Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

18 days.

Friday, February 11th, 2011


Click on CC for English subtitles
The graffiti behind the father and daughter reads "The streets belong to us"

My daughter was seven years old on September 11. For the past decade – i.e. the entirety of her childhood, the only one she'll ever get – she has had to endure taunts and slurs and snickers, or at best pinched "tolerance," about her ethnicity and her religion. She's handled it well and is actually quite articulate in countering the bias. But it's fatiguing, and over time she has distanced herself from her Arab Muslim background. I can't tell you how much this saddens me, but I know she's not alone in this reaction, I know her life needs to be more than an ongoing argument with other people's ignorance, and I've tried to give her space to work out who she is and how she identifies.

She turned seventeen this week, and it's a milestone. For the first time ever, I have seen her beaming, in that I told you guys all along way, whenever some only-sorta-follows-the-news American asks her, "Wait… aren't you Egyptian?"

شكرا يا مصر

You can crack under torture and still be a man. Really.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Much as I support the idea of waterboarding Sean Hannity for charity, I take issue with a couple things Lawrence O'Donnell, the MSNBC analyst interviewed by Olbermann, says in this video.

O'Donnell seems to believe that torturing only works on wussies. He identifies himself as just such a person, and says Hannity is one, too. This is why Hannity thinks torture would work, O'Donnell explains: since it would work on him, he thinks it would work on everybody. Hardened warriors, however — be they in the American military or members of Al-Qaeda — are not susceptible to a little waterboarding, a little fingernail-pulling, the occasional afternoon spent being electrocuted. They are real men. And torture doesn't work on real men.

Merriment ensues, since this take on the situation casts Hannity as a wimp. In other words, he's kind of a girl.

Forgive me if I don't find being "too feminine to endure torture" as much of an insult. I mean we're not talking about a snake bite here, or the ability to keep running after you get that stitch in your side. We're talking about undergoing physical pain so horrific it can bring on a spontaneous heart attack in an otherwise healthy individual. Yes, military personnel do get some training in withstanding these techniques, but when it comes to pain at this level, stamina and commitment to one's cause don't mean much. And that's the thing: terrorist groups know this, which is why they do things like refer to each other by code names, and ensure that the chains of communication are so convoluted that the individuals most likely to be caught won't have any information to give.

(In the movies, of course, all the bad guys sit around a table and plan the whole operation together. That way when Kiefer Sutherland captures one of them he can conveniently shoot him in the knee and immediately he'll learn where the bomb is, who put it there, where that guy is now, the first middle and last names of everyone involved in the plot, and all the passwords to their computers.)

Outside of Hollywood it's not so tidy. The "ticking time bomb scenario" isn't unworkable because terrorists are immune to pain: it's unworkable because if you've only captured one guy by the time the bomb has started ticking, you're screwed. You won't get much useful information out of him, because he doesn't have much useful information to give. This is true even if he tells you absolutely everything he knows, which he probably will and then some.

And here we have the other problem with O'Donnell's take. Members of Al-Qaeda, in his imagination, are inhuman, almost literally: so inhuman they don't respond to pain. He tries to pass this off as a progressive argument — since it falls under the rubric of "therefore we shouldn't torture!" — but in doing so he's glossed over all the human rights implications of being a nation that okays torture, not to mention all of the foreign policy decisions that lead desperate people to turn to terrorism in the first place.

He also continues to cast this conflict in gendered terms, where torture is masculine, whether you're enduring it or dishing it out, and cracking under it is feminine and wimpy. Under that logic, if Sean Hannity decides that you know what? he'd rather not be waterboarded, it's not because he's a hypocrite: it's because he's a pussy. If he does go through with it, though, well by gosh buy that man a beer!

Frakking cool.

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

'Battlestar Galactica's' trip to the United Nations

Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos appeared with two of the show's executive producers, four UN officials, and moderator Whoopi Goldberg at a panel to discuss human rights, religious conflict, terrorism, gender issues, and other moral conflicts and dilemmas addressed on Battlestar Galactica. The whole panel (about two hours) is available on the UN webcast archives (scroll down to 17 March 2009).

Later, McDonnell responded eloquently to a question about the imperatives of the military versus the rule of democracy and Roslin’s role in executing the fleet’s enemies. For a woman who had been perceived, early on, as a tentative former schoolteacher, President Roslin didn’t blink when it came to tossing a fractious Cylon into space. In fact, in time fans started to call her character “Madam Airlock.”

“She can talk about how she was haunted by the airlock,” Eick said. “But she’s also the one who made it a verb.”

Facebook lingo: "unsuitable and strange"?

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

I meant to post this earlier — two articles about how young people in Egypt have been using Facebook as an organizing vehicle (interesting!), and how the government has responded (imprisonment!).

Virtual politics

A tool to mobilise?

"Foreign embassies follow up on these blogs and groups and report back to their countries," said Yassin. But most, if not all, of the bloggers' posts distort and misrepresent reality. "They send the wrong information about Egypt to the world," he claimed. Councilor Murad Hassan went further, insisting they deliberately manipulated facts, circulated fabricated pictures, and magnified individual incidents to mislead public opinion. "In addition, the kind of language they use to express their opinions is unsuitable and strange to our society," Hassan told Al-Ahram Weekly.

I said, before I even came here, that I was amazed how popular Facebook is in Egypt. Now that I'm here I've seen firsthand how common it is — even with people as old as me — to end conversations with "Are you on Facebook?" rather than "What's your phone number?" or "What's your e-mail?" I've started doing it myself.

I'm still not sure why it's so big. (One woman told me it was because "we're Arabs – we'll chat for hours with anybody about nothing." Ha.) But I think a real reason is that people are so mobile, especially with going back and forth to the Gulf. And Europe and elsewhere abroad, but especially to the Gulf, which is something members of all classes do. (Europe etc. is more of an upper-class thing.) On Facebook your information stays stable, even if your address and phone number change two or three times a year. And the 'groups' feature lends itself to organizing in a way that's less risky than it would be in Real Life.

This has been going on for several months now. It'll be interesting to see what comes of it.

ETA: rfmcdpei adds more links on this.

Martial law.

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

The U.S. says martial law in Pakistan is "highly regrettable."

(My husband: "Highly regrettable! That's one step under 'not helpful'! You know they're really pissed when they call something 'not helpful.'")

elephantkitty = an American couple doing research in Lahore, and they've been writing about the situation. They posted this very readable background on the recent history of Pakistan, plus other interesting stuff, like The L-Word's function in international diplomacy. Go read.

Peace and tranquility.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim

During his time in Egyptian custody, Mr. Libi was among a group of what American officials have described as about 150 prisoners sent by the United States from one foreign country to another since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks for the purposes of interrogation. American officials including Ms. Rice have defended the practice, saying it draws on language and cultural expertise of American allies, particularly in the Middle East, and provides an important tool for interrogation.

"Cultural expertise" — you mean torture, right? Oh, no no:

They have said that the United States carries out the renditions only after obtaining explicit assurances from the receiving countries that the prisoners will not be tortured.

Hmm. Let's read on.

Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that he had no specific knowledge of Mr. Libi's case. Mr. Fahmy acknowledged that some prisoners had been sent to Egypt by mutual agreement between the United States and Egypt. "We do interrogations based on our understanding of the culture," Mr. Fahmy said. "We're not in the business of torturing anyone."

Now, maybe Mr. Fahmy is speaking here in the Clintonian sense. They're not in the business of torturing anyone, as in they don't hang a sign on the door that says "Pesky fingernails getting in your way? Not enough electricity in your genitalia? Torture! Available now! Year-end close-out sale on all the latest coercion techniques! Hurry while supplies last!" Maybe he means that, in Egypt, torture is one of the few things not yet privatized, though if the World Bank has its way I'm sure they'll get around to that eventually.

On the other hand, if we take a more global view, I'd say that's exactly what Egypt is in the business of doing. When the U.S. outsources interrogation, where is it going to go? Norway? There's a reason Egypt is the second-largest recipient of American aid, and it's not so much because the Americans are worried about 5-year-old Ali getting enough Vitamin B.

Nevertheless, we, as in Americans, still like to think of torture as aberrant, a shameful secret, because although we know our own government "crosses the line" sometimes (like my euphemism?), we understand that when such information comes to light it should involve hearings, investigations, and the rolling of heads. This is why names like "Abu Ghraib" and "Rodney King" are used in conjunction with the word "scandal," even by those who aren't surprised.

Contrast that with the time an Egyptian friend of mine had to stop by the local police station in Cairo to do some paperwork. The errand took longer than he expected because the cops were busy beating a man they'd picked up for having sex with another man. They left him bloody on the floor of his cell and might have continued until he was dead, but the line was backing up out front and they had other work to do. My friend got his papers signed and left. He did not report the incident, because there was no one to report such things to, and even if there had been it would only serve to implicate himself. He'd seen that kind of thing before and knew there was nothing you could do about it. Such is life in a police state.

Keep in mind these were junior cops in a random cop shop in Cairo, not members of the intelligence hand-picked by the Americans to interrogate members of Al-Qaeda. Does Condoleeza Rice seriously expect us to believe that suspected terrorists in a back room are going to get a warmer, more welcoming treatment than Random Gay Guy gets in full view of the public at large? Why are they even continuing with this charade, saying we don't export terror, no, we're only interested in the Egyptians' "cultural expertise"? If I had to guess, I'd say it's because Egyptians (and the torture victims) have no recourse to complain about the situation, and Americans don't care.

In other Egypt news, the Muslim Brotherhood made record gains in Egypt's parliamentary election last week, despite violence at the polls which left at least six dead as the government tried to prohibit Islamist sympathizers from voting. ([Pictures])

Meanwhile Israel readies forces for strike on nuclear Iran.

I'm so glad the world is safer for democracy.

Vote or else!

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Egyptians beat those who don't vote in favor of "democracy."

I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to work that way.

Update on torture in Egypt.

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Opening the window
By Amira Howeidy

The New York-based international rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), released a 43-page report on Tuesday documenting mass arrests and torture in Sinai following the 7 October bombings at the Taba Hilton and two Sinai tourist camps, which killed 34 people, and injured 159.

Two weeks after the bombings, the Interior Ministry identified the assailants as nine Sinai residents; five were in custody, two were killed in the attack, and two remained at large. The ministry said the ringleader — one of the two suspects killed during the bombings — was Iyad Said Salah, a Palestinian with a criminal record who had turned to Islamist extremism, provoked by the Israeli incursion into Rafah at the time into carrying out the attack. Although the ministry announced that the investigation now boiled down to a hunt for the two remaining suspects, subsequent events revealed a far wider security operation was actually taking place.

At least three Egyptian human rights groups documented that mass arrests continued until early December. According to these groups, 2,500 to 3,000 people were detained without charges. The impact of this revelation, made just two months ago, was short lived, limited to a few reports in the opposition press; other news — from the release of an Israeli spy to Coptic-Muslim tension in Upper Egypt — soon drove the story into the background.

Joe Stork, the Washington-based director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Egyptian human rights groups had "opened a brief window" on the case, "then it was shut again. We are trying to open the window." Stork wrote HRW's Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai report, and carried out its research with Ahmed Seif El-Islam, director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, and Aida Seif El-Dawla, chair of the Egyptian Association Against Torture.

They visited Sinai in mid-December for two days, interviewing former detainees, and eyewitnesses to arrests in Al-Arish. In every one of the score of cases HRW investigated, the State Security Investigation (SSI) apparatus had detained individuals without informing them of the reason why. They were usually arrested in pre- dawn raids (many during the month of Ramadan), and those who were picked up were usually held for three days to one week without being charged. While some were released, most were transferred to Tora prison in Cairo and Damanhour Prison in the Nile Delta, the report said. Most of the detainees were Islamists, or thought to be. "This suggests that the official statement [issued by the Interior Ministry on the Sinai bombings] did not fully reflect the investigation into the attacks," the report said, "or that the government was using the occasion to carry out a much broader crackdown against potential opponents, particularly identified as having Islamist sympathies."

HRW said it interviewed several former detainees who provided "credible accounts of torture" at the hands of SSI investigators; others spoke of seeing other detainees who had been badly tortured. The report included horrifying testimonies from two of the detainees. 26-year- old Hamid Batrawi, whose four brothers were already in custody, was arrested on 22 November while driving from Al-Arish to southern Sinai. He was taken to a police station near Suez, and then transferred to the SSI headquarters there. Upon his arrival, the SSI officers asked why he had not mentioned that his brothers had been arrested. He was then stripped to his underpants, his hands tied behind his back, and hung by his hands from the top of an iron door, "causing excruciating pain to his shoulders". With his toes just touching the floor, which was wet, wires were attached to his toes and underpants. He was then beaten with a hose, and administered jolts of electricity every couple of minutes; the shock intensified when his toes rested on the wet floor. This continued for about four and a half hours, after which he was transferred to Suez hospital. When Seif El-Dawla visited him in hospital, she said he could not talk, see or walk.

The second detainee, Abdel-Nour Sayed (not his real name) was picked up from his home at 3am on 18 October; he was held with 200 other detainees for six days in small rooms with no toilet facilities. He told HRW that he was tortured during his first interrogation session upon the orders of a man "who did not speak" and who "was not Egyptian".

Although the report does not address the possible involvement of non-Egyptian interrogators, Sayed's words re-triggered questions about the nature of Israel's role in the investigation. Egypt allowed the Israeli army to enter the area immediately after the bombings to help with rescue operations, official statements at the time said.

Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai was released during a well-attended press conference at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre; significantly, around a dozen female relatives of the detainees had come to Cairo from Sinai for the event.

Iman Ahmed Himdan said that security forces stormed her house looking for her husband Ahmed Abdallah Himdan, who was at large. "When they didn't find my husband at home, they took my 16-year-old brother, and started threatening him, and calling him indecent names," Himdan, who wears a black niqab (face veil), said. "The police didn't know I was Ahmed's wife, but when I saw my little brother go through this, I was provoked, and shouted, 'I'm Ahmed's wife, leave my brother alone.' So they took both of us," she told the Weekly. The couple had only been married for three months, and Himdan was two months pregnant. "We were taken to the SSI north Sinai headquarters. My brother was blindfolded, stripped, and beaten severely. Both of us were threatened with electrocution if we didn't tell them where my husband was. We were held for a week, during which I had a nervous breakdown, and an abortion." Himdan and her brother were only released when her husband handed himself in. He's still in custody, she said.

Himdan's cousin, Samah Abu Shita, had a similar experience when police stormed her house "from the window, the balcony and door", during which they stepped on her four-month-old baby girl, and broke one of her ribs. "Our men have done nothing but live as committed, practicing Muslims; they have nothing to do with any illegal activity, and they haven't been charged with anything," she said. Her husband and four brothers have been in custody since November. According to the HRW report, only 100 detainees have been released; some 2,400 remain in detention.

Other victims of the post-Taba bombing security crackdown include the director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Ahmed Seif El-Islam, who told reporters at Tuesday's press conference that his house was broken into, and his laptop stolen, at around the same time that the centre issued its initial report on the Sinai arrests. "Back then I thought it was just a burglary," he said. But then, on Monday 21 February, his house was broken into again — this time in broad daylight at noon. His new laptop was stolen, and all of his papers thoroughly searched. "I got the message," he said, "and this is my reply: I will not be silenced, and I will gladly give my blood for freedom."

The press conference fell into a shocked silence.

"There is this disregard, this lawlessness, on the part of the security services that even goes beyond the emergency law, that the authorities have not addressed," Stork told the Weekly. "They have not investigated these abuses, as far as we know, or prosecuted anybody. This issue of impunity is a very important one."

Since December, Stork's requests to meet with Egyptian officials have been ignored; only on the eve of the press conference, on Monday at "midnight", was he informed that he would be meeting with officials at the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General.

In what appears to be a coordinated government reaction to the HRW report, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday taking issue with HRW for not notifying the authorities in advance about the report, "to allow time for a studied response". That HRW issued this report based on fieldwork, the statement said, "demonstrates Egypt's openness and transparency in human rights issues". It rejected HRW's recommendation that the Egyptian government cancel the emergency law, arguing that only the "Egyptian people have the legitimate right to end the emergency law though their representatives in parliament".

It said that only five people were held in custody in connection with the Taba bombings.

Saying no to the Qur'an.

Saturday, February 12th, 2005

Incredible article about Amina Wadud, written by Tarek Fatah, on the MuslimWakeUp! site.

"I am a nigger, and you will just have to put up with my blackness"

I met Amina Wadud two years ago and one thing she said, which will always stick with me, was, "Sometimes you read things" [in Islam] "and you say to yourself, this can't be right. And you have to go from there." This article talks about her disagreement with hudud punishments like the cutting of thieves' hands, or the permission to beat one's wife. Note that she's not saying that's not really what the Qur'an said, or "at the time the Qur'an was written this was appropriate but now we have to interpret things in light of modern circumstances," yadda yadda. She's saying yes, it's in there, and she finds it amoral anyway.

Breaking the ultimate taboo in the Muslim narrative, she stated that despite the fact the Qur'an explicitly asks for cutting off the hands of thieves, she did not agree with the Qur'an. She said she understood that this was a very difficult subject to talk about, but she would be dishonest to herself if she did not express her views.

She maintained that as a Muslim with Allah close to her heart, in all honesty she could not continue with the hypocrisy of lying about how she felt about some verses of the Qur'an.

The audience all but stoned her.

Her book, Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective, is also well worth reading.

Torture in Egypt.

Tuesday, December 21st, 2004

Rights activists reported last month that Egyptian police had detained 2500 people in Sinai and tortured many of them in the hunt for those behind the 7 October bombings targeting Israeli tourists in Taba and two other resorts, which killed at least 34 people.

The report by human rights groups in November, which quoted victims and witnesses, said police had hanged men by their arms for hours, with electrodes attached to their toes, and burned their skin with devices that looked like oven lighters.

It also said security forces had taken 140 Sinai women hostage in the hope their families would turn in their menfolk.

The government says it does not condone torture and punishes torturers when it comes across abuses.

Egypt has blamed the blasts on a Palestinian and three Sinai Bedouin, saying there was no indication the bombers were linked to al-Qaida, as Israel and the United States have suggested.

Most of the alleged bombers and accomplices come from al-Arish in north Sinai, close to the border with the Gaza Strip, the government said.

(more)

A just deserter.

Tuesday, December 21st, 2004

A Just Deserter
By Matt Mernagh, NOW. Posted December 21, 2004

After three days of listening to graphic testimony at the refugee hearing of South Dakota war resister Jeremy Hinzman, one observer sitting near me shakily remarks, "If you're not a pacifist after sitting through this then nothing will make you into one." In this harshly lit hearing room on Victoria, a refugee board adjudicator is going to have to rule on a most shocking proposition: whether this former soldier of the U.S. 82nd Airborne ought to be granted asylum because he fears participating in war crimes in Iraq.

Those packing the room – mostly Quakers and other peace types – are busy trying to send subliminal messages to presiding member Brian Goodman through their anti-war buttons and peace quilts.

Round one has already been lost. A technical legal ruling forbids Hinzman's counsel, Jeffry House, from arguing the illegality of the war in Iraq and a soldier's duty not to participate in such a war. House considers the ruling a huge ground for appeal should Hinzman be denied refugee status.

But House has another card up his sleeve – an Ontario Court of Appeal precedent in the case of Fereidoon Zolfagharkhani, who deserted from the Iranian military upon learning that Iran intended to gas Kurds. Zolfagharkani was a paramedic, and it would have been his job to treat Kurdish people who didn't die from the attacks so they could withstand interrogation. He won the right to asylum in Canada, and House hopes a similar logic will work in Hinzman's case.

The point at issue is whether Hinzman, as a member of the 82nd, would have been forced to kill civilians or participate in violations of the Geneva Convention during his tour of duty. So House has entered exhibits of media reports from the Washington Post, Democracy NOW and Human Rights Watch with such titles as U.S. Military Attacks On Population Centers, U.S. Military Attacks On Health Clinics and U.S. Military Attacks On Civilians.

Info relating specifically to the exploits of the 82nd Airborne are easy enough to Google. I did the search myself and found a Human Rights Watch report documenting actions of the 82nd Airborne that resulted in the deaths of seven unarmed civilians.

As that report details, "soldiers from the 82nd Airborne's 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment raided the apartment of Fadhil Hamza Hussain al-Janabi in al-Mahmudiyya on the outskirts of Baghdad after receiving a tip from a local pool hall about 'bad guys' in the neighborhood… Al-Janabi's 19-year-old daughter Farah was killed, as was a neighbor."

Outside reports of the 82nd, Hinzman's case turns on how well he can articulate the growing worries he harbours about becoming a killing machine. During his wife's pregnancy back in South Dakota, Hinzman began to disdain his training, which included chanting, "Trained to kill! Kill we will!" Fatherhood, he says, cemented his belief that, unlike the other soldiers, he couldn't make the grass grow with bright red blood.

Two months after his baby's birth and several months before shipping out to Afghanistan, he filed a very complicated conscientious objector (CO) application. "I didn't feel I could kill. I could have done other jobs in the Army," Hinzman says.

What happened then isn't entirely clear. Somehow, the papers were lost and Hinzman resubmitted his CO application. At this point he was in Afghanistan doing kitchen duty. Then one day while scrubbing pots, he says, superiors pulled him from his duties, brought him in front of a tribunal and quickly denied him CO status.

Upon returning to the U.S., he came to realize his only option was to flee to Canada. He led a hard double life, he says – by day training to deploy to Iraq and by night planning an escape route north.

"We were going to Iraq to jack up terrorists. We were told this was a new kind of war, that these people weren't human and that they were not to be treated in a humane way. We were told by commanders in pep talks that these people are evil."

Needing more specifics on who the army considered evil, presiding member Goodman asks, "Who were they referring to as terrorists?"

Hinzman chillingly replies, "They associate everyone in the area as a terrorist."

"The entire population of Iraq was considered a terrorist?" Goodman asks.

"We referred to Iraqis, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, Iranians as terrorist, as they came from the Middle East," comes Hinzman's reply.

Somewhat disbelieving, Goodman asks again, "All Arabs from that region were terrorists?"

"Correct, sir."

Though the war in Iraq isn't on trial, House manages to highlight U.S. soldiers' propensity to kill Iraqi civilians. When he introduces his star witness, Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy J. Massey, immigration rep Janet Chisholm weakly objects. "He doesn't have a similar position in the Army," she says of Massey, and suggests he couldn't possibly be an expert on the Geneva Convention.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled Massey, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his tour in Iraq, was not only trained in the Geneva Convention since boot camp but was also assigned to ensure firefights were clean – i.e., carried out according to the army's Standing Operating Procedures and the Geneva Convention.

Within Massey's first 48 hours in Iraq, his platoon of 45 had slaughtered 30 unarmed men, women and children at checkpoints. Marines are trained to set up checkpoints according to a set procedure, but Massey testifies that military fearmongering "was giving us the mindset that every Iraqi was a terrorist."

Now the former Marine even questions whether their procedure for trying to stop a vehicle entering a checkpoint could have been sending the wrong message to approaching Iraqis. As cars moved towards them, a Marine would flash what they believed was the international "Halt" hand symbol, a closed fist in the air. Of course, it is easily mistaken for the internationally recognized brotherhood or solidarity gesture, which is exactly the same.

All this happened in a matter of seconds as the fear of suicide bombers created itchy trigger fingers. "We fired at a cyclic rate. We pulled the trigger and didn't stop," Massey says.

"I witnessed Marines putting rounds into enemy combatants who were expiring. It is not uncommon for a Marine to put rounds in the head of someone playing possum," he says.

Besides trying to establish the realities of soldiering in Iraq, the hearing also puts Hinzman's religious beliefs under the microscope. The war resister and his family attend twice-weekly Quaker gatherings. They are tenders, not members, but Hinzman says that after years of quiet contemplation, he would apply to become a member.

The other question before the refugee board is whether Hinzman is a refugee by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution. To establish this, he would have to show that the U.S. government and its military would persecute him for reasons of political opinion, religion or membership in a social group – namely conscientious objectors to military service in the U.S. Army in Iraq.

All this Goodman will have to weigh to determine if the horrors that he repeatedly heard in gross, exacting detail meet the requirements set out by the Court of Appeal. With written submissions from House and Chisholm not due until the end of January, a ruling probably won't drop until March. Then the world will learn whether Canada considers the actions of the U.S. Army in Iraq to be so dire that conscientious objectors are in need of our protection.

Fed up.

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

I can't believe I live in a country in which half the population has more contempt for this:

Photo of the first lesbian couple to get married in San Francisco, 2003

than for this:

Photo of Abu Ghraib

Ijtihad.

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

There's a post about Irshad Manji in the Islamic Feminist community. (And a considerably less gushing review in MuslimWakeUp!.) What's interesting to me is this sentence: "The core concept in Manji's thought — and that of all progressive Muslims — is 'itjihad'."

Oh? I used to think that, too. But I was won over by the argument that Abdullahi An-Na'im makes in this book, which is that ijtihad (mistakenly spelled "itjihad" through the entire article above, btw) isn't going to automatically lead to a reformation in Islamic thought, not if the same forces doing all the so-called reasoning are the same figureheads we see now arguing their regressive politics in the newspapers. An-Na'im calls for a much more specific recasting of Islamic interpretation and jurisprudence, starting with a few premises such as the rejection of Shari'a, the need for constitutionalism and self-determination, and the defense of the rights of women and religious minorities. He's opposed to secularism in majority-Muslim countries and even rejects the strategic use of the doctrine of necessity (neither, he believes, will be sustainable in the long run), but his suggested solution, which I find really interesting, is to favor the Mecca surahs over the Medina ones, even though the Medina ones were revealed later, arguing that the latter were only to be implemented in times of stress and persecution of the Islamic community. But doesn't this qualify as a time of stress and persecution of the Islamic community? No, he says. Mohammed and his followers were a small band of believers being pursued by the most powerful tribe in Arabia, which is not at all akin to a billion Muslims living in however many countries spread across the globe, and, beyond that, employing constitutionalism and other forms of defense against the assault on human rights is an effective tool in challenging imperialism.

I can see why this vision wouldn't fly with conservatives of any stripe, Muslim or otherwise, but I think he's right that a progressive version of Islam needs to start with something more specific than the call for ijtihad.

This is how it happens.

Thursday, May 20th, 2004

The prisoner-abuse scandal at home
The stories sound familiar: Muslim prisoners beaten and sexually humiliated by American guards. But it happened in Brooklyn, not Baghdad.

– – – – – – – – – – – –
By Michelle Goldberg

May 19, 2004 | BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The American guards took Mohamed Maddy's glasses before they slammed him into the wall. A portly middle-aged father of two, Maddy was crying, trying to move his shoulder in front of him so it would take the blow, but they kept smashing him into the concrete, leaving him with dark purple bruises. Then they told him to strip, and when he balked at removing his underwear — "I am Muslim, I can't do it," he said — they screamed, "Fucking Muslim! Take them off!"

They made him bend over and said, "Take your hand and open your ass." He sobbed harder as they performed a cavity search. Afterward, they told him to get dressed and put him in handcuffs and leg irons connected by a chain to his waist. They ordered him to run and then stepped on his leg chain so he'd fall down, only to be yanked back up and forced to run again, over and over. Without his glasses, Maddy couldn't see where he was going, but he thinks he was running in circles.

Finally he was thrown in a cell. For the first month, the light was left on 24 hours a day. If he tried to shield his eyes and snatch a moment of sleep, the guards would kick the doors. On the rare occasions when he was taken out, he was strip-searched, often twice in the same day, even if he hadn't been out of the guards' sight. Sometimes they did the searches in public. Sometimes they laughed and jeered. An official report later concluded that many of these searches had nothing to do with safety — they were about punishment and humiliation.

Stories like Maddy's have lately been pouring out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he's never been to those countries. Maddy's ordeal took place at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where 84 of the 762 Muslim immigrants who were detained after Sept. 11 were held. The torture there wasn't nearly as severe as it was at Abu Ghraib, and, according to recent reports, at Guantánamo in Cuba. But there are striking similarities, suggesting that what happened in Iraq may be an escalation of a pattern of human rights violations that began almost as soon as the World Trade Center crumbled.

more

Implicatory denial.

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

1. Why torture and fraternity hazing are not the same thing, actually.
2. Why "Arab culture" and "Muslim sensibilities" are irrelevant to a discussion about rape, enforced public nudity and masturbation, and other acts of humiliation and degradation that take place in custody.
3. Why torture is indefensible even under the "ticking bomb" scenario.
4. Why the right not to be tortured supersedes the right to life itself.

Torture and the Future by Lisa Hajjar