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Ed Webb

The Disappeared Children of Israel - The New York Times - 0 views

  • a community of Israelis of Yemenite descent who for decades have been seeking answers about their lost kin.
  • Known as the “Yemenite Children Affair,” there are over 1,000 official reported cases of missing babies and toddlers, but some estimates from advocates are as high as 4,500. Their families believe the babies were abducted by the Israeli authorities in the 1950s, and were illegally put up for adoption to childless Ashkenazi families, Jews of European descent. The children who disappeared were mostly from the Yemenite and other “Mizrahi” communities, an umbrella term for Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. While the Israeli government is trying to be more transparent about the disappearances, to this day, it denies that there were systematic abductions.
  • Following the nation’s founding in 1948, new immigrants to Israel were placed in transit camps, in harsh conditions, which were tent cities operated by the state because of housing shortages. Hundreds of testimonies from families living in the camps were eerily similar: Women who gave birth in overburdened hospitals or who took their infants to the doctor were told that their children had suddenly died. Some families’ testimonies stated that they were instructed to leave their children at nurseries, and when their parents returned to pick them up, they were told their children had been taken to the hospital, never to be seen again. The families were never shown a body or a grave. Many never received death certificates.
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  • Naama Katiee, 42, remembers hearing about Rabbi Meshulam as a teenager. She asked her Yemenite father about what happened, but he said he didn’t want to discuss it. She met Shlomi Hatuka, 40, on Facebook through Mizrahi activist groups and together they founded AMRAM, a nonprofit organization that has cataloged over 800 testimonies of families on its website.
  • a movement among the younger generation of Israelis of Yemenite descent — and activists from the broader Mizrahi community — who are building public pressure in demanding explanations for the disappearances and acknowledgment of systematic abductions.
  • “They really thought they had to raise a new generation, which was separate from the old ‘primitive’ community,” Ms. Katiee said about the early state of Israel. During the years soon after the country’s founding, Jews in Israel emigrated from over 80 countries and from several ethnic groups, part of a national project focused on forging a common new Israeli identity. Recently arrived Yemenite and other Mizrahi Jews tended to be poor, more religious and less formally educated than the Ashkenazi establishment in Israel, who looked down on them and wanted them to conform to their idea of a modern Israel.
  • For years, families were told they were wrong to accuse the Israeli government of such malice. Mr. Hatuka said that many of the mothers interviewed by AMRAM, including his own grandmother who lost a child, were often conflicted about whom to hold responsible. “They love this country,” he said. “My grandmother knew that something was wrong, but at the same time she couldn’t believe that someone who is Jewish would do this to her.”
  • The issue continues to resurface because of sporadic cases of family members, who were said to have died as infants, being reunited through DNA testing, as well as a number of testimonies from nurses working at the time who corroborated that babies were taken.
  • deep mistrust between the state and the families.
  • In 1949, Mrs. Ronen arrived in Israel from Iran while 8 months pregnant with twin girls. After she gave birth, the hospital released her, advising that she rest in the transit camp for a few days before taking the girls home. When she called the hospital to tell them she was coming for her babies, she recalled that the staff informed her: “One died in the morning and one before noon. There is nothing for you to come for anymore.”
  • Gil Grunbaum, 62, became aware of his adoption at age 38, when a family friend told his wife, Ilana, that he was adopted. Mr. Grunbaum tracked down his biological mother, an immigrant from Tunisia, who was told her son died during her sedated birth in 1956. Mr. Grunbaum’s adoptive parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland. He didn’t want to add more trauma to their lives, so he kept the discovery to himself.
  • Ms. Aharoni said that she then went to consult her father, a respected rabbi in the community, who dismissed her suspicions. “You are not allowed to think that about Israel; they wouldn’t take a daughter from you,”
  • “Jews doing this to other Jews? I don’t know,”
Ed Webb

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
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  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation. The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”
  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved. Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.
  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia, My Changing Home - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • We do indeed live in a gender-segregated society. But affluent and educated Saudis who follow international news often find it difficult to accept a viewpoint that portrays their family members as subjugated and oppressed. Many Saudis, for example, regard the requirement that their mothers, wives and sisters obtain permission slips to leave the country or pursue higher education as nothing but a minor inconvenience. It’s also hard for many well-off people here to wrap their minds around the fact that there are actually women who might not be content to live in a country whose legal system still permits an 80-year-old man to marry an 11-year-old girl or can force a happily married couple to divorce if religious courts accept a family member’s claim that the husband comes from a lower-status tribe. Many Saudis believe that the outside world has some ulterior motive for criticizing their country. There were times in school when I was told that “infidels” take a hypocritical stance on justice and human rights out of spite, to sully Muslim women and denigrate Islam.
  • Growing up in the Midwest Bible-belt during the 1980s, my family and I were sometimes treated like the enemy
  • some Saudi parents would not let their daughters play with me because they thought I might teach them how to be “Westernized.” My American-accented Arabic put off some classmates and even some teachers. Those who taught religion were particularly suspicious, often checking whether I would say noon-day prayers
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  • the outside world has only started being accessible to the average citizen with the introduction of satellite TV in the 1990s. Exposure increased with the accessibility of the Internet in the past decade. Saudis are now able to see the rest of the world for themselves rather than accept the distorted version depicted by our religious establishment.
  • as the world grows smaller and more Saudis are communicating on a personal level with others across borders, cultures, religions and languages, stereotypes we’ve been taught — and the stereotypes outsiders have of us — are being torn down
  • Eman Al Nafjan is the author of the Saudiwoman’s Weblog (saudiwoman.me), a blog on Saudi society, culture, women and human rights issues
Ed Webb

A forgotten chapter in the history of Egypt and Jews | Egypt Independent - 0 views

  • It is a tale of history that is a decline. A fraying of social fabric, as mistrust enters into the interactions between neighbors. From a way of living where to be Jewish was inconsequential to social relations, to the way that being Jewish became an accusation.
  • The story of Jews in the Middle East does not fold smoothly into a Jewish narrative of oppression, and many Egyptian Jews can trace their families’ arrival in Egypt to an escape from persecution, whether from pogroms or the Spanish Inquisition. The history of the Jews in Europe has been told such that it becomes the history of all Jews, and it is a deeply politicized narrative, its folds influenced by Zionism, such that the history of the Jews without a homeland is simply one of persecution, and that Israel offers a solution to that perennial condition. The Jews of Egypt tell a different story. So different was this story that, even for those who did not oppose Israel for political reasons, it simply did not resonate or speak to them. As a French journalist, the daughter of an Egyptian Jew, says: “It did not occur to the family to go to Israel. That was a place for oppressed Jews, so it wasn’t for us.”
  • “Laila Mourad,” a man says near the start of the film, “she was great.” But on hearing that she was Jewish, he takes his praise back. There is only one comment of this sort in the film; it is not an exploration of contemporary Egyptian perceptions of Jews. Rather, this comment acts as a pointer to contemporary reality, and in a sense, because it is so near the start, the rest of the film is a kind of answer or a rejoinder to it.
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  • The stories become darker. There’s the story of the officer who arrives at night, giving an entire family a number of days within which to leave their country. And these are stories also of resilience — the man who says to the officer, “I am more Egyptian than you,” the one who challenges the officer at his door not to “challenge the patriotism standing before him,” or the one who answers the officer’s suggestion that he leave to Israel with, “No, why don’t you go to Israel.”
  • The film offers a tale characterized by warm memories, but also a tale of how friendships, work relationships and neighborly interminglings can become poisoned by the machinations of a regime and its propaganda machine. It is a tale of how it is easier to poison than it is to get the poison out.
Ed Webb

Can dry hotels boost Tunisia's ailing tourism sector? - 0 views

  • The Sandra Club Hotel in Hammamet, a popular coastal town in the north of Tunis, aims to position itself as a “family hotel,” and thus serves no alcohol, has segregated spas and massage rooms, and religious entertainment shows throughout Ramadan.Inaugurated by the head of the Islamic Ennahda movement Rachid Ghannouchi on June 2, it is the second alcohol-free hotel in this touristic town, following Azur Plaza, which opened four years ago. There are about 10 similar establishments in Tunisia.
  • a controversy about the concept of “halal tourism” in the country. While Ministry of Tourism officials are reluctant to use the term, let alone encourage it, many people in the sector consider it a new measure that could boost Tunisia’s declining tourism sector. The sector, once one of the economic engines of the country, received a heavy blow following an attack by the Islamic State on a hotel three years ago that killed 39 people and wounded 40 others; the victims were mostly British
  • The Ministry of Tourism rejects the term “halal tourism” or “Islamic tourism.” Seif al-Shaalali, media adviser to the tourism minister, said that it was the hotel owner's prerogative to decide whether to serve alcohol, but he added that the ministry does not use the label "halal hotels" as an official description. 
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  • “This hotel, with a capacity of 500 guests, had been closed since 2015 and all its staff was laid off,” Saffar told Al-Monitor. “In 2018, I rented it and rehired the old employees. I introduced some reforms and advertised it as [an alcohol-free] hotel to attract Tunisians and Algerians as well as other Arab tourists.”
  • “Azur Plaza in Hammamet was the country’s first experience in the family tourism sector back in August 2014. This initiative was launched at the prodding of our conservative friends and families, including veiled sisters who are banned from entering swimming pools because of their burkinis. The trend started with one small hotel and now there are now many of this type across the Tunisian governorates.” Qaydara stressed that this type of tourism has saved several businesses from bankruptcy and created hundreds of jobs in the tourism sector.
Ed Webb

AP Exclusive: Digital police state shackles Chinese minority - 0 views

  • thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of people, rights groups and academics estimate, who have been spirited without trial into secretive detention camps for alleged political crimes that range from having extremist thoughts to merely traveling or studying abroad. The mass disappearances, beginning the past year, are part of a sweeping effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang and over its Uighurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that China says has been influenced by Islamic extremism
  • Uighur activists and international human rights groups argue that repressive measures are playing into the hands of the likes of al-Qaida, which has put out Uighur-language recruiting videos condemning Chinese oppression. “So much hate and desire for revenge are building up,” said Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur activist in Canada. “How does terrorism spread? When people have nowhere to run.”
  • While forced indoctrination has been reported throughout Xinjiang, its reach has been felt far beyond China’s borders. In April, calls began trickling into a Uighur teacher’s academy in Egypt, vague but insistent. Uighur parents from a few towns were pleading with their sons and daughters to return to China, but they wouldn’t say why. “The parents kept calling, crying on the phone,” the teacher said. Chinese authorities had extended the scope of the program to Uighur students abroad. And Egypt, once a sanctuary for Uighurs to study Islam, began deporting scores of Uighurs to China.
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  • Shopkeepers in the thronging bazaar don mandatory armored vests and helmets to sell hand-pulled noodles, tailored suits and baby clothes.
  • police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols be built every 500 meters (yards)— a total of 1,130, according to the Hotan government. The AP saw cavalcades of more than 40 armored vehicles including full personnel carriers rumble down city boulevards. Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content
  • Southern Xinjiang, the vast desert basin from where many of the students came, is one of the most heavily policed places on earth.
  • Xinjiang is now hiring 40 times more police per capita than populous Guangdong Province
  • To enter the Hotan bazaar, shoppers first pass through metal detectors and then place their national identification cards on a reader while having their face scanned. The facial scanner is made by China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), a state-owned defense contractor that has spearheaded China’s fast-growing field of predictive policing with Xinjiang as its test bed. The AP found 27 CETC bids for Xinjiang government contracts, including one soliciting a facial recognition system for facilities and centers in Hotan Prefecture
  • The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes, and even voices. In February, authorities in Xinjiang’s Bayingol prefecture, which includes Korla, required every car to install GPS trackers for real-time monitoring. And since late last year, Xinjiang authorities have required health checks to collect the population’s DNA samples. In May, a regional police official told the AP that Xinjiang had purchased $8.7 million in DNA scanners — enough to analyze several million samples a year.
  • When a Uighur businessman from Kashgar completed a six-month journey to flee China and landed in the United States with his family in January, he was initially ecstatic. He tried calling home, something he hadn’t done in months to spare his family unwanted police questioning. His mother told him his four brothers and his father were in prison because he fled China. She was spared only because she was frail
  • This month, Xinjiang announced it would require every government employee in the region to move into a Uighur home for a week to teach families about ideology and avoiding extremism.
  • AP reporters were later detained by police, interrogated for 11 hours, and accused of “illegal reporting” in the area without seeking prior permission from the Korla government. “The subjects you’re writing about do not promote positive energy,” a local propaganda official explained. Five villagers said they knew authorities had taken away the young student; one said he was definitely alive, the others weren’t sure. When asked, local police denied he existed at all.
Ed Webb

Young Jordanians back 'honour' killings - 0 views

  • A study into the attitude of teenagers in Jordan’s capital city of Amman reveals that almost half of boys and one in five girls believe that killing a daughter, sister or wife who has ‘dishonoured’ or shamed the family is justified. A third of all teenagers involved in the research advocated honour killing. 
  • religion and intensity of religious belief were not associated with support for honour killing. Instead, the main factors include patriarchal and traditional worldviews, emphasis placed on female ‘virtue’, and a more general belief that violence against others is morally justified
  • “While we found the main demographic in support of HKA to be boys in traditional families with low levels of education, we noted substantial minorities of girls, well-educated and even irreligious teenagers who consider honour killing morally right, suggesting a persisting society-wide support for the tradition,
Ed Webb

William Hague intervenes over West Bank barrier - Assawra - 0 views

  • The British foreign secretary and the Archbishop of Westminster have joined forces in opposing the route of Israel’s vast barrier along the West Bank, which adversely affects a community of monks, nuns and Christian families near Bethlehem.
  • In addition to Hague’s personal intervention, the British consulate in East Jerusalem is supporting the community and the Department for International Development (Dfid) is providing indirect funding for the legal challenge.
  • a symbolic example of the impact of the separation barrier on Palestinian communities and the loss of Palestinian land. Around 85% of the barrier is inside the West Bank.
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  • British government policy is that Israel is entitled to build a barrier but it should lie on the internationally recognised 1967 Green Line, not on confiscated Palestinian land. It is concerned that the route is harming the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the route of Israel’s barrier on Palestinian territory breached international law and was "tantamount to de facto annexation".
  • Many Palestinian Christians have emigrated as a result of the economic impact of the separation barrier which has already been built around the city of Bethlehem and its nearby villages. Residents have difficulty in accessing their land and exporting their produce. The hurdles in reaching Christian holy sites in Jerusalem is another factor encouraging them to leave.
  • Under the current Israeli plan, the barrier will run between the monastery and convent, separating the two establishments and cutting off the monks from the local Christian community. It will also separate the convent and more than 50 families from land they own.
  • Under the present proposal, the convent’s premises will abut the barrier. The playground of a kindergarten and school, run by the sisters for more than 50 years and catering for almost 400 Christian and Muslim children, will be overlooked by military watchtowers, and 75% of land owned by the convent will be on the other side of the barrier.
  • Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, said the involvement of a foreign government in a legal battle against another government was "very odd".
Ed Webb

Tunisia's Compromise Constitution - Sada - 0 views

  • Despite the reassurances of articles 40 and 45 as safeguards for women’s rights in Tunisia’s next constitution, women’s rights groups nonetheless still see much work to be done. They fear that article 7, which defines the family as “the nucleus of society” might be used later to limit women’s rights. For example, this could mean limiting women’s right to a divorce in the name of protecting the family. They also argue that article 21, which states that “the right to life is sacred” could be used to ban abortion, which is currently legal in the early stages of pregnancy. More likely, women’s rights groups could use articles 20 and 45 to push for a revision of the inheritance law, which is currently based in Islamic law.
  • While Western observers praise the current text as the best and most modern constitution in the Arab world, many Tunisians say that they do not want to have the most modern one in the region, but would rather see a good, coherent constitution. As it stands, the text reflects well the antagonisms that shape Tunisian society itself—compared to the 1959 post-independence constitution, which was closer to the elite’s vision of society than to social reality. The new text also highlights Tunisia’s contradictions. It will be for the Constitutional Court, to be established for the first time in the country’s history, to find (for the roughly 150 articles of text) a coherent interpretation that aims to guarantee Tunisians a democratic future.
Ed Webb

Fears grow of rift between Saudi king and crown prince | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • in late February when the king, 83, visited Egypt and was warned by his advisers he was at risk of a potential move against him, according to a detailed account from a source. His entourage was so alarmed at the possible threat to his authority that a new security team, comprised of more than 30 hand-picked loyalists from the interior ministry, was flown to Egypt to replace the existing team.
  • The friction in the father-son relationship was underlined, the source said, when the prince was not among those sent to welcome the king home.
  • The crown prince, who was designated “deputy king” during the Egypt trip, as is customary, signed off two major personnel changes while the king was away. They included the appointment of a female ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, and that of his full brother, Khalid bin Salman, to the ministry of defence. The latter appointment has further centralised power in one branch of the ruling family.
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  • Royal appointments are almost always announced in the name of the king, but the 23 February decrees were signed by the “deputy king”. One expert said the title of deputy king had not been used in this way for decades.
  • Prince Mohammed angered people last month when he walked on top of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, provoking complaints to the king by some religious scholars that the move had been inappropriate
  • Supporters of the king have been pushing him to get more involved in decision-making, to prevent the crown prince from taking more power.
  • the king and his team learned about the reshuffle via television
  • The prince and king have also been at odds on significant foreign policy matters, the source said, including the handling of prisoners of war in Yemen, and the Saudi response to protests in Sudan and Algeria.
  • While the king is not a reformer, he is said to have supported freer coverage of the protests in Algeria in the Saudi press.
Ed Webb

With more Islamic schooling, Erdogan aims to reshape Turkey - 0 views

  • Erdogan has said one of his goals is to forge a “pious generation” in predominantly Muslim Turkey “that will work for the construction of a new civilisation.” His recent speeches have emphasised Turkey’s Ottoman history and domestic achievements over Western ideas and influences. Reviving Imam Hatip, or Imam and Preacher, schools is part of Erdogan’s drive to put religion at the heart of national life after decades of secular dominance, and his old school is just one beneficiary of a government programme to pump billions of dollars into religious education.
  • spending on Imam Hatip upper schools for boys and girls aged 14 to 18 will double to 6.57 billion lira ($1.68 billion) in 2018
  • the 645,000 Imam Hatip students make up only 11 percent of the total upper school population, they receive 23 percent of funding
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  • Turkey has also increased religious education teaching at regular state schools, some of which have been converted into Imam Hatip schools. The government declined to say how many
  • Islamic schools are underperforming the regular ones
  • Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz has said previously that the government is responding to popular demand by opening new Imam Hatip schools
  • “Islam is not being forced on people. It is not a matter of saying everyone should go to Imam Hatips. We are just providing an opportunity to those families who want to send their children to Imam Hatips.”
  • Some secularist parents say the Islamist school movement is robbing their children of resources and opportunity. Those differences are part of a wider disagreement between liberal and secular sections of society and Erdogan’s support base of conservative, pious Turks
  • critics have accused Erdogan of rolling back the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 and weakening its pillars - the army, judiciary and media. Relations between NATO-member Turkey and its U.S. and European partners have become strained. Ankara’s bid to join the European Union has stalled and Western countries have criticised Turkey over mass arrests that followed a failed military coup in July 2016
  • The school’s website vaunts its success in pursuits including karate, biology, chemistry, Arabic, music and Koran recitation. Religious education lessons account for around a quarter to a third of the curriculum in Imam Hatip schools
  • anathema to secularists, people on the political left and members of the minority Alevi faith, which draws upon Shi’ite, Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions and rituals that differ sharply from those of the country’s Sunni majority
  • Sarigazi is a non-religious school, in an area with a strong Alevi and secular community, but a large part of the premises has been converted into an Imam Hatip school.A group of parents has petitioned education authorities to stop the conversion, collecting hundreds of signatures. Those parents say the change began several years ago with a few Imam Hatip “guest” classes but has since expanded to 1,300 pupils, encroaching on the building where some 3,000 students study in a regular middle school. The mother of a 10-year-old girl at the regular school said she and other parents would continue their fight against the school’s conversion. She said it was wrong to force Islam on people. Like several other secularist parents interviewed, the woman declined to give her name
  • Successive AK Party governments have given a high priority to education, ramping up the education ministry’s spending to some 12.3 percent of the entire budget this year from 6.9 percent in 2003, the AK Party’s first full year in power.Despite all the money allocated to the schools, figures on 2017 university placements show graduates of religious schools lag their peers in regular schools. Only 18 percent of applicants from religious schools earned places on full degree courses at university last year, compared with 35 percent from regular state upper schools and 45 percent from private upper schools.
  • survey of academic performance published in December 2016 for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed the success of Imam Hatip upper school students was below the national average
  • Turkey slipped an average of eight places in the survey’s rankings for science, mathematics and reading, compared with the previous study three years earlier, to 50th among 72 countries
  • Reuters could not determine whether socioeconomic factors were contributing to the performance gap between Imam Hatip and regular schools because there is no data available on pupils’ family backgrounds, their income and education. However, religious schools are found in towns and cities across Turkey, in poor and affluent districts.
  • the number of students in Imam Hatip upper schools dipped slightly last year. Opposition lawmaker Engin Altay said the slide was “directly correlated with the low success rate of Imam Hatip upper schools in an academic sense.”
  • Halit Bekiroglu, chairman of an association of Imam Hatip members and graduates, said secularist fears about the schools were exaggerated. Their revival, he said, reflected the conservative religious character of most of Turkish society and a desire for a change in an education system that previously imported Western ideas
  • Parents who send their children to Imam Hatip schools speak of their desire for them to have a strong moral education
  • Batuhan Aydagul, director of Education Reform Initiative, an independent think tank in Istanbul, said: “What we see now is a ‘national and native’ identity being constructed in education.”
  • mathematical engineer Ozlem Koc, 42, who lives on the Asian side of Istanbul. She won a court case in June after a year-long battle with education authorities to exempt her 10-year-old son from religious education, arguing that it was contrary to human rights to force it on children.“This is not just my personal case,” she said. “I want my child to be exempt from religious lessons, but I am also fighting for compulsory religious education to be removed from the curriculum.”
Ed Webb

Jordan's Baha'is struggle for basic civil rights - 0 views

  • in Irbid, Niaz Ruhani and his wife, Wissam al-Masjoun, pray at home, like all other Baha’is in Jordan. They have no temples or religious courts or education classes because Jordan does not officially recognize the Baha’i faith as a religion. The Baha'is arrived in Jordan in the late 19th century from Iran, where the religion originated. A few families, mostly agricultural workers, settled in the Adassiya region, in the Jordan Valley. Their descendants currently number an estimated 1,000 in the kingdom, according to Ruhani, a senior member of the community
  • Jordan's Baha’i community, like most Baha’is in the Middle East, lament that they do not enjoy full civil rights because authorities refuse to officially recognize their religion. Jordan only recognizes Islam, Christianity and Judaism. As a result, Baha’is face difficulties registering marriages and divorces, settling inheritances, establishing places of worship and receiving religious education through schools
  • “Since Baha'ism is not recognized as a religion, a Baha’i marriage is not fully registered by the Jordanian Civil Status and Passport Department,” said Wissam al-Masjoun, who is a lawyer. “The state gives us a family book, but it does not record the date of marriage.”
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  • Because there is no Baha’i court, Baha’is are sent to Islamic courts to sort inheritance issues, but Baha’i tradition on inheritance is different from Islam. For example, under Islamic law, a daughter is entitled to only half the inheritance a son is guaranteed, but in Baha’ism, the will of the deceased determines who gets what. Given all this, Baha’is try to settle issues of inheritance among themselves, or they approach a civil court to sort out matters.
  • she has never felt the need to hide that she is Baha'i, a tiny minority in a country that is 97% Sunni Muslim
  • Article 6 of the Jordanian Constitution states that Jordanians shall be equal before the law and that there should be no discrimination among them in regard to their rights and duties on the basis of race, language or religion,” she told Al-Monitor. “However, Baha'is face problems when it comes to the implementation of this article. Article 14 provides that the state shall safeguard the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites, but this article is limited only to the recognized religions in the kingdom.”
Ed Webb

Tunisian Islamists show strength at chief's return - Yahoo! News - 0 views

  • The reception for Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, at Tunis airport was the biggest showing by the Islamists in two decades, during which thousands of them were jailed or exiled by president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
  • The Islamists were Tunisia's strongest opposition force at the time Ben Ali cracked down on them in 1989 but are thought not to have played a leading role in the popular revolt.
  • A group of men performed prayers on a grass verge, a scene unthinkable in Tunisia just a few weeks ago
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  • Ennahda likens its ideology to that of Turkey's ruling AK Party, saying it is committed to democracy. Experts on political Islam say its ideas are some of the most moderate among Islamist groups
  • Asked how they had managed to organize so quickly, one activist said: "Our activities were stopped, but you can't disperse an ideology."
  • A handful of secularists turned up at the airport to demonstrate against the party, holding up a placard reading: "No Islamism, no theocracy, no Sharia and no stupidity!" Ennahda and its supporters say they do not seek an Islamic state and want only the right to participate in politics. "We want a democratic state," said Mohammed Habasi, an Ennahda supporter who said he had been jailed four times since 1991 for "belonging to a banned group." "We suffered the most from a lack of democracy," he said
Ed Webb

Robert Fisk: Secular and devout. Rich and poor. They marched together with one goal - Robert Fisk, Commentators - The Independent - 0 views

  • There were several elements about this unprecedented political event that stood out. First was the secularism of the whole affair. Women in chadors and niqabs and scarves walked happily beside girls with long hair flowing over their shoulders, students next to imams and men with beards that would have made Bin Laden jealous. The poor in torn sandals and the rich in business suits, squeezed into this shouting mass, an amalgam of the real Egypt hitherto divided by class and regime-encouraged envy. They had done the impossible – or so they thought – and, in a way, they had already won their social revolution.
  • There I was, back on the intersection behind the Egyptian Museum where only five days ago – it feels like five months – I choked on tear gas as Mubarak's police thugs, the baltigi, the drug addict ex-prisoner cops, were slipped through the lines of state security policemen to beat, bludgeon and smash the heads and faces of the unarmed demonstrators, who eventually threw them all out of Tahrir Square and made it the Egyptian uprising. Back then, we heard no Western support for these brave men and women. Nor did we hear it yesterday.
  • They supported democracy. We supported "stability", "moderation", "restraint", "firm" leadership (Saddam Hussein-lite) soft "reform" and obedient Muslims.
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  • what were the Americans doing? Rumour: US diplomats were on their way to Egypt to negotiate between a future President Suleiman and opposition groups. Rumour: extra Marines were being drafted into Egypt to defend the US embassy from attack. Fact: Obama finally told Mubarak to go. Fact: a further evacuation of US families from the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, escorted by Egyptian troops and cops, heading for the airport, fleeing from a people who could so easily be their friends.
Ed Webb

Israeli rabbis clamp down on burka - Telegraph - 0 views

  • Since donning the burka, the woman said she had been taunted by neighbours who called her a "smelly Arab" and that Israeli soldiers had asked to see her identification papers to prove she was not a Muslim. They backed down, she said, when she showed them that her children were clearly Jewish. The trend has also caused tensions in family life. One man went to a rabbinical court in an attempt to get a ruling to force his wife to stop wearing the burka. The plan backfired, however. The court ruled that that woman's behaviour was so "extreme" that it ordered the couple to undergo an immediate religious divorce.
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    I can imagine spending a whole three hour seminar meeting on this one story...
Ed Webb

Equality of the Sexes Contested on National Women's Day : Tunisia Live - News, Economy, Culture and Travel - 0 views

  • First celebrated in Tunisia over fifty years ago, National Women’s Day commemorates the adoption of Tunisia’s Code of Personal Status (CPS), which was promulgated on August 13, 1956. The first law passed after the country gained independence from French rule, the CPS redefined the role of women within Tunisian society. The law outlawed polygamy, banned the wearing of the hijab, established a judicial process for divorce, and required the consent of both parties for a marriage to be considered valid. It also defined men and women as equal citizens and granted the right to comparable wages for men and women.
  • In particular, post-revolutionary power gains by Islamist political parties, such as Tunisia’s Ennahdha party, have led to unease among feminists. “Now, they [Ennahdha] want to take back all that we had achieved,” Saida Rachid stated today to Tunisia Live. “Unlike the reassuring and calming declarations from the Ennahdha party after the [October 2011 Constituent Assembly] elections, claiming that Tunisian women’s rights would remain safe, we are now under serious threat.” Rachid referred to article 28 of Tunisia’s draft constitution as particularly dangerous to women’s post-revolutionary gains. Terming women as man’s “partner,” the clause states that man’s and woman’s roles in the family are “complimentary.” The proposed article was approved by the Commission of Rights and Liberties on August 1 with a vote of 12 to 8, with Ennahdha party members comprising 9 of the votes in favor
  • Ennahdha Constituent Assembly member Souad Abderrahim called the public reaction to the article “very exaggerated.” She explained, “It is still a draft and not a final one…We wrote that women and men are complementary to each other, and not that women complement men. Second, we already mentioned the word ‘equality’ in article 22.”
Ed Webb

Coptic group rejects constitutional proposal that Christians be subject to the church in family law - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online - 0 views

  • Article 2 has become the subject of a new Coptic-Coptic dispute after an obscure Coptic group, dubbed the '38 Copts Association,' rejected the above-mentioned compromise. The group derives its name from a 1938 decree by the Coptic Church's Holy Synod – later overturned by late Coptic Pope Shenouda III – granting Copts the right to divorce.
  • The group demands that, as Egyptians, they should be constitutionally subject to Islamic Law, which – unlike Coptic law – allows for divorce
  • "There is no such thing as Christian jurisprudence. For this reason, the Bible instructs us to adhere to the laws of the state."
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  • At one point, an argument erupted between group members and Judge Edward Ghaleb, who serves as both head of the Coptic Church's lay council and head of the Constituent Assembly's rights and freedoms committee. According to Ghaleb, the group's grievances are of an "individual" nature, while the constitution is meant to address general principles. He added that the assembly would look into Coptic grievances, but stressed that the new charter was being written "for all Egyptians."
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