Wednesday, August 04, 2010

View on the News-29/07/10

American and Egyptian scholars strive to bridge religion gap

Fifteen young American religious scholars and 14 teaching assistants from Al Azhar University - one of the oldest and most influential Islamic institutions in the world - spent two weeks together this month at Georgetown University in an attempt to bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the United States. The potpourri of young religious scholars studied the legal foundations of American democracy and religious diversity in the U.S. and met with political figures, including White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim American elected to Congress. The American and Egyptian students spent eight to nine hours in class each day and lived together in Georgetown dorms. The Americans included members of the Jewish, Buddhist and Christian faiths. Though Al Azhar has a long history of global engagement, the university, under the direction of a new leader, the French-educated Ahmed Tayeb, feels the need to adapt its tactics in light of changing times, said Mahmoud Azab, an Al Azhar professor of Semitic languages and civilizations. Gihan Ibrahim Shaaban, an Al Azhar professor of linguistics, said the university felt compelled to act by some Americans' perception that Islam calls for terrorism. "We have to show the real Islam," she said.Patrice Brodeur, an associate professor of Islam at the University of Montreal, who led sessions at the conference, said Al Azhar's international engagement may surprise some given the university's history of traditional Islamic scholarship. Jocelyne Cesari, director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, said in a telephone interview that she is encouraged that Al Azhar is reaching out, but she said that it is important for the United States to respond in kind.

FBI policies against Muslims attacked

US civil liberties groups have attacked FBI domestic surveillance guidelines, claiming that they unfairly target innocent Muslims in terrorism and other criminal investigations. "It's quite an invasive data collection system," said Farhana Khera, executive director of the Muslim Advocates group. "It's based on generalised suspicion and fear on the part of law enforcement, not on individualised evidence of criminal activity." The FBI claimed that its procedures were designed to ensure that probes don't zero in on anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or the exercise of any other constitutional right. Its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide was approved in December 2008 during the final days of the George W Bush administration and establishes policy that guides all FBI domestic operations, including counterterrorism, counterintelligence, crime and cyber crime. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also concerned about the procedures. It has asked FBI field offices in 29 states and Washington, DC, to turn over records related to the bureau's collection of data on race and ethnicity. The FBI operations guide gives agents the authority to create maps of ethnic-oriented businesses, behaviour, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

British Army 'nearly seized up' fighting on two fronts

The Army came close to 'seizing up' under the intense pressure of fighting wars simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan, a defence chief said yesterday. Two former military leaders appeared at the Iraq Inquiry to lay bare a catalogue of failures which left troops overstretched and overburdened. And the pair criticised the Labour government for poor political leadership and problems with vital equipment and training which jeopardised lives and damaged morale. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the general staff from 2006 to 2009, even hinted he believed Britain was wrong to attack Iraq - a war the Army had 'no desire' to fight and which undermined the 'more important' campaign in Afghanistan. Meanwhile General Sir Mike Jackson - his predecessor as the UK's top soldier from 2003 to 2006 - said troops suffered because of a shortage of helicopters in Iraq while morale received a blow through shortages of personal kit. Their claims will add fuel to accusations that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown repeatedly treated the military with contempt while in power.

David Cameron refuses to back down over terror remarks about Pakistan

No 10 said that the Prime Minister had no intention of rowing back from his warning to Pakistan that the country must not "promote the export of terror" around the world. Islamabad warned that his words had made the region more unstable. During a series of interviews in India, where he is on a three-day trade mission and where his words have been welcome, he insisted that he had a duty to say what he thought. "I don't think the British taxpayer wants me to go around the world saying what people want to hear," he said. Asked if his remarks had "overshadowed" his visit, he added: "I don't think it's overshadowed anything. "I think it's important to speak frankly and clearly about these issues. I have always done that in the past and will do so in the future."

Indian teacher barred from work for refusing burqa

A female lecturer has been prevented from teaching at a Muslim university in eastern India by students demanding that she wear a full veil, a report said Thursday. Aliah University in Kolkata is the first Muslim university in West Bengal state and has no formal dress code, but its student union has demanded that female teachers cover themselves in class. Sirin Middya told the Indian Express she had refused to comply and had been prevented from teaching for three months. "Most of the teachers do not like the diktat of the students to wear the burqa, but they have no option but to accept it," she told the newspaper. "This is the Talibanisation of educational premises and there is no one to come to our rescue."

July 29 2010

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