Posts Tagged ‘ Jews ’

Christmas for Christians, Muslims and Jews

By Petula Dvorak for The Washington Post

National_Menorah_Lighting_0f582

The tree has decorations made of olive wood from Palestine, Christmas balls of glass, snowflakes and Hanukkah ornaments.

Grandma looks on at the tree-trimming party, a hijab the color of snow covering her hair. Mom, a teacher at a private Islamic school in Reston, snaps photos. Carols play in the background. Christmas cookies are baking in the oven.

This tableau in a Virginia living room — a scene of family, love, acceptance, celebration and generosity — is what this season should be all about but often isn’t.

You’ve gotta admit: Christmas is pretty unavoidable in this country.

Gas stations sparkle with tinsel, tiny dogs wear Christmas sweaters on their walks, federal buildings are closed, Costco stops selling pies the size of truck tires in honor of the day.

And if it’s not in your religion to celebrate it, the options are limited. You can hunker down for a month or two and try to avoid it or take part in the new American tradition of Christmas warring. You can join lawsuits over mangers on government property; post cheeky, atheist billboards that haters will deface; and support only stores that require employees to say “Happy holidays.”

The other side of the wars — the “reason for the season” folks — aren’t much more palatable.

Or you can take a more universal approach to the season.

“I present Christmas not so much as a religious celebration,” said Nadiya El-Khatib, 33, of Fairfax County. The aforementioned Christmas tree trimming took place in her aunt’s house, where their multi-faith family of Christians, Muslims and Jews find a universal theme this time of year.

“In Islam, we are taught to maintain strong ties with your family, and this includes coming together on Christmas,” she said.

El-Khatib’s mother, a former Irish-Catholic woman named Mary Catherine, converted to Islam when El-Khatib was 5 years old. El-Khatib was raised Muslim, but she always celebrated Christmas with her maternal family and continues to do so with her children.

Many of the Muslim families Nadeem Ahmed grew up with just gave up and started celebrating the holiday, too.

“You get enveloped in the culture of Christmastime. Some Muslim families would put up the tree, exchange gifts,” Ahmed, 36, a Richmond psychologist, told me between caroling and gift giving this week. “We never did all that.”

But he sang carols as a boy in school, went to Christmas parties and took in the spirit of togetherness. It is unavoidable. And it didn’t really bother him as a kid, he said.

Then he married a woman who was raised Presbyterian.

Now he prays in church, goes there on Christmas Eve and worries about getting the right gifts for his in-laws.

“From my perspective, how I was raised as a Muslim, this very welcoming church shares some universal value,” he said of the church they attend in Richmond. “I can feel very spiritual there, look at my own moral character.”

In other words, though he stays true to the rituals of his Muslim faith, Ahmed can find the universal, humanitarian message in Christian Christmas and embrace it.

“The rituals aren’t as important as what they’re trying to symbolize and being able to explore those things at a church, or at a mosque, it’s all about trying to be a better person,” he said.

Doesn’t hurt on the marriage front, either.

Listening to Ahmed, I was inspired and a little saddened by the relentless war of words that continues to scar the season.

Last week, I got an angry letter from a reader who was miffed that we used the words “holiday song” to describe a Christmas carol being sung by children in a photo.

Turns out, “holiday song” took up fewer character spaces in the tight caption space, which is why a copy editor wrote that. But to this reader, it was a sign of political correctness and fear.

It was someone picking a fight.

And that’s exactly what the spirit of the season is not about.

Since Christians — and I grew up one of them — seem to demand that everyone in the country observe this day as sacred (try escaping Christmas madness at a museum or anyplace else — you can’t), the meaning of the day must extend to people of all faiths, creeds and persuasions.

The Muslim families I talked to did it beautifully.

Whether you say “Happy holidays,” “Merry Christmas” or “Season’s greetings,” the sentiment is what is important here, not the words. And that sentiment is what we humans need these days. This day.

Memorial for Noor Inayat Khan, SOE Agent and Daughter of Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan

As Reported by The Sufi Times

This past New Years Day would have marked the 96th birthday of Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, an Indian muslim woman who was shot dead in a Nazi concentration camp in September 1944, after being the first female radio operator to infiltrate occupied France.

Her courage and self-sacrifice during World War II are to be honoured by a memorial which has been proposed to be raised in London’s Bloomsbury area next year. It will be the first war memorial in Britain either for a Muslim or an Asian woman.

The project has the support of 34 Members of Parliament and a number of prominent British Asians, including human rights activist Shami Chakrabarti and film director Gurinder Chadha, OBE. Permission has been granted by London University and the local authority to build a sculpture in Gordon Square. A sculptor has already been commissioned and the organisers now need to raise £60,000 to complete the project, of which about £25,000 has already been raised.

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of acclaimed Sufi teacher and musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882 – 1927), who was one of the first people to bring Sufi teachings to the modern Western world. He established the “Sufi Order in the West”, which survives in various forms to this day and has followers around the world.

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s great-grandfather was Tipu Sultan, a king of Mysore who ruled during the time of the East India compay and who had died in battle against the Duke of Wellington in 1799. Hazrat Inayat Khan had been initiated into the Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya and Naqshbandi tariqas, but his primary initiation was from Shaykh Muhammed Abu Hashim Madani into the Nizamiya branch of the Chishti order (named after Shaykh Nizamuddin Auliya, died 1325).

Being an accomplished musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan went to America to tour with a group of musicians, playing mainly traditional court music on his veena and singing. During this time, he attracted a number of students to Sufism and met his wife, Ora Meena Ray Baker, an American from New Mexico who was of English-Irish-Scottish descent. They had their first child, Noor, in Moscow (1914), where Inayat Khan had gone to perform. Three more children were to follow: Vilayat (1916), Hidayat (1917) and Khair-un-Nisa (1919).

When Noor was four years old the family moved to Paris. Noor grew up in an environment steeped in Sufi teachings. Her father established a Sufi centre and regularly held Sufi meditation meetings with a growing number of students, lectured widely and authored a number of books.

Noor went on to study at the Sorbonne, and in her mid-20’s became an author of children’s stories. At the outbreak of war Noor’s family returned to her motherland and they moved into rooms in Bloomsbury Square in London. The site of the memorial which is to built in her name is, therefore, very appropriate.

Both Noor and her brother Vilayat decided they would do something to help the Allied Forces in their efforts against the Nazi threat. Vilayat joined the RAF (Royal Air Force) and trained as a pilot, whilst Noor joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Because of her fluent French, she was given a position in the new Special Operations Executive (SOE) of the British Secret Service. The SOE was desperately looking for radio operators who could be positioned in enemy territory to send back intelligence by wireless.

Her recruiters were not at first convinced of her suitability for the role. One of them noted, “Not overburdened with brains but has worked hard and shown keenness, apart from some dislike of [the] security side of the course. She has an unstable and temperamental personality and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to work in the field.”

But in June 1943, she became the first female SOE agent to be parachuted into enemy occupied territory in France. According to Sir Colin Gubbins, head of the SOE, she had “occupied the principal and most dangerous post in France”. As a radio operator she was on the front line of intelligence operations, a dangerous role not for the faint-hearted. She was once stopped by the Gestapo whilst cycling with her radio equipment, but managed to convince them that it was a cinema projector.

However, it eventually transpired that the French resistance group she had been sent to help had already been infiltrated by Nazi agents and within weeks of her arrival hundreds of operatives had been arrested and shot.

Noor turned down the opportunity to return to Britain, choosing to remain behind as the SOE’s only radio contact in or near Paris. She was given a life-expectancy of three weeks, but survived for three months.

But then she was betrayed by Renée Garry, the sister of one of her French Resistance colleagues. The reason for this betrayal is not clear. Some reports say Garry was jealous of Noor’s role as an SOE agent, others say she was jealous of her beauty. In any case, she was seized by the German Gestapo and taken to a concentration camp in Pflozheim. Here she was routinely tortured for weeks, but refused to give up any information to her interrogators.

On 11 September 1944, Noor, together with three other female SOE colleagues, were taken by cars to the concentration camp in Dachau, arriving in the dark. During the night, they were tortured again. Early on the morning of September 12, they were marched out to the dog kennels, forced to kneel two by two and each was shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were incinerated in Dachau’s infamous ovens. Her last words before she died were ‘liberte’.

Shrabani Basu is Noor Inayat Khan’s biographer and founder of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust. She spent eight years researching Noor’s life from war archives and family records, and has more recently been involved in the planning of the new memorial. Basu remarked, “I feel it is very important that what she did should not be allowed to fade from memory, particularly living in the times that we do. Here was a young Muslim woman who gave her life for this country and for the fight against those who wanted to destroy the Jewish race. She was an icon for the bond that exists between Britain and India but also between people who fought for what they believed to be right.”

Of the SOE’s 55 female agents, 13 died in action or at the hands of the Nazis. One of those killed (Violette Szabo) and one who survived (Odette Hallowes) have had popular movies made about their lives.

The initial unfavourable assessment made by Noor’s recruiters was in stark contrast to the note that her commander and head the SOE’s French section, Maurice Buckmaster, later made of her: “A most brave and touchingly keen girl. She was determined to do her bit to hit the Germans and, poor girl, she has.”

In France, Noor is already widely recognized as a war hero. There are two memorials for her, and a ceremony is held each year.

In 1975, a commemoration plaque was installed at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, by the State of Massachusetts. It displays Noor’s name and the names of the three others who were executed with her on September 12th 1944.

To this day, nothing has been built in Britain to commemorate the life of this Indian Sufi Muslim woman who courageously sacrificed her life for freedom and the British contribution to the war against Fascism. It is hoped that the proposed memorial will be built to redress this oversight.

The Founding Fathers and Islam

By James H Hutson for The Library of Congress

With more than 55 million items, the Library’s Manuscript Division contains the papers of 23 presidents, from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. In this article, Manuscript Division Chief James Hutson draws upon the papers of Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other primary documents to discuss the relationship of Islam to the new nation.

Many Muslims feel unwelcome in the United States in the aftermath of September 11, according to newspaper reports. Anecdotal evidence suggests that substantial numbers of Americans view their Muslim neighbors as an alien presence outside the limits of American life and history. While other minorities—African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans—were living within the boundaries of the present United States from the earliest days of the nation, Muslims are perceived to have had no part in the American experience.

Readers may be surprised to learn that there may have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in the United States in 1776—imported as slaves from areas of Africa where Islam flourished. Although there is no evidence that the Founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen, it is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic.

In his seminal Letter on Toleration (1689), John Locke insisted that Muslims and all others who believed in God be tolerated in England. Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson followed Locke, his idol, in demanding recognition of the religious rights of the “Mahamdan,” the Jew and the “pagan.” Supporting Jefferson was his old ally, Richard Henry Lee, who had made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776, that the American colonies declare independence. “True freedom,” Lee asserted, “embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion.”

In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted with satisfaction that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature “rejected by a great majority” an effort to limit the bill’s scope “in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan.” George Washington suggested a way for Muslims to “obtain proper relief” from a proposed Virginia bill, laying taxes to support Christian worship. On another occasion, the first president declared that he would welcome “Mohometans” to Mount Vernon if they were “good workmen” (see page 96). Officials in Massachusetts were equally insistent that their influential Constitution of 1780 afforded “the most ample liberty of conscience … to Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians,” a point that Chief Justice Theophilus Parsons resoundingly affirmed in 1810.

Toward Islam itself the Founding generation held differing views. An evangelical Baptist spokesman denounced “Mahomet” as a “hateful” figure who, unlike the meek and gentle Jesus, spread his religion at the point of a sword. A Presbyterian preacher in rural South Carolina dusted off Grotius’ 17th century reproach that the “religion of Mahomet originated in arms, breathes nothing but arms, is propagated by arms.” Other, more influential observers had a different view of Muslims. In 1783, the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, cited a study showing that “Mohammadan” morals were “far superior to the Christian.” Another New Englander believed that the “moral principles that were inculcated by their teachers had a happy tendency to render them good members of society.” The reference here, as other commentators made clear, was to Islam’s belief, which it shared with Christianity, in a “future state of rewards and punishments,” a system of celestial carrots and sticks which the Founding generation considered necessary to guarantee good social conduct.

“A Mahometan,” wrote a Boston newspaper columnist, “is excited to the practice of good morals in hopes that after the resurrection he shall enjoy the beautiful girls of paradise to all eternity; he is afraid to commit murder, adultery and theft, lest he should be cast into hell, where he must drink scalding water and the scum of the damned.” Benjamin Rush, the Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence and friend of Adams and Jefferson, applauded this feature of Islam, asserting that he had “rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles.”

That ordinary citizens shared these positive views is demonstrated by a petition of a group of citizens of Chesterfield County, Va., to the state assembly, Nov. 14, 1785: “Let Jews, Mehometans and Christians of every denomination enjoy religious liberty…thrust them not out now by establishing the Christian religion lest thereby we become our own enemys and weaken this infant state. It is mens labour in our Manufactories, their services by sea and land that aggrandize our Country and not their creeds. Chain your citizens to the state by their Interest. Let Jews, Mehometans, and Christians of every denomination find their advantage in living under your laws.”

The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it. Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens. Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life.

James H. Hutson is chief of the Manuscript Division and the author of many books, including, most recently, “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic,” 1998.

In Pakistan, Another Assassination and the Lessons Unlearned

By Natasha Fatah for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The Lion of Punjab is dead. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, was assassinated in Islamabad on Tuesday by one of his own security guards.

When the guard later turned himself in to the police, he said that he killed the man he was supposed to be protecting because he considered Taseer’s campaign against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws an insult to Prophet Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws, which have been around since the 1980s, have been at the heart of a huge religious debate in Pakistan recently after a 45-year-old Christian woman was sentenced to death, allegedly in a dispute over drinking water among farm hands.

Most human rights observers say that the woman did nothing wrong, did not break any blasphemy law, and that the law is just being used to make some kind of example out of her.

Taseer stood by the side of this Christian woman, Asia Bibi, both literally and figuratively.

He stood next to her in the courtroom, which was a brave and dangerous move for any Muslim in Pakistan, but particularly so when you are a member of government and have a profile.

He had also waged an attack on those who wanted her dead by constantly criticizing the mullahs and hard-liners on his very active Twitter account these past weeks.

In response, Islamic fundamentalist politicians and imams were constantly attacking Taseer, even going as far as to say that criticizing the blasphemy law is an act of blasphemy itself, thus making Taseer an apostate.

A member of the Pakistan People’s Party and closely tied to President Asif Ali Zardari, Taseer had dedicated his life to social and political liberalism and to taking on the fundamentalists. But now that bravery has cost him everything.

According to witnesses, the guard who killed Taseer jumped out of a car, pointed his Kalashnikov and blasted away. He then continued his rampage, shooting the governor at least nine times.

Dropping his weapon, the man then gave himself up to police, saying later he was “proud” that he killed the blasphemer.

Another disturbing aspect to this story is that the assassin had managed to get himself into the police force and then, barely four months into the job, was transferred to the unit assigned to protect the governor.

It makes you wonder who was doing the vetting and whether some other even more devious plan was afoot. But how deep and powerful this doctrine of hate must be when someone who is paid to protect you ends up being the one to take your life?

Still, while it was the guard who pulled the trigger, it was the culture of hatred, ignorance and bigotry that put the idea in his head in the first place.

And it will no doubt be the disease of apathy among the majority of Pakistan’s comfortable middle class that will ensure nothing changes, which means more good men and women who want to reform Pakistan’s society will lose their lives.

After all, it was only three years ago that the world lost Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, for the same reasons.

She, too, was an advocate on behalf of liberalism and democracy and an enemy of religious extremists and she, too, paid for it with her life. If her death could not motivate the wealthy, powerful and influential in Pakistan to stand up and change things, then I’m not sure what will.

There is strange culture in Pakistan of blaming the victim. When Benazir Bhutto was murdered, many middle-class Pakistanis, in effect blamed her for her own assassination.

They criticized her for knowing the risks and continuing to speak out. Some said that as a mother she was being selfish for putting herself in the public eye.

And now, with Taseer’s murder, there are murmurs about him bringing this on because he provoked the Islamists through his criticism of their agenda. These are the risks you take when you stand behind a Christian blasphemer, some are saying.

It is only in an upside-down world like Pakistan’s self-absorbed middle class where those who die for being brave are considered irresponsible.

And it’s not like these moderate politicians such as Taseer don’t represent the values of the ordinary Pakistani.

Overwhelmingly, whenever given the election opportunity, the people of Pakistan vote in liberal, moderate and middle-of-the-road parties. Hardline Islamist parties do not win majorities in any of the country’s provinces.

Still, there seems to be a disconnect between what the Pakistani middle class say they want — stability and democracy — and what they are willing to work for.

Yes, in the case of Taseer, they will mourn the loss of another great leader. But Pakistan has lost far too many moderate leaders like this while everything goes on as before.

Wealthy Pakistanis will continue to go to their luxurious parties at fancy hotels, where the poor and their servants are not even allowed to enter. They will continue to justify the economic divide that keeps so many of their fellow citizens in squalor. And they will continue to argue that the Islamist militants are just a creation of the Western media.

Fortunately, there are still a handful of journalists, lawyers and politicians in Pakistan who are fighting the good fight and putting their lives on the line to try to push back against the extremists who think that violence is the only way to get their ideas across.

But unless Pakistan’s elites joins this fight, nothing will change.

For Pakistan, with the current government coalition in danger of crumbling and its Taliban launched on a terror campaign in the capital Islamabad itself, Taseer’s murder is a horrible start to a new year.

Yes, there will be vigils throughout Pakistan and around the world this week for this fallen hero. But vigils are temporary and the underlying problem that Taseer was taking on will likely still be around long after the vigils have wrapped up.

Holiday brings Muslims, Jews Together to Volunteer

By Niraj Warikoo for The Detroit Free Press

Detroit, Michigan– For the past 20 years, hundreds of local Jews have volunteered on Christmas to help needy people on a day when many Christians are busy celebrating the holiday.

But because Dec. 25 falls on a Saturday this year — a day of rest for observant Jews — the Muslim community will be filling in on Christmas, helping at soup kitchens, senior citizen homes and in impoverished neighborhoods.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan hopes to get 400 volunteers.

The Jewish community will move its volunteer efforts to today, Christmas Eve, as part of Mitzvah Month, which refers to good deeds. Last year, the Jewish community invited the Muslim community to help out on Christmas for the first time. That partnership continues this year, with some Muslims helping on Christmas Eve, too.

“The more contact we have, the more understanding,” said Freya Weberman, 51, of Huntington Woods, who will be delivering toys in Detroit today with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit. “There is fear of the unknown. By bringing people together and having shared experiences, we see our commonalities.”

When Micki Grossman of Farmington Hills read journalist Helen Thomas’ comments about Zionists earlier this month, the Jewish woman was hurt. “It caused a lot of pain for me,” she said.

“I also wish that we could have had more of our Muslim friends stand up and say, ‘This was not appropriate.’ ”

But some Muslims and Arab Americans were upset that Jewish leaders pressured Wayne State University to remove an award in her name.

At the annual banquet this month of the local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, people wore buttons reading “Defender of Thomas,” said regional director Imad Hamad.

“You can’t punish someone for the right of freedom of expression,” Hamad said, referring to Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent.

Despite the differences of opinion, about 200 Jewish volunteers — along with 40 Muslim ones — will work together today to help serve poor people across metro Detroit.

Grossman will be among them, glad to help people in need while bringing two communities together.

Gigi Salka, 41, a Muslim from Bloomfield Township whose children attend bar mitzvahs, also will be volunteering — one of dozens of Muslims helping on Christmas.

It is one way in which local Jews and Muslims are trying to build ties despite their differences on politics and foreign affairs. Last month, a health fair run by Jews and Muslims was held in a Detroit mosque. And Muslim leaders spoke earlier this year before the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit.

The council organizes the event, which is usually held Christmas Day, but this year that is on the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest for observant Jews.

Last year, the Jewish community invited Muslims to help them volunteer on Christmas. The partnership was a historic first, with about 60 Muslims helping 900 Jewish volunteers. This year, up to 400 Muslims led by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan will take the lead on Christmas.

“We have many similarities,” Grossman said. “Let’s look for the sameness rather than the differences.”

Such partnerships are playing out across metro Detroit.

Victor Begg of Bloomfield Hills, a co-founder of the Islamic council who is helping to lead the volunteer effort with Muslims this week, said they “are part of an ongoing effort by our communities to bridge the gap.” He had no comment on the Thomas controversy.

Hamad said he was upset over the Jewish community’s pressure on WSU to drop the award in Thomas’ name, but he maintains contact with Jewish leaders such as Betsy Kellman, head of the Michigan branch of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group.

“We are Americans first,” Hamad said. “We should not see ourselves as an extension of the external conflict abroad.”

Ismael Ahmed, a longtime Arab-American leader who is the director of the state Department of Human Services, spoke to the board of the Jewish council this month about poverty issues.

“The Jewish and Arab communities have a huge amount in common — a sense of family, a sense of community,” Ahmed said. “But we have different views on the Middle East.” At the same time, “I think that isn’t a major divide” because “we’re very much alike.”

Salka will be volunteering on Christmas because it is important to give back, she said. To her, interacting and forging ties with people of various backgrounds is part of her everyday life.

“My friends are from all different faith traditions,” Salka said. It’s on an individual level, “how you change hearts and minds, the personal connections.”

Righteous Among the Nations: Muslims Who Saved Jews from Holocaust

By Tim Townsend for The St. Louis Dispatch

In 2003, Norman Gershman was looking for some of the righteous.

What he found astonished the investment banker-turned-photographer, and led him toward a project now on display in a St. Louis synagogue.

The Righteous Among Nations are gentile rescuers who make up “a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values,” according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum.

They are, the museum says, “the few who helped Jews in the darkest time in their history.”

Gershman’s story begins during the Holocaust and involves Albanian Muslims — villagers, peasants and farmers — who risked their lives and the lives of their families to shelter Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Italy invaded Albania in 1939 and occupied the country until the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in 1943. Germany then took over the Albanian occupation. Before the war, Gershman estimates from his research, only about 200 Jews lived in Albania, a country that is about 70 percent Muslim.

During the years of occupation, 10 times as many Jews streamed into Albania to escape persecution from Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece and Italy. Gershman says it was the only country in Europe where the Jewish population grew by the end of the war.

Most of the hidden Jews either fled to Israel or back to their native countries after the war. Albania’s postwar communist regime made it impossible for the Jews who had been hidden to stay in touch with the Albanian Muslims who had provided shelter.

In 2003, New Jersey native Gershman heard hints of the story and began doing research, eventually traveling to Albania to begin interviewing those Muslims who took part and who were still alive. Gershman said it wasn’t just Muslim families who shielded Jews from the Nazis, but also Orthodox and Catholic families.

All of them were motivated by an Albanian code of honor called “besa,” a concept that can be translated into “keeping the promise,” Gershman says. The Albanian villagers were motivated to risk their lives by the simple concept of helping one’s neighbor.

“We chose to focus on the Muslims because, who ever heard of Muslims saving Jews?” Gershman said in a telephone interview from Israel, where he is at work on his next project.

Gershman’s research eventually led to an exhibit of his photographs, “Besa: A Code to Live By,” which opened recently at Congregation Temple Emanuel, and a book, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II.

The exhibit makes the case that the Muslim Albanian villagers who sheltered Jews from deportation to concentration camps did so from a sense of religious obligation.

“Besa is a cultural idea, but for the Muslims in Albania it was ingrained in their faith as well,” Gershman said.

Ahmet Karamustafa, professor of history and religious studies at Washington University, said saving a life is a universally acknowledged Muslim value.

Protecting a life, Karamustafa said, “has always ranked at the very top of moral and legal categories articulated by legal and theological scholars in Islam.”

The exhibit has been traveling the world since 2006, opening in Yad Vashem in Israel, the United Nations in New York, and synagogues, mosques, college campuses and Holocaust museums from Turkey to El Paso, Texas.

The exhibit of 30 photographs includes one of Lime Balla, born in 1910, who told Gershman that a group of 17 Jews came from the capital city of Tirana to her village of Gjergi in 1943 during the holy month of Ramadan.

“We divided them amongst the villagers,” Balla said, according to Gershman. “We were poor. We had no dining table, but we didn’t allow them to pay for food or shelter. We grew vegetables for all to eat. For 15 months, we dressed them as farmers like us. Even the local police knew.”

David Sherman, president of Temple Emanuel, said the synagogue “decided it could be an opportunity to educate the public about this piece of history that was a model of dialogue and tolerance.”

The synagogue’s rabbi, Justin Kerber, said one of the Reform congregation’s goals with the exhibit is to combat a common depiction of the modern relationship between Jews and Muslims.

“There’s so much coverage about Muslim-Jewish strife and conflict,” Kerber said. “It’s important to tell people that’s not the whole story, and these are examples of Muslim-Jewish respect, tolerance and love. This was a good opportunity for us to be part of that conversation.”

Muslim-Jewish Evening Raises $$ For Pakistanis

By Cristina Costantini for The New Haven Independent

Farhan and Shahida Soomro became American citizens on Friday. Originally from the Sindh Province in Pakistan, they have lived in the U.S. for ten years. Two days after becoming Americans, they held an event with their friends Ron Miller and his wife Cathie Miller to raise money and awareness about the floods which have ravaged their province in Pakistan. “It’s been a busy weekend!” said Shahida Soomro.

The event—“An Evening to Support Pakistani Flood Relief at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven”—was held Sunday night at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven on Audubon.

The Soomro family is Muslim; the Miller family, of Westville, is Jewish. The idea for the event, a “Jewish-Muslim collaboration,” came about over a dinner with old friends, Cathie Miller said. The Millers then sought the support of the Social Action Committees of the Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven and the Congregation Mishkan Israel of Hamden, which were instrumental in the organization of the event.

After guests Sunday night enjoyed a wide spread of ethnic foods, Farhan Soomro opened the presentation by relaying the severity of the crisis. While the Soomro family was not present during the flooding, they have stayed in constant contact with their relatives in the region. With a fifth of Pakistan underwater, 20 million people displaced, and two million homes destroyed, Soomro explained, farmers have lost two seasons of crops and the Pakistani government cannot meet the food and shelter demands the disaster has triggered.

The event raised about $3,000.

Timothy Rogers, the director of charitable gifts for Save the Children in Westport described to guests where their donations would go. “We have been in Pakistan for 31 years now,” said Rogers. “What are we doing in Pakistan now? We’re providing emergency medical care, we’re distributing tents, shelter kits, food, and other supplies, we’re distributing water purification tablets, and bed nets.”

According to Cathie Miller, Save the Children was chosen as the charity for the event because over 90 percent of money donated goes to direct relief, and the Soomros have heard anecdotal evidence from their relatives and friends in the Sindh province that Save the Children has been effective in the region.

Rogers raised questions about the lack of American response and media coverage to the tragedy. Americans have given disproportionally less than other developed nations in the world. Although Save the Children has sent about $46 million to help alleviate suffering in Pakistan, the American public’s contribution makes up only $2.3 million of this total. Norwegian citizens, a country with a much smaller population, has already donated over $4 million in assistance funds through Save the Children. Rogers posited that donations might be down because of “donor fatigue due to recent tragedies” or because of a lack of media coverage. Ron Miller linked the trend to Islamophobia.

“I think even though we don’t want to say it, Americans have a hard time understanding and appreciating Muslims,” Miller said. “And one of the reasons that, myself as a Jew, and I’ve talked with various synagogues which they are present here today, is the importance for both Jews and Muslims and Muslims and Americans to come to grips with who we are, what our cultures are and what our values are. One of our reasons for doing this, was in our small way, a Muslim family, and a Jewish family, over dinner decided to try to do something to show that that gulf doesn’t exist between us and our Muslim colleagues.”

One audience member admitted her initial hesitations about donating to the cause. “My knee-jerk reaction, when I heard about this event, was how do I know my money isn’t going to go to the Taliban? Of course this was ignorant, and I really think the reason we don’t talk about this flood is that our government is struggling with Pakistan,” she said.

A Pakistani member of the audience responded to her comments, suggesting that crisis alleviation in the area is one of the best ways to win a war of ideas: “The Pakistani people realize that Save the Children is coming from the American people. Winning the hearts and minds is the key thing, our policy makers have allocated $30 million to public diplomacy work in Pakistan. It should be a no-brainer that if we use our resources to help get their homes together that this will be much more effective.”

“This is a great opportunity for us to change and affect the hearts and the minds of the Pakistani people,” he concluded.

The event drew around 50 guests.

Donations are still being accepted. Checks can be made out to “Save the Children” with a memo note: “Pakistani Flood.” In order to count as a part of the Greater New Haven response to this disaster the check must be sent to The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, 70 Audubon Str., New Haven 06510 Attn: Lee Cruz. All donations will be sent to Save the Children within the week.

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.

NYC Mosque Should Be Seen As a Reconciliation Not a Provocation

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

A New York City panel cleared the way Tuesday for an Islamic Center and mosque to be built several blocks from Ground Zero and the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny historic status to a 19th century building near Ground Zero. By doing so, it paves the way for the old building’s demolition and the construction of a 15 story Muslim community center, a mere two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The controversy has brewed for months over the creation of a mosque and an Islamic center so close to the site of the World Trade Centers where nearly 3,000 Americans died in terrorist attacks blamed on Muslim terrorists affiliated with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

Opponents of the mosque have argued that the creation of it so close to the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks disrespects the memory of those killed. They also question who is behind the funding and bankrolling of the proposed structure, Cordoba House, which is estimated to cost nearly $100 million. Many prominent members of the Republican Party such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have come out strongly against the building of the mosque and Muslim center so close to the site of the attacks. Gingrich argued that “that the Ground Zero mosque is all about conquest and thus an assertion of Islamist triumphalism which we should not tolerate.”

Seemingly directed at peace seekers such as myself, Sarah Palin posted the following message on her Twitter page “Peace-seeking Muslims, please understand. Ground Zero Mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Please reject it in the interest of healing.”

Some of the relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks have come out and said that the mosque and Islamic center would amount to a monument for terrorists as the extremists would see it as a celebration of their destruction of an American monument and lives lost. According to them, the building of the Muslim structure gives an impression that the Islamic extremists won and we Americans lost, not just in terms of lives lost but also in terms of lost and lowered morale.

The proponents of the Cordoba House have advocated the building of the structure especially since they see the center as an organization that promoted tolerance and inter faith dialogue, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. They say that the “center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.”

Their website further states that the Cordoba House project is “about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all.”

In fact the name Cordoba House, takes its name from the medieval Spanish city where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in peace and harmony under the Moors of Spain for over 800 years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right in supporting the construction of the Cordoba House not just on the basis that religious freedom is enshrined in our constitution, but because it was the right thing to do. Denying the building of this structure would have been a blatant admission on the part of the city and indeed the entire country that there is absolutely no difference in the twisted misinterpretation of Islam practiced by the hijackers and the Taliban and the one practiced by the rest of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. As if a mere 19 deranged, misguided, yet determined adolescent men could change the fact that the vast majority of the adherents of Islam are peaceful, hardworking, average people like you and me who want nothing more than to live a good life, raise their kids, and worship their creator.

No, the opponents of the Cordoba House and their hate wagering backers and right wing politicians like Palin and Gingrich want nothing more than to incite people into believing that Islam in general is bad and evil and to suspect anything that goes on in a mosque. Oddly enough, it seems that much like their enemy, the Taliban and Muslim fundamentalists, the right wing politicians in the GOP want nothing more than “Clash of Civilizations” to come about between Islam and the West. Preachers like the Pastor Terry Jones in Gainesville, Florida who is organizing an “Everybody burn a Quran Day” as well as mainstream evangelicals like Pat Robertson also condone this view and treatment of Islam and Muslims.

Little do these so called “leaders” realize that scores of Muslim Americans also perished that day on September 11, 2001. The hate and fear mongers will not want you to know the story of Salman Hamdani, a NYPD police cadet, who was a part time ambulance driver, an incoming medical student, and devout Muslim whose remains were found at the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably trying his best to help those at the site of the attacks. Or the Muslim waiter at the Windows of the World restaurant, who never got to see his wife give birth to their son two days after the attacks. I wonder if Gingrich, Palin or any of the others could look US Army Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s mother in the eye and tell her that although her son died in an American uniform fighting in Iraq under the American flag, his religion and his beliefs system are evil and have no place in American life. The deceased Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient would turn in his grave at Arlington National Cemetery if he knew how his faith was being disrespected and marginalized by politicians and right wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, individuals who never served this country or risked their life as had Specialist Khan.

It is heartening to see that good sense prevailed by the New York City panel that had the tough job of deciding on this issue and this heavily watched story. Although there promises to be a further fight and appeal by the opponents of the Islamic center, one hopes that the ruling would stand as denying it would clearly violate the freedom of religion that all faiths should get in America, regardless of the actions of some of their members. After all, one should not punish and ostracize the many for the actions of a few.

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

Religious Freedom in America Includes Everyone

By Alex Howard for The Pueblo Chieftain

One of the fundamental freedoms we enjoy as citizens is to worship in whatever manner we want to and wherever we want to.

There are virtually no restrictions on this freedom, even when a particular exercise of a belief might be illegal for the general public. Within the scope of religious expression, even the use of drugs can be legitimate. For example, the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus, is legit for members of Native American communities but illegal for the rest of us.

Moreover, the freedom of religion principle extends well beyond what most people think of as acceptable.

While all the mainstream religions are represented within the military services, we also find niches carved out for not-so-common expressions.

Wicca, also known as witchcraft, druidism, paganism and other names, is officially recognized by the United States military as a legitimate form of religious expression.

So, what I’m saying is that the freedom of religious expression is wide-ranging and as diverse as the citizenry in America. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, Sikhs, Scientologists, Baha’i and all the others have their places in the worldwide religious worship palette, including here in America.

And I’ve named just a few religions. There are many more, some with which our culture has no familiarity despite a large number of adherents.

So, what should we think when a group of citizens objects to the construction of a place of worship by a religious group? We’d have to wonder whether that basic freedom of religion has some kind of limits, wouldn’t we?

Yet, this is exactly a discussion that’s taking place in New York City right now. A group of Muslims that has been using a building not too far from the site of the former World Trade Center for religious and cultural purposes wants to demolish it and build a new mosque and cultural center.

Survivors and family members of victims of the terrorist attack are not happy. The general feelings they express are of anger and unresolved emotional pain over the death of family members, friends and co-workers.

They blame (accurately of course) the attack on those who flew the airplanes and their co-conspirators. Sadly, however, the anger at the attackers has been enlarged to include Muslims in general.

That being acknowledged, prejudicial and misguided as it is, the discussion is taking on the aura of denial of the freedom of religious expression. What those objecting to the construction of the mosque seem to have ignored is that the Muslims who want to build it are American citizens, some of them second- or third-generation Americans.

These are not people who are trying to establish a radical, wacko religious cult on foreign soil. They’re Americans exercising their freedoms, just as you and I are free to do.

Should the pain of those who lost loved ones in the villainous attack on the WTC hold sway over the decision to build the mosque near that site? I don’t think so. Otherwise, any group with an emotional connection to an event could claim the right to object to some other religious building. American Muslims have just as much right to freedom of worship as other Americans. To think otherwise is, well, un-American.

-Alex Howard is a retired Episcopal priest.

“This Passport is valid for all the countries of the World, except Israel”

By Junaid Ghumman for Mideast Youth

The world Zionist movement should not be neglectful of the dangers of Pakistan to it. And Pakistan now should be its first target, for this ideological State is a threat to our existence. And Pakistan, the whole of it, hates the Jews and loves the Arabs. This lover of the Arabs is more dangerous to us than the Arabs themselves. For that matter, it is most essential for the world Zionism that it should now take immediate steps against Pakistan.” Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel.

This speech was first published in Jewish Chronicles on 9th August 1967. This statement risen many controversies bloggers like me have quoted it many times; various explanations were also given to disprove this statement, but still we read it on every article related to Pakistan and Israel.

Pakistan and Israel do share some history and ideology. These are only two countries in the world created in the name of Religion; Pakistan for Islam, Israel for Judaism and both countries have taken independence from same British Empire after World War II.

Then why my passport still says, “This Passport is valid for all the countries of the World, except Israel”?

Pakistan claimed its independence from foreign invaders after two centuries of struggle. In 1757 after Battle of Plessey, East India Company started ruling Indian Sub-continent. The first armed resistance was Battle of Independence in 1857 after which the power was transferred to British government. In 1885 the political movement of independence started as Indian National Congress. Some of the Muslim leaders soon separated and launched new movement in 1906 as All India Muslim League for separate Muslim state which led to the creation of independent Islamic state Pakistan on 14th August 1947, which then became Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1973.

For Israel the timings was same and the rulers were also same as of Indian sub-continents, but events and circumstances were totally different. Israel declared its independence on 14th May 1948 from British Mandate of Palestine. But Israel independence movement was not against British Occupation; rather it was a movement of creating a Jewish State by silently invading the markets, trades and areas to make Jewish settlements. Hovevei Zion or Hibbat Zion refers to organizations that are considered the foundations of the modern Zionist movement. These movements led to creation of Rishon LeZion in 1882 which is the first Jewish settlement in Palestine; which was at that time under Ottoman Empire. First Zionist Congress held in 1897 started the unified Zionist Movement which was converted to World Zionist Organization in 1960. This movement was successful in legalizing its demand of separate Jewish state in Palestine after Balfour Declaration 1917, in which British Mandate of Palestine’s (1917 – 1948) foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote letter to the leader of British Jewish Community Baron Rothschild, pledging British Empire support of creation of Jewish State in Palestinian Land.

So what kind of relationship does Pakistan and Israel has over period of 60 years?

While writing this blog I also tried to ask couple Pakistanis; their view points about Pakistan-Israel Relationship. Yousaf is Pakistani Engineer living and working in Saudi Arabia. Being in the region, Pakistanis here are emotionally and regionally attached to Middle East crisis. I asked him what kind of relationship both countries have. “Relationship between Pakistan and Israel are tied to the fact that how Israel government treats the Palestinians. In general, as Jerusalem is considered as one of the holiest places in Islam; this fact serves as a thorn in the eyes of Pakistanis.” Yousaf said.

Pakistan is among those 20 UN member nations which do not recognize Israel as an independent state. These 20 countries also include Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Chad, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Unofficial media reports say that first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion send secret message to Muhammad Ali Jinnah to formally accept its existence, but no response was given back to him. At the time of independence of Pakistan, it was reported that some 2,000 Jews remained in Pakistan, mostly Bene Yisrale Jews. Many left to Israel after its declaration of independence. Jews from Karachi, Pakistan, now live in Ramla, Israel, and they also built a synagogue they named Magen Shalome after the Pakistani Synagogue which was demolished in 1980.

60s, 70s and beginning of 80s were the decades when for the first time both countries came face to face when Arab-Israel war started. In “Six-day Arab Israeli War” of 1967; Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were flying under a joint command. PAF pilot Flt. Lt. Saiful Azam became the only pilot from the Arab side to have shot down 3 IDF/AF aircraft within 72 hours.

In 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, 16 PAF pilots volunteered to support Syria and Egypt. On 23 October 1973 Flt. Lt. M. Hatif shot down the Israeli Phantom. On 26 April 1974, PAF pilot Flt. Lt. A. Sattar Alvi became the first Pakistani pilot, during the Yom Kippur War; to shoot down an Israeli Mirage in air combat. He was honoured by the Syrian government. Nur Khan, who was the Wing Commander received praised from Israeli President Ezer Weizman who wrote in his autobiography that: “He was a formidable fellow and I was glad that he was Pakistani and not Egyptian”. Pakistan also sent medical ambulances to Egypt and Syria.

After the Israeli attack on Iraq’s under-construction French-built nuclear Osirak-type reactor, Tammuz-I, south of Baghdad on 7 June 1981, Pakistan’s then President President Zia-ul-Haq directed PAF Air Headquarters (AHQ) to make contingency plans for a possible Israeli attack on Kahuta. Kahuta is noted for its nuclear research studies and nuclear development technologies in Kahuta Research Laboratories. On 10 July 1982, a special contingency plan was issued. In the event of an Israeli attack on Pakistan’s strategic installations, plans were drawn up for a retaliatory Pakistani strike on Negev Nuclear Research Centre. The Negev Nuclear Research Centre is an Israeli nuclear installation located in the Negev desert, about thirteen kilometres to the south-east of the city of Dimona.

On political level many statements were given. As chair of the Second Islamic Summit in 1974, then Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said: “To Jews as Jews we bear no malice; to Jews as Zionists, intoxicated with their militarism and reeking with technological arrogance, we refuse to be hospitable.”

In of his speeches in National Assembly of Pakistan, before Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979, he said, “Mr. Speaker Sir! This is not Desi (local) conspiracy, it’s an international conspiracy. Let me make it quite clear for the history, whatever the future and fate of this individual will be; that doesn’t matter, but let me tell you again this is not a desi (local) conspiracy, this is not PNA conspiracy, this is massive, huge and colossal international conspiracy against the Islamic State of Pakistan.” (PNA was Pakistan National Alliance against the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party). Nowadays people like to refer this international controversy as Zionist or Israeli Conspiracy.

A controversial book was published in 2003, named Charlie’s Wilson war which conspire about use of Israeli weapons supplied to General Zia ul Haq to fight Soviets in Afghanistan (1979 – 1989). Famous Hollywood movie Charlie’s Wilson War was also released in 2007. After that the back door politics started between Pakistan and Israel.

The President of Pakistan General Zia ul Haq was assassinated in plane crash on 17 August 1988. Among the conspiracy theories; Mossad (Israeli Intelligence Agency) involvement is also believed to exist. In the fall 2005 World Policy Journal, John Gunther Dean, a former US ambassador to India, blamed the Mossad for orchestrating Zia’s assassination in retaliation for Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon to counteract India and Israel.

Ali is my friend living in Middle East. I asked him, can there ever be any friendship or peace between Pakistan and Israel, to which he replied, “Yes there can be, Israel is a small country with a group of people belonging to a group of faith. And also it is in its interest that it should be at peace with every country, and especially those countries that it feels can threaten its existence.”

It is believed that, at the time of Benazir Bhutto’s Government both countries had very strong relationship especially in countering terrorism. In 1993 Benazir Bhutto, along with her then-Director-General of Military Operations, Pervez Musharraf, intensified the ISI’s liaison with Mossad in 1993, and she too began to cultivate the American Jewish lobby. Bhutto is said to have had a secret meeting in New York with a senior Israeli diplomat, who flew to the U.S. during her visit to Washington, D.C. in 1995.

In 1996, Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency, FIA, started a secret war against Extremist in Pakistan under Rehman Malik. According to sources, FIA also contacted Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to help and send its officers to investigate the extremism. Even after these strong ties, controversies never left the scenario. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 in one political rally. This was considered to be typical Mossad Assassination style. It is believed that she was the one knowing the reality of 9/11 being inside job and death of Osama Bin Laden, which she also publicly stated in David Frost TV program. That program was edited before telecasting. But Jewish Journals and Media still believed in the opposite way. According to Jewish media, Miss Bhutto asked for Mossad help to protect her on her return to Pakistan as she was afraid she will be killed.

In 1998 Pakistan and Israel were again on the verge of war. On 27 May 1998, day before Pakistan conducted its nuclear test in Chaghi, Southern Province of Baluchistan, Pakistan; unidentified F-16 was found hovering around skies on border areas of Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force; taking is as repetition of Israeli Conspiracy similar to 1981, Air Bourne its fighters to foil any attack. But Pakistan and Israeli UN delegation met in UN soon after Pakistan Nuclear tests in 1998 to give assurance that Pakistan will not transfer its technologies to Iran, the arch enemy of Israel.

Musharraf’s nine years of rule was also golden times for both countries. In 2003, General Pervaiz Musharraf said on television interview, “Mainly Muslim Pakistan must seriously take up the issue of recognizing Israel and avoid dealing with it on emotional grounds”. This statement gave birth to local opposition, esp. among Religious Parties in Pakistan. “Jerusalem is not just an Arab issue, it is linked to the faith of every Muslim” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan, the largest and oldest religious political party. “Presenting Palestine as a sole Arab issue is a heinous conspiracy of the imperialists and colonists aimed at disintegrating the Muslims and shattering the concept of Muslim unity. It is for the same reason the colonist forces are trying to portray every Muslim issue as regional or bilateral” said Qazi.

In 2005 Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom met in Istanbul after Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza, Palestine hoping to start peace talks. However, following the meeting Musharraf said, “Pakistan will not recognize the state of Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established”.

An unofficial Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum was created the next day of the meeting. It was created by 3 friends Waleed Ziad (Pakistan), Dror Topf (Israel), and Michael Berenhaus (US), all currently based in Washington, DC. This forum was an unsuccessful attempt to lobby in UN, US, Israel and Pakistani political establishments, hoping that Pakistani might accept Israel as independent legal state.

Pakistan and Israel are also secretly involved in Weapons and Arms Development Race. Close ties between India and Israel, and arms business between them forces Pakistan to keep an eye on Israel’s weapons industry. Like for example; Pakistan Ordinance Factory (POF) developed POF Eye Gun and exhibited in 2008 to counter the Israeli made Cornershot Rifle which is also known as Jews Gun in Arab World.

Shall Pakistan recognize Israel as an independent state to which Yousaf and Ali shared the same answer, “Pakistan should only consider recognizing Israel if it gives an independent state to the Palestinians with Jerusalem at its capital. And completely cut off itself from the internal affairs of that state, only then Pakistan should even start to consider recognizing them.”

I thought why not to ask some of Palestinians who have been living in exile for almost six decades. Abdul-Rahman is originally from Nabulus, West Bank and Qasim is from Gaza. I asked them what role Pakistan can play any role in solving Middle East Crisis, to which Abdul Rahman replied, “May be or may be not. Pakistan has its own problems with India, in Kashmir and in Afghanistan.” And Qasim said, “Pakistan cannot play any role especially with the current government which is only thinking of business but not Islam or Muslims.” Which actually hit me hard but truth is truth. On inquiring the Pakistan’s nuclear threat to Israel, Abdul Rahman said, “Israelis are even scared of stones so obviously Israel want end to Pakistan’s Nuclear technology, the Islamic Bomb.” But Qasim stuck to his same point, “If Pakistani government wants it can use nuclear technology against Israel, not in war or something but also to play politics.” Then in the end I asked, shall Pakistan Recognize Israel as independent country. Both of them came up with different and interesting answers. Abdul Rahman said, “There is should be a procedure of acceptance. Israel should balance the power and control of every city between themselves and Palestinians, then Pakistan can recognize Israel.” Whereas Qasim said, “Pakistan should recognize Israel. Sitting outside and ending any communication will not resolve the Middle East problem. We need to enter the region to solve the problem and if Pakistan wants it can do that by taking first step of recognizing Israel.”

It was interesting journey going through all the historic events which Pakistan and Israel share and knowing different ideas and opinions. All these events which I have mentioned above, cannot be confirmed from any credible or authentic source as all this happened back stage, behind the camera. But whatever governments’ relationship may be it is true that people of Pakistan still want to call every conspiracy as Zionist conspiracy and this will keep on going until some peaceful solution is devised to Middle East crisis between Muslim Palestinians and Jewish Israelis

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