31 December, 2008

Statement on the Israeli Invasion of Gaza

The Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War is shocked and angered over the Israeli invasion of Gaza since Saturday 27 December 2008. Our hearts go to the people of Gaza in this time of great distress.

We call upon the international community to immediately act in concert to call upon Israel to stop the bombing of Gaza and the slaughter of innocent lives forthwith. We support the call by the United Nations for an immediate ceasefire and an end to all military operations to facilitate relief work and delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

The Foundation also calls upon the governments of the United States, Britain and other major powers to put necessary pressure on Tel Aviv to stop the inhuman slaughter of Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza with bombs and other weapons.



Kuala Lumpur Foundation To Criminalise War

Meanwhile, Israel is likely to reject 48-Hour Cease-Fire Plan in its military onslaught in Gaza, saying it would keep up pressure on Hamas but was open to ways of increasing humanitarian aid.

With its punishing air attacks on Gaza in their fifth day, and with 10 more rockets fired by Hamas militants landing in southern Israel, including three in the city of Beersheba, Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the country’s leaders “view it as important to keep up the pressure on Hamas.”

“We cannot give them a respite to rearm and regroup. We need a real, sustainable solution, not a Band-Aid,” he said.

He and other officials said Israel was continuing to talk to American and European leaders on ways to build a longer-term cease-fire to end the fighting.

The idea of a 48-hour cease-fire emerged from a conversation between Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel. It was supposed to establish at least a temporary pause in the fighting that would allow humanitarian relief to be delivered to the besieged coastal strip. Aides to Mr. Barak said he was interested in exploring it with Prime Minister Olmert and the rest of the cabinet at a security meeting on Wednesday.

“The leading option right now is still a ground invasion, but the target of this operation is an improved cease-fire, and if that can come without the invasion, fine,” a close aide to Mr. Barak said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not Mr. Barak’s authorized spokesman. “But, of course, Hamas has to agree, and there has to be a mechanism to make it work.”

In Paris, Mr. Kouchner met with his European Union colleagues Tuesday over the Gaza crisis and called publicly for a permanent cease-fire. A similar call came from the so-called quartet of powers focused on the region — the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made phone calls to Israeli and Arab leaders to explore prospects for halting the fighting. They emphasized that any cease-fire should be “durable and sustainable,” compelling Hamas to end its rocket attacks, a State Department spokesman said.

“That is different from the cease-fire that existed in the last six months,” said the spokesman, Gordon Duguid, noting that Hamas had routinely violated the previous agreement by firing rockets into southern Israel.

The flurry of diplomacy appeared to be mostly byplay in Jerusalem and Gaza, as Israeli officials spoke of a continuing and expanding military operation, and Hamas vowed to step up its resistance. Israeli warplanes attacked tunnels used to smuggle supplies in southern Gaza and destroyed the home of a top militant leader.

Mr. Olmert told the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, that the air strikes were the first of several planned phases, according to spokesmen for the officials. It was also clear that the number of targets available from the air was declining, making the likelihood of a ground offensive greater.

In Gaza, Hamas militants issued a taped statement vowing revenge for those killed in the Israeli air raids since Saturday and warning that a ground invasion would prove painful for Israel. Palestinian officials say that more than 370 people have been killed, among them, the United Nations says, at least 62 women and children and an unknown number of civilian men. Two sisters, ages 4 and 11, were killed in a strike in the north as concern was growing around the world that the assault was taking a terrible toll on civilians.

“It would be easier to dry the sea of Gaza than to defeat the resistance and uproot Hamas, which is in every house of Gaza,” said the statement from the military wing of Hamas. It was played on Hamas’s television station, which had been shut down by an Israeli missile but went back on the air by broadcasting from a mobile van. The statement added that if there was a ground invasion, “the children of Gaza will be collecting the body parts of your soldiers and the ruins of tanks.”

Hamas continued to fire longer-range rockets at Israel, shooting deep into the city of Ashdod for a second day as well as into Beersheba, a major city in Israel’s south, where one landed in an empty kindergarten classroom. There was a report of light injuries as well as a number of people in shock.

Israeli warplanes, returning repeatedly to the same section of Gaza City overnight, pummeled the main government complex with about 20 missiles, residents said Tuesday. The building had been evacuated since the start of the operation on Saturday, which also hit nearly all of Hamas’s security complexes, its university and other symbols of its sovereignty and power.

The Nakhala family, which lives next to the compound, was inspecting the damage on Tuesday morning and recounting the utter fear and panic they all felt as the missiles hit.

“We have no shelters in Gaza,” said the father, Osama Nakhala. “Where shall we go? I also have to worry about my mother, who is 80 years old and paralyzed.”

His 13-year-old son, Yousef, was with him. When asked his view of the situation, Yousef took an unusual stand for someone in Gaza, where Israel is being cursed by most everyone. “I blame Hamas. It doesn’t want to recognize Israel. If they did so there could be peace,” he said. “Egypt made a peace treaty with Israel, and nothing is happening to them.” (Read also, Malaysiakini, letters- " Hamas to blame for Israeli raids ")

His brother Amjad, 16, disagreed and blamed the Palestinian president in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, saying that he had sided with Israel.

Gaza City was entirely without electricity for the first time, the result of an air attack that hit the system’s infrastructure. Repair workers said they were afraid to work because of the possibility of more raids.

The few open bakeries and grocery stores had lines stretching outside as people tried to stock up. But essentials, like diapers, baby food, bread, potatoes and fresh vegetables, were in short supply and costlier than normal.

Israel sent in about 100 trucks with emergency supplies of food and medicine, the military reported.

At the Hassouna Bakery near Shifa Hospital, about 100 men and 50 women waited in separate lines to buy bread. Amal Altayan was telling others in the line that she kept her cellphone in her pocket so that if an Israeli missile destroyed her house she would be able to phone for help. The other women mocked her, saying that if a missile hit her house, she would be gone. Showing familiarity with the kind of knowledge circulating in Gaza these days, Ms. Altayan replied, “It depends. If it is an F-16 I will turn into biscuits, but if it is an Apache I may have a chance.”

Osama Alaf, 41, said he spent four hours waiting in line to buy bread. “I bought flour until now,” he said. “I don’t have cooking gas, but I make a fire out of cartons and paper and make bread that way.” Asked whom he blamed, he said, “Israel, which is slaughtering us, and whoever is cooperating with Israel, like Egypt.”

Anger at Egypt has grown across the Arab and Muslim worlds because it has declined to open its border with Gaza and is seen as cooperating with Israel.

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30 December, 2008

Beyond bombs and rockets in Gaza

When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, it achieved some military success. It degraded the armed capability of Iran-backed Hezbollah and caused the international community to engage more constructively in Lebanon.

But such success was limited and not the main measure of the outcome - points worth remembering now as Israel engages in intense attacks in Gaza.

Two years ago, world opinion turned against Israel while Hezbollah claimed a moral victory as images of widespread destruction from Israeli bombing shocked even Israel's friends. Now, the militant Hezbollah is in a stronger position politically with veto power in Lebanon's cabinet.

The Israeli attacks that began Dec. 27 in Gaza appear to be better targeted than the Lebanon campaign, hitting key security installations of the ruling Hamas, which the US also terms a terrorist group. This time, most of those killed - more than 250 and counting - were uniformed members of Hamas's security forces. Still, civilians have lost their lives and hundreds are wounded.

The reason for the attack seems more compelling than what sparked the war in Lebanon - Hezbollah's killing of three Israeli soldiers and kidnapping of two others. Hamas has been acquiring longer-range rockets that can reach farther into Israel and has continued to smuggle in arms despite a six-month cease-fire that expired Dec. 19. In the intervening days, its missile attacks on Israel have escalated.

But as in the Lebanon war, it's difficult to predict where this strong Israeli action will lead. This is not the situation of the previous decades, when Palestinians were led by Yasser Arafat - a terrorist, true, but one who eventually led a secular movement toward statehood.

Now, Palestinians live in parallel universes.

In the West Bank, they're under the weak leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, trying to support the peace process. Palestinians in Gaza, meanwhile, no longer live under Israeli occupation, but they're governed by Islamist Hamas. That group won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, but took control of Gaza through a military putsch in 2007. Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and won't renounce terrorism.

Israel and the West have tried to force Hamas's hand through economic isolation. That strategy seems to have had some effect, producing an imperfect peace during the truce. Rocket fire from Gaza greatly decreased the hope that trade would resume and Gaza could begin to recover. But the rockets did not entirely cease, arms smuggling continued, and the truce lapsed.

By moving so forcefully in Gaza, Israel appears to be putting immediate concerns ahead of long-term peace prospects. Elections are coming in February, and political leaders undoubtedly feel compelled to prove their security credentials.

But with politics among Palestinians also uncertain (Mr. Abbas's term may expire next month), Hamas, too, has something to prove. It may be looking to Hezbollah and calculating it can win followers' hearts and minds even if it suffers a military setback.

It will take continued engagement by the Arab countries, the US, and others to steer these parties toward long-term peace.


This is day four of the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed including 60 civilians in the deadliest violence in the territory in decades. "Israel is engaged in an all-out war with Hamas," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Parliament on Monday as his air force struck at the organization's civic institutions — the Islamic University, Interior Ministry and presidential guesthouse.

As the conflict enters its fourth day, with no active diplomacy and anti-Israel protesters taking to the streets around the Arab world, there appeared to be no quick end to the largest assault on Gaza.

Hamas killed three Israelis on Monday after firing more than 70 rockets, including a long-range one into the booming city of Ashdod some 18 miles from Gaza, where it hit a bus stop, killing a woman and injuring two other people. Earlier, a rocket hit nearby Ashkelon, killing an Israeli-Arab construction worker and wounding three of his colleagues.

In Gaza, residents pulled relatives from the rubble of prominent institutions leveled by waves of Israeli F-16 attacks, as hospitals struggled to keep up with the wounded and the dead and doctors scrambled for scarce medical supplies. Hamas gunmen shot accused collaborators with Israel in public; families huddled around battery-powered radios, desperate for news.

Barak said Israel would widen and deepen the attack if necessary and told Israeli lawmakers the military would continue the assault until Hamas no longer had the ability to fire rockets into Israel. Politicians on the left who supported the initial attack urged the government to seek a new cease-fire rather than continue the bombardment.

But the military created a two-mile war cordon along the Gaza border and amassed tanks and troops there, with commanders saying that a ground force invasion was a distinct possibility but had not yet been decided upon.

In Tehran, Iran a group of influential conservative Iranian clerics began an online registration drive seeking volunteers to fight Israel.

Barak had told lawmakers that Israel had nothing against the citizens of Gaza and that it had more than once offered its hand in peace to the Palestinian nation. "But we have an all-out war with Hamas and its offshoots," he said.

Israel sent in some 40 trucks of humanitarian relief, including blood from Jordan and medicine. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to some similar aid and to allow some of the wounded through.

At Shefaa Hospital in Gaza, the director, Dr. Hussein Ashour, said that keeping his patients alive from their wounds was an enormous challenge. He said there were some 1,500 wounded people distributed among Gaza's nine hospitals with far too few intensive care units, equipped ambulances or other vital equipment.

On Monday, Ashour was not the only official in charge. Armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roamed the halls. Asked their function, they said it was to provide security. But there was internal bloodletting under way.

In the fourth-floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head.

Hajoj, like five others who have been killed at the hospital this way in the past 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges; when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.


29 December, 2008

Malaysia must accelerate efforts to enhance image to global community

Malaysia should beef up efforts to strengthen and bring out its best qualities to enhance its position in the international arena on the back of global financial crisis.

In every crises, there is always a silver lining. On that note, Malaysia should take advantage and play its cards well to continue to be visible on the international radar.

Some analysts expect Malaysia to fare better next year given the fact that amid the prolonged global financial crisis it still stands tall compare to other Asean countries.

As developed countries struggle to grapple with the fact that their ever-proud Anglo-Saxon style of financial system has crashed, Malaysia, together with its Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) peers, were less affected by the crisis due to their regulated financial systems, having learnt from the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis.

Malaysia, which was previously criticised by the West for implementing the so-called "unorthodox method" mooted by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mahathir during the Asian financial crisis, can now stand tall that the developed countries are emulating its ways to survive.

Analysts have predicted that Asian countries would likely become the savior to the world economy next year after the crash of the US financial system and its effects on the whole world.

HSBC plc economist, Robert Prior-Wandesforde, said Malaysia was expected to be an out performer in Asia next year although overall gross domestic product growth would most likely to remain weak for some time as export growth continued to soften.

He said Malaysia was the only major Asian country which did not reduce interest rates and was not facing a huge credit or real estate bubble. It has seen now reduced the rates.

On international front, Malaysia has been actively voicing out its opinions on many issues, particularly on the financial system, economy, regional cooperation as well as security.

On a regional note, the rescheduling of the Asean Summit to next February is not expected to be a blow to the grouping.

Instead, it will give the grouping more time, particularly Malaysia, to be ready to welcome the Asean Charter.

For the grouping, its biggest challenge will be the setting up of the US120 billion (US=RM3.44) Asean fund which is akin to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The fund is crucial move if the grouping wants to steer its own course without relying on anyone.

The agreement in principle by China, Japan and South Korea to help set up the fund can make it easier for Asean members to grapple with the economic crisis.

The idea, first mooted by Malaysia during the late 1990s, was criticised by the IMF as unorthodox.

To counter the unstable movements of international currencies, Malaysia has also proposed the use of gold dinar as trading currency among Muslim countries.

Second Finance Minister, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, told the Dewan Negara recently that Malaysia was enthusiastic to revive the proposal and present to Organisation of Islamic Conference.

All eyes were also on Malaysia as it hosted the Developing 8 (D8) meeting, a group of eight Islamic developing countries, comprising Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.

At the meeting, Malaysia proposed the setting up of a food security chain among its members to tackle the food crisis and the then increasing crude oil price globally.

During the recent Apec Summit in Peru, Malaysia once again voiced its concerns over security threats in international waters and suggested that the United Nations be serious in combating piracy.

Nevertheless, talks without any action will be wasted.

Therefore, Malaysia needs to beef up efforts to ensure everything it wanted can be realised and implemented.

It is important to make sure Malaysia's voice be heard by the international community.

It is time for us to walk the talk.

By Nor Baizura Basri, Bernama.


27 December, 2008

Cops to investigate blog insulting Prophet Muhammad

KUALA LUMPUR: Police will investigate the people behind a weblog said to be full of insults to Prophet Muhammad.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said this after Utusan Malaysia carried a report about the blog on its front page Saturday.

“The act (insulting the Prophet) can cause anger and offend especially the Muslims and Malays. It also provokes religious and racial conflicts,” he said.

He said that from the legal perspective, it was an offence under the Sedition Act and the police would immediately investigate the owner and writer of the blog.

According to the report, the blog used pictures and drawings purportedly belonging to a Malay woman said to be open-minded but the Malay language daily claimed that the woman’s photograph and name had been used by another party. -- Bernama

Read also Azly Rahman: "Please remove this blog"

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26 December, 2008

The People's Fighter? The Devil On Earth?

Nature strikes back with a vengeance whenever we destroy the environment. Likewise, whenever the government disregards public opinion wantonly destructions caused by human beings, while the people resist, it can expect a backlash.

The best example is, of course, the 8 March general elections which was a large collective counter attack launched by Malaysians to protest against all kinds of unfair and unreasonable rule by the incumbents.

There is no doubt that change, is the most powerful and consistent voice of Malaysians in 2008.

If a country's regime can be changed, so will corruption. (Note that to be changed does not mean to be eliminate). The world and the country are more complicated than we thought as there are many examples of men corrupted by power. Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia as well.

The people have the right to vote for the government in a democratic country but the people-elected government does not necessarily hand the country's power back to the people. Why is it that in the real world, politicians always forget the commitment of serving the community once they are in power?

The most fundamental problem lies in the obsession of power.

There is no sustainable regime in the history. The spell of power is too alluring, it could change a person, making him forget his own dream. That is why, many elected heroes and saviours eventually turned out to be devils that go against the people. They establish all kinds of unreasonable laws in order to make their regimes last longer.

Former Indian Prime Minister late Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao wrote in his book Insiders that: Those who insist on gaining power in order to change the world, would always turn themselves into devils along the power seizing process, in which they resort to every conceivable means.

Power, is so awful and ridiculous sometimes!

When we are welcoming the brand new year, and in between change and static, not only the people should remain vigilant, but politicians must remind themselves of not unconsciously turning themselves from "the people's fighters" into "devils on earth" in the pursuit of political power!

- Source MySinchew


25 December, 2008

Merry X-Mas

Merry Christmas and a Blessed 2009 !!

" To your enemy, forgiveness.

To an opponent, tolerance.

To a friend, your heart.

To a customer, service.

To all, charity.

To every child, a good example.

To yourself, respect."


24 December, 2008

Altantuya's Father Seeks Judical Review Of Prosecutor's Decision

Lawyer Karpal Singh, acting on behalf of Altantuya Shaariibuu's family, has filed an application at the Shah Alam High Court to compel the prosecution to appeal against the acquittal of political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda.

- Malaysiakini

Shaarribuu Setev, the father of Mongolian Altantuya Shaarriibuu who was murdered two years ago, is seeking a judicial review of the Public Prosecutor's decision not to appeal against the acquittal of political analyst Abdul Razak Abdullah Baginda.

The application was filed at the High Court here through lawyer Karpal Singh at about 12pm today.

Named as respondents were the Attorney General who is also the Public Prosecutor, and Razak who was acquitted by Justice Datuk Mohd Zaki Md Yassin on Oct 31 of abetment in the woman's murder.

Karpal told reporters at the court lobby that the applicant also sought a mandamus order to compel the Attorney General to apply for an extension of time to appeal against Razak's aquittal and thereafter to apply to the Court of Appeal for a warrant directing Razak to be arrested and brought before the court for him to be remanded pending the disposal of the appeal or released on bail.

He said that following judge Zaki's decision to acquit Razak without calling him to enter defence, the Attorney General had 14 days to file an appeal and the time had expired on Nov 14.

He said Deputy Public Prosecutor Tun Majid Tun Hamzah had also stated that the prosecution was not appealing.

"The first respondent (Attorney General) was constitutionally bound, having regard to the facts and circumstances and the evidence led by the prosecution, to have exercised his discretion lawfully and it falls upon the Honourable Court to invoke its jurisdiction and power to grant leave to the applicant to apply for an order of certiorari to quash the decision of the first respondent in declining to act under Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution to appeal against the decision of Justice Mohd Zaki Mohd Yassin in acquitting the second respondent (Razak) without calling for his defence," Karpal said.

"It is a very significant application because we are questioning the discretion of the Attorney General; we are saying that the discretion of the Attorney General under the Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution to institute a prosiding in the nature of even filing an appeal is not absolute.

"In other words, he must act fairly and not arbitrarily," he said.

He said that after the amendment of the Constitution in 1993, even the King and the Rulers were subjected to the law. "I can't see the Attorney General being exempted from the law by way of acting as he pleases without anyone to question the manner in which he exercises his discretion," he added.

He said he would asked for an early date for the application to be heard.


"I just want to go home" - was all political analyst Abdul Razak Abdullah Baginda could say after the Shah Alam High Court acquitted him of a charge of abetment in the murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The court took 151 days from June 4, 2007 to hear testimonies from 84 prosecution witnesses before coming up with its verdict on Oct 31 this year.

Abdul Razak also breathed a sigh of relief after deputy public prosecutor Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah, who led the prosecution, confirmed that no appeal would be made against the court's decision in acquitting him.

The high profile case generated a big following and received international attention following rumours of a public figure also linked to the murder.

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23 December, 2008

NEP No Longer In Existence ?

Pak Lah's strengths and weaknesses have unexpectedly contributed to the rise of Pakatan Rakyat. He believes that Umno can change and BN is able to win back support. However, he didn't sound convincing. He feels like optimistic.

He believes that BN and UMNO will recover before the next general elections, but as how they will perform in the elections, he said that will have to depend on DPM Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who will take over as the prime minister soon.

On what makes him think BN and UMNO will recover, Abdullah said, "We have already captured quite many seats now!"

When asked to comment on the trend that many non-Malays are now leaning towards the opposition, he said BN component parties must work together closely and contribute their individual strengths towards BN.

"UMNO, BN, Gerakan, MIC and other component parties must work together. We must share our respective strengths. All component parties must trust BN, or it won't be able to operate at all."

He said MCA and Gerakan Rakyat must work harder to recoup the support of non-Malays

Perhaps, he does not get the needed support from within the party like he does among the public. If he fails to control Umno, he can change nothing; if Umno remains unchanged, nothing can be done.

During an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily at his private residence in Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also emphasized that the New Economic Policy is no longer in existence today.

"The NEP is a policy which is no longer in existence. The objective of this policy has been to eradicate poverty, as you all know."

The way the NEP was implemented had triggered the dissatisfaction among many people, including some Malays, adding that Malaysians needed a more transparent policy and open market.

He said, according to the UN Millennium Development Report, Malaysia is one of the countries that have drastically reduced the poverty rates. Nevertheless, the media have hardly reported on the country's success in reducing poverty.

"If you want to show the country's poverty in order to overthrow the government, or make the people very angry with the government, you can always show this kind of pictures on the TV every day. You can show the pictures of people lacking food supply, but that will be very unfair to the government, for the country's overall poverty rate has dropped!"

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22 December, 2008

Loot Ting Yee resigns following sexual harassment complaints

Chinese education activist Loot Ting Yee (陸庭諭), against whom there have been complaints of sexual harassment, announced his resignation from all posts effective yesterday.

Loot, 80, who is also Dong Jiao Zong and Lim Lean Geok Foundation adviser, issued a three-paragraph statement saying he would not organise any public activities and that he wished to spend his remaining years quietly.

He also said he had seriously considered the complaints against him and decided to resign, so as not to affect the image of the organisations with which he was involved.

He regretted the suffering he had inflicted on the affected people and extended his apology.

A Chinese daily on Sunday reported his inappropriate behaviour towards female reporters after one of his victims posted her complaints in her blog.

The blog posting attracted comments from those who had similar experience with the well-respected Chinese education activist.

In the statement to express his unreserved apology to those who felt offended and hurt by his gestures, Loot said he had seriously considered the complaints against him, and decided to quit all posts so as not to tarnish the image of the two organisations.

He said he would not make any more public appearance and would instead spend his remaining years quietly.

News of Loot's "scandal" and his resignation shocked and saddened many Chinese educationists.

Many who were contacted by the Chinese press declined to comment but felt that the personal misconduct of an individual would not affect public's perception of Chinese education.

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20 December, 2008

Rais Yatim praises Iraqi shoe-thrower

Foreign minister has praised the Iraqi journalist who tossed his shoes at President George W Bush, saying it was the "best show of retaliation" for the US invasion of Iraq.

Rais Yatim praised "the shoe-throwing act by that remarkable reporter who gave President Bush his final farewell last week." "That shoe-throwing episode, in my view, is truly the best weapon of mass destruction to the leader who coined the phrase 'axis of evil' to denote Iran, Iraq and North Korea," he said in a speech late Friday at a dinner to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations.

Television reporter Muntadar al-Zeidi stunned observers when he threw both his shoes at Bush during a press conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on December 14. Bush deftly ducked out of the way both times.

The reporter also shouted in Arabic, "This is your farewell kiss, you dog!" In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of deep contempt.

Al-Zeidi has been handed over to the Iraqi judiciary. Bush has played down the incident, but the case became a rallying point among opponents of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated Friday for al-Zeidi's release.

A Saudi man reportedly offered $10 million for the shoes, and an Iranian cleric suggested they should become museum pieces.

However, authorities said the shoes had been destroyed by investigators. Predominantly Muslim Malaysia opposes the US-led war in Iraq, but supports Washington in its fight against global terrorism.


19 December, 2008

Bukit Antarabangsa Multiple tragedy ?

A forwarded mail from one Dr Rafick dated December 10, 2008

Today is D5 of the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy. During the highland tower incident, I was part of the medical team assisting in the rescue and support effort but today I am a victim of a similar tragedy. Something that I never thought that would have an impact on me.

Relatively in comparison, what happen to those families who loss their love ones is nothing compared to what me and probably 2000 other residents had to endure past 4 days. Many tragedies took place this time around. I am not going to be diplomatic about it. I will say it the way I see it.

Within 2 hour after being made aware of landslide, I and several resident of Taman Bukit Utama activated an Ops Centre (known as TBU Ops Centre).

We look at importance issues that we need to tackle mainly water supply, waste disposal, security, food distribution and medical evacuation.

What was supposed to be our Taman Ops centre became the Ops Centre to eight "Taman" surrounding ours who were cut off from the outside world.

We had no electricity, water, fixed telephone line internet. Most people had limited food in their house as they had already plan to travel for Raya and did not stock up any food.

Within an hour after meeting, we setup and completed a temporary water supply by laying pipes to get mountain water for the resident. Ops centre was up in the next hour and we started communication channel with the outside channel via SMS and arranging food and drinking water supply.

We took preventive measures to manage disease outbreak by managing waste. All this was done by a handful of people from Taman Bukit Utama Resident Association (PPTBU). We setup the helipad for the rescue team to come in.

With the help of a friend DSP Kumar, we manage to evacuate by air (Medivac) a total of 39 patients which consist of stroke patients, elderly people, kidney failure patients etc. The patients were evacuated by police air wing which was arranged by DSP Kumar from the UTK through his personal contacts.

We did all this independently without the support of any help from the Base station at Ground zero.

Within the first 48 hours, while in darkness several homes was reported to be broken into by unknown people in residential areas adjacent to TBU where there was no or minimal residential coordination among the residents.

Food was shortage and cooked food from PBSM (Persatuan Bulan Sabit Merah) did not arrive in timely manner.

The longest time was dinner that only reaches us in the morning which was not consumable.

While we are stuck, we had VVIP visitors that come to our area. I would say out of many people that came only a handful was actually helpful.

YB Elizabeth Wong, a state Exco came with a working group and arrange generators, fuel, candles, garbage bags and others.

She came by foot with very few people and carried the relevant information without empty promises.

The IGP came and given me his personal commitment and blessing that, I continue to handle all air evacuation with the support of Police Udara. I was told that the Minister of Information visited only the UMNO relief center at a Condo nearby. He did not come to our place.

The NGO that is worth mentioning is Mercy who gave me some drugs, INSAF who open a small medical clinic for 2 days and MAVFCL (Kapt Bala and his crew) which open a temporary access between Athenaeum condo and a generator set to charge hand phones and Bukit Utama which allows people to leave by foot. It is a regret to note that NO government agency deserves any mention in the first 36 hours of tragedy except for Polis Udara and Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat. I think they forgot about us.

While 2000 people were surviving in the darkness and the absence of proper food, Concord Hotel, Ali Maju restaurant, Burger King and many others donated tons of food. Unfortunately, no one attempted to send the food to us.

Residents that were not affected by the tragedy and the rescue workers were enjoying them.

The kind of food they get down there was lavish. There was fresh roti chanai, tosai mee goreng etc. The best word to describe the situation down there is "food fiesta".

Someone commented that there is so much "Teh Tarik" that you can wash your shoes with it.

The landslide is a major tragedy. The bigger tragedy is that the failure of the government to act fast enough. While multiple agencies went into action fast, most of them work independently.

On the 3rd day, we had 10 soldiers from RAMD with two officers with the rank of Major that came to our centre. I ask them a basic question on their role and the officers could not give me a straight answer. He was very blur.

To me his presence was a liability to the ops center as we had to feed an additional 10 mouth
with our limited stocks.

This is not the first time a tragedy takes place. The disaster relief operation was not well coordinated.

The command and control was lacking.

Information dissemination to the media was scattered and causes panic among the people.

Many friends and relatives outside calls us and we could not entertain them, as our battery power was limited.

In terms of political publicity, I would say UMNO was a clear winner. This is because they control the media.

Unfortunately, I would say that in the hearts of the people UMNO loss big time.

The high-level conduct of their people on the ground and their selective helps that was given out was too much to bear. In fact, the Putri Umno head that I had known past few months was behaving in such a highhanded manner that really shows her true colours. They were hoarding food and distributing them to "their people".

Their action has only reinforced my idea that the Federal and the State Government must be from different parties. This is needed for check and balance.

Malaysian must realize that for the sake of our own lives and our own children lives, we have to have balance of power.

It was because of lack of balance of power; the water catchment area that is a state land was given to MBF and is now known as "Bukit Antarabangsa".

In my assessment, the government is liable. In this case, the government was led by BN in the state of Selangor and at National level past 50 odd years that is liable for the suffering of the people of Bukit Antarabangsa.

They are liable because they alienated unsuitable land for development.

They are liable for giving the people the false sense of security by approving development plans and projects.

They are liable for hiding information from the people that shows that the area that we are buying is not safe for living.

I will only vote for balance of power in the future and UMNO will not be part of that balance.


18 December, 2008

Prosecution gets a tongue lashing for absent witness

Raja Petra Raja Kamaruddin's sedition trial in the Sessions Court here became rather heated on Wednesday when the prosecution's fifth witness again failed to be present in court, forcing it to postpone hearing to February 10 next year.

Raja Petra's counsel, Gobind Singh Deo, gave the prosecution a tongue-lashing when told that the witness, DSP Gan Tack Guan (the complainant) was attending a course in Taiwan and would only be available after Dec 21.

Gan failed to be present the first time on Nov 10 because he was ill.

Gobind took to task Deputy Public Prosecutor Roslan Mat Noor over the matter claiming the prosecution was deliberately delaying the trial.

Gan was due to be cross-examined by the defence on both occasions (Nov 10 and on Thursday).

Judge Rozina Ayob then interceded and called for a short recess to the proceedings to enable Roslan to get all material information on why Gan could not be present on Thursday.

Roslan later said Gan's office would fax the pertinent details to the court and asked for a two-week adjournment.

Raja Petra, 58, the editor of the Malaysia-Today news portal, is alleged to have published a seditious article at his house in Bukit Rahman Putra, Sungai Buloh.

Titled "Let's Send the Altantuya Murderers to Hell", it appeared on the www.malaysia-today.net website on April 25.

He is charged under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948 which carries a maximum fine of RM5,000 or three years jail or both, if convicted.

Earlier, the court had allowed the prosecution to amend the charge to include the title of the article in it and Raja Petra, when asked to enter a plea, pleaded innocent and castigated the prosecution for the alleged "games they were playing".


Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin claimed the prosecution was deliberately delaying his sedition trial when the complainant in his case was not available to be questioned by his defence team on Thursday.

“Why must the prosecution bring this case to court today just to amend the charge and postpone it?,” Raja Petra, 58, told the Sessions Court.

“How long are we going to wait for Supt Gan Tack Guan (chief investigator in the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case and the complainant in Raja Petra’s sedition trial)?

“He was on medical leave earlier and is now gone for training,” he said.

When told by Sessions Court judge Rozina Ayob that he only had to record his plea over the amended charge, Raja Petra said: “I plead not guilty and I protest the delay.”

The amendment inserted the title of the seditious article and the addition of the URL of the article to the first page of the appendix attached to the sedition charge.

Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo asked the court to direct the prosecution to close the case if they were unable to call Supt Gan to be cross-examined.

“Supt Gan is aware that the hearing has been fixed for four days but he deliberately chose to go away. He is a police officer and should know the procedure,” he contended.

Rozina said Supt Gan was not subpoened and set three days from Feb 10 for continuation of the trial.

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17 December, 2008

PM's final mission to cool racial tensions

Malaysia's prime minister said that his final mission is to cool racial and religious tensions in this multi ethnic country, as he rushes through a raft of reforms in his last weeks in office.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said a shrinking economy and deepening divisions between the majority Malays and minority Chinese and Indians are the biggest threats facing the country.

"Since I am retiring earlier than I was planning to, (the reforms) have to be done very quickly," said Abdullah, who will hand over power to his deputy Najib Razak in March.

Abdullah agreed to step down four years before the end of his term after facing a virtual rebellion from colleagues after the opposition made tremendous gains in March elections. The results robbed the ruling coalition of a two-thirds majority for the first time in four decades.

The opposition's gains have been attributed to anger among ethnic Chinese and Indians who complain of discrimination in jobs, education and other areas by the Malay-dominated government. They say their religious rights have also become secondary to Islam.

Abdullah said he was grappling with how to handle race relations and religious tensions.

"Muslims think from their own perspective. Non-Muslims think from their own perspective," he said.

Critics say racial polarization has increased since Abdullah took office in 2003.

"There has been a lack of leadership to bring divisive forces under control," which emboldened religious extremists, said opposition Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang.

Abdullah suggested he could establish an institution "where all communities" can take their grievances. The answer could also lie in new legislation, ostensibly clarifying gray areas in laws on religious disputes, he said.

Muslims in Malaysia are governed by Shariah laws in family and personal matters. Ethnic Chinese, Indian and other races come under civil courts. There is no clear-cut guidance on which court has greater authority when it comes to disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims, but civil courts have always allowed Shariah courts to adjudicate and verdicts generally favor Muslims.

"Some people (outside Malaysia) laugh at it and say 'What the hell is it about?' ... but it's not funny at all," Abdullah said. "These are very, very serious issues."

An anti-corruption bill introduced by Abdullah that would establish a powerful anti-corruption agency and create a committee to appoint senior judges to ensure judicial independence was passed Tuesday.

But the opposition has refused to vote for the committee because it can only recommend the appointment of judges while final approval remains with the prime minister.


Associated Press writer Eileen Ng contributed to this report.



16 December, 2008

Protesters on bicycles defy police

Police have detained more than two dozen teenagers taking part in a protest over low wages that involves a mass bicycle trek across Malaysia to deliver a petition to the prime minister, a labor rights group said Tuesday.

The riders are mainly ethnic Indian farmers, factory workers and their children. The minority Indian community, among Malaysia's poorest, has been hit hard by rising inflation that recently reached its highest level in nearly 30 years.

Two groups began pedaling on Dec. 3, one setting out from the north and the other from the south, said Y. Kohila, a coordinator for protest organizer, the Oppressed People's Movement. They will each cover about 250 miles (400 kilometers) before they meet in Parliament on Thursday to hand a petition to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other lawmakers.

Twenty-eight teenage riders were detained Monday at a police roadblock in central Selangor state, said Kohila. They remained in police custody Tuesday because authorities were only willing to release them to their parents, most of whom are in northern Malaysia.

"Police made this move to save these children from exploitation by irresponsible parties," Selangor Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar told Bernama.

Kohila denied the teenagers were coerced into the campaign, which she said is meant to "make the government take action to alleviate the problems of plantation and factory workers."

Over the past two weeks, police have arrested the riders at separate locations for conducting a public protest without permission, but later freed them without charges. The riders have continued their journey after being released.

The group's wide-ranging demands include a minimum wage law, tighter government control of consumer prices, better public housing and a halt to privatization of public services including water, health care and education.

Meanwhile, Police will take action against Sungai Siput member of parliament Dr D. Jeyakumar for allegedly using children in an illegal gathering in Rawang Monday, Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar said.

Khalid told reporters here that Dr Jeyakumar was arrested later after he admitted to having organised the event which had no police permit.

He said Dr Jeyakumar would be taken action under Seksyen 32 of the Act for using children in the gathering.

He said those aged 18 and below are considered children under the Child Act 2001.

"The children were never arrested... we saved them from being exploited," he said

Jerit cyclists detained and tortured at Rawang police station

Written by Sivarajan
Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A day that saw an incident free day of cycling took a turn at Rawang . We arrived in Rawang at about 4.30pm. We were supposed to meet up with YB ADUN Rawang, Gan Pei Nei at Rawang Jaya . She and her delegation planned to cycle with the JERIT convoy from there to Rawang town.

But a roadblock greeted us at Rawang . As usual the police requested for names and IC of all the cyclist and coordinator. We intervened and told the police that it is not necessary to record names and addresses of all cyclist as we have a list that we can give it to them. After much argument we took back all the IC of the cyclist and gave the coordinators IC to record . Myself ,Sugu, Saras,Rani ,Mohan gave our IC to be recorded . The IC were returned after recording. But my IC changed hands to another officer ......more

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15 December, 2008

Petrol, Diesel Prices Down 10 Sen Tomorrow,

Malaysiakini SMS News Alert :

Petrol and diesel prices will be reduced by another 10 sen per litre effective tomorrow, the government announced today.

Petrol and diesel prices have been reduced by 10 sen a litre from Tuesday.

In announcing the reduction today, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the RON97 petrol will be sold at RM1.80 a litre from RM1.90 and RON92 petrol at RM1.70 from RM1.80.

Diesel will be sold at RM1.70 a litre from RM1.80, he said in a statement today.

This is the seventh time the government has lowered fuel prices since August. The last revision was on Dec 3.

The fuel price cut was in tandem with the dwindling crude oil price in the world market.

Also effective tomorrow, the price of subsidised petrol and diesel for fishermen has been slashed by 13 sen a litre to RM1.30 from RM1.43, he added.

- Bernama

The BUY by election fever has just begun.


14 December, 2008

EIU: Malaysia politically unstable, 2009 growth at 1.5pc

Political uncertainty and instability are unlikely to dissipate in the months ahead, despite an expected orderly transfer of power from the prime minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to the deputy prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in March.

The leader of the opposition alliance, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, will continue with his campaign to destabilise the ruling Barisan Nasional government by persuading BN legislators to switch to the opposition.

The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the BN coalition to remain in power in the forecast period. The BN still has a sufficiently large majority to pass the bulk of new legislation unchallenged.

We expect real GDP to grow by just 1.5 per cent in 2009, reflecting Malaysia's exposure to the global economic slowdown. We expect world trade to shrink by 0.5 per cent in 2009.

Inflation is forecast to moderate markedly in 2009-10, from an estimated average of 5.7 per cent in 2008. Domestic demand growth will be sluggish, and global prices for oil and industrial raw materials will fall sharply in 2009.

The merchandise trade surplus will fall to US$22.9 billion (RM82.4 billion) in 2009, from an estimated US$35.3 billion in 2008. The current-account surplus will also shrink in the next two years.

The slow pace of judicial reforms has led to growing concerns in the past month that the next prime minister of Malaysia will clamp down on critics and members of the opposition.

Bank Negara Malaysia reduced the overnight policy rate by 25 basis points on Nov 24 to 3.25 per cent, the first reduction since 2003.

The government unveiled a package of fiscal stimulus measures in early November. It also revised its economic forecasts for 2009.

Malaysia's economy grew by 4.7 per cent year on year in the third quarter of 2008, a marked slowdown compared with the second quarter, when the economy grew by 6.7 per cent.

The annual rate of inflation fell below 8 per cent for the first time in three months in October. Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, increased by 7.6 per cent year on year in October.

Merchandise exports grew by 15.1 per cent year on year in September, bolstered by still high global prices for oil, palm oil and liquefied natural gas. But prices for all three commodities have declined sharply during the fourth quarter.

- Economic Intelligence Unit



12 December, 2008

Hopes ride high for judicial reform in Malaysia

With the emergence of several landmark court rulings this year, there is renewed hope among Malaysia's legal fraternity that the judiciary system, more often than not the object of scorn and ridicule, is beginning a long-awaited path to reform. Years of controversies surrounding the judiciary have led to an all-time low public opinion of judges and the courts.

The first major crisis faced was 20 years ago in what is remembered as the Judicial Crisis of 1988, when ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad sacked six top judges from the Supreme Court following a series of clashes between the former leader and the judges.

Three of the sacked judges were eventually reinstated, but the crisis gave clear warning to other members of the judiciary to toe the line.

Public opinion of the judiciary suffered further when in 1996, a letter was circulated alleging judicial corruption. Government investigations later claimed to have found no proof of the alleged wrongdoings.

Observers believe that the 1988 crisis marked the end of judicial independence from the executive powers, and the start of a string of questionable judgments in high profile cases.

One such case was the trial of former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy and corruption.

Anwar was sacked by his former mentor Mahathir in 1998, and subsequently jailed for sodomizing his former driver and then using his power of office to try and cover up his wrongdoings.

Anwar's supporters, as well as international and independent observers at his trial, criticized the manner in which the hearing was conducted and claimed there were several instances where the presiding judge appeared to have favoured the prosecuting government.

Anwar's sodomy conviction was later reversed, but only after he served six years in jail. His appeal against the corruption charge is still pending.

"The Judicial Crisis of 1988, that's where the rot started," said Ambiga Sreneevasan, the president of the Bar Council.

Last year, a videotape surfaced purportedly showing a veteran lawyer with links to top government leaders allegedly fixing the appointment of senior judges in a phone conversation with a former chief justice.

The ensuing outrage caused the government to form a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the videotape contents. The probe revealed that the process of judicial appointments was open to manipulation by the executive branch and private citizens.

Pledges of reform by the current government under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have been largely met with cynicism as critics say the lack of political will to clamp down on the corruption is the major hindrance.

"Reform is not just the question of the integrity of the judiciary. It also includes the issue of competence. How do we select our judges?" said human rights lawyer and constitutional expert Malik Imtiaz.

"The judiciary doesn't only need to be free from influence, but also the appointment process has to be set apart from the executive powers," Imtiaz said.

"I'm not wholly sure there is the political will to carry this through," he said.

However, even critics have acknowledged that several landmark rulings this year alone may signal a long-awaited return to judicial integrity.

On November 5, a court decided to release a controversial internet blogger who had been jailed without trial on allegations that his anti-government writings were a threat to national security. The court ruled that the government acted unconstitutionally.

The ruling was hailed by the legal fraternity and rights activists as a sign that the country's judiciary was not serving as a tool of the government.

"At a time when public confidence in the independence of the judiciary has taken a beating and when promised reforms have yet to take place, the decision gives hope that our judiciary has acted and will act with courage, integrity and independence when the liberty of an individual is threatened by the arbitrary use of power," said Ambiga.

In late November, the High Court overturned the conviction of human rights activist Irene Fernandez, whom the government accused of false reporting that illegal immigrants were sexually, physically and mentally abused in Malaysian detention centres.

Despite the fact that the acquittal came after a 13-year battle, the ruling was hailed as another milestone in judicial independence.

"There's always hope," said Imtiaz.

"As long as there are people who believe in the sacred institution of the judiciary, there will be hope."



11 December, 2008

Indonesia - Muslims burn Christian church

Violence ensued when Muslims accused a teacher of blasphemy. Police attempted to restore order in the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia, while stores and offices are closed.

A group of 500 Muslims wreaked havoc and spread panic in Masohi, in the Moluccan Islands, during clashes with police and local Christians. As a result, 45 homes, a church and a village hall were set alight. The spark that set off the violence is an in incident in which a teacher allegedly insulted Islam in front of some Muslim students.

Once the story spread, the local Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) mobilised, rallying some 500 people in front of the Central Maluku Education Agency. For more than an hour they protested, accusing the teacher of blasphemy and calling for his dismissal. Afterwards, the protesters marched to police headquarters near the school. When they were told that the police chief was out of town, most of the demonstrators left but a group remained to confront the police. The violence spread and resulted in the burning of Christian homes and a church.

News about the incident in Masohi spread across Seram Island and rekindled memories of the Moluccan War of 1999-2000 when Muslims and Christians clashed, with thousands of deaths. Police are on a heightened state of alert while stores and offices are closed as a precautionary measure. Law enforcement authorities have identified those responsible for the clashes. For his part the teacher who sparked the incident is currently in police custody.


10 December, 2008

Muslim Feminists Confront a World of Obstacles

By Nadira Artyk
WeNews correspondent

Participants at the International Congress on Islamic Feminism emphasized different obstacles to their work for women's rights, including a rise in political Islam and fundamentalism, along with U.S. foreign policies.

BARCELONA, Spain (WOMENSENEWS)--At one point during the third gathering of the International Congress on Islamic Feminism, Arifa Mazhar grew tired of talking about religion.

"Instead of debating Islam, we should be debating culture and its impact," she burst out at a microphone during a discussion after one of the sessions. "Culture is so conservative in some tribal areas. Women can't move around; they can't work. There are a lot of social taboos and tribal traditions that oppress women and they have little to do with Islam."

And the principles of local courts and councils are so deeply entrenched that women accept them because they don't know their rights, she added.

Mazhar is the manager of gender issues for the Sungi Development Foundation, a nongovernmental group that has been working in the northwestern province of Pakistan for 15 years.

But for all her focus on culture, she knows the importance of working within an Islamic framework.

Mazhar and colleagues develop rural women's employment prospects through initiatives such as micro-credit and helping them organize collectives to talk over public health and social issues such as water supplies.

In the past few years, she says that when she and her colleagues spoke about women's rights from the human rights perspective, they were increasingly accused of participating in a Western agenda.

With the rise in religious extremism and growing antagonism among ordinary Muslims against the West--largely a response to U.S. interventionist policies abroad--secular, Western-style feminists in countries such as Pakistan are increasingly seen as U.S. agents and regarded with suspicion and distrust.

"Don't tell us how it's done in the West, we have our own culture and religion" is the common response.

"After 15 years of work we have realized that we should incorporate the egalitarian messages of the Quran into our grassroots work," Mazhar said.
Congress Gatherings Since 2005

The International Congress on Islamic Feminism was started by the Islamic Council of Catalonia (Spain) in 2005. Its founder and director is a man called Abdennur Prado, who is also the secretary of the Islamic Council of Spain. The congress is sponsored by British Council, the government of Spain, the European Institute of the Mediterranean region and the Catalonian Islamic Council.

At its third gathering in Barcelona in late October, participants confirmed what other meetings--along with other activists and scholars--have been saying about the primacy of an Islamic framework for their efforts.

The meeting also brought out appeals from some activists for a reversal of U.S. military interventions in the Middle East.

Musdah Mulia, a progressive Islamic scholar from Indonesia, received the U.S. State Department's International Women of Courage Award in 2007 at a ceremony presided over by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "When Mrs. Rice asked me what she can do to help my country, I answered, 'Just stop violence as a way of dealing with Muslim countries,'" Mulia said in an interview.

Asma Barlas, a Pakistani-born scholar on Islamic feminism, was among the most vocal about the need for a more progressive and non-patriarchal interpretation of Islam's holy book. "The Quran has been privatized by a handful of men, mostly Arabs, who decide how we should relate to God," she said while addressing the congress. Sharia religious law and fatwas are decided and issued by grand muftis or ayatollas of the Middle East countries, and all of them are men.
Historic Role for Female Scholars

Female Islamic scholars are a rare find these days, especially in Muslim societies, but it was not always so. In his independent research, scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi has discovered 8,000 female scholars who transmitted and interpreted the hadith--the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad--and even made Islamic law as jurists throughout history.

"Muslim feminists face a dual mandate," said Barlas, "to challenge the substandard status of women living under Islamic laws and to challenge the belief spread outside of the Muslim world that Islam and Muslims are not competent to compete fully in the global movement for democracy, social justice and equality."

Souad Eddouada, a Moroccan gender scholar, echoed concerns about cultural conservatism as she discussed the difficulties of implementing Morocco's progressive 2004 family law, which was hard-fought by several national women's rights groups.

The law, influenced by progressive Quranic interpretations of gender equality and domestic harmony, instituted several significant changes. These included raising the marriage age of women to 18 and abolishing the notion of a marital obligation of obedience toward husbands, known as "ta'a" and imposed by a traditionalist view of the Sharia. Joint decision-making between spouses is encouraged in the reformed law.

"There is a lot of resistance, especially in rural areas," said Souad. "The law and its language is not relevant to every woman in the country. It is more suited to educated, urban women."

Eddouada also downplayed another sign of progress--the fact that 50 Moroccan women are taught each year to be mosque preachers--as mainly symbolic. She says the women express conservative ideas and are very much controlled by the male clergy.

Hindered by Social Resistance

Other scholars agreed that comparable progress in North African and Persian Gulf countries is hindered by social resistance, showing that grassroots work is needed to assist progressive laws and policies.

Norani Othman is a board member of Sisters in Islam, a leading Muslim women's rights group in Malaysia, where a rise in political Islam and religious fundamentalism swayed the government in 1988 to elevate Sharia religious courts and give them equal status with civil courts to handle family matters. Most Malaysian states now have Sharia-infused marital laws.

Sisters in Islam has been trying hard to reform one particular issue--polygamy--which is allowed with restrictions to Muslims in Malaysia.

"But we have come to the wall with this issue," said Othman.

She says Islamist political forces that focus on increasing religion's role in shaping the nation-state use a campaign for full legal polygamy to expand their constituencies by attracting men who want to have more than one wife.

In response, Sisters in Islam decided it needed empirical evidence showing the negative effects of polygamy to reverse public opinion. The group is now conducting a survey and says some respondents are willing to speak publicly.

"We have eager respondents, especially among children of the first wives, who say the second marriage of their father has affected them on several levels, especially emotionally," says Othman.

Fatou Sow, a women's rights advocate from Senegal, says any important debate on outlawing polygamy is stymied by the political influence of extreme religious groups and strong local traditions.

"Local culture still gives a much higher status to married women, so women continue to agree to become second wives," she says.

Margot Badran, a U.S. scholar of Islamic history and feminism, says Muslim activists are under attack from a range of conservatives, be they religious leaders, self-appointed community spokesmen, followers of political Islam or conservative Islamist women who promote patriarchal interpretations of Islam through Quran study groups.

Othman agrees. "Most of us are small, under-funded groups trying to fight against the tide, against the traditional Islamic interpretations."

Nadira Artyk is a Brooklyn-based women's rights advocate, journalist and media consultant. She was born and raised in Uzbekistan, Central Asia.

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09 December, 2008

Celebrate 60 years of human rights

The 10th of December marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a big day for everyone who stands up for human rights worldwide.


08 December, 2008

Thaksin - " the country faces "a nightmare" unless it respects democracy and the rule of law."

Thaksin uses blog to demand rule of Law

Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has intervened via a blog to warn that the country faces "a nightmare" unless it respects democracy and the rule of law.

In a wide-ranging and carefully timed intervention he said that public officials were failing in their duty of carry out the orders of the democratically elected government.

The decision to take to the internet to intervene in Thai politics reveals how Thaksin no longer believes the Thai media would accurately represent his point of view.

It also underlines the importance of messaging to core supporters during a period of extreme uncertainty in the high stakes Thai political crisis.

Speaking to the Thomas Crampton blog he said the army must also obey the government orders as ministers seek to re-open Bangkok's besieged airports.

“They are officials whose salary is paid by taxpayer money, so they have to do what is wanted by the whole of the Thai people, not just for minority groups," he said.

"They must respect Democracy. They must play by the rules. Being neutral means you have to observe the law.”

Thaksin is currently exiled from the country he once governed as a result of a series of criminal convictions against both he and his wife.

He also demanded that the People's Alliance for Democracy leave the airports and allow international air traffic back into the Thai capital.

“The airports must be reopened and the protesters must respect not only the law, but the citizens of Thailand,” Thaksin said. “If no one respects the law, then law enforcement must be done.”

“This is dangerous for the country and there will be a long term effect if the Thai people are not united. The protesters need to leave the airports. Those who violate the law must be prosecuted."

The former premier also warned that the country could descend into civil war in the military attempted to stage another coup.

“If a coup were to happen, there would be bloodshed, this would not be an easy coup like in the past.

"The people in Thailand now face hardship since dictatorship came.”

Thaksin's online intervention led to a rapid exchange of views at the online blog.

Over 300 respondents posted comments, forcing Crampton to close the initial thread on the discussion forum.

The intervention also sparked angry exchages, with some respondents accusing Crampton of being paid by Thaksin for the platform to air his views.

Crampton denied that he had been paid, and also rejected claims he had paid Thaksin for the interview.

In a Twitter Update Crampton admitted that the interview was controversial.

"My Thaksin interview now has 314 comments in my blog and 191 on my YouTube channel. People are passionate about the man," he said.

- PublicAffairsAsia.com