Archive for the ‘ Islam ’ Category

15,000 Muslims To Attend Memorial-Day Weekend Islamic Convention Targeting Anti-Shariah Movement

As Reported by The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some 15,000 Muslims are expected to attend a weekend convention in Hartford dedicated to religious freedom.

The theme of the campaign by the Islamic Circle of North America was chosen in response to a wave of bills introduced in statehouses around the country to ban the use of Shariah law and other foreign legal codes

A vice president of the group, Naeem (NY-eem) Baig, says such proposals are motivated by deep-rooted hatred toward Muslims. He says the convention is part of a nationwide campaign that also aims to educate Muslim-Americans about Shariah laws that were rarely discussed here even two or three years ago.

The gathering will take place from Saturday through Monday at a Hartford convention center. Connecticut’s capital is hosting the annual convention for the seventh consecutive year.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– My fellow Americans, Happy Memorial Day to all of you across this great land as we think of our fallen those who defended it and the US constitution, which we Americans all pledge allegiance to. It contains perhaps the greatest words man penned to paper and within its words lie in our freedoms that the men and women of the United States Armed Forces died to provide us. May their sacrifice never be in vain and may we continue to be free, all of us~ Manzer Munir

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Pakistan Blocks Twitter Over Cartoon Contest

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

The Pakistani government blocked access to the social networking service Twitter on Sunday, after publicly holding Twitter responsible for promoting a blasphemous cartoon contest taking place on Facebook, officials said.

A government spokesman was quoted by local news media as saying that the government had been in talks with Twitter to remove “objectionable” material but that there had been no results.

“The material was promoting a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad,” said Mohammad Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication’s Authority, was quoted as saying. He was also quoted as saying that Facebook had agreed to allay the concerns of the Pakistani government.

Blasphemy is an issue that roils sentiment easily in Pakistan. Blasphemy allegations have often resulted in violent riots, and religious minorities in Pakistan have long maintained that the country’s blasphemy laws are used to settle personal scores.

Facebook was banned for two weeks in 2010 after protests erupted in the country over a similar cartoon contest on Facebook to draw the Prophet Muhammad. After a high court ordered the government to ban Facebook, the government was quick to ban YouTube and hundreds of other Web sites and services.

Speculation that the government intended to suspended Facebook and Twitter again had been swirling around for the past couple of days. However, this time around there have been no major public protests over the contest that Pakistani officials have expressed concerns about.

The ban has caught Twitter users by surprise.

“I never heard of any caricatures on Twitter,” said Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at Middle East Institute and a commentator on Pakistani politics, who has a Twitter following of more than 10,000 users. “Now this ban will be promoting whatever caricatures were posted on it.”

Responding to a question last night, Rehman Malik, the country’s interior minister, had denied that ban on social networking sites was in the offing.

“The government of Pakistan’s ban on Twitter is ill advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, in a press statement. “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.”

Critics said that the blocking of the micro-blogging site could actually be a part of longstanding government plan to muzzle media freedom and could be related to the vociferous opposition and criticism that is heaped on the country’s security apparatus in Twitter debates.

“Twitter is a place where fierce opposition to Pakistan’s security agencies is expressed,” said Raza Rumi, a widely read columnist and an adviser at the Jinnah Institute, a public policy center based in Islamabad.

“There is a clear trend,” Mr. Rumi said, “that the Pakistani military and spy agency get a strong critique from Pakistanis themselves, something that does not happen in mainstream media where people are generally shy to express such views.”

Activists supporting minority rights have established a strong voice on Twitter, and advocates for the Baluch people, who are demanding greater rights and a share of the natural-resources wealth in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, have also used it to spread their message.

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Mona Eltahawy for Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer” — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.

Rushdie Coming, Imran Backs Out

By Imtiaz Ahmad for The Hindustan Times

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has refused to attend a function in New Delhi later this week after learning that British author Salman Rushdie will also be a participant.

Senior PTI leader Shireen Mazari said in a statement on Wednesday that Khan cancelled his participation as keynote speaker at the event, stating that he could not even think of taking part in a programme that included Rushdie, who has caused “immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”.

Quoting Khan, Mazari said the party leader received the full programme of the event on Tuesday night and took his decision on Wednesday morning.

The organisers of the event announced on Tuesday that Rushdie would deliver a speech titled The Liberty Verses —I Am What I Am And That’s All That I Am.

Rushdie’s works are banned in Pakistan. He is seen to have committed blasphemy in his book, The Satanic Verses.

Several people in Pakistan have been killed in the past couple of years on suspicion of blasphemy, the most high-profile case being that of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot dead in 2011 by a member of his security detail.

Taseer opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law and had backed a mercy petition for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Khan’s party recently aligned with the Difa-e-Pakistan council — a collection of religious parties, including many banned outfits — which has been campaigning against US drone attacks and allowing transit passage for Nato supplies.

Islam & the NYPD

By Dr Qanta A Ahmed for NY Post

The relentless campaign to paint the NYPD as Islamophobic is itself an offense to Islam. In fact, our faith compels American Muslims to stand with the NYPD — both to protect the faith, and by its direct dictates.

Let me be clear: By investigating Islamist sympathizers who seek to curtail the freedoms of all Americans, the NYPD is aggressively protecting the freedoms and privileges that Muslims enjoy in America (freedoms that aren’t available even in the birthplace of Islam).

Islamism is distinct from the beliefs the majority of Islam’s 1.6 billion followers hold dear. The cry of “Islamophobia” is often merely an effort to silence those of us who seek to communicate this distinction, or to express concerns about Islamism. Most Muslims are spiritually private, committed persons active in their societies without a subversive political agenda. Think of them as pluralistic Muslims.

Because America’s religious freedom is protected by constitutional ideals, Muslims can pursue this pluralistic life — an American life that makes private space for faith, in parallel to public roles. Indeed, Muslims in America are freer to do this than Muslims in Pakistan (where my family is from), Saudi Arabia (where I have lived) or even Indonesia, because each of these Muslim-majority countries imposes laws restricting the practice of religion.

In many ways, Muslims are best able to follow their Islam — to become Muslim in the fullest sense — here in America, because of this nation’s astonishing, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

Political Islamism — variously called radical Islam, jihadism or Islamic fundamentalism — is completely different. In contrast to our centuries-old faith, it’s a modern political project that seeks to return any society to a supposed “scriptural foundation” of the Muslim community, removing existing forms of government and laws.

Sound like a war? Well, in the wider world and here in America, there is indeed a war afoot — a war of ideas, a “Battle for the Soul of Islam,” as my colleague, American Islamic Forum for Democracy president Zudhi Jasser, has termed it.

In this battle, the Islamist thrives — citing freedom of speech, claiming disadvantaged civil rights, exploiting the privileges that a liberal democracy accords him. Often operating via advocacy groups or “Islamic societies” that purport to represent mainstream Muslims, he or she truly serves a political agenda centered on replacing liberal democracy with fundamentalist theocracy.

In fact, the Koran is explicit on the loyalties a Muslim must accord his host nation, mandating a Muslim’s duty to be an unwavering and loyal patriot:
O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority from among you. (Ch.4: V.60).

That verse demands the Muslim express loyalty to any ruling authority. This isn’t a suggestion, this is mandated Islamic duty.
The Koran does not state leadership specified as Muslim. Leadership is whomsoever is empowered in the society where the Muslim finds himself. For us here, that includes loyalty to the NYPD, the FBI and their work to safeguard our highest authority — the principles of our liberal democracy.
Can any one group speak for the entire American Muslim community? Islam is diverse — especially in America. Islamism isn’t. The sooner we understand this, the better — because at stake are America’s ideals.

America’s extraordinary freedoms afford us an ability to define our own expressions of Islam as Muslims in a way that no Muslim-majority nation secures for any Muslim anywhere today. We must preserve these values, and join the NYPD, in understanding the Islamist threat to these values.
This means we must support, not vilify, our policemen and -women, our federal agents and our police commissioner — especially when they gather and interpret information they need to preserve us and our values.

How many devout Muslims were among the thousands killed on 9/11? Let us never forget that Islamists — moving among the broader Muslim and secular communities — have wrought atrocities in this city and around the world, and seek to do so again.
If you choose to smear the NYPD for its work to protect us and our society, so too you choose to smear me, a pluralistic patriotic Muslim in America, for demanding an honest discourse.

Dr. Qanta Ahmed practices medicine in New York. She is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women.”
Twitter: @MissDiagnosis

Pakistan’s Hindu Girls Forced into Muslim Marriages

As Reported by IRIN

Sixteen-year-old Ameena Ahmed*, now living in the town of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, does not always respond when her mother-in-law calls out to her. 


“Even after a year of `marriage’ I am not used to my new name. I was called Radha before,” she told IRIN on a rare occasion when she was allowed to go to the corner shop on her own to buy vegetables. 


Ameena, or Radha as she still calls herself, was abducted from Karachi about 13 months ago by a group of young men who offered her ice-cream and a ride in their car. Before she knew what was happening, she was dragged into a larger van, and driven to an area she did not know. 


She was then pressured into signing forms which she later found meant she was married to Ahmed Salim, 25; she was converted to a Muslim after being asked to recite some verses in front of a cleric. She was obliged to wear a veil. Seven months ago, Ameena, who has not seen her parents or three siblings since then and “misses them a lot”, moved with her new family to southern Punjab. 


“The abduction and kidnapping of Hindu girls is becoming more and more common,” Amarnath Motumal, a lawyer and leader of Karachi’s Hindu community, told IRIN. “This trend has been growing over the past four or five years, and it is getting worse day by day.

Pakistan is one of several nations across Asia suffering from a shortage of females as sex-selective abortion has played growing role in the deficit. Portable ultrasound machines have made gender selection much easier. A 2005 study quoted by Wiki estimated that more than 90 million females were “missing” from the expected populations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone.

He said there were at least 15-20 forced abductions and conversions of young girls from Karachi each month, mainly from the multi-ethnic Lyari area. The fact that more and more people were moving to Karachi from the interior of Sindh Province added to the dangers, as there were now more Hindus in Karachi, he said. 


“They come to search for better schooling, for work and to escape growing extremism,” said Motumal who believes Muslim religious schools are involved in the conversion business. 


“Hindus are non-believers. They believe in many gods, not one, and are heretics. So they should be converted,” said Abdul Mannan, 20, a Muslim student. He said he would be willing to marry a Hindu girl, if asked to by his teachers, “because conversions brought big rewards from Allah [God]. But later I will marry a `real’ Muslim girl as my second wife,” he said. 


According to local law, a Muslim man can take more than one wife, but rights activists argue that the law infringes the rights of women and needs to be altered. 


Motumal says Hindu organizations are concerned only with the “forced conversion” of girls under 18. “Adult women are of course free to choose,” he said. 


“Lured away”

Sunil Sushmt, 40, who lives in a village close to the city of Mirpurkhas in central Sindh Province, said his 14-year-old daughter was “lured away” by an older neighbour and, her parents believe, forcibly converted after marriage to a Muslim. “She was a child. What choice did she have?” her father asked. He said her mother still cries for her “almost daily” a year after the event. 


Sushmat is also concerned about how his daughter is being treated. “We know many converts are treated like slaves, not wives,” he said. 


According to official figures, Hindus based mainly in Sindh make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s total population of 165 million. “We believe this figure could be higher,” Motumal said. 


According to media reports, a growing number of Hindus have been fleeing Pakistan, mainly for neighbouring India. The kidnapping of girls and other forms of persecution is a factor in this, according to those who have decided not to stay in the country any longer. 


“My family has lived in Sindh for generations,” Parvati Devi, 70, told IRIN. “But now I worry for the future of my granddaughters and their children. Maybe we too should leave,” she said. “The entire family is seriously considering this.” 


Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– This is an absolutely despicable practice that the Pakistani government needs to put an end to just like the blasphemy laws of the nation. The religious minorities of Pakistan deserve equal rights, protections and freedoms.

Pakistan Builds Web Wall Out in the Open

By Eric Pfannier for The New York Times

Many countries censor the Internet, but few spell out their intentions as explicitly as Pakistan.

In an effort to tighten its control over the Internet, the government recently published a public tender for the “development, deployment and operation of a national-level URL filtering and blocking system.”

Technology companies, academic institutions and other interested parties have until March 16 to submit proposals for the $10 million project, but anger about it has been growing both inside and outside Pakistan.

Censorship of the Web is nothing new in Pakistan, which, like other countries in the region, says it wants to uphold public morality, protect national security or prevent blasphemy. The government has blocked access to pornographic sites, as well as, from time to time, mainstream services like Facebook and YouTube.

Until now, however, Pakistan has done so in a makeshift way, demanding that Internet service providers cut off access to specific sites upon request. With Internet use growing rapidly, the censors are struggling to keep up, so the government wants to build an automatic blocking and filtering system, like the so-called Great Firewall of China.

While China and other governments that sanitize the Internet generally do so with little public disclosure, Pakistan is being surprisingly forthcoming about its censorship needs. It published its request for proposals on the Web site of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry’s Research and Development Fund and even took out newspaper advertisements to publicize the project.

“The system would have a central database of undesirable URL’s that would be loaded on the distributed hardware boxes at each POP and updated on daily basis,” the request for proposals says, referring to uniform resource locators, the unique addresses for specific Web pages, and points of presence, or access points.

“The database would be regularly updated through subscription to an international reputed company maintaining and updating such databases,” according to the request, which was published last month.

The tender details a number of technical specifications, including the fact that the technology “should be able to handle a block list of up to 50 million URL’s (concurrent unidirectional filtering capacity) with processing delay of not more than 1 milliseconds.”

Following the Arab Spring, which demonstrated the power of the Internet to help spread political and social change, Pakistan’s move to clamp down has set off a storm of protest among free-speech groups in the country and beyond.

Opponents of censorship say they are doubly appalled because they associated this kind of heavy-handed approach more with the previous regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf than with the current government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The authorities here are big fans of China and how it filters the Internet,” said Sana Saleem, chief executive of Bolo Bhi, a group that campaigns against restrictions on the Internet. “They overlook the fact that China is an autocratic regime and we are a democracy.”

“What makes this kind of censorship so insidious is that they always use national security, pornography or blasphemy as an explanation for blocking other kinds of speech,” Ms. Saleem said, adding that her site had been blocked for several months in 2010 when it made reference to a ban on Facebook. Access to the social networking service had been restricted because of a page featuring a competition to draw the prophet Mohammed — something that is considered blasphemous by Muslims.

The Technology Ministry’s Research and Development Fund says in its tender that the Internet filtering and blocking system will be “indigenously developed,” but campaigners like Ms. Saleem say they think it is likely the agency will try to adapt Western technology for the purpose.

To try to prevent this from happening, Ms. Saleem wrote to the chief executives of eight international companies that make Net filtering technology, asking them to make a public commitment not to apply for the Pakistani grant.

On Friday, one of them, Websense, which is based in San Diego, responded, declaring in a statement on its Web site that it would not seek the contract.

“Broad government censorship of citizen access to the Internet is morally wrong,” Websense said. “We further believe that any company whose products are currently being used for government-imposed censorship should remove their technology so that it is not used in this way by oppressive governments.”

Websense had previously withdrawn the use of its technology from Yemen after facing accusations from the OpenNet Initiative, a U.S.-Canadian academic group, and other organizations that it had been used by the government of that country to stifle political expression on the Internet.

Governments around the world buy filtering and blocking technology to root out illegal content like child pornography. Some private companies employ it to restrict access to social networks and other distractions on company computers.

But the use of Western technology to rein in political speech in countries with repressive regimes has come under increasing scrutiny since the Arab Spring. The OpenNet Initiative said in a report last year that at least nine governments in the Middle East or North Africa had used such products, with the Western companies maintaining lists of sites to be blocked, including sites featuring skeptical views of Islam and even dating services.

Even before implementing its new system, Pakistan has been an active censor. The country was 151st, out of 179, on a ranking of media freedom by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders in 2011.

“Reporters Without Borders urges you to abandon this project, which would reinforce the arsenal of measures for communications surveillance and Internet censorship that have already been put in place by your government,” the group wrote in a letter Friday to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

To free-speech advocates in Pakistan, the government’s seeming insouciance about censorship is a particular cause for alarm.

“This is a case study,” said Ms. Saleem of Bolo Bhi, which is based in Karachi and whose name means “speak up.” “No government has ever done this so publicly.”

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