By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN, Aug. 27, 2012
(CNN) — John Walker Lindh, who is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban, heads to federal court Monday in Indianapolis in an attempt to overturn a prison ban that he says severely restricts Muslim prayer.
Lindh is scheduled to take the stand in a lawsuit he filed against the warden and the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, alleging the warden’s ban on daily group prayer violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The warden, according to court documents, has argued that the ban implemented after 2007 is necessary because of security concerns.
Lindh, 31, is serving his sentence in Terre Haute’s Communications Management Unit, which opened in 2006. The unit severely restricts the contact of prisoners with the outside and monitors conversations between the inmates.
Syria After Assad
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Shekoh Abbas, the leader of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. He has joined with U.S. Syrian Sunni reformer Dr. M. Zhudi Jasser to advance the cause of Syrian democracy via the Syrian Democratic Coalition.
FP: Sherkoh Abbas, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about what might happen in Syria when and if Assad falls.
What do you see as following the overthrow of Assad?
Abbas: Thank you for having me, Jamie.
Basically if Assad goes, for sure it will be civil war, but if we wait too long there will be much more bloodshed or full-scale civil war. It has already started, in my opinion. There has been cleansing and fighting going on between Alawites and Sunni.
Compare the situation to Lebanon. Lebanon used to be a place for proxy war where the regimes would fight each other. However, the quicker we jump into an inclusive way out of what is going on, the better it is for Syrians and the international community. We see federalism in Syria as an inclusive way-out because it will address secular needs of stakeholders from Sunnis, Kurds, Alawites, Christians and other minorities, which will accelerate regime change in an orderly way.
Syria needs to be a workable state that is inclusive of certain stakeholders, not a failed state as it is now. This is an opportunity for the West to do things right, build a successful state, and assure that Syria doesn’t move into full scale civil war. Stakeholders may include Russia maintaining a presence in the coastal area, while the development ensues of an Alawite State, Kurdish State on the north side, and Aleppo and Damascus States for the rest of Syria. This will minimize or prevent proxy wars in our view because stakeholders will not be forced to submit to a strong central government that could oppress them.
The only way to remove support from the regime is to create an Alawite region or state and to separate the Alawites and their supporters as a people from their small presence in the regime. The solution is working with all groups in an inclusive approach and by promoting support for federalism or confederation for the above states/regions. Otherwise, we see there is a full civil war that can only get worse around the corner.
Folks from the U.S. State Department, Turkey, Qatar, and Gulf countries are currently supporting Islamist groups who seek another dictatorship, but this is not an option for Syria. These folks want a strong man and one address to go to for dealing with Syria, but the best thing is to find a way out that and address the interest of the Syrians, Russians, Europeans, the U.S., and regional counties, including Israel. Furthermore, there needs to be the inclusion of the interests of all minorities such as Kurds, Alawaite, Druz and Christians, otherwise it won’t work.
FP: Do you envision a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood as in Egypt?
Abbas: The answer is not to bring Sharia Law into Syria. A dictator, theocrat, or someone who is an appointed or selected national leader is not acceptable for Syria. We can independently find our own secular leadership that allows the people to have more of a say over their states within the new Syria.
When Syria split from the United Arab Republic, the Kurds suffered under the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. And now in Egypt they are trying to control people like the Coptic Christians. They are immediately trying to Arabize and convert the Copts, who deserve to have their rights protected. The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over one institution at a time, to ultimately change things as they wish. Therefore, since Kurds are a part of Syria, they need to have a say over their own affairs.
In Syria, all the minorities constitute a majority, like Alawites who have a lot of weapons and Russian support. With the influx of Iran, Hezbollah, and related extremist forces, there is developing violence and risk for proxy wars.
It is important for the international community to address Syria and establish a compromise. Sunnis, Kurds, Russia, Europeans, everyone should have a piece of the pie through establishing law and joint leadership like any other inter-state alliance or confederation.
The State Department should consider that Syrians should have their own rights to have states, like the United States does. We have people on the ground who organize independently. We need to take responsibility for our own democracy and our own human rights issues, because if Islamic extremists take control of Syria, it will be worse than what is happening now.
FP: So there is a possible democratic alternative? A separate Kurdish state in Syria?
Abbas: Historically, Kurds have been presidents, prime ministers, and top ranking generals in Syria before Baath took over more than 4 decades ago. Looking back, Kurds have had their rights revoked, citizenship revoked, tortured, oppressed and killed. In short, we have no rights at all in Syria. We want to exercise our rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to decide for ourselves in our own area, and bring prosperity to our people and to Syria as a whole.
We should have federalism and nothing less, otherwise there will be no government. The current arrangement under Assad is unsustainable. We just need to have a say in the future Syria.
Alawites want more than Kurds, but they are afraid to speak up, because they will suffer more if they speak out. The Druze will also suffer if they speak out. We have been accused of being Zionist or of seeking to create a second Zionist state in the Middle East. We have learned to deal with it. Also, Iran and Turkey agree to keep Syria as a centralized state to avoid a domino affect within their own countries.
The current centralized government does not serve justice for all. We need a new form of checks and balances, where the people have their own identities and where federalism blocks Islamic extremism and dictatorships.
FP: What should U.S. policy be toward the current struggle?
Abbas: The U.S. is not taking sufficient action; it should address the removal of Iran’s influence.
The U.S. has a choice in using the international community to make a decision. It was successful in the past to lead, even during the era of the Soviet Union. Now, the U.S. does not want “regime change,” it is looking for a dictator, like the Muslim Brotherhood or a secular dictator for a continuation of a centralized Syrian government, while using Russia as an excuse.
But there is a better policy.
An easier way is to protect Russia’s interest to maintain control over their gas interests and ports in Syria, protect allies, have compromises, and bring international support for a new Syrian confederation.
FP: What are your thoughts on how the Obama administration has handled it thus far?
Abbas: The administration has failed in leadership, and failed in preventing human lives from being saved by doing nothing, and has instead enabled more violence, and has encouraged the regime to slaughter and kill more people. The regime has killed the Syrian people, and the administration should have been more proactive in supporting regime change while finding true groups that can work together and in working with Russia on protecting its interests after Assad. The Syrian regime learned that the U.S. was all talk and not action-oriented. It is a disaster for the Syrian people.
In 2003 when Saddam was gone, Assad was so afraid of the U.S., and then the Kurds and others in Syria stood up and protested in the 2004 Kurdish uprising, while a few people were killed and injured compared to now. The Syrian people want change, and hopefully the U.S. will provide leadership. But until then, thousands of people are getting killed.
FP: Shed some light on the Obama-Erdogan Alliance and the dangers it poses.
Abbas: Obama and Erdogan show a lot of public respect for each other in Istanbul and Ankara, which promotes their concept of “moderates,” but it’s not moderate when a system is slaughtering Kurds and others. Their relationship does not serve the Kurdish people nor democracy.
The PKK is not the answer, but 25-30 million Kurds don’t have rights in Turkey. Erdogan managed to purport to Europeans that he is a moderate; he tried to use the Turkish platform, but the people deserve their rights and Kurds in Turkey have no rights and he is threatening Syrian Kurds.
Sunni-Arabs are being supported as a result of the alliance, but their interest is energy in Syria and the Middle East so that they can dictate oil or energy prices and distribution into Europe.
President Obama shouldn’t be enabling them in these areas. Obama does believe that they are moderate Muslims, but they are not. A true moderate treats fellow people right, and doesn’t slaughter minorities like Kurds.
The best thing is for the U.S. to divest from this relationship, and put down a road-map to federalism that will not show any threats to Turkey, does not support Iran, and does not support the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, don’t subcontract American foreign policy to Turkey, instead institute a new democratic policy for Syria.
FP: Crystallize for us the problems of a unified Syria and what Syrian Kurdish autonomy would look like.
Abbas: The Syrian Kurdish region is not like Iraq, because Iraq did not solve the Kurdish problem until now. The Kurdish region of Syria is not necessarily under Kurdish control. There are parts that have been Arabized, the northwest coastal region/Kurdish Mountain area, but should be part of the Kurdish region. If you refer to the demographic map (above), the north up to the coast is our area. We want federalism, as in a federal government of Syria involving multiple federations as Sunni, Alawite, and Kurd. The Kurds would also be part of the central government with joint leadership.
The U.S. should not falsely talk about developing a coalition, as it cannot bridge gaps by selecting Syrian leaders that Americans want. Coalition is about finding people who work together based on what they want and a workable solution. Sometimes not all sides will agree, but it’s important to see a compromise for all. If all the groups want a decentralized government, then it is important for Kurds to be vocal in support of their fellow Syrian compatriots. We suffered too much for too long and cannot wait 50 more years to find out that we have a failed state again.
FP: Sherkoh Abbas, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
The Daily Beast, Aug 24, 2012
Syria’s 18-month-long conflict is deepening sectarian divisions, breeding more and more openly Islamist Sunni rebels talking about the rebellion ushering in Sharia law—and raising the prospect of an ungovernable postwar nation.
While the international media focuses on whether al Qaeda has latched onto the escalating Syrian conflict, opposition activists and human-rights observers are less alarmed than the Pentagon about the trickle of foreign fighters arriving in the war-torn country than about the home-grown hardening of sectarian attitudes among Syrians and the adoption by rebels of more muscular Islamist views.
BY FARZANA HASSAN, August 23, 2012, Toronto Sun
TORONTO – In sharia-benighted Pakistan, an eleven-year-old Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome has recently been incarcerated for blasphemy.
Rimshah Masih allegedly burned pages of the Quran and other Islamic textbooks, including a Quran primer. The girl was found holding the charred pages. She was subsequently beaten by an angry Islamist rabble which, supported by the usual obscurantist mullahs and bigots, is demanding the severest penalty for this disabled girl.
Unfortunately, Rimshah is not the only Pakistani facing such charges. Asia Bibi, another Christian accused of blasphemy, has languished in prison since 2010. She is the unfortunate woman on death row for allegedly showing disrespect for the Prophet Mohammad.
Pakistanis collectively have shown little outrage at these travesties. In fact, the religious climate of the country has turned even educated Pakistanis into dogmatists who think that freedom of expression stops at religion. The media have reinforced this, especially popular talk shows and television dramas.
Concern from the international community has dwindled disturbingly, as Pakistani clerics await Asia Bibi’s hanging.
In both cases the charges appear unfounded. No one knows how Rimshah acquired pages of the Quran or the primer—or if the charred pages were indeed taken out of these books. And no one really knows what Asia Bibi actually said to the women who accused her of blasphemy.
Bibi, a mother of four, dared to touch the eating utensils of nearby Muslim women. When she merely expressed displeasure at segregated and elitist eating practices, she was accused of blasphemy. Since then, fanatics have harassed her family. Rimshah’s family has fled, as have hundreds of other residents of her Christian neighborhood.
Christians suffer daily in Muslim countries. Their lives are in constant peril because of radical Islam’s assault on beleaguered Christian communities.
Attacks on Christian churches have become common. While all religious minorities are targeted in Muslim countries where radical Islam has taken root, Christians are particularly vulnerable because they are accused of allying themselves with the “crusader” West, particularly after 9/11.
In yet another outrageous case, eleven nurses—including three Christians—were recently poisoned in a Karachi hospital for not fasting during Ramadan. Fortunately all are recovering. We now also hear reports of Samuel Yacoob, an eleven-year-old Christian boy, who was tortured and beaten to death in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
Christians in Islamic countries are voiceless and suffer under an intolerable legal framework, with its archaic and reprehensible blasphemy laws. They also endure attacks on places of worship, economic hardship and workplace discrimination.
Muslims everywhere must protest blasphemy laws, demand freedom for Rimshah and Asia Bibi and offer protection for members of their religious community. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan must be repealed.
The international community can also help. France has taken up Rimshah’s cause. Canada must also put pressure on the Pakistani government to release these victims of religious bigotry.
The legal framework of Pakistan requires an overhaul. More fundamentally, the masses need to be educated to respect human rights and freedom of expression, even in religion. Only when its citizens can be persuaded that civic responsibility begins with tolerance will Pakistan step out of the dark ages and strive for the dignity all of its diverse people deserve.
By ZVI MAZEL, 08/23/2012, The Jerusalem Post
With rise of Morsy, a new dictatorship may be replacing the old while world persists in looking for signs of pragmatism.
While the world persists in looking for signs of pragmatism in the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsy is quietly taking over all the power bases in the country.
Having gotten rid of the army old guard, he replaced them with his own men – officers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood or known sympathizers. Then he turned his attention to the media, replacing 50 editors working for the government’s extensive and influential press empire – including Al- Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Al-Gomhuria. He is now busy appointing new governors to the 27 regions of the country.
Hosni Mubarak used to choose retired generals he could depend on for these sensitive posts; Morsy is hand picking party faithful. At the same time upper echelons in government ministries and economic and cultural organizations are methodically being replaced. The Muslim Brotherhood is fast assuming total control. For many observers, the deployment of army units is Sinai is more about proclaiming Egyptian sovereignty in the face of Israel than actually fighting Islamic terrorism.
Drafting the new constitution is their next objective. Brothers and Salafis make up an absolute majority in the Constituent Assembly. Liberal and secular forces are boycotting its sessions, and the Supreme Constitutional Court is examining a request to have it dissolved since it does not conform to the constitution because of its overly Islamic composition; a decision is expected in September.
The assembly, however, is not waiting. According to various leaks it is putting the final touch to a constitution where all laws have to conform to the Shari’a and special committees will supervise the media and forbid any criticism of Islam and of the Prophet. In the wings is the creation of a Committee of Islamic Sages supervising the law-making process and in effect voiding of substance the parliament elected by the people, though it is not clear yet if, when and how it will work. What is clear is that a parliament made of flesh and blood individuals is against the very nature of the Shari’a, where all laws are based on the Koran and the hadiths. This is a far cry from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Morsy has been careful to speak about creating “a civil society”; it is now obvious that what he meant was a society not ruled by the army, and not a secular society. Indeed he had promised to appoint a woman and a Copt as vice presidents, but chose Mohamed Maki, a Sunni known for his sympathy for the Brotherhood and incidentally or not the brother of the new minister of justice, Prof. Ahmed Maki, known for his independent stands and opposition to Mubarak, but who had carefully concealed his support for the Brothers.
It is worth stressing that the Brotherhood is still operating under conditions of utmost secrecy, as it had been doing during the decades of persecution. How it is getting its funds, who are its members and how they are recruited is not known, nor is its decision-taking process. The movement has no legal existence since Gamal Abdel Nasser officially disbanded it in 1954.
That state of affairs was not changed while the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled the country, since apparently the movement did not apply for recognition, fearing perhaps it would have to reveal some of its secrets. Now that it has created its own political party, that the members of that party make up nearly 50 percent of the parliament and that one of their own has been elected president, can the movement remain in the shadows?
Morsy did announce that he was resigning from the Brotherhood, but there is no doubt that he will remain true to the tenets and the commands of its leaders. This is making people increasingly uneasy. They had other expectations of the revolution.
Opposition to an Islamic regime is growing, though it is far from being united. The three small liberal parties that had had very little success in the parliamentary elections have now set up a new front, The Third Way, to fight the Brotherhood’s takeover. Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the nationalistic Karama (Dignity) Party, who had garnered 18% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election, has launched “The Popular Current” promoting the old Nasserist pan-Arab ideology.
Some of the nongovernmental media are vocal in their criticism of Morsy, though it can be costly: Private television station Al- Pharaein – “the Pharaohs” – was shut down after it called to get rid of Morsy; its owner, Tawfik Okasha, well known for his hostility to the Brothers (and to Israel) and who called for a massive demonstration this Friday, was put under house arrest, as was the editor of the daily Al-Dostour that had criticized the president. The editors of two other dailies –Al-Fajer and Saut el-Umma – were questioned. Other papers such as Al-Akhbar stopped publishing opinion pieces from their regular collaborators known for their opposition to the Brothers; well-known publicists left their page blank in a gesture of solidarity for their colleagues.
Morsy knows that his takeover will strengthen the opposition. He has not forgotten that he barely mustered 25% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election – down from the nearly 50% who voted for his party’s candidates in the parliamentary elections. He also knows that the people are no longer afraid to take to the streets to protest – and that it is now said that a new dictatorship is replacing the old – the only difference being that the new ruler has a beard….
However, for now he is devoting all his energy to his fight with the judiciary, long known for its independent stands. The Supreme Constitutional Court is being asked to rule the Brotherhood Movement illegal, and therefore to proclaim that the Liberty and Justice party it created – and which won 50% of the seats in the parliament – is illegal as well, and therefore to invalidate the election of Morsy, candidate of a movement and a party that are both illegal. Morsy sent his new justice minister to browbeat the court, but the judges refused to back down. The president is now working to limit the prerogatives of the court in the new constitution and will start “retiring” senior justices appointed by Mubarak.
Friday’s demonstration will be the first real test for the Brotherhood. It is taking no chances and security forces will be deployed around its institutions throughout the country. A cleric at Al-Azhar issued a fatwa calling for the killing of whoever protests against the rule of the Brotherhood; the resulting uproar was such that he was disavowed by some of the leaders of the movement. However, whatever happens Friday will not deter them from their goal – a thoroughly Islamist Egypt.
The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt.
‘We are oppressed and humiliated,’ Copts say, warning country’s civil character is under threat
By ELHANAN MILLER August 22, 2012, The Times of Israel
Egypt’s Christians will take part in the first mass demonstration against the country’s Muslim Brotherhood government on Friday, a statement by the Coalition of Coptic Egypt declared Wednesday.
The August 24 demonstration will call for Egypt to remain a civil state and demand the separation of Islamic influences from state institutions. It is being planned as the first large-scale protest against the new government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, appointed by President Mohammed Morsi and sworn in on August 2.
In its statement, the Coalition of Coptic Egypt, a grassroots umbrella organization dealing with legal issues, spelled out its list of grievances against Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi.
‘We do not wish to topple the president but want to realize the demands of the revolution,’ the group’s statement read
“There is an attempt by the Brotherhood to take control of state institutions,” Fady Youssef, founder and deputy president of the Coalition of Coptic Egypt, told the Times of Israel. “The civil character of the state is under threat.”
According to Youssef, Muslims in Egypt currently enjoy privileges which Christians do not. “Christians are oppressed and humiliated,” he said.
In early August, 130 Christian families were forced to leave their homes in the village of Dahshour, near Giza, after their houses and shops were burned by Muslims following a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian in the village.
The remedy to sectarian violence, Youssef argues, is in amending legislation that discriminates against Christians, such as a law which prohibits Christians from testifying in court and a constitutional article prohibiting Muslims from converting to Christianity.
“We do not wish to topple the president but want to realize the demands of the revolution,” the group’s statement read. “The affairs of the president must be separated from the affairs of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
‘Christians are oppressed and humiliated,’ says Fady Youssef
Although Morsi resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood upon his election as president in June, Youssef claimed that the presidency is still intimately connected to the Islamic movement.
Another longstanding demand of the Egyptian Christian community is the legislation of a “unified law on places of worship,” which will allow churches to be built with the same ease as mosques. The government has agreed on the need for new legislation, Youssef said, but the law has not been promoted.
“Today, you need the governor’s permission to renovate the bathroom in a church,” Youssef said. Christians comprise some 10% of Egypt’s 85 million citizens.
A number of opposition parties have announced they would not participate in the August 24 demonstration.
“Those who call for this gathering refuse an Islamic president, even if he was elected by the will of the people,” Yahya Abul Hassan, a member of the liberal Wasat party, told Al-Ahram news website Wednesday.
FTR Radio, 8/21/12
The leaders of [the “Jummah at the DNC”] event – Jibril Hough and Imam Siraj Wahhaj as advertised are no moderates. They are radicals. These individuals embrace Islamist supremacy and have demonstrated support for radical ideologies… M. Zuhdi Jasser M.D., Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy [describes] Siraj Wahhaj [as someone] “who I saw with my own eyes in 1995 seditiously say it his duty and our duty as Muslims to replace the US Constitution with the Quran“…
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AIFD Wishes Muslims a Blessed Eid Al-Fitr as they ended their fast of Ramadan
Muslims around the world commemorated the end of their month long daily fast of Ramadan on Sunday, August 19, 2012 with the Holiday of the Feast (Eid Al-Fitr). The holiday falls on the first day of the 10th month of this year, 1433 of the Islamic (Hijri) calendar commemorating the end of Ramadan, the 9th month of the lunar calendar year.
To all our Muslim friends and supporters we at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) wish you a most blessed Eid Al-Fitr. May the commemoration of this holiday remind us all of God’s blessings. May your prayers and supplications during the month of Ramadan be accepted, answered and fulfilled by God.
As we return to our hectic days may we remember all that we take for granted from God, in health, family and prosperity in this great nation.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, MD
President and Founder
American Islamic Forum for Democracy
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