Archive for July, 2008

News and Analysis (7/21/08)

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Ahmadinejad sticks with uranium enrichment program, but says the recent discussions with world powers were “a step ahead”…

… meanwhile US Secretary of State Rice criticizes Iran’s “small talk about culture” and threatens new sanctions, and the British Prime Minister, keeping Israeli interests in mind, threatened Iran with “growing isolation

…but Brown also denounces Israeli expansion on the Palestinian front, promising British aid and an international investment conference to bolster the Palestinian economy:

In light of food shortages, water-starved nations struggle with nutritional self-sufficiency, and consider importing from fertile but politically unstable neighbors:

During US congressional delegation visit, Afghans express both optimism and distrust over US involvement in security and development issues:

Indonesian soldiers question authority and demand official orders to keep the military free from actors with personal agendas:

4000 Mauritanians returning from exile struggle to reestablish ownership of their properties:

MPAC Youth Summit

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Last week I had an opportunity to participate in the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) National Muslim American Young Leaders Summit. Along with 24 other Muslim American delegates, I finished up a three-day program of faith-based civic engagement in Washington DC. We talked with some of America’s most prominent policymakers inside the Beltway, including civil society activists, federal bureaucrats, and members of Congress. It was a great opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of being an American Muslim and what kind of positive impact that can have on my society.

 

The first day was an evening orientation and dinner with the other interns at the Beacon Hotel. The time we spent was used to get to know one another and have a briefing by the MPAC staff on the next two days of activities.

 

The next day was the first day of actual visiting and talking to policymakers. We started at the Gallup Organization DC headquarters. At Gallup, we heard presentations by Stephen Grand, Director of the Brookings Institute’s US-Islamic World Forum, and Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Grand’s presentation talked about the impact the forum has had at both the ministerial and grassroots civil society levels. Meanwhile, Mogahed provided us with crucial, myth-busting statistics from Gallup about Muslims’ opinions on East-West relations, including foreign policy, economic well-being, democracy and terrorism.

 

We then shuffled over to the Department of Justice (DoJ) to speak to government officials on Muslim Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties. The first speakers were Eric Treene, special counsel to the DoJ on religious discrimination, and Grace Becker, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ. Mr. Treene discussed the work the DoJ has done to fight religious discrimination against Muslims, including hate crimes and violations prohibiting or inhibiting legal religious use of land. Ms. Becker responded to questions from the participants, including myself, about concerns over alleged sanction of racial profiling in future DoJ guidelines to open terrorism cases. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury were also present, discussing efforts to partner with Muslim community leaders for better financial and charity practices, as well as more Muslim participation in government work.

 

The last visit took place at the Interfaith Alliance where we met with Rev. Welton Gaddy and Rabbi Steven Jacobs. The discussion focused on how one’s faith can be used as a motivating tool to fight for social justice. There were also discussions about the importance of bridge-building with members of other faiths to prevent and counter religious discrimination.

 

That day ended with dinner and a discussion about people’s reflections on the organizations visited.

 

The next morning I met up with the other delegates at Congressman Frank Wolf’s (R-VA) office where we had a 30-minute discussion on issues relating to global warming, international religious freedom, US-China relations, national security and civil liberties. At one point the discussion became so heated that Rep. Wolf charged we were part of the “blame America first crowd” despite what we felt was an emphasis on good international leadership. Similar questions were posed in a following session to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), but with less confrontation.

 

After our meeting with the Congressmen, our group hustled over to the State Department where we met with Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Assistant Secretary Boucher described his work at South and Central Asia desk. Afterwards, he accepted questions from delegates regarding narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan’s new government, economic and political development in Afghanistan and counterinsurgency strategy against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

 

Our last visit was to the Senate office of Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Initially we talked with her top staffers on intelligence, judiciary and foreign affairs issues, but the Senator came in later to our meeting. After some initial introductions we finally asked about her path to becoming a Senator as well as questions of policy concerning immigration, Guantanamo, her “Yea” vote on the recent FISA bill and Middle East politics. Before leaving the Hart Senate building, I had an opportunity to also meet with Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-NJ) staffer on Homeland Security and Civil Liberties issues. It was there that I had an opportunity to express my gratitude to his office for voting favor civil liberties and real security reforms, in addition to presenting her with a copy of MFI’s paper on combating homegrown terrorism (PDF).

 

The night ended with a commemorating banquet where Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, spoke about the need to have Muslims increase their political activism and engagement in the United States.

 

The next day was our last time together as a group where the staff talked to us about giving back to our communities through presentations and op-ed training. We also heard reflective speeches from Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati and Gallup Senior Analyst Ahmed Younis.

 

Looking back on the program, I had a great time. The opportunities to question, challenge and praise the different speakers were taken full advantage of. I came out of the program with both strong convictions and a reaffirmation of my self-identity. It strengthened my resolve to continue my interests in counterterrorism strategies (and how they can reconciled with a conscious respect for civil liberties). It also inspired me to reach out to my communities in New Jersey and get other Muslim youth productively involved in political activism.

Alejandro Beutel

Program Assistant

Minaret of Freedom Institute

www.minaret.org

News and Analysis (7/19-20/08)

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

The next time the U.S. Supreme Court visits the second emendment, it may want to look at the phrase “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” in the light of Hezbollah’s defense of Lebanon:

In Iraq, the victim’s uncle calls the U.S. attack “barbaric and inhuman” …

… while in Afghanistan, “police and troops clashed after mistaking each other for Taliban:”

Jacob Hornberger argues that the frequent repetition of the falsehoods that led to the war in Iraq are necessary distraction to prevent American civilians and soldiers form realizing that the invasion constititutes a war crime as defined at Nuremberg:

Iraqis desperate to flee fall victim to fraudulent smugglers:

The “Byzantine” relationship between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI is underscored by their conflicting relationship with the Taliban:

Amid talks of foreign troop reductions, a year-long boycott ends:

Iranian nuclear talks fail, but Iranians suggest they are open to a “freeze for freeze deal” while Americans say they hope the talks will renew an internal debate inside Iran:

Jesuit teacher of religion in the Muslim world is impresses by a “felt-in-the-bone understanding of what it is to live one’s life committed to one’s faith” absent in the West:

News and Analysis (7/18/08)

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Amid concerns over growing conflicts, recent deals and discussions across the Middle East signify foreign policy reassessments, giving some reason to be optimistic:

As increasing numbers of US lawmakers visit Iraq in order to understand current conditions and policy problems…

…the US government recognizes the limits of sheer military might and is now deploying a diverse force of civilian federal employees to help Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction efforts:

Saying that Hamas-associated charities help the political movement grow, Israel shuts down a school:

Bedouins, Palestinians, and Israeli Arabs are among those most recently arrested in Israel for alleged links to Al Qaeda and planning attacks:

Rising inflation is causing some Gulf states to turn to ineffective government aid programs:

Indonesia strives to include more women in the work environment, but chooses employment quotas as the means to achieve that goal:

Trade Facilitation Ideas Aim to Help Those Who Need Trade Most–But will it work in the very worst of scenarios?

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

On July 11th I had the privilege of attending CATO’s Capitol Hill briefing on the merits of trade facilitation for encouraging economic growth. on behalf of the Minaret of Freedom Institute. Cato trade policy analyst Daniel Ikenson and World Bank economist Simeon Djankov touted trade facilitation (TF) policies—including streamlined administrative procedures and infrastructure—as beneficial for both industrialized countries as well as developing ones. The benefits of trade for developing countries are unquestionable. I agree, it would therefore make sense to pursue trade facilitation policies geared at making the most of that beneficial trade.

However, from what I gathered from Friday’s presentation, Ikenson and Djankov consider trade facilitation the decisive factor in a country’s ability to develop, and I wonder how well the argument for trade facilitation stands when the very countries needing the benefits of trade most lack in the first place those policies and infrastructures Ikenson and Djankov suggest they amend. Take, for example, Afghanistan: years of ongoing war and instability have certainly mutilated structures of both trade and government.

First, the administrative structure, where it exists at all, is fractious at best. Charged with the assisting the reconstruction of a new Afghan government, the U.S. has stressed security issues and thus promoted a strong, Kabul-centered government. In an ethnically divided country where regional rule has historically prevailed, it comes as no surprise years later to see the lack of affinity afforded a central government that has too often resorted to corruption and favoritism. With such little confidence in a national government, how can one expect any liberal internal trade policies pursued to be uniform and, more importantly, respected?

Second, after years of war, there exists little infrastructure at all to speak of, and any improvements would quite literally be made from the ground up. Furthermore, the geography of the country itself creates additional challenges to a policy of development. The Hindu Kush mountain range, located in the very middle of the country, is the main geographic feature inhibiting transportation of goods. An internal road system is lacking. Afghanistan does have a highway network encircling the mountain range. However, much of the so dubbed the “Ring Road” passes through Taliban territory, and after years of war and neglect conditions have deteriorated so much that one can only drive 10 km/hour in some sections.

Simply speaking, the geographic and political situation of Afghanistan is a trading nightmare.

While the U.S. has contributed $37 million toward a bridge spanning the Panj River to facilitate trade between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, ease of trade between Afghanistan’s North and South areas has yet to be addressed. While top-down security operations are underway to counter the rebirth of Taliban forces, resistance is still growing and conditions are still not friendly for trade. While public/private partnerships might help build new infrastructure, it is hard to imagine that the average Afghan with a $1000 GDP per capita can afford to contribute their income to the massive government expenditures required by Ikenson and Djankov’s recommendations. While foreign investment, as an alternative, might contribute to the construction needed, it is hard to imagine still that any company in its right mind would invest in a nation plagued by instability, or that any foreign government would find reason to voluntarily abet easier shipment of Afghanistan’s opium exports.

So how would one even begin to consider trade facilitation policies? Citing Robert Guest’s experience following a beer truck that was horrendously stalled in Cameroon due to inefficient checkpoints and corrupt officers, Ikenson obviously read The Shackled Continent. However, he must have forgotten the take-home message: a country needs good governance.

The opium poppy is not a safe crop option for the Afghan farmer. Cultivation of it continues, however, because it is simply more profitable than grapes in the current market. Bad government is the same way. It, too, continues because someone along the line profits. In the case of Afghanistan, it is the American-installed group ruling Kabul that stands to gain. In my conversation with Djankov after the lecture, he insisted that Afghanistan has untapped opportunities in dried fruits and vineyards, as well as natural resources in marble and gold. If anyone should ever expect those to be viable economic activities, they should first consider a government with a federalist-style configuration and strong local autonomy to answer questions of security and government accountability.

Trade facilitation is important but it is by no means a comprehensive solution to developmental challenges. Rather, a base of infrastructure and governance must first exist before one can expect TF policies to be implemented fruitfully.

Kasia Rada
Minaret of Freedom Institute Intern

News and Analysis (7/17/08)

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

As Hizbullah supporters see it, the recent release of detainees proves that Israel only understands force:

US Secretary of Defense cites military performance of civilian tasks and lack of attention to economic and political growth as the chief reasons for failure in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Iranian investment in Afghanistan creates industrial improvements, but US officials see it as a sort of proxy war maneuver:

Disputes between urban politicians and tribal leaders demonstrate different interpretations of government:

Saudi oil money is directed toward the construction of brand new cities to prepare for a post-petroleum economy and to attract science and research:

Increasing debt burden and inflation in Pakistan parallels growing uncertainty on the political scene:

Released on bail, Anwar Ibrahim now demands a copy of the police report containing what looks to be politically conceived allegations against him:

Egyptian man in Spanish Al Qaeda-inspired group will not be convicted twice for the same involvement in a terrorist organization:

News and Analysis (7/16/08)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

As Anwar declares the allegations against him a political repeat of former charges, police anticipate a public upheaval similar to ten years ago:

Two years after the Second Lebanese War, Hezbollah sees a victory in the exchange of bodies and a UN-supported prisoner deal:

Top diplomat will still call for Iranians to abandon their nuclear program, but upcoming discussion indicates a shift in US approach:

As foreign involvement in the Afghan insurgency increases…

…NATO’s slipping control along the eastern forces a withdrawal from operations…

…meanwhile the Afghan President’s political maneuvers signify a failed national government:

Analysts believe Egyptian military has already hand-picked a successor in light of the current president’s declining health:

As the nationalist-stacked court charges the AKP with “undermining secularism,” Turks fear economic and political consequences in the international scene:

Conforming to Islam, a Saudi owner stops selling alcohol, but Western tourists to Egypt take their business next-door:


News and Analysis (7/15/08)

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

A video of 16 year-old Omar Khadr shows the only Western prisoner still at Guantanamo complain of improper medical treatment and torture…

…while in Iraq, mistreatment of child detainees has fallen along sectarian lines in the absence of management transparency:

In the allegations surrounding liquid explosives plot, little evidence suggests group would strike immediately or even had connections to al-Qaeda:

Despite heavy U.S. operations against militants in Baqouba last year, insurgents appear to be regrouping:

Afghan President Karzai expresses his disappointment in new Pakistani government’s ability to keep spy agency in check…

… meanwhile, growing sophistication of Taliban attacks indicates revived Al Qaeda involvement:

Among Touareg and Bella peoples, a complex caste system involving thousands of enslaved persons still exists despite the importance of egalitarianism in Islam:

Young Muslim government minister declares Britain the best place for a Muslim to live because of tolerance and equal rights called for in Islam:

News and Analysis (7/14/08)

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Invited by France to play a role in the Iranian nuclear program debate, Syria’s al-Assad predicts disastrous consequences of American intervention:

The US wants Iraqis to rely on themselves, but amid calls for a pull-out timetable, military officials flinch:

Secular extremists are investigated as the ruling AKP opens up to EU trade, improves relations with Christian and Kurdish minorities, and pushes for the freedom to wear headscarves in school:

Hosting African and Asian leaders, Indonesian President is interested in including the private sector in support for Palestine:

Taliban overthrows inept governmental management of a dormant quarry; and like government, they now charge a hefty tax on outgoing trucks:

Companies balance real-world political debates in the symbolic, Internet world:

Pakistani couple runs civil society organization that cares for and finds families for thousands of abandoned children:

 Over-adherence to secularity produces the same prejudice the policy is supposed to prevent:

News and Analysis (7/12-13/08)

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is among the factors contributing to U.S. consideration of a drawdown in Iraqi forces in September …

… while increasing violence has Pakistanis divided over strategy and a U.S. Joint Chief’s visit exacerbates fears the U.S. will attack:

As Israel’s PM expresses optimism on negotiations with Abbas …

… Palestinians “fear that a failure to end the factional division soon could make it more permanent and in turn render Abbas’s talks with Israel on Palestinian statehood close to irrelevant:”

Al-Manar exploits Internet technology and sophisticated programing to respond to U.S. attempt to silence the Hezbollah media outlet:

Seeking to re-establish Islamic academic glory, Saudis plan “a new house of wisdom:”

Egyptian officials assert the election is fair even as they detain the opposition:

Having received refuge inthe U.S., Ahmad Batebi has a vision of an Iran where people “are free to live their lives, as long as they do no harm to anyone else:”

Islamists condemn unexplained killings of humanitarians:

“This indictment may well shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement for the country.”–Andrew Natsios, the former United States envoy to Sudan: