The Twin Towers collapsed and 3,000 people were killed. On the fifth anniversary, the names of 2,749 people were read out at a ceremony. Ahmedinejad wonders why the US never published their names. “Under this pretext they attacked Afghanistan and Iraq and since then a million people have been killed only in Iraq.”
Estimates of lives lost in Iraq vary. A World Health Organisation survey in January 2008 suggested that 151,000 civilians had died between March 2003 and June 2006. This was roughly in line with Iraqi government estimates. A study in the Lancet medical journal put the toll at 655,000. A UK-based polling agency suggested in September 2007 that up to 1.2 million Iraqis may have died because of the conflict.
The UN refugee agency believes more than two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries. In Iraq’s fragmented and dysfunctional bureaucracy, there is no single authority that collates information on cases of killings and kidnappings of ordinary citizens.
PLAYING NUMBER GAME AGAINST SUDAN
John Holmes, the UN aid co-ordinator, told the Security Council that as many as 300,000 people may have died of war, famine and disease in Darfur in the past five years. Queried later about how he arrived at the new death toll figure, Holmes told reporters: “I am not saying I am sure. I said it’s a reasonable hypothesis, a reasonable extrapolation from the previous figures from studies done elsewhere.”
Sudan’s UN Ambassador, dismissed the new toll given by Holmes, saying: “In our own calculation, the total number [of deaths from fighting] does not exceed 10,000. This is the latest figure.” He said this tally did not include those Darfurians who died from diseases, malnutrition or starvation.
BRIGITTE BARDOT’S BASHING ISLAM
Bardot is remembered as the sex kitten of 1960s French cinema, but these days she is better known as a standard-bearer of the anti-immigrant wing. Bardot went on trial for “inciting racial hatred” for a letter she wrote to French officials in 2004 protesting the ritual slaughter of sheep during the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Kabir. She alluded to Muslims as “this population that leads us around by the nose, [and] which destroys our country.”
French courts have interpreted some of her statements as Islamophobia. In 1997, Bardot was first convicted for “inciting racial hatred” for her open letter to Le Figaro, complaining of “foreign over-population”, mostly by Muslim families. The following year she was convicted anew for decrying the loss of French identity and tradition due to the multiplication of mosques. In 2000, she was again convicted – this time for comments in her book Pluto’s Square, whose chapter “Open Letter to My Lost France” grieved for “...my country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims.” And in 2004, another Bardot book, A Cry In the Silence, again took up the question of immigration and Islam – ultimately running afoul of anti-racism laws by generally associating Islam with the 9/11 terror attacks, and denouncing the “Islamisation of France” by people she described as “invaders”.
LIMITED DEMOCRACY: UNSAVOURY RESULTS
A recent poll by the Ha’aretz newspaper found that a majority of Israelis support talks with Hamas. Are you ready to engage Hamas, and if not, why did Israel allow them to participate in the elections?
“We were forced by the Americans to allow Hamas to participate in elections, and it was a dramatic mistake because it was against what was written in Oslo – that only parties, not organisations, that accept our right to exist, will participate in elections. But, it was under the pressure of President George Bush and Condoleezza Rice [US secretary of state], and Ariel Sharon [former Israeli prime minister] that we accepted it. The common understanding in Israel and the US was that Fatah would win. It was a surprise to all of us.
“Secondly, as I told you, I am ready to talk to Hamas. But I am ready to talk to Hamas only on two issues and in an indirect way: One is a ceasefire [in Gaza], and the second one is the exchange of prisoners in order to get back Gilad Shalit.”
PHILADELPHIA MUSLIMS FOR OBAMA
In its most closely watched political primary one significant part of its population seems to have already picked their man. Muslim-American community leaders, activists and voters in the city of brotherly love, as Philadelphia is known, say Barack Obama is by far their preferred candidate. Philadelphia’s Muslim community is one of the most significant, in terms of size. There are up to 70,000 people worshipping in 34 mosques in the city alone, leading one local leader to describe Philadelphia as “a Mecca [Makkah] for US Muslims”.
ARAB EDUCATION ‘FALLING BEHIND’
The World Bank warned that education in Arab countries is falling behind. In a lengthy analysis of the Middle East and North Africa it says the quality of education is below other regions like parts of Asia and Latin America. In particular, the bank says the quality of teaching in many Arab countries is too low. In a region where the population is getting younger, the World Bank warns that schools are not giving children the skills they need to get jobs or attract inward investment.
For example, two thousand children start the day at eight in the morning and another 2,000 begin shortly after lunch. The average class size is more than 60 and the facilities are poor. Like most state schools in Egypt, the children at Othman Bin-Affan Primary are taught by rote. The teacher reads from a book, the children repeat and so the lesson goes.
RUSSIA CANCELS LIBYA $4.5 BILLION DEBT
Libya, one the richest oil-producing countries, was a big importer of Soviet weaponry during the Cold War, and accumulated large debts. Its economy was badly ruined by autocratic mismanagement on whimsical projects. Recently Russia has agreed to cancel $4.5 billions of Libyan debt in exchange for major contracts for Russian firms. The announcement came during a visit by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The two countries signed deals on energy co-operation, military assistance and construction of a 310-mile railway line in Libya. The deals might be jeopardised by a recent US law that allows victims of state-sponsored terrorism to seize U.S.-held assets of those countries.
The Ziadi sect comprises between 45 to 50 per cent of the Yemeni population. Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president has led country since the unification of north and south in 1990. Before that he led North Yemen for 12 years.
Many Ziadis dismiss the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh as illegitimate, although Saleh is himself a Zaidi. Their movement, known as al-Huthein after the late commander Hussein Badr Eddin al-Huthi, aims to restore the Zaidi Imamate that was overthrown in 1962. The idea of the Yemen republic was accepted by some Ziadis and rejected by others. It has led to a series of violent clashes. Since 2004, the mountainous Saada province has seen some of the worst confrontations between the Zaidis and the Yemeni government forces.
TO TACKLE ISLAMIC EXTREMISM?
Ed Husain, a former member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Quilliam Foundation’s co-director, is making a concerted effort to tackle extremism within Muslim communities. The Quilliam Foundation, launched in London, says that it wants to promote “pluralistic values free from cultural baggage of the Indian sub-continent and the political burdens of the Arab world.”
Ed Husain claims to have been involved in Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood.
During the 1990s, he says he infiltrated British universities to recruit Muslim students into dangerous causes. His book, The Islamist, claims that he has turned his back on extremism and began to work on reconciliation between Islam and the West. Husain says the establishment of the Quilliam Foundation, which was named after an Englishman who converted to Islam in the 19th century, is a pivotal event.
But the new organisation is viewed with skepticism. Ahmed Versi, editor of the London-based The Muslim News, said: “He [Ed Husain] is still living in the past. Things have moved on quite a bit. People have changed in the Muslim community.”
“I don’t think the Quilliam Foundation knows the grassroots…Their focus is on the mosque and religions and then young people. It’s the same way the British government thinks. Their focus should be on the politics – both internationally and domestically, and on social issues affecting Muslims.”