Archive for September, 2008

28-MILLION ANTI-ISLAM DVDs SENT TO SWING STATES

September 22, 2008

Tens of millions of controversial DVDs warning of the threat of radical Islam were inserted in dozens of major newspapers and delivered over the weekend to households in “swing states” across the nation.
The DVDs of the hour-long film, made in 2005, and titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” arrived Saturday with several newspapers including North Carolina’s Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer in Raleigh and in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, among others. Delivery with Florida’s Miami Herald as well as several other prominent dailies in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Fort Myers and Orlando were scheduled for distribution the following day.
The documentary included scenes of Muslim children being encouraged to become suicide bombers along with shots from Nazi rallies. The cover of the DVD says: “The threat of Radical Islam is the most important issue facing us today. But it’s a topic that neither the presidential candidates nor the media are discussing openly. It’s our responsibility to ensure we can all make an informed vote in November.”
The film was shown on Fox News just before the 2006 mid-term elections, and conservative activist David Horowitz screened the film on college campuses in 2007, stirring much controversy.
While the group, funded by the Clarion Fund, claimed its goal was not to affect voters in the upcoming election, the DVDs were all sent to swing states and an article on the group’s site, http://www.radicalislam.org, all but endorsed John McCain this past week—but it was removed shortly after.
Despite some protests from Muslim and liberal activists, the newspapers—all hard hit by drops in ad revenue in the face of an unstable economy—have defended their actions by stating that the DVD does not violate their standards.
A spokesperson at the New York Times told Editor and Publisher, the nation’s oldest journal covering the newspaper industry, the Times last Sunday inserted 145,000 DVDs in its papers delivered to cities in the swing states including in Denver, Miami/Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, Detroit, Kansas City, St Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee/Madison.
An article on the site of Allentown, Pennsylvania’s Morning-Call on Saturday revealed that it would be inserted in the next day’s paper. The article continued, “A call to Clarion wasn’t returned, but the nonprofit’s spokesman, Gregory Ross, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News this week that 28 million copies of the DVD are being distributed nationwide throughout September. He said the intent is not to sway voters’ opinions about the presidential candidates.”
It has already been packaged and sent out with dozens of large papers including the Denver Post and Columbus Dispatch. Another article explaining the delivery runs online at the News & Observer.
When Editor and Publisher questioned the New York Times Company spokeswoman Diane McNulty about their policy on the DVD insert, she said, “We believe the broad principles of freedom of the press confer on us an obligation to keep our advertising columns as open as possible. Therefore our acceptance or rejection of an advertisement does not depend on whether it coincides with our editorial positions. In fact, there are many instances when we have published opinion advertisements that run counter to the stance we take on our own editorial pages.
“We do require that opinion advertisements include the name of the sponsoring organization and a mailing address or a telephone number. This enables our readers to communicate directly with the sponsor should they seek additional information or wish to express agreement or disagreement with the advertised message. This advertisement complied with these requirements. The address on the advertisement was The Clarion Fund, 255 West 36th Street Suite 800 New York, NY 10018.”
But at least one newspaper turned away the money and refused to distribute it, calling it “divisive.” The editor of North Carolina’s Greensboro News & Record, John Robinson, explained, “Many newspapers across the county distributed a controversial DVD today about Islam, titled ‘Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.’ … We did not distribute it. I was not involved in the decision; it was an advertising call, in keeping with advertising policies.
“I asked our publisher about it. He said it was divisive and plays on people’s fears and served no educational purpose. The revenue it would have brought in was not a motivator.
“As I’ve said on other occasions about news decisions, just because you can publish doesn’t mean you should.”

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Iran’s Failing Economy

September 13, 2008

A high-level conservative cleric close to Iran’s supreme leader has criticized the economic policies of the Iranian president, warning that the current policies threaten to keep Iran from its goal of becoming a regional superpower.
The remarks by Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, a confidant of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi, came just a week after Khamenehi seemed to endorse President Mahmud Ahmadi-nejad, praising him for “standing up” to the West and urging him to plan for a second term in office.
But Nateq Nouri, the former speaker of the Majlis, said Khamenehi’s strong support didn’t mean the president was immune from criticism in his handling of the economy. Not only liberals but also even conservatives are increasingly saying Ahmadi-nejad has concentrated too much on anti-U.S. rhetoric and not enough on the floundering economy—and they have become more aggressive in attributing the president’s policies for high inflation and unemployment rates.
In 2005, Iran embarked on a 20-year plan with hopes it would lead Iran to become a regional superpower and a leader in technological and economic know-how by the year 2025. In particular, the plan focused on development in nuclear technology, industry and education. But critics of Ahmadi-nejad’s economic policy now say without change, Iran will never reach its goal.
“Goals of the 20-year plan won’t materialize under the present policies unless executive officials really change [their] views,” newspapers quoted Nateq Nouri as saying in a banking conference in Tehran.
According to the Iranian constitution, the government is required to guide the country toward privatization. But Nateq Nouri said institutions affiliated with the government—not the private sector—were being awarded shares in the “privatized” firms. “We see that assets are transferred from an open to a shadow government,” he said.
Nateq Nouri also said the government plan of injecting liquidity into the society in the hope of creating jobs has backfired. “Injecting liquidity won’t create jobs,” he said.
Earlier this month, former president and current chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized Ahmadi-nejad—citing gas shortages in winter and power cuts during summer.
In an unattributed report published by Abrar, Mohsen Rezai—the secretary of the Expediency Counsel—reportedly said that Iran ranks first in inflation and unemployment in the region and warned that if Iran kept the economic pace it has now, it would become a small country in the region.

Thoughts on Globalization from the Middle East

September 13, 2008

A recent WorldPublicOpinion.com poll surveying six Muslim nations about their ideas of globalization found that contrary to the common assumption that Muslims have a negative view of globalization, globalization is generally viewed positively in the six predominantly Muslim nations polled.
The study, conducted between January 12 and February 23, surveyed populations in Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, and the Palestinian Territories, plus the Muslim population in Nigeria. The findings were released August 27.
The survey included 10 questions about globalization; not each question was asked to each country—only two questions were posed to Iranians.
When the question was asked, “Do you believe that globalization, especially the increasing connections of our economy with others around the world, is mostly good or mostly bad for [your country,” majorities in six of the seven publics polled said that it is “mostly good” for their country. Egypt had the most positive view with 79 percent of respondents saying globalization was mostly good, while Turkey had the most negative view of globalization, with only 39 percent of respondents saying it was mostly good. Iranian respondents polled close to the average of 63 percent, with 61 percent of Iranians saying globalization was mostly good.
When asked whether international trade was good or bad for the respondent’s country, majorities in five of six nations polled say that it is good. Majorities or pluralities in five of six nations also said international trade was good for their countries’ companies, Nigerian Muslims being the only exception. Populations in Iran were not asked this question.
Most of the respondents also said international trade is good for their own standard of living—on average 56 percent hold this view, with only 30 percent saying their standard of living is hurt by international trade. This question was not asked of Iranian respondents.
In terms of trade and labor, views of the effect of international trade on workers is more mixed. While trade is widely seen as positive for creating jobs, its effect on job security work workers produces more divided responded. On average, 61 percent think international trade is good for creating jobs in their own counties, while 29 percent think it has a negative effect on domestic job creation. A 48-percent plurality believes international trade is good for job security, compared to 37 percent who believe the reverse. Iranians were not surveyed for this question.
Of all the effects posed to respondents, international trade’s effect on the environment elicited the most negative views, but opinions varied. Forty-four percent of respondents said international trade had a negative effect while 42 percent said it had a positive effect on the environment. Iranians were not surveyed for this question.
In terms of environmental and labor standards in trade agreements, some proposed requiring minimum environmental standards in trade agreements as a way to address the potentially negative impact of trade on the environment. While on average, 80 percent of respondents said international trade agreements should be required to maintain minimum standards for working conditions, 75 percent of Iranians agreed that minimum standards should be set.
Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, said, “These findings run counter to the widespread assumption that people in the Muslim world are anxious and hostile about the prospect of integration into the global economy.”
The poll of 5,216 respondents was conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a collaborative research project involving research centers from around the world and managed by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. Margins of error range from +/- 3.2 to 4.1 percent.

Afghan Nationals in Iran Hesitant to Return Home

September 13, 2008

The number of Afghan refugees voluntarily returning home from Iran has decreased dramatically over the past few months according to both Iranian and United Nations figures.
Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Saturday told reporters in Tehran that Iran was committed to expelling no more than one million registered Afghan refugees. But he made a distinction between legal and illegal refugees, adding that there is no international law concerning those who entered the country “illegally for economic” reasons. “However we still want them to be screened to see whether they need protection,” Guterres said.
According to figures provided by the head of Iran’s bureau of alien and foreign immigrants affairs (BAFIA), there are currently about 832,000 registered Afghans living in Iran with about 200,000 of their children who were born during the past six years.
Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees six years ago, as Afghan refugees were fleeing their war-torn country by the thousands and crossing the western border into Iran.
According to Iranian figures only 88 Afghans have returned home voluntarily since the beginning of the current Iranian year that began in March, although UNHCR figures show that 242 Afghan refugees returned home from Iran in August 2008; but that number is still very low compared to the 63,000 that returned in August 2002.
“The decrease in repatriation is mostly due to social and economical problems and not as much to security,” Guterres said, adding, “Not that security is not a problem in Afghanistan but social issues such as education are a bigger concern to refugees.”
According to Iranian statistics, there are about 1.5 million Afghans living illegally within its borders. Tehran began to expel refuges who had illegally entered the country about a year ago, but it slowed the rate of deportation in the face of much criticism and after Kabul pled with Tehran that it could not cope with the rate of influx.
Iranian officials have expressed frustration with criticism levied against it for its deportation of illegal refugees, arguing that no European country has provided sanctuary to such a large number of refugees for so long, especially in the face of Iran’s failing economy and high unemployment rate.
“Confronting unregistered immigrants are based on internal laws of any nation and has nothing to do with international organizations or other nations,” said BAFIA chief Sayed Taghi Ghaemi. “We do not have figures on how many unregistered Afghans enter Iran every year,” Ghaemi told the news conference, adding that the numbers change according to the season and depending on the availability of jobs.
But according to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Afghan Minister of Refugees and Returnees has rejected calls by the head of the UNHCR to increase the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Responding to calls from Guterres to increase the number of Afghans returning home, Shir Mohammad Etibari, told IRIN Sunday, “We don’t have the means to provide an encouraging environment for refugees to repatriate.”
The day before, Guterres told a news conference in Tehran, “It is very important to commit the Afghan government and to commit the international community to strongly invest in Afghanistan to create the conditions for these voluntary repatriations to be able to pick up again.”
Since 2002, one year after the fall of the Taliban-led government, the UNHCR has helped about 4.3 million Afghans return home—about 860,000 from Iran and 3.46 million from Pakistan—but there are still about one million in Iran and two million in Pakistan.
But as security began deteriorating with the resurgence of the Taliban in 2006, repatriation rates dropped. In addition, aid agencies and Kabul point to poor socio-economic conditions, high unemployment and the lack of basic services as discouraging refugees from returning home.
As a result, the repatriation drive virtually halted in September, particularly from Iran, adding strains to Iran’s already troubled economy.

Tehran’s Family Protection Bill

September 13, 2008

Iranian Majlis deputies Monday amended the controversial Family Protection Bill that would have made it easier for men to have multiple wives.
Committee spokesman Amin Rahimi told the Iran News Network the Majlis’ judicial commission had voted to scrap two articles of the draft bill—one of which was the controversial article relating to polygamy in the Family Protection Bill. The article had received much criticism and protest from women’s rights advocates and prominent clerics alike, who said the bill “threatens the foundation and sanctity of the family.”
Article 23 would have removed the requirement for women to consent to their husband taking a second wife; it instead required men simply to obtain a judicial permit to remarry confirming they could provide financially for the new wife and that both wives would be treated equally.
Ali Shahrokhi, head of the Majlis’ judicial committee, said the committee restored a clause in the bill requiring consent from the first wife for men seeking to take an additional wife.
Minoo Mortazai, a women’s rights activist, said, “The proposal in its original form added consent of a judge as an extra obstacle for men who wanted to take a second wife. But the government scrapped the need for the permission of the first wife.”
Article 25, the second article that was removed, would have imposed taxes on dowries—the money or property pledged by a husband to his wife—which the wife can claim at any time through the course of marriage or when getting a divorce.
“This is a private agreement between a man and a wife. The government does not have a right to mingle in this,” Mortazi said. Judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said his organization also disagreed with the cabinet’s positions on polygamy and the taxing of “bridal treasures.”
The judiciary, which had originally drawn up the bill, said the two disputed articles had been included by the government. Rahimi said the revision was ordered by parliament speaker Ali Larijani after “clerics, religious people and women expressed sensitivities” about the bill, which is yet to be adopted by the house.
“We hope today’s changes alleviate concerns in the society and Iranian women can raise their children and strengthen the foundation of family with relief,” he added.
The new bill will likely be put to vote in parliament next week.

Iran Sentences Four Prominent Women’s Rights Activists

September 13, 2008

Iran has sentenced four prominent women’s rights activists to six months in jail over articles written on feminist websites that the regime says threatened national security.
Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah and Nahid Keshavarz were sentenced over articles on the “Change For Equality” and “Zanestan” websites, their lawyer Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi was quoted as saying in the Korgozaran newspaper last Wednesday.
The women are active members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, an initiative that seeks to amend discriminatory laws against women in Iran by collecting one million signatures. Dozens of campaign members have been arrested and detained since the campaign began in 2006.
Ardalan, who won Sweden’s Olof Palme Prize in 2007 for her activism in support of women’s rights, already faces another six-month jail term and suspended sentences of two and two and half years—which are being appealed—on national security charges. She was not able to attend the awards ceremony as Iran barred the activist from leaving the country.
“You can’t accuse people on security charges for expressing their opinions,” said campaigner Sussan Tahmasebi, who is appealing a partly suspended two-year jail sentence issued last year.
In June 2006, the 41-year-old campaigner was detained along with 70 other activists at a demonstration in Tehran Square demanding equal rights for women on divorce, inheritance and child custody.
Hosseinkhah, 27, and Javaheri, 30, were also arrested in November and December 2007, for allegedly spreading lies and propaganda against the system over articles written on feminist websites.
“This is part of a backlash against women’s rights activists who demand equal rights in a patriarchal system,” Tahmasebi said about the sentencing, adding that the women would appeal the decision.
“The security strategy of this country is that where there is dissent—workers, women, bloggers—they crack down on it right away, because they are afraid of the domino effect,” one Iranian analyst, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Responding to the sentencing, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt last Friday criticized Iran for sentencing Ardalan to prison, saying, “I see the sentence as yet another expression of the deteriorated respect or human rights in Iran.” He added, “The number of executions has dramatically increased and more have taken place in public. At least five people have since June been executed for crimes committed when they were minors [and] the list of people who risk suffering the same fate is long.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, the acting lawyer for the four women, said, “The four activists of the women’s movement are charged because of their activities on websites such as Zanestan, Change for Equality and propaganda against the regime and each has received a six month imprisonment sentence,” adding that she and co-attorney Ebadi would object to the sentence in court.
Ebadi said, “There are no laws against internet activities and it’s against the international convention which the Iranian government has agreed to freedom of expression which is in the international documents including in International Human Rights and civil law.”
While Tehran has received much criticism for sentencing the women, Reporters Without Borders last week welcomed a ruling by Tehran’s Supreme Court overturning a death sentence against Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour because of a procedural error.
“We welcome this ruling by the Iranian justice system with great relief. It is now time to free this journalist who has been through agony since his arrest more than 18 months ago,” the world press freedom organization said, adding, “There was never any evidence of his guilt, but despite this, the judges in the case have twice decided to sentence him to death.”
The court decided that the twenty-six-year-old journalist, who had been convicted of “subversive activities against national security”, could not be considered as a ‘mohareb’ (an enemy of God) and sent his case back to the lower court in the northwestern city of Sanandaj.
Hassanpour was arrested outside his home on January 25, 2007, and was imprisoned in Mahabad jail. He worked for the weekly Asou covering Kurdish issues. He also contributed to foreign media such as Voice of America and Radio Farda.

Thoughts on the RNC

September 4, 2008

Did Giuliani irritate you as much as he did my roommates and I last night? I was trying hard to refrain from punching the TV as he sneered on stage. I’m so tired of old, rich, white men, esp the ones who surprise announce they want a divorce for the umpteenth time via press conference. And for as much as they criticize Obama for inexperience for being a “community organizer,” as if that was the only job he has held, Palin was virtually unknown before 2 weeks ago–who mind you has her own corruption scandals. so hypocritcal. and if Obama’s teenage child was preg out of wedlock, i’m sure the rep party would say, “do you think a man that can’t control his own family is fit to be the commander in chief? or “liberal family values…” and last time i checked, having served in the military and having been tortured–while very heroic and praiseworthy–does not automatically make you fit to be president, which apparently everyone last night thought!