FaithWorld

Al Qaeda offers to free French hostages if burqa ban ended – TV

veilAl Qaeda’s north African arm wants a repeal of a ban on the Muslim face veil in France, the release of militants and 7 million euros to free hostages who include five French, Al Arabiya TV said on Monday.  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is holding seven foreigners in the Sahara desert after kidnapping them last month. (Photo: A woman protests outside the French Embassy in London against France’s veil ban, 25 Sept 2010/Luke MacGregor)

The sources did not specify which militants the hostage-takers wanted released. France’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as one of several “rumours” since the kidnappings in mid-September.

The government has not received any demands from AQIM since the seven were taken, but has said it would consider negotiating with the hostage-takers for their release. Initial contacts with AQIM through local chiefs in Mali were “not encouraging” due to the nature of the demands, the sources told the Dubai-based television station.

France became the first country in Europe to outlaw the veil after the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest constitutional authority, approved the ban last week. It will be enforced after a six-month transition period during which fully covered women will be warned about penalties they could face.

Read the full story here.

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Religious tension marks Sept. 11 anniversary

tension 1Religious tensions are overshadowing the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States where President Barack Obama urged a Christian preacher to abandon a plan to burn copies of the Koran.

And a day ahead of Saturday’s ninth anniversary, a report warned that the United States faced a growing threat from home-grown insurgents and an “Americanization” of the al Qaeda leadership. (Photo: Outside the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida September 10, 2010/Scott Audette)

On Friday, Obama appealed to Americans to respect the “inalienable” right of religious freedom and said he hoped the preacher would abandon his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, saying it could deeply hurt the United States abroad.

from The Great Debate:

Torching U.S. power

The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.

The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, although President Barack Obama and other US officials have rightly condemned the pastor’s previously intended actions, the episode has exacerbated anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world. This comes at a sensitive period at the end of Ramadan, when debate is also still raging about an Islamic group’s plan to build a community center, which includes a mosque, near Ground Zero in New York City.

Pakistani Sunni militants stoking sectarian rift against Shi’ites: minister

quetta (Photo: Volunteers help injured after suicide attack on Shi’ite procession in Quetta September 3, 2010/Rizwan Saeed)

Pro-Taliban Pakistani militants are trying to fuel a sectarian rift, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday, as a new wave of violence piled pressure on a government already struggling with a flood crisis.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on two Shi’ite rallies that killed nearly 90 people in the cities of Quetta and Lahore in the past three days. The attacks ended a lull after devastating floods which affected 20 million people. Pakistani officials had said before the attacks that any major violence at such a difficult time was likely to cause deep popular resentment against the militants.

Malik said after taking a beating in their strongholds in the country’s northwest in a string of military offensives, al Qaeda-linked militants were adding a religious color to their activities to whip up sectarianism.

Two US broadcasters reject ad against mosque near 9/11 site in New York

USA/Two major United States broadcasters have rejected an advertisement that urges viewers to protest against a mosque planned two blocks from Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York.  The ad by the National Republican Trust PAC– labeled inflammatory by critics — mixes images of 9/11 and Muslim militants while slamming a controversial proposal to build a mosque and Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. (Photo: Christian procession near Ground Zero in New York April 2, 2010/Jessica Rinaldi)

“To celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero,” says the narrator over images of the destroyed World Trade Center. “This ground is sacred, where we weep, they rejoice … that mosque is a monument to their victory.” For the ad, see the YouTube video below.

NBC Universal advertising standards manager Jennifer Riley said the broadcaster didn’t take issue with the content, but rather the vague construction of its narration: “This ad, which ambiguously defines ‘they’ as referenced in the spot, makes it unclear as to whether the reference is to terrorists or to the Islamic religious organization that is sponsoring the building of the mosque.” Read the full story here.

Planned mosque near New York’s Ground Zero sparks debate

ground zero (Photo: Visitors to Ground Zero in New York, September 11, 2009/Gary Hershorn)

Plans to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks have touched off a firestorm among New Yorkers nearly a decade after Muslim extremists linked to al Qaeda slammed planes into the World Trade Center. The Cordoba House mosque, part of a Muslim center to be built two blocks from what is now known as Ground Zero proposed as a conciliatory move, was overwhelmingly approved by a local community board in May.

But the plans are being resisted by some New Yorkers who say a mosque would be inappropriate so close to the place where nearly 3,000 people were killed. “I’m certainly not against religious expression, but I feel it’s an insensitive place to do that,” said Paul Sipos, a member of the community board who did not vote on the issue.

The center is a project of the Cordoba Initiative, a New York group aiming to improve relations between Muslims and the West. It would feature a 13-story structure with a 500-person auditorium, swimming pool, bookstores and a prayer space. Its chairman, Islamic scholar Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, said the center would be open to everyone and would help foster better understanding. “My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists,” Rauf wrote in an editorial in the New York Daily News. “We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric.”

Kenya investigates Islamic group crackdown on soccer and films

kenya fan

A Kenyan soccer fan attends their 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Nigeria at the Kasarani stadium in Kenya's capital Nairobi, November 14, 2009/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya has deployed security agents to its border with Somalia after Islamic clerics announced they had clamped down on the public broadcast of soccer and films, a security official has said.  Clerics in the frontier town of Mandera said on Monday they had confiscated a number of satellite TV dishes in a football-obsessed nation ahead of the World Cup because public film dens were corrupting youths.

“Two groups, an undercover team from National Security Intelligence Service and (an) anti-terrorist unit, arrived here on Tuesday night to investigate,” a senior local security source who did not wish to be named told Reuters late on Thursday.  Another team has been dispatched to Dadaab refugee camp which is home to some 270,000 mostly Somali refugees in the mostly Muslim region.

from Afghan Journal:

The Taliban, an enigma wrapped in a riddle ?

(Taliban in Kunduz- REUTERS/Wahdat )

(Taliban in Kunduz- REUTERS/Wahdat )

Anne  Stenersen  of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world.  Its interesting  because even after all these years  they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

As Stenersen notes,  a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as "al Qaeda and the Talban" , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar,  or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a  proper name  diminishes them.

On the ground, soldiers often describe the enemy as "anyone shooting at us"  making it even more vague. Obviously the nature of the insurgency has something to do with this : the great diversity in Afghanistan's demography and geography means the insurgency can vary from region to region, or even from one village to the other. You could be fighting a Taliban commander in one, and a warlord linked to them in the other.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

Factbox: Roots of Yemen’s conflict with northern Shi’ite rebels

yemen 1

A Yemeni soldier aims at rebel targets in this undated photo released by the Yemeni army on 25 Jan 2010.

Yemen announced a truce with northern Shi’ite rebels on Thursday, aimed at ending a war that has raged on-and-off since 2004 and that drew in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a Yemeni official said.

The conflict with the northern rebels, who complain of social, religious and economic discrimination in the southern Arabian state, intensified last year. A truce was to start at midnight on Thursday, the official said.