Friday, November 16, 2007

US unleashes six bloggers in assault on Islamist propaganda

by Dan Goodin from The Register (UK)

On Thursday, Duncan MacInnes, of the State Department's bureau of international information programs, told a congressional subcommittee that government spinmeisters are on the case. "We are currently in the process of expanding the original team of two Arabic bloggers to six, while also adding one Urdu and two Farsi (Persian) linguists," MacInnes said in prepared remarks submitted to the House Armed Services Committee's panel of terrorism. "We are also exploring how we can use the applicability of our mission of new cyber-technologies such as Second Life and cell phone games to further advance our mission." He said an Arabic website used to counter violent extremism attracts more than 200,000 visitors per month from countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Morocco. A separate Persian site, he said, "has been highly successful," averaging 42,000 users per week.

Youth Despair of Decent Future in Kosovo

by Sokol Ferizi from BIRN (Serbia)

Statistics produced by the World Health Organisation in 2001 show higher rates of drug abuse among Kosovo’s youth than in Western Europe, while local health workers back this up with daily anecdotes. Other young Kosovars find an outlet for their frustrations in hard-line religion. “If it were not for Islam, I would go away from Kosovo right now,” says Armend, returning from Friday prayers at a local mosque ... Since the war, Islam has grown in importance in Kosovo, especially among young people. A revival began a few years ago, when Arab organisations brought in food and clothes in the wake of the 1999 conflict, and granted scholarships to Far Eastern or Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. While most young people still lead a secular lifestyle, the number of devout Muslims has seen a marked increase. More girls are wearing headscarves, and young men can be seen in short trousers and long beards.

The Delay of Justice

by Abeer Mishkhas from Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

There is a never-ending flow of news about incredible Saudi court rulings. The latest involved a groom being sentenced to lashing and prison for entering the wedding hall with his bride. For those who are unfamiliar with the customs of Saudi weddings, the couple march together into the women’s only area where photographs are taken and then, in most cases, the groom then leaves and the bride remains with her female relatives and friends. In this case, however, a woman was offended that the groom had come into the women’s area and complained to the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The commission called the groom the next day to inform him of his crime. He was subsequently sentenced on the basis of a complaint from one woman without having a chance to tell his side of the story. The accusation was made and he was sentenced. That was that. What is involved here are our social traditions and customs so we may well ask how such a case ended up in court as a criminal offense. The latest reforms to the Saudi legal system promise much needed changes as soon as they are implemented. The establishment of a Supreme Court is welcome news and it should mean that in such cases as Fatima’s and the Qatif girl’s solutions will be found that will restore peace to their lives and reassure others that justice is above all and is neither delayed nor denied.

Sarkozy wants everyone to have nuclear power - French nuclear power

by Katrin Bennhold from The International Herald Times (US: New York)

After signing a memorandum of understanding with Libya in the summer, French president Nicolas Sarkozy struck a preliminary cooperation accord with Morocco last month. Diplomats say he is planning to discuss nuclear power during trips to Algeria in December and Saudi Arabia in January. Between them, state-controlled nuclear power giant Areva and Electricité de France are also talking to Jordan, the UAE, Turkey, Yemen, Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia. Regional cooperation on nuclear power is a pillar of the president's diplomatic pet project - a Mediterranean Union gathering countries in North Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe into a bloc. Sarkozy voiced the challenge quite starkly in a speech from Aug. 27. "Preventing a confrontation between Islam and the West is helping Muslim countries, as France proposes, to access the energy of the future: nuclear power." Failure to do so, he warned, would lead to "an explosion of terrorism." ... "The Saudis are terrified of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and will almost certainly try to acquire nuclear weapons, too," said Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Advisory Board in President George W. Bush's first term who is now a resident fellow at AEI. "We need to do a lot of work on safeguards before we start building reactors in countries where the risk of proliferation is high."

Muslim World benefits from Iran Saudi ties, Saudi official

from IRNA (Iran)

Saudi Prosecutor General Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Fahd Abdullah said here Wednesday that close ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia would be to the benefit of Muslim World. The Saudi official made the remarks in a meeting with Iran's Ambassador to Riyadh Muhammad Hosseini ... "We are happy to see that Iran's governing rules are based on Islamic Sharia," he said. The Iranian ambassador, for his part, referred to the plots hatched by the enemies of Islam who try to cause rift among Islamic countries and called the need for exchange of views and cooperation between officials the two states to thwart their plots. "Fortunately, despite the malevolent elements trying to harm ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, cooperation is developing," he said ... The first three-day assembly of judiciary chiefs of the Islamic countries will be held in Tehran on December 14.

Government puts arms exports to Pakistan on hold

from swissinfo (Switzerland)

For the third time in less than a year the government had been asked to change its decision to authorise the Swiss firm Oerlikon Contraves to sell the Pakistani army 21 Skyguard anti-aircraft defence batteries valued at SFr136 million ($120 million). Six have already been delivered. Swiss law bans the sale of war materiel to crisis regions. Neither Oerlikon Contraves, nor its German parent company Rheinmetall would comment on the government decision Wednesday ... Andreas Gross, a parliamentarian from the centre-left Social Democratic Party and founder of the Group for a Switzerland without an Army, says the current law provides for avoiding the sale of arms to crisis regions as long as one respects the spirit and not the letter of the law. This however is not always the case, admitted leftwing figures who recently criticised the government for selling arms not only to Pakistan but also to Saudi Arabia.

Bush Urged To Place Rules On $20B Saudi Arms Sale

by Eli Lake from The New York Sun (US)

Pressure is mounting from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress -- Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Rep. Christopher Carney (D-PA), are circulating a letter calling on the White House to "guarantee to Congress' satisfaction that selling JDAMs to Saudi Arabia will not harm U.S. forces or our democratic ally Israel." The letter from Congress, set to be sent to Mr. Bush on Friday, comes during a week in which the State Department formally notified Congress of the weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. Some House members, led by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), have already announced that they will oppose the $20 billion sale ... Mr. Kirk said yesterday that he was concerned that Mr. Bush could be making the same mistake with Saudi Arabia that President Carter made when he sold F–14 Tomcat Fighter Jets to the shah of Iran in 1977 and 1978. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, those fighters were aimed at the U.S. Navy. "Over the long haul, unless you see a stable democracy, you have got to contemplate the prospect of a government changing. You want to make sure any advanced weapons you provide cannot represent a danger to Americans in uniform."

Israel moves to curb any changes to Jerusalem

By Isabel Kershner from The New York Times (US)

The newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday that, before the Annapolis meetings, Israel will announce a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and declare its willingness to dismantle illegal West Bank settlements. Such a move could help persuade Saudi Arabia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, to attend the meeting. Saudi officials have indicated that they would be more likely to attend if Israel first shows signs of what they see as serious intent. The Jerusalem bill, put forth by more than 20 rightist and religious lawmakers, has a long way to go before it becomes law.