Monday, September 27, 2010

Afghan Equality and Law, but With Strings Attached

    2:50 PM   No comments

KABUL, Afghanistan — It was an engaging idea.

Hundreds of children would gather on the iconic Nader Khan Hill in the capital, Kabul, on a gorgeous Friday in September and fly kites emblazoned with slogans lauding the rule of law and equality for women. The kites, along with copies of the Afghan Constitution and justice-themed comic books, would be gifts of the United States, part of a $35 million effort “to promote the use of Afghanistan’s formal justice system.”

“The mere portrait of 500 kites soaring in the winds, against a backdrop of beautiful mountain ranges, is enough to instill hope in even the most disheartened observer of the war-torn country,” said a promotional release for the festival, organized by an American contractor for the United States Agency for International Development.

What could possibly go wrong?

Almost everything but the wind.

For starters, Afghan policemen hijacked the event, stealing dozens of kites for themselves and beating children with sticks when they crowded too close to the kite distribution tent. To be fair, the children were a little unruly, but they were also small.

Sometimes the officers just threatened them with sticks, and other times slapped them in the face or whacked them with water bottles. “I told them to stop the policemen from taking the kites,” said Shakila Faqeeri, a communications adviser for the contractor, DPK Consulting.

But the policemen appeared to ignore her. Asked why one of his officers was loading his truck with kites, Maj. Farouk Wardak, head of the criminal investigation division of the 16th Police District, said, “It’s okay, he’s not just a policeman, he’s my bodyguard.”

The District 16 police chief, Col. Haji Ahmad Fazli, insisted on taking over from the American contractors the job of passing out the kites. He denied that his men were kite thieves. “We are not taking them,” he said. “We are flying them ourselves.”

At least he had not lost sight of the event’s goal. “It is so people can understand the rule of law, and it lets the kids get together instead of wandering on the streets,” he said.

It was not clear that the children had a much better grasp of the concept, but some did manage to get kites and were flying them, irregularly shaped patches of color soaring to impressive heights.

Most bore messages about the importance of gender equality, but there was hardly a girl with a kite, although plenty of girls were around. One DPK staff member pushed through the crowd to give 10-year-old Shaqila Nabi a kite; her sister Farzana, 8, had wanted one, too, but a policeman had just swung at her with a stick and she had darted out of harm’s way, and out of sight.

Shaqila raced back to her father, Gul Nabi, a horse wrangler peddling rides. He promptly took the kite and gave it to a boy.

“He is my son and he should get the kite,” he said.

The law and justice comic books were also a big hit. Some of the boys snatched them up and hid them under their shirts so they could come back for more. At one point, fed-up policemen, most of whom cannot read, just tossed piles of them in the dirt.

Mike Sheppard, the DPK project head, pronounced the event a success. “We just gave out a thousand kites in 20 minutes,” he said.

But another DPK staff member, Abdul Manem Danish, stood watching the kite thievery and casual police brutality with disdain. His job was to administer a “kite event effectiveness survey” at the end to see if the festival had affected anyone’s attitudes about justice.

“That’s not a very good example of rule of law,” he said. “Maybe it is the nature of these people that needs to be changed.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gaza flotilla attack: UN report condemns Israeli 'brutality'

    2:57 PM   No comments

UN Human Rights Council accuses Israel of a 'disproportionate' response to Gaza blockade-breakers, nine of whom died

An Israeli army military vessel enters Ashdod
An Israeli army military vessel enters the port of Ashdod in May amid reports of deaths on the blockade-breaking flotilla. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

A UN-appointed panel said today that Israeli forces violated international law, "including international humanitarian and human rights law", during and after their lethal attack on a flotilla of ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza in May.

The UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission judged Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory to be "unlawful" because there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza at the time.

The panel's report, published today, described Israel's military response to the flotilla as "disproportionate" and said it "betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality".

Eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American were killed in the raid, which prompted international criticism of both the attack and Israel's policy of blockading the Gaza Strip. Israel has since eased its embargo, although still refuses to allow full imports and exports and the free movement of people.

Israel says the soldiers acted in self-defence. But the mission criticised the Israeli government for failing to co-operate with its inquiry. "Regrettably to date, no information has been given to the mission by or on behalf of the government of Israel," it said.

The panel was led by Karl Hudson-Phillips, a retired judge of the international criminal court and former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago.

The report said: "The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law."

The panel concluded that there was "clear evidence" of wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment and wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health – all crimes under the Geneva Convention.

The panel expressed the hope that there would be "swift action" by the Israeli government to help victims achieve effective remedies. "The mission sincerely hopes that no impediment will be put in the way of those who suffered loss as a result of the unlawful actions of the Israeli military to be compensated adequately and promptly," it said. It described the blockade of Gaza as "totally intolerable and unacceptable in the 21st century".

The Israeli government has fiercely resisted demands for an independent international inquiry into the flotilla attacks, establishing three internal investigations to avert pressure from the UN, Europe and Turkey.


    10:43 AM   No comments

We, the undersigned, unconditionally condemn any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible.

We are concerned and saddened by the recent wave of vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment that is being expressed across our nation.

We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims. We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, Qur'an burning, or other speech could ever be deemed.

We affirm the right of free speech for Molly Norris, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and all others including ourselves.

As Muslims, we must set an example of justice, patience, tolerance, respect, and forgiveness.

The Qur'an enjoins Muslims to:
  • bear witness to Islam through our good example (2:143);
  • restrain anger and pardon people (3:133-134 and 24:22);
  • remain patient in adversity (3186);
  • stand firmly for justice (4:135);
  • not let the hatred of others swerve us from justice (5:8);
  • respect the sanctity of life (5:32);
  • turn away from those who mock Islam (6:68 and 28:55);
  • hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant (7:199);
  • restrain ourselves from rash responses (16:125-128);
  • pass by worthless talk with dignity (25:72); and
  • repel evil with what is better (41:34).

Islam calls for vigorous condemnation of both hateful speech and hateful acts, but always within the boundaries of the law. It is of the utmost importance that we react, not out of reflexive emotion, but with dignity and intelligence, in accordance with both our religious precepts and the laws of our country.

We uphold the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both protect freedom of religion and speech, because both protections are fundamental to defending minorities from the whims of the majority.

We therefore call on all Muslims in the United States, Canada and abroad to refrain from violence. We should see the challenges we face today as an opportunity to sideline the voices of hate-not reward them with further attention-by engaging our communities in constructive dialogue about the true principles of Islam, and the true principles of democracy, both of which stress the importance of freedom of religion and tolerance.

  1. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, PhD, Director, Minaret of Freedom Foundation
  2. Prof. Akbar S. Ahmed, PhD, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University
  3. Prof. Parvez Ahmed, PhD, Fulbright Scholar & Assoc. Prof. University of North Florida
  4. Wajahat Ali, playwright, journalist, and producer of "Domestic Crusaders"
  5. Sumbul Ali-Karamali, JD, LLM (Islamic Law), author of "The Muslim Next Door"
  6. Salam al-Marayati, Pres., Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
  7. Shahed Amanullah, Editor-in-Chief, Altmuslim
  8. Shahid Athar, M.D., Editor, Islam-USA
  9. Hazami Barmada, Pres, American Muslim Interactive Network (AMIN)
  10. M. Ali Chaudry, PhD, President, Center for Understanding Islam (CUII)
  11. Robert D. Crane, JD
  12. Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of Communications and Community Outreach for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
  13. Mona Eltahawy, journalist
  14. Prof. Mohammad Fadel, PhD
  15. Hesham Hassaballa, M.D., author, journalist, blogger - "God, faith, and a pen"
  16. Arsalan Iftikhar, author, human rights lawyer, blogger - "The Muslim Guy"
  17. Jeffrey Imm, Director, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.)
  18. Prof. Muqtedar Khan, PhD, author of several books, Blogger - "Globalog"
  19. M. Junaid Levesque-Alam, writer, blogger - "Crossing the Crescent"
  20. David Liepert, M.D., blogger and author of "Muslim, Christian AND Jew"
  21. Radwan A. Masmoudi, PhD, President, Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)
  22. Melody Moezzi, JD, MPH, writer and attorney
  23. Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, author of many books of poetry
  24. Sheila Musaji, Editor, The American Muslim (TAM)
  25. Aziz H. Poonawalla, PhD, scientist and blogger - "City of Brass" on
  26. Hasan Zillur Rahim, PhD, journalist
  27. Prof. Hussein Rashid, PhD, blogger - "Religion Dispatches"
  28. Robert Salaam, blogger - "The American Muslim"
  29. Tayyibah Taylor, Editor, Azizah Magazine
  30. Amina Wadud, PhD, consultant on Islam and gender, visiting scholar Starr King School for the Ministry
  31. G. Willow Wilson, author of "Butterfly Mosque" and "Air" graphic novel series


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