Posts Tagged ‘ Facebook ’

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.

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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.”

Poetry Soothes the Pain in Pakistan

By Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

The outrage was swift after Pakistani security forces shot dead an unarmed young man in the southern city of Karachi, an incident caught on videotape and broadcast widely. Editorial writers demanded justice. Television talking heads decried the brutality of the men in uniform.

And then, a few poets got to work.

“No regard of life! No fear of Allah! Animals in jungle are better than you,” one English-language poem posted on YouTube rails at the culprits in the June incident. Another, in Urdu and circulated on Facebook, mourned victim Sarfraz Shah, who had “told his mom he will return home early.”

Pakistan is a country that reveres poetry, gently weaving it into daily life, and the last decade has provided no shortage of material. The rise and fall of a military ruler, the demands of a foreign superpower, the devastation of Taliban bombs — these themes and more have crept into Pakistani poems.

Some of the resulting verses carry overt messages about specific events. Often, though, the approach is more subtle, and occasionally, it’s tinged with humor.

“Of course, everything which is happening around a poet, it has an effect,” said Shahzad Nayyar, a published poet based in the eastern city of Lahore. “Such … events, which are causing destruction, which are causing loss to man, material and property, they are affecting poets a lot.”

Although Pakistan is just 64 years old, its people’s poetic tradition is centuries old and is intertwined with that of the rest of South Asia, while also influenced by the Persians. Urdu is the most widely used language, but even regional languages, such as Pashto and Sindhi, have notable poetic histories.

Today in Pakistan, one can find poetic verses on the back windows of taxis, on the sides of delivery trucks and atop gravestones. Newspapers regularly publish poetry, while Pakistani politicians, such as the country’s ambassador to the U.S., post verses on their Twitter feeds or use them in speeches.

Poetry recitals — known as “mushairas” — can draw thousands of spectators and last deep into the night, with audiences shouting encouragement to the men and women onstage. Sometimes, mushairas are part of larger gatherings, such as weddings or trade conferences; others are intimate affairs.

The country even has a national holiday dedicated to a poet-philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal’s writings were seen as an inspirational force toward the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland in 1947, though he died in 1938.

Of the 1,000 books published each year in Pakistan, there are some 50 books of poetry, said Saleem Malik, vice chairman of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association. While a handful of poets may earn enough to live on writing alone, at least for a while, most are engaged in other professions.

Many of the poetry books are self-published and distributed for free among friends. Still, that doesn’t account for the poetry that appears in other forums, such as magazines or websites such as Facebook, a popular setting for younger poets who can’t afford to publish their own books.

Perhaps the most popular form of poetry in Pakistan is the ghazal, which is made up of five or more units of two lines each and often sung.

Some of the most well-known Pakistani poets say that despite the material provided by the turmoil of recent years, they are careful about how they word their poems and often prefer to use indirect language and symbolism. This is in part to avoid being labeled a “propagandist.”

“It loses your emotional power when you are direct — it becomes like a slogan,” said Farhat Abbas Shah, a poet especially popular with younger Pakistanis.

Iftikhar Arif — a poet so famed in Pakistan that one section of his many, teeming bookshelves is devoted just to academic tracts written about him — said poets should aspire to write in a universal manner that can be appreciated beyond national borders and withstand the test of time.

There are poems written from other periods of turmoil in Pakistani history that are still relevant today because of this approach. “There is a history, perhaps more honest, more correct, more sincere, written by poets,” Arif said.

The line between direct and indirect is a fine one, however, and over the decades, some of Pakistan’s most popular poets have gone back and forth.

The late Habib Jalib, often described as a “revolutionary” or “the People’s Poet” raged against political tyranny, and even referred specifically to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in his famed collection called “Ten Poems.”

Kishwar Naheed, a spry 71-year-old who is considered one of Pakistan’s pre-eminent feminist poets, is among those who occasionally embraces the direct approaches. In “A Mourning Poem for Bajaur,” Naheed decries the violence gripping Pakistan’s northwest regions bordering Afghanistan:

“Coffins have become so numerous, That the city is shrinking,” the poem begins.

A later verse: “We have the same court-yards, the same threshers. But bullets jump through them, Riddle holes in my fields, and in the bodies of my children.”

Naheed, who has published more than a dozen books of poetry, says every couple of months she receives threats because of her poems.

“They may say, ‘If you continue like this, you may have an accident in your car,'” she said, with a grin. “But I don’t mind having such reaction. If you don’t have a reaction, that means you have no appeal.”

Pakistani poets insist that their community is largely a peace-loving, liberal bunch — though many point out that they may feel just as much ire for U.S. actions toward Pakistan as they do for religious extremists.

Still, militant movements and their sympathizers also use poetry as a tool. After the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden in a nighttime raid in May, a group at Punjab University in Lahore advertised a poem and essay contest dedicated to glorifying the al-Qaida chief.

Taliban operating on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, where the Pashtun ethnic group dominates, often use poems and chants, shared by way of CDs and cell phone recordings, to reach out to a largely illiterate population and persuade ordinary citizens to resist foreign troops.

Much of the poetry of Pakistan is not high art, but rather street-level verses exchanged by text messages, often with anonymous authors. Much of it is laced with the bitter, resigned humor of a people beset by poverty and downtrodden by corrupt elitists.

One popular Punjabi-language poem chastised former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who was eventually ousted in 2008.

“You rush to Washington all the time, and please Bush again and again,” it says. “Beg at his feet all the time, and threaten the oppressed. Why don’t you confront the oppressors?”

What’s My Dad Doing on Facebook

By Michael Franco for Francopolis.com

When I received a friend request from my dad, I was, frankly, weirded out. But the inherent distance of online communication somehow allowed us to express affection in ways that are too awkward in person.

My dad and I are Facebook friends. That sounds like a completely ridiculous thing to say. I mean, we’re friends in the real world, so why wouldn’t we be Facebook friends? But that’s not the reason it sounds ridiculous. No, it sounds ridiculous because I see my dad practically every single day of my life, but I’m closer to the virtual him than the actual him. Strange, right? How is that even possible?

My father, you see, comes from a generation of men — perhaps the last — for whom expressing affection towards their children can be awkward, particularly children of the same sex. This, I’m sure, has something to do with evolving gender roles and what it means to “be a man”. For my dad’s generation — the early baby boomers — being a man meant providing a family with essentials, not emoting all over the place. Men were to be sturdy and stoic, not soft and sensitive.

I also get the impression that my dad wasn’t too close with his parents. His mother seemed distant; his father eccentric – neither the personification of affection. When I think back to my father’s interactions with his parents before they passed, words like “cordial” and “businesslike” come to mind. He was kind to them because he’s a kind person, but I never got the impression that he was maintaining fulfilling relationships. In light of that, I’m surprised he even knew how to express affection to my brother and me.

This doesn’t mean my dad never showed his love for us when we were growing up. I can recall countless acts he performed to express his affection. When he would take a day off from work, for example, he would spend it ironing our clothes and cooking dinner. My brother and I didn’t even care if our clothes were ironed, but I knew that was my dad’s way of saying that he loved us. Who, after all, takes off from work to iron Nike t-shirts and prepare roast chicken in garlic gravy?

But I could probably count the number of times my father has told me he loves me on my twenty digits, and that’s simply no big deal to me. I’ve never once thought that he doesn’t; I’ve just always known that some things are easy to feel but harder to say. There have been many times, in fact, when I have wanted to tell my dad I love him but have felt that it would be too awkward to do so. Guys can be funny that way.

So when I received a Facebook friend request from my dad, I was, frankly, weirded out. I’ve been accustomed to keeping my dad close, but not too close. Sunday night dinner? Sure. Friday night pub crawl? No thanks. In accepting his request, I would give my dad insight into my entire life: my interactions with friends, my comings and goings, my random thoughts, my likes, my dislikes, what I “like” and “unlike”, the random compliments I give my girlfriend (who, ironically, doesn’t even have a Facebook account)… This simple request felt more like an invasion.

And yet, I knew I had no option but to “friend” my dad. What conceivable excuse could I have to not? Before I clicked on “Accept”, though, I took the time to review my past posts and photos to “clean up” my profile. I even thought about starting a whole new profile for friends and keeping the one I had for people like my dad and my boss – people for whom I reserve the persona that, otherwise, only gets used when I attend Mass every few years.

In the end, though, I decided to let my dad simply be like any other Facebook friend because, well, he’s my dad. At first, however, I wasn’t sure how to virtually interact with him. I was even scared to look at his profile. Would he post creepy photos of him and my mom drinking martinis and standing too close to one another at creepy parties for creepy people of their age? Would he have bizarre, unacceptable interests, like scrapbooking or watching American Idol? Would he be socially awkward, posting head-scratching comments on others’ posts?

All the worrying was for naught. My dad, turns out, is completely normal. What’s more, accepting his friend request allowed the two of us to communicate more than we ever have before. While I have always talked to my mother on a daily basis, neither my dad nor myself have ever felt comfortable just picking up the phone and diving into conversation. Again, the generational divides.

But on my Facebook page, my dad was suddenly showing interest in my life: complimenting me on accomplishments, posting comments on my posts, taking notice of the things that are my life. Somehow, the inherent distance of online communication allowed him to express affection in ways that are too awkward in person, and that has given us things to talk about in our face-to-face interactions.

One day, for example, he commented about my blog, not realizing that I spend many evenings in front of the computer. “I like your blog,” he said. “I didn’t know you blogged. Is there a way for me to add it to my favorites? I really like your articles.” And just yesterday he complimented me about a piece I wrote for an online magazine, telling me I did a good job. No matter how old you are, hearing your father express interest in your interests is flattering, nice. And if he weren’t my “friend”, he might never know of my writing pursuits.

I’ve also learned a lot about my dad because of our newfound “friendship”. Through his Facebook page, for example, he has revealed an astute humor I never knew he possessed. One night, my girlfriend and I couldn’t keep from cracking up at his profile picture: a shot of him sitting on a toilet in the middle of a driveway, scarf wrapped around his neck and stocking cap on his head, posed like Rodin’s “The Thinker”. Why was a toilet in the middle of a driveway? What was my dad doing sitting on it on an obviously cold day? Most of all, why would my dad make this his profile picture, his way of greeting the online world? It was genius, that’s why, and it turns out my dad has a genius wit.

The best part of having my dad as a Facebook friend, though, is that it keeps the family in constant contact with one another. If I post a picture of my son that’s particularly funny or charming, my parents will comment on it or call to get the full story. If I comment about an exciting happening during my day, my parents will ask me about it when I talk to them later in the day. These moments – relatively small but meaningful nonetheless – would go by without being shared if not for Facebook.

No, I don’t necessarily buy into the notion that the Internet has made the world smaller in every single circumstance, bringing everyone closer together in every conceivable way. In many ways, it has done just the opposite, giving people the means to seclude themselves in their virtual lives rather than participating in their actual lives — as well as draw rigid ideological lines that purposely exclude large portions of the world.

But for all the ridiculous, overblown assertions that the Internet can erase divisions and bring people together, sometimes it actually does. Some people, for instance, join couch surfing groups and travel around the world, staying with complete strangers with a shared love of travel. Others join online communities and talk to people from foreign countries, learning about cultures that, without the Internet, they’d never have the chance to experience.

And then there’s me: I accepted my dad’s friend request and found out that in addition to being a great dad, he’s also pretty damn cool. Maybe that Friday night pub crawl is in our future yet. Perhaps a virtual beer first…

Pakistani Peace Builders Turn Cultural Diplomacy to Flood Relief

By Carrie Loewenthal Massey for America.gov

When Pakistani Americans Mahnaz Fancy and Zeyba Rahman launched Pakistani Peace Builders ( PPB ) in May, they did so to bring Pakistani music and heritage to American audiences. An independent cultural diplomacy campaign, PPB aimed to counteract stereotypes and misperceptions of Pakistanis that Fancy and Rahman saw becoming more prominent.

“The only way we know how to make a difference is to show the other face of Pakistan,” she added. “We as Pakistani Americans are very concerned about being misread and misconstrued.”

Exposing Pakistan’s rich cultural roots “is a really important way of explaining that the fundamentalists are a minority,” Fancy said.

In July, New York City delighted in a celebration of one aspect of Pakistani tradition at PPB’s first event, a hugely successful festival of Sufi music. Nearly 25 musicians representing different regions of Pakistan performed a free, outdoor show in Union Square, one of the most popular public spaces in Manhattan.

“It was an unbelievable experience. … People needed some way to feel good about themselves as Pakistani Americans,” Fancy said.

And then the floods came.

PPB immediately added a humanitarian angle to its cultural mission following the devastating floods that struck Pakistan in late July, killing 1,800 people, affecting more than 20 million others and destroying crops across the country. Building on the momentum generated by the Sufi festival, the PPB partnered with ML Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of Washington-based ML Resources, to start Relief4Pakistan, a grass-roots effort to mobilize funds for relief in the flood affected areas.

“As we were wrapping up the concert and the floods hit, I just kept getting phone calls from people all over [the United States] saying, ‘What do we do? How do we respond?’” said Fancy. “People had ideas of packing food and sending it. [The pace] was insane in that initial moment.”

To give donors some direction, Relief4Pakistan sends donations to Mercy Corps, a Seattle, Washington-based nongovernment organization. Mercy Corps has an established reputation and experience on the ground in Pakistan, according to Fancy. Some of Mercy Corps’ efforts include providing safe drinking water, setting up water filtration units and distributing food and relief materials.

Using Facebook and personal networks to encourage support and raise money, Relief4Pakistan has raised nearly $150,000 in aid since August.

“We’ve had donors from all over the place. We’ve had friends hosting events and sending the proceeds,” Fancy said.

Celebrity endorsements have helped bring in funds as well. Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-born, British-raised comedian and cast member of the popular U.S. television program The Daily Show, hosted a stand-up comedy night to benefit Relief4Pakistan, and Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir — whose credits include Iron Man ( 2008 ) and Star Trek ( 2009 ) — has also joined the campaign.

Relief4Pakistan’s second phase of flood assistance launches in November with a major reconstruction project. The effort will focus on Bangla Ichha Union Council, a four-village area in the Rojhan subdistrict of the Rajanpur district in southern Punjab. According to Fancy, 95 percent of the 40,000 people living in the villages depend on their own crops for sustenance, and their fields remain ravaged by the floods.

“Our first goal is to plant at least 1,000 acres of wheat by the end of November. We want to raise money to get seeds and fertilizer for some of the most vulnerable people, those that own less than five acres of land,” Fancy said.

To complete the project, Relief4Pakistan is partnering with Operation USA, a Los Angeles–based relief agency that “shares our philosophy that development ought to be done by empowering the local community to learn skills and develop a sustainable strategy to take care of themselves,” explained Fancy. Relief4Pakistan and Operation USA are reaching out to local Pakistani organizations to tap their resources and train the community members in necessary skills.

Relief4Pakistan will raise funds through Facebook again, but has also already engaged a wider circle of American philanthropists, Fancy said. Their goal is to build a sort of global village, a network of people worldwide coming together to help, and Fancy hopes the model of “the power of a global village” will set a precedent for other successful relief efforts.

“We’re really riffing off of [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ … Our overarching goal is to appeal to the humanity of the wider donor public,” said Fancy. “It takes effort from Pakistani Americans and Pakistanis in other countries … it’s the responsibility of each member of this global village.”

At the height of its flood relief efforts, PPB has not forgotten its mission of cultural diplomacy. In fact, much fundraising continues to come from film screenings, art exhibitions and comedy performances showcasing the talents of Pakistani artists.

“Part of our cultural mission is using culture to humanize [Pakistan] and at the same time putting it into action through these much needed flood relief efforts,” Fancy said.

PPB plans to hold more cultural events beyond those dedicated to flood relief. The organization would like to hold the Sufi music festival annually, expanding it to include artists from other South Asian countries.

“[We want] to show what Sufism is in other parts of the world. Pakistan is a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the whole Muslim world,” Fancy said. “Muslims in [South Asia] have been remarkably liberal and secular in comparison to what people think they are.”

Through PPB, Fancy, who is 41 years old, will keep working to transform the younger Pakistani-American generation’s misconceptions of the Muslim world.

“I find it so distressing that people of our parents’ generation know much more about Pakistan than our generation,” she said.

And she worries that the knowledge the younger generation has gained from the media has left it grossly misled about Pakistani and Muslim identities.

“This sense of being primitive and tribal is not the true modern history of this part of the world,” Fancy said. “It’s only true of the minority that has taken the loudspeaker and is misbroadcasting lots of things they think are collective traits [of Muslims], but they’re not.”

( This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov )

Church Plans Quran-Burning Event

By Lauren Russell for CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son Pleads for Help as Mother Awaits Stoning in Iran

By Gena Somra for CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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