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February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

Saudi King Outlaws Religious Groups

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree which imposes prison sentences on Saudis who fight outside the country and on those who are “members of religious and extremist groups.” The decree incited different reactions on social media networks.

Thousands of Saudis have joined the civil war in Syria, including young fighters, and the Saudi media has been debating who to blame. The decree also comes after Egypt has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group.

The official Saudi News Agency reported:

Whoever participates or is involved in hostilities outside the Kingdom or joins radical religious and intellectual groups or currents, will be sentenced by no less than three years and not more than twenty years in prison. However, the punishment will be increased to no less than five years and no more than thirty years in prison for armed forces servicemen, a royal order stated here today.

The Arabic decree, however, did not mention “radical religious group,” but rather “religious and extreme,” which induced criticism for the vague language that it uses. Some Twitter users even started a hashtag: “King Abdullah outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood group.”

Political science academic Khalid al-Dekhayel stated that the decree does actually outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood:

The specification of “religious groups or those that are declared terrorist nationally, regionally or internationally” includes the Muslim Brotherhood after it was declared so by Egypt.

Saudi Twitter user Sultan al-Fifi noted the paradox in citing Sharia law to outlaw religious groups:

Based on the purposes of the Islamic Sharia, we will criminalize those who join the Muslim Brotherhood which trades religion for political gain.

Twitter user Abdullah al-Awlah posted a newspaper headline from the 1960s when Saudi Arabia supported the Muslim Brotherhood against the nationalist regime in Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The headline reads: “Prince Faisal: The Muslim Brotherhood struggled for the sake of Allah by their souls and their money.”

It means that anyone who says this will be punished:

February 03 2014

Taliban Play Trump with Peace Talks in Pakistan

The Pakistani government finally announced their negotiating team for peace talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The banned militant outfit responded with their own team, which includes politicians from the very parties that were backing the government's peace talks, including cricketer-turned- politician Imran Khan, who declined the role.

In an analysis piece written for the daily Dawn, Peshawar-based journalist Ismail Khan writes:

It’s a win-win situation – tail, I win, head, you lose! Like-minded people on both sides. As one commentator put it, it was a case of Liverpool playing against Liverpool.

Lahore-based tweeter Faisal Sherjan tweets:

Peace talk committees

While speaking to parliament on January 29, 2014 Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that regardless of the recent deadly attacks by the Taliban, Pakistan hopes that its talks-first approach will help end violence in the country.

Sharif's four-member committee to pursue talks “immediately”, includes well-known journalists Rahimullah Yousufzai and Irfan Siddique, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand (who is also a member of Imran Khan's party); former Intelligence official Major (Retired) Amir Shah.

The Taliban announced team to facilitate talks with the government, includes three top Islamist party leaders Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah and Prof Ibrahim Khan, the controversial former chief cleric of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz, and former cricketer turned Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party Imran Khan.

Imran Khan's nomination resulted in lots of buzz on Twitter, from his critics who call with “Taliban Khan” for his pro-talks stance and his supporters who defend him vociferously. 

On his official Twitter account, Imran Khan distanced himself from the Taliban nomination:

Former Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman believed that the Taliban were trying to exert power over the talks: 

Taliban attacks throughout Pakistan

Following the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in November last year, newly elected TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah shunned the negotiation table and swore to avenge the death of his predecessor. The group has since carried out attacks in Pakistan's major cities.

Views after deadly suicidal attack on Chief of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh Police Chaudhry Muhammad who killed in attack. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (9/1/2014)

Views after deadly suicidal attack on Chief of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh Police Chaudhry Muhammad who killed in attack. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (9/1/2014)

In some of the major attacks of 2014, a senior police officer Chaudhry Aslam was assassinated on January 9 in an IED blast in Karachi. Aslam was highly critical of TTP activities in the city and had either arrested or killed several TTP members in recent years. The TTP Mohmand Agency group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Later on January 19, Taliban militants hit a security convoy in the Bannu area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and killed 20 people. The next day, at least 13 more people were killed in a bomb explosion in Rawalpindi.

With this violence in mind, some are skeptical of the prudence of peace talks. According to an article published by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

“It is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf,” said British historian and clergyman Thomas Fuller. In other words, we cannot change the nature of wild creatures. We cannot predict when snakes, lions, wolves or any other wild animals will attack, and without protecting ourselves we cannot sit calmly. In the context of Pakistan, the sheep is the government, and the wolf is the Taliban. It is madness on the part of the government to want peace talks with the Taliban, who only understand the language of weapons and violence.

Yet another report called the “Pakistan Security Report 2013” compiled by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) showed that in 2013, TTP remained the reason behind unrest in the country:

Compared to 2012, the number of reported terrorist attacks in Pakistan posted a nine per cent increase while the number of people killed and injured in these attacks increased by 19 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. Despite the killing of its top brass in drone attacks and military operations by Pakistani security forces, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remained the major actor of instability in the country in 2013 through its alliance with numerous militant groups. It carried out 645 terrorist attacks in 50 districts, claiming the lives of 732 civilians and 425 security forces personnel.

Split opinions on peace talks

Pakistan first proposed negotiations with the Taliban in 2004, but talks have not been successful. According to Prime Minister Sharif, this is the Taliban's final chance to come to the negotiation table and halt their violent activities in the country. 

The country's major political parties have split down the middle on the issue: Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) have hailed the government’s decision, while Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are not so hopeful about the talks and wanted a full force, comprehensive military action against the TTP. 

The selection of the negotiators has also raised some eyebrows when it comes to their credentials. 

Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari delivers a speech at a public gathering to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the death of Benazir Bhutto. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (27/12/2014)

Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (27/12/2014)

After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement of more talks with the TTP, Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reacted in utter disappointment on Twitter:

For senior anchor and political analyst Syed Talat Hussain, the committee is just for distraction and nothing more:

February 02 2014

Singapore Hijab Movement

Muhammad Haikal echoes and clarifies the arguments of the Singapore Hijab Movement:

Muslims are not asking for ALL women to wear hijab in ALL sectors, rather we are asking that for those ALREADY wearing the hijab, to allow them to continue wearing it.

By telling the Muslims that you are not allowing them to don the hijab in certain sectors, you risk further alienating them from the mainstream society. This would only perpetuate further the long held view of the government that Muslims are distinct and separate.

January 26 2014

Cries of Discrimination as Israel Detains Illegal African Immigrants

La grève des immigrés africains  à Tel-Aviv

Screenshot of African immigrant demonstrators in Tel-Aviv via Zahi Shaked on YouTube 

About 30,000 undocumented Africans living in Israel [fr] mounted a three-day strike and a series of protests backed by human rights defenders in early January against an act that allows Israeli authorities to place illegal immigrants in detention without any trial nor case review for up to a year.

Aside from the new law, approved on December 10, 2013, protesters denounced the refusal of Israeli authorities to consider their applications for refugee status as well as the detention of hundreds of them. The video below highlights the scale of events and presents protesters demands:   

The Holot detention centre in the Negev desert, near the border between Israel and Egypt, already has received numerous inmates since December 2013.

The site offered an idea of the centre's capacity

Holot can house 3,300 migrants and is set to expand, eventually reaching a capacity of between 6,000 and 9,000 people, according to Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister.

The anti-illegal African feeling has reached alarming levels, fed by hate speech, such as the “Le sentiment” video published by Djemila Yamina. The video shows Israeli citizens stating in a public gathering that illegal immigrants are “psychopaths, scum and manure that need to be expelled from our country”

Elsewhere, minority extremist groups have attacked immigrants. In Israel, the government and the judiciary systems are taking an active part. Previously in July 2012, Allain Jules condemned [fr] on his blog:

 Ce qui se passe en Israël actuellement est indigne. Entre un ministre qui demande que les clandestins soient simplement assassinés, puisqu’il recommande qu’on tire sur eux au moment où ils tenteront de franchir les frontières, un autre qui parle du risque d’impureté future de l’État d’Israël qui doit garder son caractère juif 

What is going on in Israel is shameful. Between a minister demanding that illegal immigrants are simply assassinated, suggesting we shoot at them at the very moment they try to cross the borders, and another minister that talks about the risks of impurity for the future state of Israel that must retain its Jewish character

Racism was apparent even before the new law. On July 18, 2013, Darfuri asylum-seeker and actor, Babaker (Babi) Ibrahim was arrested simply for not having a receipt for his bicycle.

Jean Shaoul explained [fr] the reality for asylum seekers in Israel on his blog 

En vertu de la loi israélienne, il est interdit aux immigrés de travailler tant qu'ils ne sont pas enregistrés comme demandeurs d'asile. Ce qui leur est pratiquement impossible. En effet, selon l’agence des Nations unies pour les réfugiés, alors que le taux de reconnaissance national moyen des demandeurs d’asile est de 39 pour cent, en Israël ce taux est inférieur à 1 pour cent. En Israël, la plupart des demandeurs d’asile sont des Erythréens et des Soudanais qui connaissent un taux de reconnaissance international moyen de 84 pour cent et de 64 pour cent respectivement.

By virtue of the Israeli law, work is prohibited for immigrants as long as they are not registered as asylum seekers. Which is virtually impossible for them. In effect, according to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), while the national average recognition rate for asylum seekers is 39 percent, in Israel this rate is lower than 1 percent. In Israel, the majority of asylum claimants are Eritreans and Sudanese, that have an international recognition rate of 84 percent and 64 percent respectively.

 In a post published on a Mediapart blog, JOSEPH AKOUISSONNE [fr] wrote:

Ce racisme est incompréhensible de la part d’un peuple qui a souffert de l’abjection nazie, avec sa cohorte d'actes odieux visant à l'extermination des juifs. Pourtant, c'était bien Madame Golda Meir qui proclamait que  : « …les Africains et le peuple juif partagent des points communs. Ils ont été victimes de l’histoire : morts dans les camps de concentration ou réduits en esclavage… » Dans les années 1960, l'état d'Israël avait tissé des liens très forts avec le continent noir. Des étudiants africains étaient accueillis dans les kibboutz. Inversement, nombreux étaient les Israéliens qui allaient en Afrique pour soutenir le développement des états fraîchement indépendants. Il faut aussi rappeler le combat des juifs sud-africains, aux côtés de Nelson Mandela dans sa lutte contre l’apartheid. Sans oublier ceux qui s’engagèrent avec les militants des Droits Civiques aux États-Unis.

This racism is incomprehensible coming from people who have suffered under the Nazis, with its cohort of heinous acts aimed at Jewish extermination. Nevertheless, it was Golda Meir who proclaimed that:  “… Africans and Jews share common points. They have been victims of history, who died in concentration camps or have been enslaved… “. In the 1960s, the Israeli State forged strong links with the African continent. African students were welcomed into the kibbutz. Vice versa, there were plenty of Israelis who were involved in supporting the development of the newly enacted independent states. It is worth mentioning too the struggle of South African Jews alongside Nelson Mandela in the strife against apartheid. Not to forget those who engaged with the Civil Rights activists in the United States.

What is it about illegal immigration that provokes so much hatred in Israel? In response, JOL Press site presents figures [fr] from the Freedom 4 Refugees Association:

“Environ 50 000 demandeurs d'asile et réfugiés africains vivent aujourd’hui en Israël. Nous avons fui la persécution, les forces militaires, la dictature, les guerres civiles et le génocide. Au lieu d'être traités comme des réfugiés par le gouvernement d'Israël, nous sommes traités comme des criminels » explique Freedom4Refugees. ”Nous réclamons l’abrogation de la loi, la fin des arrestations, et la libération de tous les demandeurs d'asile et les réfugiés emprisonnés”, ont encore déclaré les réfugiés dans une pétition relayée par l’association Freedom4Refugees. Principalement d'origine soudanaise, sud-soudanaise et érythréenne, les manifestants demandent également que les demandes d'asile soient effectuées de “manière individuelle, équitable et transparente ”.

“Approximately 50,000 asylum seekers live currently in Israel. We fled persecution, military forces, dictatorship, civil wars and genocide. Instead of being treated as refugees by the government of Israel, we are being dealt with as criminals,” explained Freedom4Refugees. “We demand that the law be revoked, the end of arrests, and the release of all asylum seekers and refugees imprisoned,” the refugees declared in a petition communicated by the Freedom4Refugees Association. Mainly Sudanese, South Sudanese and Eritrean demonstrators further demand that asylum applications are made “in an individual, fair and transparent way”.

Al Monitor website noted the discriminatory character of measures taken against African immigrants:

At the same time, however, there are some 93,000 “tourists without valid visas” in Israel, about half of them from the former Soviet Union. Needless to say, the government is not building special detainment centers for them. The number of people requesting asylum is also significantly lower than the number of legal guest workers in Israel (approximately 70,000), much to the relief of those companies that arrange to bring them to the country and employ them.

There has been striking indifference at an international level. In an article published on Rue89, Renée Greusard disclosed everyday racism against Israel's black population:

Quand nous abordons ce sujet ensemble, David Sheen, le journaliste américain, pèse ses mots et parle plus lentement :

“Le niveau de racisme actuel en Israël, il peut être comparé à ce qu’on a connu dans d’autres pays occidentaux, il y a cinquante, soixante ans. Les gens se font insulter dans la rue. Souvent, quand les Noirs entrent dans les bus, les gens se bouchent le nez, bloquent les places à côté d’eux, ouvrent les fenêtres, pestent : “Ah ! Mais on n’a pas besoin de tous ces Noirs !”

Dans les autres pays, les gens sont gênés par leurs pensées racistes. Ils ne les disent pas en public. Là, non. C’est un racisme assuré, et dont les gens sont fiers. “

When we address this issue together, American journalist David Sheen weighs his words and talks slowly: 

“The current level of racism in Israel can be compared to what has been experienced in other Western countries 50, 60 years ago. People are insulted in the streets. Often when blacks board buses, people would plug their noses and block the seats near them, opening the windows while ranting ‘Ah! But we don't need all these blacks!' 

In other countries, people are embarrassed by their racist thoughts. They do not divulge them in public. Here, not quite. They are confident and proud on their racism.”

These anti-black sentiments can be observed even from the comments published on blogs and online media such as and  

These types of comments frequently arouse passions on both sides of the issue. An article by Jack Guez on Yahoo News has received 2,410 comments, and many of these comments have in turn attracted plenty of “likes”. The comment below has received 82 favourable opinions

People criticize Israel but no one says a thing about Saudi Arabia, why? 

Saudi Arabia expelled 200,000 Africans a few weeks ago!

The death of Ariel Sharon brought the protests and strike to a temporary halt for a few days. However, the struggle of the undocumented migrants in Israel continues. After marching outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as other foreign embassies in Tel-Aviv, protesters have held demonstrations in front of The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the government continues to herald sluggish proposals.

Pig Photos Censored in Malaysia

We know that it is forbidden for Muslims to eat pork; but can they look at pigs?

A local printing company in Malaysia believes it is also haram for Muslims to see the pictures of pigs that is why it unilaterally decided to blacken out the snouts of pigs in two photos that appeared in the January 22, 2014 edition of the International New York Times.

The photos accompanied an article titled “Demand grows for pigs raised outside”.

The controversial 'blacked out' photo that appeared on the Malaysian edition of the New York Times. Photo from website of The Malaysian Insider

The controversial ‘blacked out’ photo that appeared on the Malaysian edition of the New York Times. Photo from website of The Malaysian Insider

A spokesman for the KHL Printing Co said that it has been their practice to cover ‘banned’ images in the Muslim-majority nation such as nudity, smoking and firearms. But the Malaysian government denied that it has a regulation that prohibits the publishing of images of pigs. The New York Times is also unaware about the decision to blacken out the photos.

Malaysians reacted humorously to the issue but many were also dismayed. anak1malaysia is worried that children in the future may not be able to know what a pig looks like:

I can foresee in the not too distant future, people would not know how a pig look like. And that would be dangerous if our muslim small kids may happen to cuddle a little cute piglet unknowingly because he/she has not seen one before even in their school text book.

Shawn Tan thinks this is a negative impact of self-censorship:

This is the culture of self-censorship because nobody wants to get into any trouble. Businesses especially, will try to avoid any mess. Play it safe.

Mediha reminded the printing company that it is not haram to see pigs:

It is not haram to see pigs. It is just haram to eat it, and need to purify if touched. Duh.

This is not the first time that an image was blackened out in the paper. Kilgore remembered how an article about a ‘kissing protest’ in Chile was given a similar ‘black out’ treatment:

Previously, the New York Times did a story on Chilean students’ ‘kissing protest'. These same people censored the picture by painstakingly pasting black boxes over thousands of students’ mouths as they simultaneously kissed.

Malaysian public saved again. Taxpayers’ money well-spent.

January 25 2014

“Find and Support all the Mandelas in the Villages” for Reconciliation in the Central African Republic

Residents of Bangui were asked about the current escalation of violence in the Central African Republic. Here are some of their thoughts as collected by ATD Fourth World :

Muslim and Christian leaders try to lead reconciliation in CAR via @faitreligieux

Muslim and Christian leaders try to lead reconciliation in CAR crisis via @faitreligieux1

It’s a question of dialogue, because there are two parties, the Seleka and the Anti-balaka. If there isn’t dialogue, it will get worse. It’s become a question between Christians and Muslims, and that requires working from the heart, forgiveness, patience, so that there is no more hate.

A huge reconciliation won’t do anything. What we need is to find and support all those Mandelas in the villages

Respect things, people, without trampling on the rights of others.

We need forgiveness. The radio says it too, it’s their slogan. We have to bring people to love each other again.

January 24 2014

Les protocoles des sauvages mahométans

« Cette présentation, articulée en trois points, s'adresse au lecteur insuffisamment informé sur l'islam... » (p. 26). C'est dans ces termes que Boualem Sansal précise l'objectif de son dernier ouvrage qui traite surtout de l'islamisme. Commandé par la fondation allemande Ebert-Stiftung, un think-tank proche du Parti social-démocrate, et élu « coup de cœur » du magazine Le Point, Gouverner au nom d'Allah. Islamisation et soif de pouvoir dans le monde arabe , n'est pas « une investigation journalistique, (...) - Le lac des signes / Algérie, Monde arabe, Culture, Idées, Idéologie, Intellectuels, Islam, Livre, Religion, Intégrisme, Islamisme, Islamophobie

January 22 2014

Traditional Puerto Rican Saint Sebastian Street Festival Fills Every Corner of Old San Juan

Calle San Sebastián

San Sebastián Street, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Every third weekend of January the legendary San Sebastián (Saint Sebastian) Street Festival is celebrated in the old part of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. For many people, this definitively marks the end of the Christmas season. Those who aren’t familiar with this Puerto Rican tradition may think that it deals with a festival only celebrated in San Sebastián Street. The reality is that as time has passed, the celebrations have gained an impressive boom, overtaking the limits of the street and now including practically all of Old San Juan, as this video demonstrates:

The Festival began originally as a celebration in honor of Saint Sebastian, born in Narbonne, France and who, during the 3rd Century CE, was martyred for not renouncing the Christian faith. In Catholic imagery, he is commonly represented as pierced by several arrows and tied to a tree.

In the 1950s, the tradition of celebrating the festivals in honor of Saint Sebastian began as a way of collecting funds for repairing the buildings of the church of San José in Old San Juan. After several years, the tradition was discontinued until 1970, when the archeologist, historian, and anthropologist Ricardo Alegría suggested to Rafaela Balladares, a resident of San Sebastián Street, that they resume the tradition. This is how the Festival was born, and this year it celebrated its 44th edition.

Currently, the festival has lost much of its religious character, and has transformed more into a city festivity that attracts more than 300,000 people annually.

Here I’m sharing some of the photos that I took during my visit to this year's Festival:

Mirada a la Calle del Cristo, por donde subían muchas personas a la Calle San Sebastián.

This is Calle del Cristo (Christ Street), where many people pass on the way to San Sebastián Street.

Fachada del Centro de Estudios Avanzados, sede del Comité Organizador de las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián y donde se podían encontrar libros, artesanías, comida y diferentes actividades.

Front of the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in Calle del Cristo, headquarters of the Organizing Committee for the San Sebastián Street Festival, and where books, handicrafts, food, and different activities can be found.

Los cabezudos son un tipo de máscara utilizada en las procesiones tradicionales de las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. Estos cabezudos fueron hechos por el colectivo de teatro Agua, Sol y Sereno.

Cabezudos (Big Heads) are a type of mask used in the traditional processions of the San Sebastián Street Festival. These cabezudos were made by the theater collective Agua, Sol y Sereno (Water, Sun and Calm), who offered a presentation in the Plaza de la Barandilla.

Estos son pedazos de caña de azúcar recién cortados. De aquí se saca...

These are pieces of sugar cane recently cut in one of the kiosks located in the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

El guarapo es una bebida refrescante hecha del jugo de la caña de azúcar. Es difícil de conseguir, ya que exprimir las cañas de azúcar cuesta mucho trabajo.

Guarapo is a refreshing drink made from sugar cane juice. It is difficult to attain, since squeezing the canes takes a lot of time.

En las Fiestas también se estaban recogiendo firmas solicitando la excarcelación del prisionero político Oscar López Rivera.

La Plaza Colón (Columbus Square) was one of the places where people gathered to collect signatures for the release of political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

All images were taken by the author.

January 21 2014

Israël, apartheid et messianisme

Une provocation ? Shlomo Sand s'en défend. Après avoir expliqué « comment le peuple juif fut inventé » (Fayard, 2009), puis « comment la terre d'Israël fut inventée » (Flammarion, 2012), avec Comment j'ai cessé d'être juif il récuse, en bonne logique, son appartenance à une « ethnie » dont il a montré (...) / Israël, Proche-Orient, Identité culturelle, Idéologie, Judaïsme, Nationalisme, Religion, Apartheid, Colonisation, Conflit israélo-palestinien - 2013/07

January 20 2014

Despite Controversial Past, Indian PM Candidate Narendra Modi's Star on the Rise

BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressing the crowd during 'Lalkar rally' in Jammu, India. Image by Amarjeet Singh. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2013)

BJP candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi addresses the crowd during the ‘Lalkar rally’ in Jammu, India. Image by Amarjeet Singh. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2013)

General elections are scheduled to take place in April 2014 in India, and many of the same old players are expected to appear on the ballot. But over the last few years, corruption scandals, rape and several cases of maladministration have led many Indians to lose hope in the existing political parties.

The centrist Indian National Congress party has formed the Indian government since 2006. Although this has given the country a measure of stability, the party's ministers have also been involved in several cases of corruption involving the Commonwealth games, coal mining and 3G licensing to mobile service providers. Additionally, the increasing number of cases of violence against women has made it clear that the common man is now done with bad governance.

Recent state-level elections in New Delhi saw the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an offshoot of the anti-corruption campaign launched by social activist Anna Hazare a couple of years ago, emerged in second behind the country's other main party, the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party is barely a year old and is already posing a threat to stalwarts like the Congress.

Amid the fray is one candidate for prime minister, the chief minister of India's western state Gujarat Narendra Modi from BJP, who seems to be using the people's dissatisfaction to his advantage. A polemic figure for his hotly debated role in the deadly 2002 riots in the state between Hindus and Muslims, he's popular in the business world, and seems to be the only option for voters who neither want to depend only a new political party like AAP nor want to vote for the Congress.

In fact, even AAP members like former police officer Kiran Bedi seem to be rooting for him:

“Indian bosses have become so fed up with the status quo that they are prepared to overlook Modi's past,” writes blogger Schumpeter for the Economist. This is also true for Indian businessmen, regardless of Modi's confusing role during the Godhra riots.

Modi is also said to have a huge support base among the young Indian IT generation, several of whom actively assist him with his online campaign, especially:

Secular India on the line?

But some believe that Modi may pose a threat to India's secular heritage.

In 2002, riots broke out in Gujarat's Godhra after a train carrying Hindus was burnt down as it was coming from the holy city of Ayodhya in North India. What followed was the worse example of Hindi-Muslim violence in India's recent history. Between 900 and 2,000 people were killed, more than whom were Muslim, including Muslim politicians and businessmen.

Modi, who was chief minister of the state at the time, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the handling of the violence by authorities, but still some accused him of involvement in a conspiracy or not taking enough action. Several commissions have been set up with the intention of bringing the guilty to justice. As of April 2013, 249 convictions had been secured, 184 Hindus and 65 Muslims, while some victims still await justice

Although, what Modi achieved in his last re-election as the chief minister of Gujarat deserves a mention. A documentary by noted Indian television journalist Barkha Dutt revealed that Modi's government managed to garner support from Muslim businessmen who were able to revitalize their businesses after the Godhra carnage. The Open magazine also reports how Modi has managed to reach out to Muslims “like never before“.

But what future does a prime minister like Modi hold for India? In a column in the Financial Express, Mahesh Vyas of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy claims that investments in Gujarat post-2002 have only reached around 13 percent of the total investments in India, as compared to 21 percent before the Godhra riots. Additionally, the economic boom has not been equal in all regions of the state.

Others remain wary because of his leadership during the riots and his membership with BJP, a right-wing Hindu party.

The people of India have a tough choice to make ahead of them. 

January 19 2014

Saudi Arabia Jails Palestinian Poet for “Atheism and Long Hair”!

Saudi Artist Ahmed Mater shared this photograph on Twitter in support of Fayadh

Saudi Artist Ahmed Mater shared this photograph on Twitter in support of Fayadh

Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh is in a Saudi prison, allegedly for spreading atheism – and having long hair. The poet, raised in Saudi Arabia, was arrested five months ago, when a reader submitted a complaint against him saying that his poems contain atheist ideas. The accusations were not proved and he was released only to be arrested again on the 1st of January 2014. The case of Fayadh is making the rounds in media and on social networks, with condemnations coming from Arab writers from across the region. Some of his friends wrote online that the real reason behind his arrest might be due to the video he filmed 5 months ago of Abha's religious police lashing a young man in public. Currently, the poet is still in jail with no evidence to the accusation or details of a coming trial. The following reactions clarify his case and express condemnations from Saudi writers, artists, and others standing in solidarity.

#أشرف_فياض التحرش بالذات الإلهية وتطويل الشَعر…فقط عندما تتوقف هذه التهم المضحكة/المبكية يمكننا أن نبدأ الحديث عن الحقوق والحريات ووو

@reem_tayeb: Ashraf Fayadh is accused of ‘harrasing the Godly self and letting his hair grow long.. when these laughable-sad accusations stop, we can start talking about rights and freedoms.

#أشرف_فياض اعتقاله ليس الا اعلان اننا وصلنا الى ما وصلت اليه اوروبا في العصور المظلمة !!

@MohammdaLahamdl: Ashraf Fayadh's arrest is an announcement that we have reached what Europe faced in the dark ages.

هل تعتقد أن إيمانك حقيقي وأنت تعتقد أن الله كائن قابل للتحرش به ؟! #أشرف_فياض

@WhiteTulip01: Do you think your faith is real when you think God can be harassed!!

أشرف_فياض معتقل بتهمة الالحاد!!وهل الكفر تهمة!! وهل الايمان إجبار!! هذا اذا افترضنا صحة التهمة أصلا

@MusabUK: Ashraf Fayadh is detained for atheism. Is atheism a charge? Is faith enforceable? That's if we assume the charge is true.

إن وجود #أشرف_فياض في السجن، مع المجرمين، والقتلة، لأنه شاعرٌ فحسب، لا يعنى سوى أن العدالة مسألة ترفيّة لدينا، سلطة وشعبا

@b_khlil: The fact that Ashraf Fayadh is now detained with criminals and killers just because he is a poet, tells us that justice is only a privilege to us, both as people and the regime.

15 تهمة ملفقة للشاعر والفنان #أشرف_فياض تبدأ بالإلحاد وتنتهي بإطالة الشعر، لماذا ؟ لأنه قبل 5 أشهر صور هيئة أبها وهي تجلد شاب أمام الناس

@turkiaz: The poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh is imprisoned for 15 charges, including atheism and long hair. Why? Because he filmed the religious police as they were lashing a young man in public.

#أشرف_فياض الى اعلامنا ، هل ننتظر ، القليل من المهنية ستفي بالغرض. قضية اشرف فياض علي وشك ان تكون في صفحات كل المحطات العالمية قريبا

@AhmedMater: To our media: should we wait? Some professionalism would do. Ashraf Fayadh's case is going to be on the front pages of international media soon.

تحولت التحقيقات مع الشاعر أشرف فياض بعد عجز المحقق أن يثبت شيئا من الاتهامات إلى أسئلة حول لماذا تدخن ؟ ولماذا شعرك طويل قليلاً ؟

@mohkheder: When the interrogator couldn't prove any accusations against Ashraf Fayadh, he started asking him why he smokes and why his hair is long

January 18 2014

Blogger and Commando Argue Russian Terrorism

Anti-establishment  journalist Kungurov (left) vs. special forces blogger hardingush (right). Image remixed by author.

Anti-establishment journalist Kungurov (left) vs. anonymous special forces blogger hardingush (right). Image remixed by author.

The twin explosions in Volgograd [Global Voices report], which killed dozens of people in late December 2013, still remain an important topic of conversation on the RuNet. Out of the multitude of opinion, analysis, and commentary, one polemic is particularly interesting — an online argument between two popular bloggers, the anti-establishment journalist Alexey Kungurov and the anonymous special forces commando operating in Ingushetia, hardingush [Global Voices report].

After the first December blast in the Volgograd train station, Kungurov, who boasts 11,000 followers on LiveJournal and is ranked 66th in LiveJournal's blogger rankings, made a provocative statement in a blog post [ru]:

В очередной раз говорю очевидное: никакого теракта в Волгограде не было.

I will once again say something obvious: there was no terrorist attack in Volgograd.

Kungurov's logic is, according to him, straightforward. The Russian criminal code defines an act of terror as “An explosion, arson, or other actions aimed at intimidating the population, harming humans, or property [...], with the goal of influencing decisions made by the authorities or international organizations [...].” Since the parties responsible for the Volgograd bombs did not make any demands of the authorities, since there were no threats or attempts to influence anyone, since no one took responsibility for the attacks, and since no one appears to be using them as a way of promoting their ideology, Kungurov says, the explosions were simply:

«убийство двух или более лиц, совершенное общественно опасным способом» (ч.2 ст. 105 УК РФ). Квалифицирующего признака теракта в упор не вижу.

“a murder of two or more persons, perpetrated by publicly dangerous means” (Part 2, Article 105, Russian Criminal Code). I point-blank don't see any qualifying signs of terrorism.

Kungurov could be suspected of being facetious — the concept of an “act of terror” is near universal, i.e. most people would agree that blowing up a train station and killing dozens of people isn't simply “murder,” regardless of demands made or not made by the perpetrators, or how terror is defined in criminal codes. He goes further, however, claiming that all suicide bombings committed in Russia are in fact done at the behest of Russian “special agencies” and the silovikiwho stand to gain from an inflated security state and frightened population:

Выгоду  от «теракта» при любом раскладе извлекает государство, точнее отдельные лица, государство приватизировавшие.

Under any circumstances the state stands to benefit from an act of terror, more specifically, persons who have privatized the state.

Kungurov's post made somewhat of a stir on the RuNet, making it to many of the top lists of popular posts, and gathering 2,281 comments, many of which agreed with his arguments. The response [ru] came two weeks later from a LiveJournal blog that is subtitled “Combating terrorism. A view from the inside.” The special forces commando behind the blog hardingush [ru] (13,600 followers, ranked 23rd on LiveJournal) has made a name for himself on the RuNet describing anti-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus in vivid, gory detail.

hardingush takes issue with the labeling of a terrorist attack “murder,” and with the idea that demands are necessary for a crime to be classified as “terrorism.” Interestingly, just as Kungurov, he quotes from the official definition of a terrorist act (see above). Only, he concentrates on the “intimidating the population” part. According to hardingush, it's a “mistake” to view each suicide bombing separately. In fact the terrorists are running a protracted campaign. They don't have any specific demands (which they know won't be met in any case), but they do have the aim of “frightening” the Russian voters. These voters will then say:

“Нет, нам Кавказ не нужен, давайте отделим”. Нужно быть полным кретином, чтобы требовать отделения территории от руководства страны с помощью терактов. Но можно воздействовать на население, которое возьмет да и проголосует за придурка, который пообещает отделить Кавказ.

“No, we don't need the Caucasus, lets cut it loose.” You have to be a complete moron to make separatist demands from a government using acts of terror. But you can influence the populace, which will then go and vote for the idiot that promises to cut the Caucasus loose.

Meanwhile, Kungurov has published a series [ru] of posts [ru] that call hardingush out as a government PR project and a liar, part of the machine that creates demand for “acts of terror” and keeps Russians docile. hardingush has not responded to the accusations. As the Sochi Olympics approach, and as the Russian government looks to toughen up on anti-terrorist measures [ru], such online conflicts will probably heat up. Here's hoping they will stay online.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

January 12 2014

Hockey, Diving for Crosses and Other Christmas-in-January Traditions

For Christians of the Western hemisphere, Christmas comes a little earlier than for their counterparts in Eastern Europe, North Africa and other countries. According to the Gregorian calendar, one of many man-made concepts to measure time and the calendar the globe uses today, Christ was born during the night between December 24 and December 25 just a little over 2,000 years ago. According to the Julian calendar, still used by many religious organizations in the world, those dates correspond to January 6 and January 7.

Among those who celebrate Christmas on those January dates are most Orthodox and Coptic Christians, from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Ethiopia. We called on the wonderfully diverse team of over 700 Global Voices authors to share their favorite local Orthodox and Coptic Christmas traditions and learned that the world is indeed a festive place, long after the Western world has taken down their Christmas stockings and stripped their Christmas trees.

Markos Lemma from Ethiopia explains how a game of hockey is the centerpiece in this North African country's Christmas celebrations:

Christmas falls on December 29 of the Ethiopian calendar (January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas), it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 a.m. and lasts until 9 a.m. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey called genna on this day and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.

The case in Serbia is far from similar, but followers of the Orthodox faith in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6, the last day of the same 40-day fast observed in Ethiopia, and then break that fast on Christmas Day, January 7, with a similar family feast abundant with meats of all sorts and special Christmas dishes. Different regions of these countries have somewhat different traditions, but this author chose to share one particular tradition that the vast majority of Orthodox families still uphold in this part of Southeast Europe:

On Christmas Day, January 7 according to the Julian calendar, Orthodox Serb households welcome a young male or male child, called a Položajnik, into the house in the early morning. The young male is usually a younger cousin, grandson or neighbor and he should be the first to enter the house that day. He brings in a wreath or bundle of small well dried oak branch tips, hay and such, called a Badnjak, with him and uses it to light the fire. In urban households, most of which don't have a fireplace, the stove is used to light the Badnjak. As sparks from the dried leaves and branches float around, he chants “As many sparks, that much health; as many sparks, that much wealth; as many sparks, that much love; as many sparks, that much luck…”, in no particular order. Different communities and families have their own versions of this ditty. The položajnik is considered a representation of health, prosperity and all things good. He brings luck, health, and love into the home. He then receives a gift from the family and joins them for Christmas breakfast.

Expat blogger David Bailey, better known as “An Englishman in the Balkans”, posted this video explaining the traditional breaking of the Christmas bread, known as the Česnica, on Christmas day in an Orthodox home in Bosnia. The Česnica, however, takes on different shapes throughout the region and in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, for example, is very sweet, resembling baklava more than bread.

The traditional Christmas greeting in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro is “Christ is born!”, to which the proper response is “Truly He is born”. Coincidentally, Lebanon, a country relatively far from Eastern Europe, now uses the same Christmas greeting. Thalia Rahme explains:

In Lebanon … its becoming more and more trendy to say the formula you just mentioned as in reaction to the secularization of Christmas

While usually we used to say that in Easter – Christ is risen, Indeed he is risen – now we also say [it on] Christmas – Christ is Born, Indeed He is born.

Lebanon seems to be a particularly special case when it comes to calendars and Christmas celebrations, with a plethora of faiths and traditions truly all its own. Thalia managed to unravel some of the marvels of Lebanese Christmas for us:

Lebanese Orthodox celebrate Christmas with Catholics on December 24.

Only Armenians Orthodox do have it on January 6 and, since it happens to be Epiphany for us Catholics [marking the baptism of Jesus], it's a kind of double celebration and an official holiday in Lebanon as part of giving each community its rights.

We have a small Coptic and Orthodox community and [an] Ethiopian one who celebrate it on January 7.

On the other hand, Armenian Orthodox choose to celebrate their Easter with us Catholics, but this is not the case for other Orthodox communities [...] but this year Easter for both Catholics and Orthodox is falling on the same date

At the mention of the marking of the Epiphany, many other Eastern Europeans chimed in with their stories of this frequently forgotten, not-so-minor Christian holiday. Global Voices’ veteran author from Bulgaria Rayna St. wrote in to say this:

For the French, January 6 is Epiphany so people eat Galette des Rois (and yes, it's yummy).

For Bulgarians, January 6 is also Epiphany, also called Yordanovden, when everyone named Yordan/ka, Daniel/a, Bogomil/a, Bojidar/a celebrate. The day's name is also Bogoyavlenie (God's appearance) and it is believed to be the day when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. When He came out of the waters, the skies opened and there was a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son, all my good will is in You” or something along these lines.

The most exciting moment of this nowadays is the ritual that accompanies this day: the priest throws a cross in the river and young men jump in to fetch it. As you may imagine, it's quite sporty as temperatures in Bulgaria differ from Jordan… :) So, when a guy catches the cross, he is believed to be blessed, fortunate, and to have iron health for the coming year. The priest also goes through houses and, in my region at least, fills in the rooms with tamyan smoke (a specific kind of wax mixture) so it chases away bad spirits. Bogoyavlenie is actually the last one of the Dirty Days and only meatless dishes are served for dinner.

Interestingly enough, while a common Christmas date may not be something all Eastern European Christians share, swimming for crosses in ice cold waters on Epiphany is. This tradition is also the same as Rayna describes in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and other countries of the region. The dates of when they mark the Epiphany and break the January ice, however, do differ, with those who follow the Julian calendar coming in 13 days “late” again.

But back to Christmas in that region. Busy with following Ukraine's 2013 Euromaidan protests, which continued throughout the Christmas holidays and into 2014, Tetyana Bohdanova set aside a few moments from these worrying events to fill us in on how Christmas is traditionally celebrated by Orthodox followers in this country when they aren't out in the streets holding anti-government rallies by the hundreds of thousands:

In Ukraine most people celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, according to the Julian calendar. On Christmas Eve, January 6, we gather for a traditional dinner that consists of 12 meatless dishes honoring the 12 Apostles. The dinner may begin only after the first star appears in the sky indicating that Christ has been born.

Another Christmas tradition is Vertep, which originally included a puppet theater representing Nativity scenes. A contemporary version, however, refers to a group of people acting out the story of Christ’s birth. Vertep also commonly includes folk characters and singing of Christmas carols. This year Ukrainian Vertep has been influenced by the political turmoil in the country. Among dressed up actors one may recognize Biblical and folk figures along with contemporary politicians, who are not necessarily represented by the good characters!

Tetyana Lokot, also from Ukraine, echoed what Tetyana Bohdanova had to say about caroling and added video evidence of this community holiday tradition:

One [tradition] is caroling – going around singing carols and bringing people the good news, for which carolers sometimes get candy and small change. It is typical for carolers to dress up in national costumes and go in groups, and the carols’ tunes and texts have been carried through generations. One of the most popular ones, and certainly my favorite, is Schedryk (known in English as Carol of the Bells), an old Ukrainian song. [The video] is a recent version from 2011 by Oleh Skrypka, a Ukrainian musician. The cartoon that goes along with it is strangely hinting at the Euromaidan spirit of 2013 and 2014, but also reminds us that we are all kids at heart :)

While Orthodox Coptic Christians account for the largest Christian community in Egypt, they form an even larger percentage of the Ethiopian community. Befekadu Hailu from Ethiopia reminds us that many of us may not even be in the same year, much less on the same date:

As you may know, our [Ethiopian] calendar is also different so we didn't start a new year with most of you. We started 2006 in September and this is the 2006th birthday of Jesus. We are just celebrating Christmas tomorrow [January 7] – which is a public holiday. The Orthodox Christians will also complete their 40 days of fasting season tomorrow. So, it will also be a day of eating much meat products. People spend it at home and as usual coffee ceremony, holiday food, family gatherings are the features of the holiday.

Thus, we end this quick journey through what may be a belated Christmas to some, where we began – in North Africa, with a traditional Christmas song performed by an Ethiopian choir. May your Christmases be as plentiful, warm, and well-rehearsed as theirs, wherever and whenever you choose to celebrate them. In the meantime, some of us are off to prepare for Orthodox New Year's Eve, coming up on January 13 – and you're all invited!

French Restaurant In Pakistan Closed For Not Allowing Pakistanis

Blogger Farzana Versey from Mumbai weighs on the hypocrisy regarding alcohol consumption by Pakistanis while reporting on a recent incident:

La Maison, run by Frenchman Philippe Lafforgue, in a part of his house at an upscale area of the capital Islamabad, has been forced to shut down after there was an outcry against this discriminatory policy. There was no board outside saying so; it was a discreet decision by the management.

As the owner stated:

“It’s not a discrimination thing. It’s a culturally sensitive thing. How can I serve pork and booze to Pakistanis without getting into trouble? So I have a rule: no locals getting in…I can’t open it up to the Pakistani people because I serve alcohol. If I start serving locals, which is obviously profitable, I will have to bribe the police…which I want to avoid.”

She adds:

Many of the elite like to show off their bars and collection of wines, but do not raise their voice against government policies over their eating and drinking habits.

January 11 2014

History of the Translation of the Bible into Malay Language

Robert Hunt's paper on the history of the translation of the bible into Malay could provide more background into the current controversy in Malaysia where hundreds of bibles were recently confiscated for containing the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. Non-Muslims are prohibited by law in Malaysia to use ‘Allah’ in their religious publications so as not to confuse the public.

January 09 2014

How Should Middle Eastern Women Dress in Public?

How should Middle Eastern women dress? The way they want

How should Middle Eastern women dress? The way they want

This question, posed by a University of Michigan study, is drawing laughs – and criticism online. Most reactions came after this report on the Huffington Post.

The survey, conducted in seven “Muslim majority countries”, details what people think is an acceptable dress code for women in public in their countries. According to the poll, the majority of people in those countries, “do not think a woman should fully cover her face.” In Saudi Arabia, for example, 63 per cent of those polled said a woman should wear the veil which covers the face, but reveals the eyes – a common dress code for women in the conservative kingdom. Respondents from Lebanon and Turkey preferred women not to cover their faces – or hair.

On the Washington Post blog, Max Fisher notes:

Veiling is such a sensitive issue in much of the Middle East because, in many ways, it's about much more than just clothing. It's about religious vs. secular identity, about the degree to which women are or are not afforded equality and about embracing or rejecting social norms that are seen as distinctly Islamic.

On Twitter, the reactions are more fierce.

Palestinian Lena Jarrar asks:

M Ibrahim adds:

Hend, from Libya, takes several jabs at the poll. She tweets:

And Egyptian Mohamed El Dahshan joins the fray, saying:

And Siddhartha Chatterje wonders:

Hindus Attacked in Bangladesh for ‘Crime’ of Voting

People from various cultural, social platforms took out anti-communalism demonstration in Dhaka in protest against attacks on religious minorities after the 10th National Poll. Image by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix (8/1/2014)

People from various cultural and social platforms mounted a demonstration in Dhaka against attacks on religious minorities after the 10th national elections. Image by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix (8/1/2014)

Minority groups in Bangladesh, especially Hindus, have become easy targets for anti-vote activists following the country's tense 10 national parliamentary elections. Homes and other properties have been attacked, torched or vandalized, and many have been forced to live under open sky in the meantime.

The elections on January 5, 2014 were met with violence in some areas; many opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have boycotted the polls, leaving ruling party candidates unchallenged. They continue to protest against them.

Some victims said they were attacked because they voted in the elections. Shah Ali Farhad (@shah_farhad) wrote in Twitter:

Shahbag Wordwide (@Projonmo13) highlighted the reported tally of violence against minorities in Jessore in the south of the country:

The government has come under fire for not being able to provide enough security for the people. But the son of the Prime Minister Sajeeb Wazed promised swift justice:

গতকালের নির্বাচনে ভোট দেয়ার কারণে বিএনপি-জামায়াতের ক্যাডাররা যশোর ও দিনাজপুরে সংখ্যালঘু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর হামলা চালিয়েছে। যশোরে ১৫০ জন হিন্দুর বাড়ি জামায়াতের সন্ত্রাসীরা সম্পূর্ণ তছনছ করেছে, লুট করেছে এবং জ্বালিয়ে দিয়েছে। দিনাজপুরে ১০০ এর উপর হিন্দু বাড়ি এবং দোকান বিএনপি জামায়াতের ক্যাডাররা ভাংচুর করেছে এবং পুড়িয়ে দিয়েছে। আমাদের সরকারের স্থানীয় কর্মকর্তারা ভুক্তভোগীদের সহায়তা করছেন। এই ঘটনায় দায়ীদের আমরা চিহ্নিত করার চেস্টা করছি এবং তাদের অবশ্যই আমরা বিচারের মুখোমুখি করবো।

The BNP-Jamaat protesters attacked minorities in Jessore and Dinajpur because they voted in the recent elections. In Jessore 150 houses were looted by Jamaat miscreants and burnt. In Dinajpurmore than 100 Hindu shops and houses were attacked by BNP-Jamaat goons. Our government is trying to help the victims. We are trying to identify the culprits and place them under trial as soon as possible.

However, BNP's Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir blamed the government instead for the attacks, and said:

The planned attacks on minorities are an attempt to divert attention from the voters’ absence and enthusiastic boycott of the farcical elections amid criticism from national-international organisations.

In Bangladesh, it isn't unusual for these types of attacks to happen after elections. Writer Joydeep Dey Shaplu requested on Facebook to relieve Hindus of the responsibility to vote:

২০০১ এ প্রথম আলোয় লিখেছিলাম ভোট দেয়ার পাপ থেকে আমাদের মুক্তি দিন। আজ তাই মনে হচ্ছে আবার।

In 2001 I wrote an article in the Daily Prothom Alo that [being a minority] please relieve us of the crime committed by voting. I feel like that again.

Audity Falguni also chimed in that Hindus should not vote:

নির্বাচনে মানুষ ভোট দেয় নি, তবে হিন্দুদের উপর নির্যাতন করা হচ্ছে কেন? নাকি খালি হিন্দুরাই দিছে? তাহলে কি নিজের ইচ্ছামত কিছু করার অধিকার হিন্দুদের নাই? যদি তাই হয়ে থাকে, তবে আইন করে হিন্দুদের ভোট দেয়ার অধিকার রহিত করা উচিত : Ruma Modak.

Wasn't the election for everybody? So why are Hindus being targeted? Or did only Hindus vote? So are they not free to exercise their rights? If not, please make a law barring them to vote.

Ripon Chakraborty detailed the plights of the victims:

2001 সালে নিজে #আক্রান্ত হয়ে বুঝেছি #সাম্প্রদায়ীক নির্যাতনের #জ্বালা কি। #রাজগঞ্জে দেখেছি- নির্যাতিত #হিন্দুদের সহায়- সম্বল হারিয়ে খোলা আকাশের নীচে রাত্রী যাপন। কী যে কষ্টের এই দুঃসহ যন্ত্রনা– নির্যাতিত ছাড়া কেউ কোনদিন বুঝতেই পারবেনা। সহ্য করতে না পেরে বাপ দাদার ভিটে মাটি ফেলে কেউ কেউ দেশত্যাগী হয়। হয়তো তারা ভালোই থাকে- হয়তো গিয়ে বেঁচে যায়। কিন্তু আমি যে পারিনা- আমি যে এই দেশটা ছেড়ে যেতে চাইনা— আমার কি হবে- আমার “ছোট বাপী”টার কি হবে— কেউ বলতে পারেন???

In 2001 I was a victim of post-electoral violence. I have seen in #Rajgonj how Hindus lost everything and lived under the open sky. If you are not a victim, you can never know that pain. Some of them migrate leaving their ancestral home. Some of them do better, save their lives by escaping. But I cannot. I don't want to leave my country. What will happen to me or my child… Can anyone tell?

The Daily Prothom Alo, a leading daily of the country, has been accused [bn] of instigating violence against the Hindus by publishing an image of minorities waiting to vote, making their Hindu identity prominent by doctoring the photo. In response, Kulada Roy wrote on Facebook:

ভয়ঙ্কর সন্ত্রাসের মধ্যে দিয়ে নির্বাচন হয়েছে। ভোট বর্জনের ডাক দিয়েছিল বিএনপি-জামায়াত। নির্বাচনের খবর হিসেবে প্রথম আলো প্রথম পাতায় একটি ছবি ছেপেছে। সেখানে দেখা যাচ্ছে– হিন্দুরা ভোট দেওয়ার জন্য লাইনে দাঁড়িয়ে রয়েছে। প্রথম আলো এই ছবিটির মাধ্যমে প্রমাণের চেষ্টা করছে যে দশম নির্বাচনে কেবল হিন্দুরা ভোট দিতে এসেছে। আর কেউ নয়।

প্রথম আলো এই ছবির মাধ্যমে সারা দেশে হিন্দু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর বিএনপি-জামায়াতের আক্রমণের উস্কানী দিচ্ছে। এই খবর প্রকাশের পরপরই যশোরের অভয়নগরে, দিনাজপুরে , ঠাকুরগাঁয়ে সংখ্যালঘু হিন্দুদের ঘরবাড়ি পুড়িয়ে দেওয়া হয়েছে। [...]

The election has ended with much violence. BNP-Jamaat boycotted the polls. The daily Prothom Alo published a big picture with their main election news on the front page. There it is shown that Hindu women were standing in queue to vote. Prothom Alo with this photo tried to imply that in a low-turnout election, mostly minorities voted. Not people from the majority Muslim population.

Prothom Alo with this picture is provoking the BNP-Jamaat protesters to retaliate against the Hindu communities [as they did not listen to their call to boycott the polls]. After the news was published, we have seen attacks on Hindu houses in Avoynagar of Jessore, Dinajpur and Thakurgaon.

The newspaper, however, denied [bn] that no published photo was photoshopped. But netizens still accused [bn] the paper of selectively highlighting minorities and publishing hate-filled comments in the comments section of the article.

Many people from Hindu communities have migrated to other countries in the past decades. Blogger Avijit Roy provided some statistics:

বাংলাদেশে ১৯৪১ সালে হিন্দু জনসংখ্যা ছিল শতকরা ২৮ ভাগ। ১৯৪৭ সালে ভারত ভাগের অব্যবহিত পরে তা শতকরা ২২ ভাগে এসে দাঁড়ায়। এরপর থেকেই সংখ্যালঘুদের উপর ক্রমাগত অত্যাচার এবং নিপীড়নের ধারাবাহিকতায় দেশটিতে ক্রমশ হিন্দুদের সংখ্যা কমতে থাকে। ১৯৬১ সালে ১৮.৫%, ১৯৭৪ সালে কমে দাঁড়ায় ১৩.৫%, ১৯৮১ সালে ১২.১%, এবং ১৯৯১ সালে ১০% এ এসে দাঁড়ায়। সাম্প্রতিক সময়গুলোতে হিন্দুদের শতকরা হার কমে ৮ ভগের নিচে নেমে এসেছে বলে অনুমিত হয়।

In 1941 the ratio of Hindus in present day Bangladesh was 28 percent. In 1947 after the partition of India the figure dropped to 22 percent when the mass migration started. The following decades saw an increase of attacks on minorities and the continuation of migration. The figures dropped further in 1961 to 18.5 percent, in 1974 to 13.5 percent, in 1981 to 12.1 percent and in 1991 to 10 percent. In recent times, it is assumed that the figure has dropped further to 8 percent.

These continuous attacks on minorities have disgraced the nation, wrote Zahid Newaz Khan:

These repeated attacks on minorities and our silence show the quality of civilization in our nation.

Different protests have been arranged across the country, like this Facebook event, which featured a protest rally in front of the National Museum in Shahbag on 8 January 2014.

January 08 2014

Prominent Russian Actor Asks Putin to Recriminalize Sodomy

Ivan Okhlobystin, interview from June 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

Ivan Okhlobystin, interview from June 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

A prominent Russian actor, Ivan Okhlobystin, is making headlines for his latest homophobic act: a public letter [ru] addressed to Vladimir Putin, asking the President to recriminalize sodomy in Russia. Okhlobystin, whose resume includes acting, directing, writing, and even a decade served as an Orthodox priest, is notorious [ru] for making shocking, often anti-gay, public declarations. For instance, just last month, in December 2013, Okhlobystin told a crowd in Novosibirsk that he advocates burning gay people in ovens [ru], along with the Moscow press corps, whom he accused of sympathizing “unprofessionally” with gays.

Okhlobystin has also called [ru] for the banning of surrogate motherhood (comparing it to prostitution), likened [ru] gay marriage to necrophilia and zoophilia, and promised to murder any of his daughters if they ever fell in love with an African man. (While he’s never apologized for any of his anti-gay remarks, Okhlobystin did attempt to clarify [ru] his racism in a blog post for, which he later quit, blaming [ru] chief editor Masha Gessen for “propagandizing homosexuality and lesbian love.”)

While Okhlobystin’s bigotry may seem so extreme as to be a performance, many on the RuNet are expressing concerns [ru] that the actor is genuinely dangerous. In a Facebook post [ru] that’s attracted over 500 “likes,” theater producer Eduard Boyakov wrote that he’s stopped considering Okhlobystin a “fool” and a “jester,” and grown to see him instead as a true fascist. Likewise, journalist Ksenia Larina echoed this sentiment in a different Facebook post [ru], attracting almost 400 likes.

Others online have been content to joke about Okhlobystin’s letter to Putin. Comparing it to the Novosibirsk comments, Aleksandr Zaborovsky quipped:

Okhlobystin has asked Putin to restore criminal punishment for sodomy. But just a month ago, Ivan suggested burning gays in ovens. He’s gone soft.

Okhlobystin (center) and the cast of

Okhlobystin (center) and the cast of “Interns,” the hospital comedy television show that's made Okhlobystin a household name in Russia. Screenshot from YouTube.

For all his outlandishness, Okhlobystin remains an ordained Orthodox priest, albeit on indefinite hiatus, following a decision [ru] by Patriarch Kirill in February 2010, when the Church’s leader granted Okhlobystin’s request to return to the entertainment world. While he is no longer permitted to hold services or wear a cassock and other priestly vestments, Okhlobystin is welcome to reenter the clergy when he wishes.

In September 2011, he demonstrated his enduring commitment to the Church when he suddenly abandoned a presidential campaign [ru], following an announcement [ru] by the Church’s Press Secretary that clergy are banned from serving in political bodies. (The prohibition, in fact, is almost 14 years old, codified in the Church’s “Social Concept Foundations” in 2000.)

Outside the Church, Okhlobystin has other friends in high places. Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Oblast government, Andrei Ilnitsky, tweeted in support of the letter to Putin, writing:

Okhlobystin said openly what the majority of people have long been thinking, but for some reason are afraid to say.

Additionally, Okhlobystin’s call to “push gays into ovens” bears a striking resemblance to Dmitry Kiselyov’s April 2012 speech on television, where he argued that the hearts of gays who die in car accidents should be burned or buried in the road. Days before Okhlobystin’s remarks in Novosibirsk, Vladimir Putin named Kisleyov head of an entirely new media organization charged with improving Russia’s image abroad.

The ongoing assault against homosexuals in Russia hasn’t done the country’s foreign reputation any favors, however. On January 5, 2014, for example (still three days before Okhlobystin called for the re-criminalization of sodomy), twenty different LGBT rights groups published their own open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, urging the corporation that invented the iPhone to reconsider its collaboration with the Russian retailer Euroset, where Okhlobystin serves as creative director.

January 07 2014

A Call for Africans Leaders to Stand Up for the Central African Republic

As the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) drastically worsens [fr] (935 000 IDPs as of today), Thione Niang, the Senegalese head of the GIVE1Project and Mehdi Bensaid, a Moroccan MP, calls from the African continent to stand up and show support to the victims of the  conflict in CAR [fr]: 

Nous ne pouvons plus accepter que des frères s'entretuent sur le sol africain [..] Ainsi doit émerger une nouvelle génération de politiques inquiets pour l'avenir du continent et qui comprennent que servir l'intérêt général est l'unique solution pour résoudre les problématiques de développement en Afrique [..] Nous appelons l'ensemble des parlementaires africains à se préoccuper de la situation en Centrafrique, à inviter leurs gouvernements à s'impliquer davantage dans ses problématiques sécuritaires, à la construction d'une Afrique stable, seule solution possible à une croissance globale et sereine.

We can no longer accept that our brothers are killing each others on African soil [..]  A new generation of politicians worried about the future of the continent must emerge, politicians who understand that serving the general interest of all is the unique solution to development issues in Africa [..] We call on all African parliamentarians to address the situation in the Central African Republic and we urge their governments to get more involved in its security issues and build a more stable Africa. This is the only solution to foster a sustainable and peaceful growth across the continent.  

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