Monday, December 28, 2009

ignored by Western press? one-year anniversary of Israeli assault on Gaza

self-censorship? no headlines in the New York Times... not on Yahoo News ...pretty much ignored by any major Western press that I've seen... why is this only major news on Arabic, Chinese and alternative Western news organizations? it is a major story here in the Middle East and gets a lot of time on Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera English - GAZA: ONE YEAR ON

Gaza marks Israel attack anniversary CCTV-International

Palestinian Journalist Remembers Israel's Assault on Gaza

Gaza Freedom March Planned for One-Year Anniversary of Israeli Assault

gulfnews : Convoy stuck at border on anniversary of Gaza war
(story below)

Egypt has thus far not allowed the group to pass saying it was a “sensitive situation” but currently diplomatic efforts between Egypt and Turkey are trying to arrange a solution.

  • By Layelle Saad, GCC/Middle East Editor
  • Published: 15:17 December 27, 2009

  • The convoy, jointly organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK, left London on December 6.

Dubai: An international delegation known as the Gaza Freedom March remains stuck in Jordan’s Aqaba sea port, with tons of humanitarian aid to be delivered to the people of Gaza. Gulf News spoke with members of one the UK delegation via telephone to get an idea of what they group was facing.

“We all have a shared sense of nervous anxiety,” Alexandra Lorty Phillips, team leader of UK’s Alpha team said. “We didn’t think we wouldn’t be allowed to take the ferry, we have have been here since Wednesday and have critical aid to deliver, some medications will surely expire in the sun,” she explained.

Egypt has thus far not allowed the group to pass saying it was a “sensitive situation” but currently diplomatic efforts between Egypt and Turkey are trying to arrange a solution.

“Our convoy is determined to break the siege and take in urgently needed supplies. Spirits are high in our camp in Aqaba, and we are going nowhere except to Gaza,” British MP George Galloway said.

“Allahu Akbar” chanting could be heard over the telephone as Philips told Gulf News the team was assembling in front of the Egyptian consulate to start a hunger strike.

Members of the 400 strong delegation hail from many European countries as well as some people from Malaysia. They are carring $250,000 worth of aid, including bandages, chairs, walkers, everyday medicines, antibiotics.

“We also have baby milk, childrens play educational material for a Gaza orphanages,” Phillips explained.

The convoy, jointly organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK, left London on December 6. It has enjoyed safe passage through Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan on its way to Gaza.

The delegates, ranging from high-profile figures such as author Noam Chomsky, British MP George Galloway, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Nobel Prize winner Mairead Maguire to diplomats, doctors, lawyers, students, interfaith groups that include rabbis, priests and imams, and others, are attempting to break the siege on Gaza by demanding the borders be opened a year after the War on Gaza left 1,400 dead.

Iqbal Warsi, a grandmother living in the UK, has never been to Gaza, but when she saw the events that unfolded last year, she said her heart went out to the victims.

“I saw how Israel would bomb the sewage plants and it would mix with the tap water, as a grandmother I imagined my own grandchildren playing in such filth,” she explained.

“I realized it was EU money going to repair all these facilities and Israel would just destroy everything we built,” Warsi said.

Meanwhile in Gaza, sirens went off in the morning to commemorate the dropping of the first Israeli bombs on Gaza.

Several demonstrations were to be held during the day and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was to speak in the evening. Hamas is planning on staging events for 22 days-the length of the war.

“The goal of these events is that this war and its massacres, which had no precedent, should remain before the eyes of the world,” said Ihab al-Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas interior ministry.

"brutal action" by security forces in Iran...

Reports: Iran steps up crackdown on opposition

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran – Opposition activists said Iranian security forces rounded up at least seven prominent activists on Monday, stepping up a crackdown on the country's pro-reform movement a day after eight people, including the nephew of the chief opposition leader, were killed in anti-government protests.

The bloodshed, some of the heaviest in months, drew an especially harsh condemnation from one opposition leader, who compared the government to the brutal regime that was ousted by the Islamic Revolution three decades ago.

Monday's developments were sure to deepen antagonism between the government and the reform movement, which has repeatedly shown resilience in the face of repeated crackdowns since June's disputed presidential election.

Mahdi Karroubi, an opposition leader who ran in the June election, posted a statement on an opposition Web site asking how the government could spill the blood of its people on the Shiite sacred day of Ashoura. He said even the former government of the hated shah respected the holy day.

"What has really happened that (caused the ruling system) spilled the blood of people on the day of Ashoura and gets a group of savage individuals confronting people?" he told the Rah-e-Sabz Web site. The shah, who was overthrown in 1979, was widely hated, and comparing a rival to the shah is a serious, though common, insult in Iranian politics.

The government crackdown has attracted a growing chorus of international criticism. On Monday, Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, condemned the "brutal action" by security forces.

"I am calling on those responsible in Tehran to do everything in order to avoid a further escalation of the situation and to end the violence," he said. "The international community will watch and not look away."

Sunday's violence erupted when security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the center of Tehran. Opposition Web sites and witnesses said five people were killed, but Iran's state-run Press TV, quoting the Supreme National Security Council, said the death toll was eight. It gave no further details.

The dead included a nephew of chief opposition leader Mir Mousavi, according to Mousavi's Web site, Police denied using firearms.

Opposition Web sites and activists said security forces raided a series of opposition offices on Monday, making at least seven arrests.

The Parlemannews site said three of Moussavi's top aides were rounded up, including his top adviser, Ali Riza Beheshti.

Security forces also stormed a foundation run by reformist former President Mohammad Khatami and arrested two people, a foundation official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of police reprisal. The Baran Foundation works to promote dialogue between civilizations.

In another move, former Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and human rights activist Emad Baghi were arrested, according to the Rah-e-Sabz Web site. Yazdi, who served as foreign minister after the 1979 Islamic revolution, is now leader of the banned but tolerated Freedom Movement of Iran.

The arrests could not be independently confirmed.

Some accounts of the violence Sunday in Tehran were vivid and detailed, but they could not be independently confirmed because of government restrictions on media coverage. Police said dozens of officers were injured and more than 300 protesters were arrested.

The street chaos coincided with commemorations of Ashoura, fueling protesters' defiance with its message of sacrifice and dignity in the face of coercion. The observance commemorates the 7th-century death in battle of one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints.

Still, many demonstrators had not anticipated such harsh tactics by the authorities, despite police warnings of tougher action against any protests on the sacred day.

The clashes marked the bloodiest confrontation since the height of unrest in the weeks after June's election. The opposition says Ahmadinejad won the election through massive vote fraud and that Mousavi was the true winner.

The Dec. 20 death of the 87-year-old Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a sharp critic of Iran's leaders, has given a new push to opposition protests. Opposition leaders have used holidays and other symbolic days in recent months to stage anti-government rallies.

Iran is under pressure both from its domestic opposition within the country and from the United States and its European allies, which are pushing Iran to suspend key parts of its nuclear program.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer, speaking in Hawaii Sunday, where U.S. President Barack Obama is vacationing, denounced Tehran's "unjust suppression of civilians."

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, expressed concern about the "increased repression" in Iran.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

tomorrow will see protests and violence across Iran

...with the Shiite Muslim mourning ceremony of Ashoura tomorrow and the mourning of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a sharp critic of Iran's leaders, it is going to be a day of huge protests and likely violence...

...a friend told me that all cell phones are already being blocked, internet service has been severely restricted, and foreign media have been strictly prohibited from covering the street protests....

Iran's Green movement prepared for street protest against hardline regime mullahs

Iranian forces clash with demonstrators ahead of key mourning rituals

Iranian opposition website reports Tehran violence

Iran anti-regime clashes erupt on Shiite holy day

Opposition Supporters, Police Clash in Iran

Iran Increasingly a 'Police State'

Iran's Regime On The Ropes


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Islamic New Year

bloggers being monitored and threatened?

MP asks Interior Minstry about Threats against Bloggers (Article)

AlـMulla asks Interior Ministry about threats against bloggers
Al Watan Daily
7 December 2009
KUWAIT: MP Saleh AlـMulla announced in a press release to Al Watan that he received information that State Security is closely monitoring blogs and threatening bloggers who share opinions online, a severe violation of freedom of speech and articles contained in the Constitution (30, 35, 36, 37, 39). He went on to ask the Ministry of Interior if bloggers are actually being monitored by State Security and what legal bases (basis) allow them to do so. He also questioned if State Security had directly threatened bloggers in order to force them to stop posting opinions online. Furthermore, AlـMulla asked the minister whether State Security keeps files on some bloggers or people who publish their opinions in daily publications or online, whether the Ministry of Communication was contacted by the Ministry of Interior to assist them in the monitoring process, and whether there was a ministerial or Cabinet decision to monitor blogs.ـ

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mirage in the Desert

(Pictured above: the tallest man-made structure in the world, the Burj Dubai, towers over the city & half-built artificial islands make up The World, whose construction has been put on hold.)

From the moment that I heard of the boom taking place in Dubai, I had a feeling something was up. This feeling was only confirmed when I visited twice last year (see: Tower of Babel..., Brave New World..., old Dubai..., skiing in the desert??? ). While of course it was, and still is (I went again this summer, see: New talents from Kuwait ), an exciting and dynamic, visually and culturally rich, futuristic city, does it make any sense, in this age of environmental concern, to attempt to create a mega-city in the middle of a desert? Really, how many people are going to want to live, and/or can sustainably live, in the middle of a desert?

Dubai Mega-Tower `Last Hurrah' To Age Of Excess

A Financial Mirage in the Desert

Debt Crisis Tests Dubai's Ruler

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The (Ottoman) Empire Strikes Back

What a shame that so much is lost with a Euro-centric or Western biased point of view. I'm obviously a 'somewhat' educated individual. I studied hard in school. I was a good student, but for the life of me, I can not remember almost anything being taught -from kindergarten to graduating one of the top students in my high school, to college to graduate school- about The Ottoman Empire (or about much of the rest of the world - besides Western Europe and the USA). I was in complete awe traveling in Turkey last winter (see: Christmas at the Aya Sophia..., Troy..., Ephesus..., Hierapolis-Pamukkale...).

For those that do not know: The Ottoman Empire lasted more than 600 years (1299-1923), spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, and was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. With Constantinople (Istanbul) as its capital city, and vast control of lands around the eastern Mediterranean during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent (ruled 1520 to 1566), the Ottoman Empire was, in many respects, an Islamic successor to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

Interesting article in the today about a rekindling of interest, pride and nostalgia in Turkey for their Ottoman past:

Frustrated With West, Turks Revel in Empire Lost
Published: December 4, 2009

ISTANBUL — More than eight decades ago, Ertugrul Osman, an heir to the Ottoman throne, was unceremoniously thrown out of Turkey with his family. He lived to be 97, spending most of his years in a modest Manhattan apartment above a bakery.
Johan Spanner for The New York Times

The traditional costumes of a band in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul invoked Janissaries, elite Ottoman-era soldiers.

Johan Spanner for The International Herald Tribune

Cenan Sarc, 97, the descendant of an Ottoman pasha, was 10 years old at the time of the Empire’s collapse in 1922.

Mustafa Ozer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thousands mourned Ertugrul Osman, an heir to the Ottoman throne, in Istanbul.

But in September, at his funeral in the garden of the majestic Sultanahmet Mosque here, thousands of mourners paid their respects, including government officials and celebrities. Some even kissed the hands of surviving dynasty members, who appeared shocked at the adulation.

The show of reverence for the man who might have been sultan, historians said, was a seminal moment in the rehabilitation of the Ottoman Empire, long demonized by some in the modern, secular Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. During Ataturk’s rule, the empire was remembered mainly for its decadence and its humiliating defeat and partition by the Allies in World War I.

Mr. Osman’s send-off was just the latest manifestation of what sociologists call “Ottomania,” a harking back to an era marked by conquest and cultural splendor during which sultans ruled an empire stretching from the Balkans to the Indian Ocean and claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world.

The longing for those glory years — by religious Muslims and secularists alike — partly reflects Turks’ frustration with a European Union that seems ill disposed to accept them as members. And in a country where the tension between religion and secularism is never far from the surface, members of the new governing class of religious Muslims have seized upon nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire as a way to challenge the pro-Western elite that emerged during Ataturk’s rule, and to help forge a national identity of Turkey as an aspiring regional leader.

“Turks are attracted to the heroism and the glory of the Ottoman period because it belongs to them,” said the director of Topkapi Palace, Ilber Ortayli, who, as the keeper of the sumptuous residence where Ottoman sultans lived for 400 years, is also a zealous unofficial gatekeeper of the Ottoman legacy. “The sultans hold a place in the popular consciousness like Douglas MacArthur or General Patton have for Americans.”

The current vogue of all things Ottoman, from the proliferation of historical docudramas to the popularity of porcelain ashtrays adorned with harem women, is sometimes manifesting itself in ways that would surely have made a real sultan blanch.

During Ramadan, Burger King offered a special sultan menu featuring dishes popular in the Ottoman years. In the television commercial promoting the meal, a turbaned Janissary — a member of an elite group of Ottoman soldiers — exhorts viewers not to “leave any burgers standing.”

Ottomania has also infected the nation’s youth; 20-somethings at hip dance clubs here wear T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Terrible Turks” — the latter turning the taunt Europeans once used against their Ottoman invaders into a defiant symbol of self-affirmation.

Kerim Sarc, 42, the owner of Ottoman Empire T-Shirts and the scion of an illustrious Ottoman family, believes that the newfound fondness for a mighty empire that lasted more than 600 years and once reached the gates of Vienna is linked to the long struggle for membership in the European Union. The bloc has imposed tough conditions on Turkey, including asking it to compromise in its longstanding dispute over Cyprus.

“We Turks are tired of being treated in Europe like poor, backward peasants,” he said.

The Ottoman renaissance is equally prevalent in the nation’s highest political circles, where the Muslim-inspired Justice and Development Party government has been aggressively courting former Ottoman colonies, including Iraq and Syria, in at least a partial reorientation of foreign policy toward the east that Turkish analysts have labeled as “Neo-Ottoman.”

That shift has alarmed officials in Europe and Washington, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to reassure President Obama when he meets him at the White House on Monday that Turkey has not abandoned its Western course.

It is a sign of the Ottoman Empire’s new hold on the popular imagination that in January when Mr. Erdogan publicly rebuked the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, over the war in Gaza, at a debate at Davos, Switzerland, he was greeted enthusiastically by his supporters back in Turkey with the chant, “Our fatih is back!” The allusion was to Fatih — or conqueror — Sultan Mehmet II, the towering sultan who at age 21 conquered Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453.

Colleagues said Mr. Erdogan proudly displays an original decree in his office by Sultan Mehmet II granting autonomy to religious minorities within the empire.

“The Ottoman Empire conquered two-thirds of the world but did not force anyone to change their language or religion at a time when minorities elsewhere were being oppressed,” said Egeman Bagis, the minister for European Union affairs. “Turks can be proud of that legacy.”

Pelin Batu, co-host of a popular television history program, argued that the glorification of the Ottoman era by a government with roots in political Islam reflected a revolt against the secular cultural revolution undertaken by Ataturk, who outlawed the wearing of Islamic head scarves in state institutions and abolished the Ottoman-era caliphate.

“Ottomania is a form of Islamic empowerment for a new Muslim religious bourgeoisie who are reacting against Ataturk’s attempt to relegate religion and Islam to the sidelines,” she said.

In a society struggling with its identity, not everyone welcomes the phenomenon.

Some critics accuse its proponents of glossing over the empire’s decline and of glorifying an anachronistic system that, at the very least, was mired in corruption and infighting in its later years. The massacre of Ottoman Armenians between 1915 and 1918 stands as a particular dark spot in the history of the empire.

“The religious Muslims now in power are trying to feed the Turkish people an Ottoman poison,” said Sada Kural, 45, a housewife and staunch supporter of Ataturk’s vision. “The Ottoman era wasn’t a good period; we were the sick man of Europe, rights were suppressed and women only got the vote after Ataturk came to power.”

While some bemoan what they consider the crude commercialization of a nation’s history, others, like Cenan Sarc, 97, who was 10 years old at the time of the empire’s collapse in 1922 and is the descendant of an Ottoman pasha, cautioned against idealizing an era of dictatorship.

Mrs. Sarc recalled her idyllic childhood in a mansion on the Bosporus, a poetic time, she said, when fathers ruled, mothers stayed at home and Islam held sway. But, she insisted, “we can never go back to that time.” Ertugrul Osman, the Ottoman heir, had himself accepted obscurity. When he visited Turkey in 1992, for the first time in 53 years, and went to see the 285-room Dolmabahce Palace, which had been his grandfather’s home, he insisted on joining a public tour group.

Asked frequently if he dreamed about restoring the empire, he always emphatically answered no. “Democracy,” he said, “works well in Turkey.”

Original article here: Frustrated With West, Turks Revel in Empire Lost