FaithWorld

Shots fired to disperse Afghan Koran protest in Kabul

afghan-koran-protest (Photo: Afghans protest at parliament building in Kabul, 25 Oct 2009/Ahmad Masood)

Afghan police fired into the air on Sunday to break up a protest by thousands of people who had gathered in the capital, Kabul, to protest against what they said was the desecration of a copy of the Koran by foreign troops.

Protesters, claiming foreign forces had burned a copy of Islam’s holiest book during a raid in Maidan Wardak province last week, blocked traffic in Kabul for more than an hour. A spokeswoman for U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said none of their troops were involved in the incident and blamed the Taliban for spreading a false rumor that a copy of the Koran had been burned.

Thick plumes of smoke rose above the crowd as protesters set fire to a large effigy of what they said was U.S. President Barack Obama. “Death to America. Down with Israel,” chanted one man at the rally, which was organized mainly by university students. Others threw stones and clashed with police but no casualties were reported.

“No to democracy. We want just Islam,” said one banner carried by protesters, many of whom shook their fists in the air.  Captain Elizabeth Mathias, a media officer for U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban were trying to undermine foreign troops by spreading the rumor. “We did not burn a Koran … It is unfortunate that the protesters believe a Taliban rumor,” Mathias said, adding an investigation had been carried out.

Read the full story here. Below is the Reuters video showing what a protest like this looks like:

from Jeffrey Jones:

Dalai Lama: Afghan war a failure

    The Dalai Lama believes the war in Afghanistan has so far been a failure, saying military intervention creates additional complications for the country.
    The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, making his first visit to the Western Canadian city of Calgary in 30 years, said foreign military intervention against Taliban insurgents has only served to make the fundamentalist group more determined.  
    The war has been "so far, I think, a failure," he told reporters, adding that he could not yet judge its outcome. "Using military forces, the other hard-liners become even more hard ... and due to civilian casualties the other side also sometimes is getting more sympathy from local people." 
    U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing calls to boost troop levels and alter strategy to reverse what officials have said is a deteriorating military situation. But the Dalai Lama said it would all have been unnecessary had the United States and the European Union spent more on aid to the region.
    "Instead of spending billions and billions of dollars for killing they should have spent billions .... on education and health in rural areas and underdeveloped areas. (If they had) I think the picture would be different."

-- Written by Scott Haggett

(Photo: The Dalai Lama speaks at a conference in Calgary, Alberta, on October 1, 2009. REUTERS/Todd Korol)

Afghan journalist jailed for blasphemy goes free

kambakhsh-3An Afghan journalist, sentenced to death for blasphemy, reduced to 20 years’ jail on appeal, has been set free and is living in exile in an undisclosed country, a media watchdog has said.  Perwiz Kambakhsh, 24, a reporter with the Afghan Jahan-e Now daily, was sentenced to death in January 2008 by a court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Photo: Kambakhsh at a Kabul court hearing, 21 Oct 2008/Omar Sobhani)

Kambakhsh was arrested and imprisoned for downloading and distributing an Iranian article from the Internet that said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women. Under Islamic law — stipulated in Afghanistan’s constitution — blasphemy is punishable by death.

In a statement on its website, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for press freedom, said Kambakhsh’s lawyer had confirmed to them Monday his release and that President Hamid Karzai had signed a pardon several weeks earlier. Karzai’s office was not immediately available for comment.

from Global News Journal:

Who is funding the Afghan Taliban? You don’t want to know

U.S. soldiers (L) and an Afghan policeman keep watch near a building which is held by the Taliban in Logar, south of Kabul August 10, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

The article by Jean MacKenzie originally appeared in GlobalPost. This is part of a special series by GlobalPost called Life, Death and The Taliban. Click here for a related article Funding the Pakistani Taliban.

KABUL — It is the open secret no one wants to talk about, the unwelcome truth that most prefer to hide. In Afghanistan, one of the richest sources of Taliban funding is the foreign assistance coming into the country.

from Photographers' Blog:

Recurring images of Afghan women

Sometimes we Afghan photographers joke that an Afghanistan without burqas, would mean no more good images.
I was with Yannis Behrakis when he shot his version (top). It was the day after the Northern Alliance took over Kabul and the Taliban fled the city. Yannis wanted to shoot some images which could show a change after the fall of the Taliban. We came across a number of women who were waiting to receive some alms from a rich local businessman. Yannis stopped to take some pictures.

For my version (below), I went to cover President Hamid Karzai's election rally in the south of the country on August 4. There were thousands of men but some females who were mostly covered in burqas, as usual. I wanted to show the women's participation in this mainly male-run country.

One could draw the conclusion that years after the fall of the Taliban, women are still under burqas and pictures look the same. This is because the situation of women may have changed in the cities but not across the country. The reason is not that international communities failed to help women liberate but it is because that is how they live. The life style in most parts of Afghanistan is a unique one, it is an Afghan one. It is clear from the start that men work outside and women work inside the house, that is how centuries past by. This is how they choose to live, one can not just take their burqas off, put them in jeans or short skirts, tell them to go out and work and then say your situation has improved. With all due respect to the Western media, they are painting the wrong picture on the situation of women here. Let's leave the Taliban era out of this, this is now eight years of "Operation Enduring Freedom".

France may ban burqas, but chic abayas for export are fine

three-burqasWhen French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared last month that the burqa was not welcome in France, he unleashed a global debate on Islam and veils that drew in everyone from bloggers and full-time pundits to Al Qaeda’s North African wing. FaithWorld has dealt with it when Sarkozy spoke, in the aftermath of that speech, with a view from Afghanistan and a televised debate with a National Assembly deputy backing the ban. (Photo: Kabul women in burqas, 20 Nov 2001/Yannis Behrakis)

Last week, a somewhat unlikely group of commentators joined the debate — fashion designers at the haute couture shows in Paris. The niqab and the burqa are, after all, garments, so maybe it should not be surprising that the high priests of fashion have spent some thought on the issue.

In fact, many top French designers make customised abayas (long, baggy gowns some Arab women usually worn with a veil) and other luxury versions of traditional outfits for their Middle Eastern clients.

Burqa losing favour as Afghan women opt for chador

burqa-black (Photo:A burqa-clad woman in Kabul’s old bazaar, 4 March 2009/Ahmad Masood)

Here’s some news for Nicolas Sarkozy. While the French president has begun a battle against the burqa in France, the famous blue garment that covers women from head to toe is losing favour back in its stronghold Afghanistan. In Herat, burqa seller Nehmatullah Yusefy says sales have dropped 50 percent since the Talibanchador1 were toppled in 2001 and he says he will soon need to start stocking other styles of Islamic dress to make up for lost profits. (Photo right: Baghdad woman in chador, 12 Nov 2008/Mahmoud Raouf)

“I think, God willing, the sales of burqas will decrease, then I will sell chador namaz and even maybe mantau chalvar,” Yusefy said, standing behind the counter of his small outlet on a strip of burqa shops in the western city’s main market.

Read my feature here.

chalwar1The chador namaz is a long, billowing dress in black or sombre-patterned fabric which is widely worn in Iran. It exposes the woman’s face but covers the rest of her head and body until her ankles.

Notes on France’s ban-the-burqa debate

burqa-eiffelThe French love a rousing political debate, all the more so if it leads to a parliamentary inquiry and is topped off with a new law. Paris set the stage this week for just such a debate on whether Muslim women should be allowed to cover their faces in public in burqas or niqabs. By deciding this week to launch a six-month inquiry into the issue, parliament has ensured it will stay in the headlines until year’s end as 32 politicians from the left and right hold weekly hearings to consider banning these veils. (Photo: Woman in a niqab walks near Eiffel Tower in Paris, 24 June 2009/Gonzalo Fuentes)

A few politicians have been proposing a ban on full facial veils ever since France outlawed headscarves from its state schools in 2004. The issue came up recently when 58 politicians signed a petition for an inquiry into whether burqa wearing should be outlawed in France. But it finally took off on June 22 when President Nicolas Sarkozy declared these veils “unwelcome in France” as a symbol of the subjugation of women and backed the call for an inquiry.

Few women in France actually wear these veils, either the Afghan-style burqa covering the face completely or the Arabian niqab with space open for the woman’s eyes. It is perhaps telling that the French say burqa for both of them, even though the full veils occasionally spotted in minority neighbourhoods outside Paris or Lyon are niqabs. Pictures of burqas in French media are usually from Afghanistan. Anyway, the politicians who petitioned for the commission say the numbers of fully veiled women are rising and that seems to be true. But the evidence is always anecdotal and there are no statistics to support this argument.

Poll: Pakistanis against Taliban, disagree over sharia views

swat-talibanA new poll shows public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against the Taliban and other Islamist militants, even though they still do not trust the United States and President Barack Obama. Reporting on the poll, our Asia specialist in Washington, Paul Eckert, said the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, conducted in May as Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley, found that 81 percent saw the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country, a jump from 34 percent in a similar poll in late 2007. Read Eckert’s report here. (Photo: Pakistani Taliban in Swat, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)

The poll shows a wide divergence between Pakistani public opinion and the views of the Taliban on the implementation of sharia, a religious issue sometimes cited to help explain earlier tolerance of the militants. Some 80 percent of the respondents said sharia permits education for girls, one of the first services the Taliban close down when they gain control of an area. And 75 percent said sharia allows women to work, which the Taliban do not.

Reflecting their distrust, 71 percent said they believed the Taliban would not even submit to the sharia courts that they themselves have set up or promised to install as a pure and speedy alternative to Pakistan’s corrupt and inefficient civil courts. Only 14 percent supported the Taliban claim that it could provide more effective and timely justice than the state, a claim that partly helped the Islamist militants in the past (although it must be added that only 56 percent expressed trust in the civil courts). Only 9 percent said they thought the Taliban would do better at fighting corruption than the government, which got a lukewarm 47 percent. In any case, these results seem to indicate very little support for trademark Taliban promises that once seemed attractive.

Muslim trust restores Jewish sites in Afghanistan

herat-synagogue-1Amid the glum news from Afghanistan, Golnar Motevalli of our Kabul bureau has sent this from Herat:

“Behind a parade of old mud brick shops, through narrow winding alleys, a tiny door opens onto a sundrenched courtyard, where school children giggle and play alongside the ghosts of Afghanistan’s Jewish past.

The Yu Aw is one of four synagogues in the old quarter of Herat city in west Afghanistan, which after decades of abandonment and neglect, has been restored to provide desperately-needed space for an infant school.”