic clerics in general, not just extremists. He says they focus on ritual, preaching hellfire and defending the faith against imagined enemies, rather than helping the poor — which he says should be the cornerstone of all faiths.

The 80-something Edhi — he and his children disagree on his exact age — lives with his wife, herself a charity worker, in a tiny room in one of his welfare centers in Karachi, a bustling port city. His bed is a one-inch thick mattress on a piece of wood.

“I am a beggar for the poor,” he says, stained teeth showing in a wide smile, eyes sparkling after a week touring flood-hit areas. “Serving humanity is the biggest jihad. It is the real thing.”

___

Edhi deals with birth and death, and almost everything in between.

Just above his bedroom, a maternity ward and an orphanage are home to 18 children, many of them abandoned by their mothers in cradles left outside his centers. They wear hand-me-downs from the city’s rich. Edhi’s wife, Bilquis, tries to get the children adopted, but few Pakistanis want to take girls or older children, she says.

On a recent afternoon, the kids shouted out English nursery rhymes and danced. They then sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking tea from plastic mugs and eating spicy pastries and sticky sweets that an anonymous benefactor had dropped off.

The home was clean and bright, with plenty of toys and loving staff. But there was no place to play outside, and the roar of motorbikes from the lanes below was a constant backdrop.

Across town, workers at the Edhi morgue were dealing with latest influx of bodies. They receive around 25 a day, half of which are never claimed — the city’s unloved and unknown.

Working quickly but carefully, they cut the clothes from the bodies, lather them with a bar of soap from head to toe, rinse them with water from a jug, then wrap them in a white sheet. The bodies are bussed across town, prayed over and buried in unmarked graves.

The body of American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed by al-Qaida terrorists in Karachi in 2002, was picked up by an Edhi ambulance and taken to the morgue, the largest in the city of 14 million people.

The morgue is attached to a hospital for the homeless, a dispensary, a shelter for boys and women and children, even a wedding hall for the marriages arranged for children who have been looked after by the foundation. The smell of baking bread from an oven that churns out 9,000 loaves a day fills the air.

“The poor can come here and get a solution to all their problems,” says Ejal Hassan Zaidi, who had accompanied a neighbor to the morgue to collect the body of his 3-year-old daughter, killed in a hit-and-run incident hours earlier. “From the cradle to the grave.”

___

Born in what is now India, Edhi and his parents moved to Pakistan in 1947 when that country was created as a Muslim state at the end of British colonial rule. The family was quite well off — his father was a traveling salesman — and socially progressive.

In his biography, Edhi credits his mother for setting him on a humanitarian path. She urged him to give half his pocket money to someone poor every day and rebuked him if he didn’t.

“‘You have a selfish heart, one that has nothing to give,’” he remembers her saying. “‘What kind of human being are you? Look at the greed in your eyes. Already you have started robbing the poor. How much more will you rob from them in your lifetime?”

When she was dying, he looked after her, bathing her emaciated body and washing and braiding her hair — experiences that would also shape his life.

“The first night she spent in the grave, I dedicated my life to the service of mankind,” he says.

Edhi started small. In 1951, he bought an eight-foot-square shop in a slum neighborhood in Karachi that he converted into a dispensary. Seven years later he bought a van that he used as an ambulance, writing “Poor Man’s Van” on both sides.

He became intimately involved in the business of caring for the sick and dying. He would drive the ambulance to the scene of an accident to pick up the bodies, administer injections during a flu outbreak and travel across the country to help after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Edhi’s record of round-the-clock service and frugal lifestyle attracted donations, and he soon had a fleet of 14 ambulances. In the 1980s and 90s, he opened centers and ambulance services throughout the country. He donated $200,000 to releif efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and his workers have also helped out in disasters in Asia and the Middle East.

___

Pakistanis are a generous people, required by their Muslim faith to give away 2.5 percent of their wealth each year. The last nationwide survey done in 1998 showed that Pakistanis gave the then equivalent of $820 million to charity, around the same as the government’s health and education budget at the time. There are no numbers on how rising terrorism and a poor economy have affected this philanthropy.

Edhi does not accept donations from international organizations or governments, including Pakistan’s, saying he doesn’t need outside help and it is important for Pakistanis to help each other. He and his wife live simply of the interest from some savings.

The foundation does not produce detailed financial statements or annual reports. Edhi points to a wall of files in one office in which he says everything is accounted for. Donors do not seem to mind, such is their trust in him.

“You ask any Pakistani on the streets, Edhi is total credible with them,” says Anjum Haque, the executive director of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. “The success of the trust is down to Edhi himself.”

Last year, donations to Edhi-run charities totaled around $5 million, according to Faisal Edhi, the founder’s son and trust member. A significant chunk of the funds comes from overseas Pakistanis, who want to donate to their homeland.

The lack of transparency has caused some concern among others in the charity sector in Pakistan. Faisal Edhi acknowledges that some of their 13,000 employees — who receive very modest salaries — might skim money off donations. There have also been questions raised about the lack of professionalism and efficiency, specially as the foundation has grown.

Edhi Village, a 65-acre complex in the undulating hills beyond the northern slums of Karachi, is home to 300 children, many picked up off the streets, and 900 adults, many elderly or suffering from mental disabilities.

Most wear clean, ironed clothes, and the food is fresh. Yet there are also signs of neglect. One naked youth dragged himself through a puddle. Some had no shoes and begged visitors to buy them a pair.

The adults live in rooms around the size of three tennis courts, bare except for raised sections for sleeping. They are locked inside for part of the day. There are two doctors, four nurses and two ward boys looking after them.

“We do the most we can do with our resources,” says Billal Mohammad, a regional Edhi manager. “They would be living on the pavement under the sky. We give them shelter, food and treatment. You must not see this place throughout Western eyes.”

___

Edhi has made no secret of his dislike of Pakistan’s ruling class. So it was a surprise to see a gaggle of politicians using one of his orphanages in Karachi as a venue to mark the recent birthday of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The visitors spooned cake into the mouths of the children, shouted political slogans for television cameras and asked Edhi to be photographed next to them. He said he only let the politicians in so the children would have a party to enjoy.

“So what if the politicians are using me? They even use God,” said Edhi, who sat by himself for most of the event. “Landowners, clerics, politicians. They are all looters. There is no fear in telling the truth.”

Hardline Islamist groups have criticized Edhi for his progressive views on women and the secular nature of his work. Some have said that by accepting newly-born babies from unmarried mothers, he is promoting premarital sex.

“We meet them and we read their newspapers. They say we are non-Muslims, unbelievers and communists,” says Faisal Edhi. “The jihadi groups don’t like us. They don’t believe in humanity.”

There are questions about what will happen to the foundation when Edhi dies. He says his two sons and three daughters will take over, though without him at the helm, people may not give as generously.

For now, his children appear more concerned about their father’s health. Apart from an afternoon nap, he works just as hard as he did when he was in his 30s, they say.

“We tell him to take it easy, but he doesn’t listen,” says daughter Almas Edhi. “He wants to keep busy.”

On the Net:

  • http://www.edhifoundation.com/
  • http://www.pcp.org.pk/
  •  

    Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- At a time when the Pakistani nation is in turmoil and dismay due to the epic floods, endless bombings and violence, vast corruption amongst the government, the Sialkot killings, and even the match fixing disappointment from the once cherished national cricket team, Abdul Sattar Edhi and his lifelong service to the people of Pakistan is a testament to the awesome goodness found in one Pakistani man. His service to the orphans, the destitute, homeless, and the generally downtrodden of the country make him a shining role model and a beacon of what is good about the Pakistani people. If there is anyone more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than Edhi, then we have not found them as of yet. May he continue to inspire not just the Pakistani people, but all people everywhere with his selflessness and humanity.

    Millions of Pakistani Kids Risk Waterborne Disease

    By Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

    Five-year-old Shahid Khan struggled to remain conscious in his hospital bed as severe diarrhea threatened to kill him. His father watched helplessly, stricken at the thought of losing his son — one of the only things the floods had not already taken.

    The young boy is one of millions of children who survived the floods that ravaged Pakistan over the last month but are now vulnerable to a second wave of death caused by waterborne disease, according to the United Nations.

    Khan’s father, Ikramullah, fled Pabbi just before floods devastated the northwestern town about a month ago, abandoning his two-room house and all his possessions to save his wife and four children.

    “I saved my kids. That was everything for me,” said Ikramullah, whose 6-year-old son, Waqar, has also battled severe diarrhea in recent days. “Now I see I’m losing them. We’re devastated.”

    Ten other children lay in beds near Khan at the diarrhea treatment center run by the World Health Organization in Pabbi, two of whom were in critical condition.

    Access to clean water has always been a problem in Pakistan, but the floods have worsened the situation significantly by breaking open sewer lines, filling wells with dirty water and displacing millions of people who must use the contaminated water around them.

    Children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery because they are more easily dehydrated. Many children in Pakistan also were malnourished before the floods, weakening their immune systems.

    The Pakistani government and international aid groups have worked to get clean water to millions of people affected by the floods and treat those suffering from waterborne diseases. But they have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, which has displaced a million more people in recent days.

    The floods started in the northwest in late July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and surged south along the Indus River, killing more than 1,600 people, damaging or destroying more than 1.2 million homes and inundating one-fifth of the country — an area larger than England.

    Some 3.5 million children are at imminent risk of waterborne disease and 72,000 are at high risk of death, according to the United Nations.

    The World Health Organization set up the diarrhea treatment center in Pabbi about a week ago with the help of several other aid groups. Workers have already treated more than 500 patients, mostly children, said Asadullah Khan, one of the doctors.

    Some of the patients have been treated multiple times because broken sewer lines have contaminated the water in the town’s wells and pipes, said the doctor. “It is circulating the disease again and again,” he said.

    The aid groups set up a similar treatment facility several days ago in Nowshera, a city adjacent to Pabbi that was also engulfed by the floods. Residents who have begun to return in recent days have encountered a scene of total destruction: caved-in houses and streets covered with mud and debris.

    Most of the population lacks access to clean water, and mosquitoes have proliferated in stagnant floodwater around the city, raising the risk of malaria. Government help is nowhere to be found.

    “It is trash, dirt, germs and odd smells everywhere,” said Zahid Ullah, whose 3-year-old and 10-year-old sons were being treated for gastroenteritis at the facility in Nowshera. “It is a big danger.”

    Even at the hospitals where the diarrhea treatment centers have been set up, mobs of flies hovered around the patients despite attempts by staff to kill them.

    The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund appealed to the world on Saturday to provide water purification units, family hygiene kits and other items needed to increase access to clean water in Pakistan.

    Guido Sabatinelli, the head of the World Health Organization in Pakistan, said the international community’s help was critical to help Pakistan avoid a second wave of death from waterborne disease.

    “We are fearing the epidemic of disease,” said Sabatinelli. “Access to safer water, potable water” is critical, he said.

    Asma Bibi couldn’t agree more. The young mother searched in vain for clean water on the outskirts of Nowshera as her feverish 2-month-old son, Ehtesham, sweltered in a tent set up for flood victims. They had run out of water the day before.

    “My son is sick. He hasn’t breast-fed in two days,” she said. “He needs milk. He needs water.”

    Police Question Pakistan Cricket Team Over Newspaper’s Matchfixing Allegations

    By Richard Sydenham for The Canadian Press

    Police have questioned Pakistan’s cricket team over newspaper allegations of matchfixing during the current Test match against England at Lord’s, the team’s manager said on Saturday.

    “I can confirm that we are aware of the allegations and Scotland Yard police are with us now at the hotel and we are helping with their inquiries,” team manager Yawar Saeed told The Associated Press. “This is as much as I can say at the moment.

    ” British newspaper the News of the World alleged in its Sunday edition that Pakistan players were secretly paid to deliberately bowl no-balls during the fourth and final Test against England as part of a betting scam.

    The newspaper says it has secretly-filmed video footage of its undercover reporters, posing as front men for a Far East gambling cartel, in discussion with a man who appears to accept 150,000 pounds (C$244,000) in order to make sure no-balls are bowled at certain times during the match.

    The News of the World says it has passed all its evidence to the police. Scotland Yard police said in a statement: “Following information received from the News of the World, we have today arrested a 35-year-old man on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers.

    ” The International Cricket Council said it was aware of the situation and it, along with the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Pakistan Cricket Board, was “fully assisting” police with their inquiries.

    “No players nor team officials have been arrested in relation to this incident and the fourth npower Test match will continue as scheduled on Sunday,” said the ICC’s statement. “As this is now subject to a police investigation neither ICC, ECB, PCB nor the ground authority, the MCC, will make any further comment.”

    Any player found guilty of involvement in matchfixing faces a life ban from the sport. Pakistan needs to win the final Test against England at Lord’s to salvage a draw in the four-match series, but it faces an uphill task after scoring just 74 in reply to England’s first innings total of 446.

    Ground Zero Mosque Controversy Helps Give Rise to Islamophobia Across the US

    By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

    A man was accused of attempted murder for his vicious knife attack on a Muslim New York City Cab driver Tuesday evening in what is being described as a hate crime by the authorities.

    Michael Enright, a college student who also did some volunteer work in Afghanistan, was being held without bail on charges of assault and attempted murder as hate crimes.

    In a criminal complaint filed by the New York Police Department, Michael Enright allegedly asked the driver if he was a Muslim. The cab driver, Ahmed H Sharif, an immigrant from Bangladesh, replied that yes he was indeed a Muslim. At this point, Mr. Enright is alleged to have uttered the customary Arabic greeting of “Aslaam-a-laikum” (Peace be with you) and brutally attacked the cab driver with a knife, slashing him badly on the face, hands and neck. During the attack, Mr Enright also uttered “Consider this a checkpoint” to the cab driver, all the while brutally attacking him with his knife.

     Besides a serious neck wound, the cab driver, Mr Sharif, suffered cuts on his forearms, face, and hands while trying to defend himself from the attacker.

    Inexplicably, Einright had volunteered with Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue between religions and an organization that has also supported the plans for the Islamic center and mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero. He had also recently returned from Afghanistan where he volunteered to be embedded with a combat battalion so that he could document their experiences as soldiers that Einright wanted to showcase in an upcoming documentary.

    Police stated that Einright was drunk and intoxicated at the time of the attack on Mr Sharif and it is not clear what his motive was for perpetrating the violence on the cab driver. There is growing speculation however amongst members of the American Muslim community as well as several civil rights organizations such as the ACLU and CAIR that the attack is a result of the growing Islamophobia and fear amongst the American public as a direct result of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy that has been brewing for weeks and has been front and center in the media and the American public for some time now.

    The plan to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the 9/11 tragedy and the site of the World Trade Center towers became controversial as right wing groups seized on what they believed to be “an insensitive provocation towards the American public”. Muslim groups demanded their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and pointed to the New York City council vote allowing them the permit to build as reasons for what they are doing as legal and in fact an effort to build bridges between Islam and other faiths following the events of September 11. However, the issue became nationally prominent and controversial by then as fanned by right wing blogs and ad campaigns, the majority of the American public became against the building of the mosque, according to recent polls.

    Thankfully, the voice of reason in this whole debate has been none other than the billionaire Jewish mayor of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His stance and views in support of the mosque as a constitutionally protected right has been welcomed by Muslims as well as civil rights organizations and he should be commended for standing up for what is constitutionally the right thing to do. Briefly, President Obama also came out in support of the group’s right to build the mosque as being a constitutional right, before making statements the next day that “questioned the wisdom” of building it there.

    Nonetheless, a link has been made by the right wing, no matter how unfairly, that Islam promotes terror and violence. This can be seen in the fact that the vast majority of Americans now have a negative and unfavorable view of Muslims. For the country to be even having a debate whether a group of Americans can build a house of worship is a testament to how far things have regressed.

    No one would ever have thought that a constitutionally protected right such as that of freedom of religion would ever seem controversial. Many have argued that only the area around Ground Zero is off limits to Muslims and they are free to build their mosques elsewhere. This does not appear to be the case as mosques thousands of miles away from Ground Zero in California, Tennessee, Ohio and elsewhere across the country have now come under heavy opposition by local zoning boards and people in those communities. The fear and hatred of Muslims is becoming a growing problem as the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has began to fuel acts of violence against Muslims as seen in the attack on the NYC cab driver. It is a message that is being sent to the American public that Muslims in the United States do not deserve the same rights and privileges enjoyed by all others. In fact, there is an attempt to link all mosques to terror somehow, which is very offensive to millions of peaceful Muslims who abhor violence and who live decent hard working lives in their communities.

    At first I was not happy to learn that Muslims planned to build a mosque near Ground Zero as I knew that this would become controversial. But as the opposition to mosques has grown across the nation, and not just for building near Ground Zero, but hundreds and thousands of miles away, it has become clear that this anti-mosque movement is not just about that hallowed area near the World Trade Center site but is in fact becoming an opposition to the religion of Islam as a whole.

    This idea by the opponents of the mosque and the right wingers that somehow it is perverted and insensitive to build a mosque several blocks from Ground Zero is in reality only true if we buy into the belief that Muslims and Islam brought down the towers and not a handful of radical extremists of the religion of Islam. If we believe that mainstream Islam itself was responsible for all those deaths on American soil and not Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network, only then would building the mosque there be insensitive. But for us to somehow associate the whole religion of Islam of over 1.5 billion people by the actions of 19 terrorists is ridiculous.

    It is my fear that attacks similar to the one a few days ago on the NYC cab driver will continue to grow as we allow an environment of hate to perpetuate and grow against a group of people. At the very least, this opposition to mosques across the country will certainly grow and continue to spread the notion that ALL Muslims are violent and terrorists. This is simply not true as the 5-7 million American Muslims and the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will attest.

    We must remember that we have a war on terror and not a war on Islam. Far away from Ground Zero in cities across the US as more and more mosques come under opposition in their communities, we must hold steadfast to our ideals, principles and to the US Constitution. As the best nation in the world, we have to defend our ideal and the basis of what makes us the best and that is the US Constitution. Speaking as an American and not even as a Muslim, I know that if we stop defending it for fear of being distasteful, insensitive, or inconsiderate, then we lose what makes us who we are as the freest nation in the world and we must not ever let that happen!

    -Manzer Munir, a peace activist, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for www.PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.

    No Change Seen in Pakistan’s View of India Threat

    By Myra MacDonald for Reuters

    The Pakistan army is unlikely to change its assessment of the threat from India despite heavy demands on its troops to provide flood relief while also fighting Islamist militants, a senior security official said.

    The Wall Street Journal said this month Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had decided — for the first time in the country’s history — that Islamist militants had overtaken India as the greatest threat to national security.

    But the security official suggested this was a misinterpretation of the stance of the Pakistan army, which views the threat from militants and India in very different ways, rather than comparing them against each other.

    “These are two mutually exclusive threats. The magnitude, the type, is quite different. One is an internal threat which is insidious, difficult to quantify. It is a clear and present danger. This is a very serious threat,” he said. “The other is a conventional threat. What has India done, politically and militarily, for this threat to have been reduced?”

    Another official said the threat from India had if anything increased into both a conventional and unconventional threat, as it used its presence in Afghanistan to support those fighting against the Pakistani state in its western border regions.

    India denies accusations by Islamabad that it backs separatists in Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan, saying it is interested only in promoting Afghan development.

    With flooding which has uprooted some 6 million people further destabilizing a country already battling militants, the WSJ report raised the possibility the Pakistan army might revise its assessment of the threat from its much bigger neighbor.

    It keeps the bulk of its troops on the Indian border.

    INDIAN FLOOD RELIEF

    India has promised Pakistan $5 million in flood relief and analysts there see no chance of it exploiting its nuclear rival’s current vulnerability by raising tensions on the border.

    “At this time no one is thinking of anything other than how to help them get over the suffering and the damage,” said retired Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal at the Center for Land Warfare Studies.

    “The Pakistanis should feel free to pull out their troops for flood relief as and when they want. The Indian Army obviously cannot give any written guarantees but our DGMO (Director General of Military Operations) could reassure his counterpart that we have no intention of attacking them at such a time.”

    The DGMO’s of the two countries talk by phone once a week, mainly to clear up misunderstandings over any ceasefire violations on the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir.

    But the security official said that Pakistan’s military deployment was based on its assessment of India’s potential offensive strength. “The configuration of any defense force is based on enemy’s capabilities and not intentions,” he said.

    Pakistan has taken more casualties in its battle with Islamist militants than in all its wars against India combined — the two countries have fought three full-scale wars since independence in 1947 along with other smaller conflicts.

    Yet for Pakistan to drop its guard against India would require progress on political disputes, including over Kashmir, officials say.

    India broke off a peace process with Pakistan after the 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants and despite several attempts the two countries have been unable to get their talks back on track again.

    And even while Pakistan fights militants on its western border with Afghanistan, it remains wary of sudden Indian retaliation should there be another Mumbai-style attack on India.

    “This enforced attention to the western border has made the Pakistan army reassess its priorities,” said western military analyst Brian Cloughley, an expert on the Pakistan army.

    “But it still does not wish to drop its guard to the east, especially as the there is still the threat of a swift and dramatic attack if a terrorist outrage in India is determined by India to have been planned in Pakistan.”

    Pakistan has said it cannot guarantee there will be no more attacks on India, arguing that it too is a victim of bombings.

    Mayor Bloomberg on Mosque: ‘A Test of Our Commitment to American Values’

    As Reported By The Wall Street Journal

    In a speech at a Ramadan Iftar dinner at Grace Mansion Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered an extended defense of the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. Those who say the center should not be built “would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom,” the mayor said. “There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.”

    Below, the full transcript of Bloomberg’s prepared remarks.

    Good evening, and Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.

    We call this ‘The People’s House,’ because it belongs to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. People of every race and religion, every background and belief. We celebrate that diversity here in this house with gatherings like this.

    And for me, whether it’s marking St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.

    America is a nation of immigrants, and no place opens its doors more widely to the world than New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New York City. America is beacon of freedom, and no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.

    In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.

    There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

    The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

    After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

    We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back – stronger than ever – as a symbol of our defiance and we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.

    But if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.

    We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

    Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam – we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.

    At this very moment, there are young Americans – some of them Muslim – standing freedoms’ watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, has children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. I’d like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. Thank you.

    The members of our military are men and women at arms – battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have always inspired people around the world. But if we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad – if we do not lead by example – we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.

    In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. He said, ‘The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.’

    We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. All of us must do our part.

    Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism – that is the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.

    I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.

    But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?

    This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.

    I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it is worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country the government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.

    Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.

    Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements he has made. And that’s how it should be – this is New York.

    And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’

    In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.

    By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world. Thank you.

    Analysis: US Struggles With Image in Pakistan

    By Foster Klug  for The Associated Press

    U.S. efforts to help Pakistani flood victims will give America’s image there a boost, but not much of one.

    The U.S. reputation in a country the Obama administration sees as crucial to defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida already is so tarnished that even millions of dollars from Washington and the work of U.S. soldiers and diplomats probably will do little to change the thinking of most Pakistanis.

    After all, U.S. flood aid is only a drop in a bucket already filled with billions of American dollars that have been shipped to Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States.

    All that money, apparently, has done little to impress. A recent Pew Foundation poll found nearly six in 10 Pakistanis viewed the United States as an enemy; only one in 10 called it a partner.

    Still, the Obama administration does not have the option of doing nothing.

    The U.S. interest in helping goes beyond easing the suffering of the more than 17 million people affected by the floods. Washington also wants Pakistan’s weak civilian government to succeed so that it does not lose ground to the aid work of Muslim charity groups associated with militants.

    Making sure the pro-U.S. government looks good, or at least competent, is important to the Obama administration as it encourages Pakistan in its fight against militants operating along the border with Afghanistan, where the United States is fighting a 9-year-old war.

    Robert Hathaway, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia program, warns against expecting U.S. aid to immediately turn around the deep distrust many Pakistanis feel toward America. “This relationship has a lot of baggage, and it will take an incredible amount of hard work over many years really to rebuild,” Hathaway said.

    Many in Pakistan see the United States as interested more in killing insurgents than in helping the country’s poor. Past U.S. support for former Gen. Pervez Musharraf and other military rulers has fueled a perception that Washington cares little about Pakistan’s democracy. Then there is the idea in Pakistan that the United States is anti-Muslim, a view that could be strengthened by opposition to a mosque planned near the World Trade Center site that Islamic extremists destroyed in 2001.

    Dan Feldman, the Obama administration’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently bristled at the notion that U.S. relief work is an attempt at image improvement. “We’re doing it as a response to a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

    Still, the United States has made sure to spread the word of its response to the floods aggressively, with senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, making regular statements.

    Feldman said in a briefing this week that the United States is providing up to $150 million in aid. U.S. military helicopters have evacuated thousands of people and delivered hundreds of tons of relief supplies. Among those supplies are 700,000 mosquito nets to help families ward off malaria, giant water treatment machines to provide safe drinking water and tens of thousands of blankets and inflatable boats to help isolated villages.

    For people saved from rising waters by U.S. helicopters or given lifesaving medicine or food, America’s image will rise. U.S. aid cannot reach every flood victim, however, and not everyone getting the aid will know it is from the United States.

    Along with worrying about helping as many people as possible, the Obama administration also must keep an eye on insurgents who know the people and the terrain and can use the flood to build support among its victims.

    Jason Campbell, a South Asia analyst at the Rand Corp. think tank, said Washington understands that any “gaps in U.S. assistance will likely be filled by charities that, if not directly tied to militant groups, are at least sympathetic with them.”

    The U.S. aid could provide another boost to counterinsurgency efforts. The sooner the Pakistani military can scale down its relief work, the sooner it can return to fighting insurgents.

    Teresita Schaffer, a former State Department South Asia specialist, said the United States must do everything it can to help. But, she said, “I don’t think there will be an attack of the warm fuzzies just because we’re providing some helicopters.”

    Aid Flooded Pak by Withdrawing Army

    By Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar for The Times of India

    Pakistan is suffering its greatest human tragedy since Partition. The floodwaters of the Indus are an incredible 20 miles wide, sweeping away entire towns, villages and farms. Over 20 million people have been displaced, far more than the nine million displaced by Partition in 1947. The immediate death count of 1,500 will soon increase hugely through disease and deprivation. Rehabilitation could cost $100 billion.

    Some Indians might be perverse enough to rejoice that an enemy has been hit by a natural disaster — an act of God, as it were — and will be crippled economically for years. But most Indians will surely want to help their neighbours. In these traumatic times, we need to think of Pakistanis as humans in distress, not foes.

    Even those who cannot think beyond realpolitik should see that the floods are potentially a strategic disaster for India too. Flood damage will create a fertile breeding ground for Islamist militancy. Islamist NGOs with links to terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are at the very forefront of flood relief efforts and hence are gaining popularity. Meanwhile, the civil administration is seen as corrupt and ineffective. President Asif Zardari has further ruined his low reputation by going on foreign junkets.

    The Pakistani army has in the last year battled some, though by no means all, militant groups in Swat and FATA (federally administered tribal areas). But much of the infrastructure built to reach the remote tribal areas has been destroyed by the floods. Besides, the Pakistani army is redirecting its efforts in the region, from combating militants to combating flood damage. The militants are re-occupying the resultant political vacuum.

    The ISI recently came out with a study suggesting that Islamist militants had become a greater threat to the country than India. Flood damage can only deepen that perception. True, the army wants to back the Afghan Taliban even while battling the Pakistani Taliban, and this results in muddled thinking and sabotage of peace initiatives. The resolution of these contradictions is not in sight.

    One day, the Pakistani army and the ISI will have no choice but to confront the reality that Islamist militants are Frankensteins that threaten their own creator. The ISI’s assessment should bring that day somewhat closer.
    In the light of both human and strategic considerations, how can India help Pakistan? Individual contributions from Indian citizens must be encouraged, and red tape thwarting contributions in cash and kind must be cut. But the Indian government should not offer more than a modest amount of food and financial aid. Pakistan requires billions of dollars for relief and rehabilitation, so anything India offers will be a drop in the ocean.

    Besides, recipients are rarely grateful for alms: they resent being supplicants, and suspect the motives of the donors. The US saved India from mass starvation after the twin droughts of 1965 and 1966 by giving record food aid. But this won the US very few friends and stoked resentment from many who felt India’s independence was being compromised. The US will once again be the chief donor to Pakistan, but will gain virtually no popularity or gratitude.

    If food and financial aid will not help much, how can India best help Pakistan? The best way will be for the Indian Army to unilaterally withdraw from the border in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. This will pose no military risk whatsoever: flood-stricken Pakistan cannot possibly embark on military adventures against India. But the withdrawal of Indian troops will mean that the Pakistan army loses all excuses to avoid diverting manpower and financial resources from the border to flood relief and rehabilitation. This will cost India nothing, yet will release very large resources within Pakistan. Its impact on the Pakistani psyche will be significant. Even analysts who distrust Pakistan agree widely that India has no alternative to diplomatic engagement: cutting off ties will not win any minds and hearts there. Unilateral withdrawal will itself be a form of engagement, and will encourage other forms.

    The wrong strategy will be to try to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of troops. Withdrawal must be unilateral and immediate. Defence hawks will express dismay that India is so soft on an enemy that encourages terrorism. But unilateral withdrawal will be a flood relief measure, not a military surrender. In the bargain, it will oblige Pakistan to withdraw its own troops and redeploy them for flood relief: its public opinion will be outraged otherwise.

    Dr Manmohan Singh, you say we must be proactive in the peace process with Pakistan. The tragic floods there have given you an opportunity to be proactive in a way that will not come again. Go for it.

    Pakistan Faces Economic Hit from Flood

    By David Roman for The Wall Street Journal

    The flooding in Pakistan will inflict serious damage on its economy, posing another major challenge for a cash-strapped government struggling to keep a recovery on track in the face of high inflation and a relentless Islamist insurgency.

    Assistance from the International Monetary Fund and Western countries will likely help Pakistan avoid another brush with bankruptcy as it tries to cope with the damage, which by some estimates may reach $43 billion. But the floods will weigh heavily on economic growth this year and leave a long-term mark on the economy.

    “It’s a very serious tragedy,” said Philip Wyatt, a senior economist at UBS. “The hit on the growth rate is going to be very severe … We can see a loss of one or two points of economic growth, depending on the damage.” In the last fiscal year ended June 30, Pakistan’s economy grew 4.1%.

    Moody’s Investors Service, which had expected Pakistan’s economic growth to pick up to 4.5% this fiscal year, may lower its estimate to 3% to 3.5%, said analyst Aninda Mitra.

    The flood began in July and at one point covered a fifth of the South Asian nation, or land roughly equivalent to the size of Uruguay. According to the United Nations, the disaster has affected close to 20 million people, killing 1,500 and leaving 1.2 million homes damaged or destroyed.

    Coping with the social and economic costs of the catastrophe will strain the government’s finances. The budget deficit was already on track to reach 4.5% of gross domestic product in the fiscal year ending June 30 before the crisis but now could widen to as much as 6% to 7% of GDP, said Mr. Mitra. That’s a grim prospect for a country, which had external debt totaling $55.63 billion as of June 30.

    President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has been reaching out to other countries for help. A delegation met with IMF officials Monday in Washington. Donors including the U.K. and the European Union have so far pledged almost $500 million in additional help.

    Moody’s is unlikely to upgrade Pakistan’s credit rating in coming months due to the devastation from the floods and other challenges, but the country’s current B3 rating “adequately captures the risk” of the likely economic slowdown and is unlikely to be downgraded further, said Mr. Mitra. A B3 rating is just one notch above the C level, which applies to countries in effective sovereign default, and makes it hard for a country to issue bonds in the international market.

    The natural disaster is the latest setback for the Pakistan economy, which after several years of strong growth almost ground to a halt in 2008, hurt by budget overruns, a loss in export competitiveness due to high inflation, and an insurgency that continues unabated. On Monday, while emergency workers worked to shore up levees in two southern cities, at least 36 people were killed in three separate bomb attacks across the country, and 12 suspected militants were killed in U.S. drone attacks near the Afghan border.

    Concerns about the economic fallout have kept pressure on Pakistan’s financial markets, though the impact has been moderate.

    The cost of insuring against a default or restructuring of Pakistan’s bonds remains at very elevated levels, but has been relatively steady in recent weeks, a sign that investors anticipate IMF and U.S. support to prevent any fiscal crisis. The spread on Pakistan five-year credit default swaps was quoted at 1,099 basis points Tuesday, roughly on par with those of other high-risk sovereign bond issuers like Venezuela, but well below early-2009 highs of over 2,100 basis points during the global financial crisis.

    Pakistan’s benchmark stock index, KSE-100, has fallen 7% so far in August, but is up 4% so far this year, roughly in line with other emerging market indexes.

    The Pakistan rupee, one of Asia’s weakest currencies in recent years, has fallen in recent days, but has found support above its record low against the dollar of 85.84 rupees hit on Aug. 2, helped by expectations that remittances from overseas Pakistanis, which have averaged around 10% of GDP in recent years, may rise to help families at home cope with the floods.

    But analysts expect the rupee to remain under pressure in coming months due to Pakistan’s current account deficit and high inflation rate, which ran at 12.3% in July. The floods are likely to push up food prices and transportation costs for other goods, likely eliminating any chance that inflation might fall below 10% this year, said Mr. Wyatt at UBS.

    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 74 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: