Book Review: The Almond: The Sexual Awakening of a Muslim Woman

I picked up this book because I wanted to be open-minded and read something different. I don't usually read erotica, but I bought into all the hype around this book. The novel revolves around Badra, a young Muslim woman who comes to Tangiers to escape a failed marriage and moves in with her progressive aunt. She falls in love with playboy doctor Driss who opens her to a world of all types of sexualities. After reading it my mind didn't change about sexually graphic writing, as I seem to be more conservative than I thought I was. However, I found the semi-autobiographical book to be an eye opener into the lives of Muslims, which is contrary to Western media images. Islam has long history for erotica, such as Arabian Nights, which has suppressed today by many radical Islamic clerics. Nonetheless I recommend the book for the adventurous and less conservative.


Immigrant deaths in Paris under suspect

Last night a fire engulfed a Paris apartment building, killing seven people. This blaze occurred only days after another building fire killing 12 people. This is also the third fire to occur in five months. All three buildings were occupied by African immigrants and observers noted that they were living in deplorable conditions.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed sadness at the latest fire and ordered an inquiry. However the blame is already coming down on the French government for not improving living situation long before the blazes.

"This is the fault of the housing minister," said Niakate Gagni, a 50-year-old Malian to the BBC whose family members died in the Friday blaze. "I think they are doing this on purpose, because there are flats available elsewhere."

A very angry 20-year-old Senegalese woman expressed her disgust at the way Africans are treated in France.

"I knew many children from this building," she said to the BBC on Friday. "It is very painful, it is revolting - it is actually worse than the previous fire in April. It is just revolting.

The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, told the BBC it was known that the building was in a very bad condition.

"It's a very painful situation - it's again about death and families that have been destroyed," he said.

Members of the African community took to the streets over the weekend, urging the authorities to provide better housing for immigrants. They were joined by left-wing activists and pressure groups who accused French leaders of neglect.


Post-Colonial Moment: Hong Kong Revokes Anti-Sodomy Law

A judges has struck down Hong Kong's anti-sodomy laws last Wednesday. The law, which was brought to court by a 20-year-old gay man, sentences men under the age of 21 to life sentences for engaging in gay sexual contact.

As he left the High Court, the gay man, William Roy Leung, said his legal victory meant "I can finally have a loving relationship without being scared of jail for life imprisonment."

The judge ruled the laws "discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation" and "are demeaning of gay men who are, through the legislation, stereotyped as deviant."

The laws prohibited "gross indecency" or sexual intimacy between men if one or both are under 21. But heterosexual and lesbian couples who are 16 or older can legally have such relations.

Some Christian groups condemned Wednesday's decision, saying it would encourage more young people to try sodomy.

The LGBT community is treated differently throughout Asia. The Philippines and Thailand tend to be more tolerant, while ethnic Chinese cultures like Hong Kong are less open.

In a time when former colonies are trying to rid the chains of their former European colonist, many other countries would still like to keep the inherited laws, such as Jamaica. Is this a sign of change in the Global South concerning homosexuality?


Out South: Priest caught in the act

One of Argentina's most progressive priest resigned this week after allegation that a video of him and another man having sex was going to be released to the public. In a brief statement issued Monday, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy thanked the former bishop of the northern province of Santiago del Estero, Juan Carlos Maccarone, for his "long years of work at the service of the poor." The communiqué expressed support for Maccarone "with affection and comprehension," but did not mention the reason for his resignation. Maccarone, 64, who was bishop of one of the country's poorest dioceses, submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI on Friday. Catholic priest Eduardo de la Serna, who belongs to the "Carlos Mujica" movement of progressive priests, told IPS that Maccarone was "one of Argentina's best bishops," and that it was "ridiculous" to think that an incident involving his private life had led to the resignation of a bishop of his calibre. In the view of Sergio Lamberti, another priest close to the former bishop, the real reason underlying Maccarone's departure was not his private life, even though the Church demands celibacy and condemns homosexuality as a sin and a sexual perversion. In this case no crime was committed, because the man who was filmed with the bishop was a consenting adult, the priest noted. "We are persecuted for other reasons, and they take advantage of our weaknesses," said the priest. "It's clear that this was orchestrated, to bring him down."


US Evangelist orders 'fatwa' for Hugo Chavez

"Thou Shall Not Kill" - Holy Bible/King James Version

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it." - 'Christian minister' Pat Robertson speaking about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on his popular TV show, The 700 Club.

The evangelist was responding to allegations that the US was plotting to assasinate the communist Latin American leader. Robertson said on Monday that Chávez had destroyed the Venezuelan economy and made his country a "launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent". Ninety-eight percent of all Venezuelans are Roman Catholic or Protestant.

A spokeswoman for Robertson, Angell Watts, said to the Associated Press that he would not give interviews on Tuesday and had no statement elaborating on his remarks.

In response, Venezuela's Vice President José Vicente Rangel accused Robertson of making terrorist threats: "It's the height of hypocrisy for the U.S. to continue talking about the war against terrorism when at the same time you have someone making obvious terrorist declarations in the heart of the country."

The U.S. State Department called the remarks "inappropriate" but did not condemn them and insisted that they do not reflect official policy and that the U.S. is not nor ever was planning to take "hostile actions" against Venezuela.

Robertson is no stranger to controversy. Right after the September 11 tragedies, Robertson along with fellow evangelist Jerry Falwell agreed that the attacks were caused by "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the ACLU and the People for the American Way." During the US program This Week, on April 30, 2005, Robertson was speaking about judicial activism when he said, "Over 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that’s held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." This statement prompted outcry from several September 11th support and survivor groups.

Robertson repeatedly supported former Liberian president Charles Taylor in various episodes of his 700 Club program during the United States' involvement in the Liberian Civil War in June and July 2003. Robertson accuses the U.S. State Department of giving President Bush bad advice in supporting Taylor's ouster as president, and of trying "as hard as they can to destabilize Liberia." Robertson has been criticized for failing to mention in his broadcasts his $8 million investment in a Liberian gold mine. Taylor had been at the time of Robertson's support indicted by the United Nations for war crimes. According to Robertson, the Liberian gold mine Freedom Gold, was intended to help pay for humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia, when in fact the company was allowed to fail leaving many debts both in Liberia and in the international mining service sector. Regarding this controversy, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy said, "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one."

Robertson has also flip-flop on the abortion issue. Despite claiming to be pro-life, Robertson spoke out in favor of China's one child policy, enforced by forced abortions. In a 2001 interview with CNN Wolf Blitzer, he said of that the Chinese were "doing what they have to do," though he said that he did not personally agree with the practice. His comments drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

Hugo Chavez does not have a stellar record when it comes how he runs his government. Chavez has close ties to Fidel Castro and is known as a up and coming leftist leader in Latin America. He has also mingled with suspected Islamic terrorists in Iran. However, with this said is there any logic to a man of God such as Robertson to make such a statement?


The Global South disagree with UN Millenium Development Goals

With the UN Millenium Development Goals Summit convening in less than a month in New York, anti-poverty advocates say that the Goals still do not adquately address the needs of the world's poor. The World Development Movement (WDM) released a report yesterday showing the demands of developing countries are either being ignored or significantly diminished in the draft declaration for the Summit.

"The policies being pursued by rich countries are failing to tackle poverty, especially in Africa," said Peter Hardstaff, WDM's Head of Policy. "In fact in many cases they are contributing to it."

The G77 group of developing countries along with China submitted proposed changes to an early draft declaration for the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in June 2005. WDM has compared the G77's proposals on key development issues of debt, trade and aid, with the draft declaration released on 5 August.

The G77 group (so-named because of its original membership) consists of 132 developing country members of the UN. With China, which usually works with the G77 in the UN, their combined population is 4.75 billion - 76 per cent of the world's population.

According to WDM, the draft declaration represents "business as usual," with no change on issues of free trade, unfair economic policy relief foisted upon poor countries in return for aid, loans and debt relief. Hardstaff also points out that the draft declaration makes no reference to the UN's World Summit on Sustainable Development's agreement to develop rules for corporate accountability.

"This plan has some soft edges, but at its heart lies the cold hard reality that benefiting multinational companies is seen by rich countries as being more important than providing a route out of poverty for the poorest people in the world, said Hardstaff."


Zimbabwe Watch: Spiraling out of control

What do the International Monetary Fund and the International Cricket Council have in common? Both institutions are seriously considering excluding Zimbabwe with sanctions because of the country's illegal slum clearings and lacking debt repayments, amongst other human rights abuses.

Ahead of a meeting on Monday, IMF is considering expelling the African country. The IMF has urged President Mugabe's government to sort out the economy, which suffers from hyper-inflation, a collapsing currency and debt arrears. Zimbabwe owes $295m (£163.5m) in late debt repayments to the IMF.

Over in the sporting world, UK foreign secretary Jack Straw is requesting the International Cricket Council to bar Zimbabwe from competition.

President Mugabe's regime has attracted widespread condemnation for its 'Drive Out Rubbish' slum clearance programme which has seen 700,000 people lose their homes. The Zimbabwean government claims to be cracking down on illegal activities in slum area. However, critics claim that Mugebe is punishing those who didn't support his administration in the last election.

Amnesty International released a secretly-shot film from Zimbabwe, showing the aftermath of the slum clearances. The human rights group said its film showed people made homeless and then dumped at an informal site.

The images, shot in August, depict a makeshift camp and people queuing up for water at the site near Harare.

"The people who had been in those transit camps were taken under cover of darkness and dumped at various rural areas in the country," Amnesty International researcher Audrey Gaughran said.

"They were left in most cases with no shelter, no food, no access to sanitation and little or no access to clean water.

"Rather than confront the massive humanitarian crisis that its actions have created, the government of Zimbabwe is compounding suffering and human rights violations by attempting to hide the most visible signs of internal displacement," she added.

Ms Gaughran said that since the footage was shot, aid groups had been able to persuade the government to grant them access to the Hopley Farm site.


Post-Colonial Moment: Native Hawaiian Schools

Recently a federal appeals court panel ruled that the Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii are practicing unlawful race discrimination by restricting enrollment to Native Hawaiian children. But the court last week decided to reverse the ruling for an unnamed non-Hawaiian youth who wanted to attend the school this year.

The split decision by the three-member appeals court panel rocked the $6 billion private institution established by the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The school believes its nearly 120-year-old admissions policy addresses the socioeconomic and educational disadvantages among Native Hawaiian and falls under affirmative action protections.

We're disappointed," said Sacramento lawyer Eric Grant, one of the attorneys for the unnamed youth, to the Honolulu Advertiser. "We don't know what we're going to do next."

Based on that ruling, Grant first asked the appeals court for an injunction to order Kamehameha to admit the boy. After that was rejected, he asked the court to send the case back to the U.S. District Court so he could ask the trial judge to issue a similar order. That second request was rejected by the appeals court yesterday.

Kamehameha plans to file its request for the rehearing later this month. If the court agrees with the school and convenes an 11-member "en banc" panel, the youth may never get into Kamehameha before he graduates because it might take longer than a year for the panel to render a decision.

Should schools for Indigenous Hawaiians, Native Americans and even African Americans (Historically Black Colleges) admit students who are not of the racial makeup of the institution?


Book Review: Brick Lane

In light of the July 7 London bombings I read this book because I wanted to have a perspective into the life of Muslims in Great Britain. Monica Ali makes a provocative and rewarding leap in her first novel about Nazneen a young Bangladeshi woman who comes to England to marry Chanu, an older man of questionable intelligence. Throughout the book Nazneen comes to terms with her racial, gender and religious identities as a Muslim woman in comtemporary London. One can see the gap between the younger, second generation Bangladeshis, who want to shake up the racist, elistist system and while the older immigrant generation don't want to rock the boat. Feminism is also plays a major role in the novel and all the female characters try to reconcile Islam and Eastern traditions with Western realities. The time span of the book revolves around before and after the 9/11 tragedies and Ali does a wonderful job how each character reacts. This is a great book about a group of people who are still misunderstood in the post September 11/July 7 era.


Boston Activisits take action on Darfur Crisis

Boston Activists take action on Darfur Crisis

By Talia Whyte
Special to the Boston People's Voice

August 11, 2005

The crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan has provoked Boston activists to find ways to save the thousands of lives suffering in what many political heavyweights such as Colin Powell has called genocide. The Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur is a collaboration of faith-based and secular organizations that seeks to raises awareness among citizens and stir politicians to take a more proactive role in the situation.

“Despite UN and Congress having designated this as genocide, the leadership has engaged in silence, complicity and pitiful hand wringing,” said Rev. Dr Gloria White-Hammond, co-chair of the Coalition who traveled to Sudan many times and has seen the atrocities first hand. In 2001 she traveled to Sudan with a contingent which included WBZ anchorwoman Liz Walker.

On the federal level there are two bills pending in the House of Representatives on this issue. The first bill, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2005 (HR 3127), seeks ‘to impose sanctions against individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity…’ This bill is being co-sponsored by Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano. The second bill, HR 1435, amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 by seeking to deny international tax credit and benefits to companies doing business either directly or indirectly in Sudan until the genocide ends. There is also a similar bill pending in the US Senate. Locally there are related efforts happening with Senator Andrea Nuciforo and Representative Byron Rushing having introduced Massachusetts bill number 2166 at the State House recently. The bill, which has co-sponsors in both houses, has been referred to the Committee on Public Service, but a public hearing date has yet to be announced.

The Coalition believes that a grassroots movement led by the citizens is the only way to force politicians to pay more attention to Sudan. “We need more political pressure,” said Rebecca Kushner, a representative from the Coalition. “The US has a lot of power in the world. Only the citizens can mobilize our elected officials to stop the genocide.”

The Coalition’s website (www.savedarfurma.com) gives advice on the many actions a concerned citizen can take, such as collecting signatures for a petition calling for a strong response to the crisis in Darfur or putting together a delegation of citizens to meet with their local congressperson, senator or representative. In the past some citizens have used alternative ways of activism like putting together a photo exhibit showing pictures from Darfur. Another act of creative activism is to hold a fast. The Coalition feels that this is a powerful way to express solidarity with those suffering in Sudan. The money that would have been spent on a meal could be donated to an organization that is providing aid in Darfur.

The Coalition is not only seeking more humanitarian aid for Darfur victims, but also increase the number of African Union (AU) troops with a strong mandate and full logistical and material support in the region. In June NATO (North American Treaty Organization) agreed to send an additional 6,000 troops to the region after many months of political pressure. The International Criminal Court has also announced an inquiry into the war crimes committed in the region.

Despite some signs of progress in Darfur, more works needs to be done and it has to be done by the general public. The Coalition feels that the more citizens know about the crisis and advocate for its end, the more lives that will be saved. An estimated 400 people die everyday in Darfur.

“They need to educate themselves and others on the issue,” said Kushner. “We didn’t take action eleven years ago in Rwanda. We can’t have the same thing happen again. It was shameful then and it is shameful now.”


Hanif Kureishi Speaks Out on "British Multiculturalism"

British Asian writer Hanif Kureishi speaks out on race, identity and culture in post-colonial Europe. In his August 4 editorial piece in the Guardian, Kureishi takes issue with young Muslim men who "believed they had access to the Truth, as stated in the Qur'an" and that "the source of all virtue and vice was the pleasure and displeasure of Allah." Kureishi recounts a time he visited a the home of a young 'fundamentalist' whose Yemeni wife entered the living room with tea walking backwards as sign of respect for the men, who, by the way, were discussing "training" as in learning how to kill.

Kureishi is shocked by the sheer number of young people in the mosques that are run by radical clerics. He not only blames the violent behavior of the young Muslims on the 'demagogues' who preach hatred of the West in the mosques, but also on Blair adminstration for setting up so called 'faith' schools that allows these ideas to fester. While the prime minister now wants to take a tougher stand on Islamic extremism in the country, he also "has pledged to set up more of these schools, as though a "moderate" closed system is completely different to an "extreme" one.

Roughly about 35 percent of schools in Britain fall under the 'faith' category. At one time most faith schools were run by the Anglican or Catholic Churches, but as the country has become more multicultural in recent years, there are now schools that revolve around Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and, of course, Islam. It should be noted that one doesn't have to take a religious test to get into most of these schools. Unlike in the United States, Britain funds religious institutions, despite President Bush's endorsement of "intelligent design." Statistically students who attend faith schools tend to outperform students at non-religious institutions, and this is why the British government is open to seeing more Muslim schools. Furthermore the Labor not only sees this as a way to reach out(or being politically correct, appeasing, white liberal guilt) to the Muslim community, but to also instruct Islamic 'moderation' to counter the extremism in the mosques. However, the argument about Muslim schools Kureishi is making is the fact most Muslims in the UK are immigrants and thus these schools do not provide much instruction on assimilation into British society, which contributes to monoculturalism.

Kureishi ends by saying that true multiculturalism is a committed exchange of ideas, not just a "superficial exchange of festivals or food." "When it comes to teaching the young," said Kureishi, "we have the human duty to inform them that there is more than one book in the world, and more than one voice, and that if they wish to have their voices heard by others, everyone else is entitled to the same thing. These children deserve better than an education that comes from liberal guilt."


Racist attacks on the rise in UK since 7/7 bombing

Since the July 7 London bombings there has been 800 racist and religious attacks reported around the United Kingdom. The brutal death of Anthony Walker, a black 18-year-old student from Liverpool, is closely reminicent of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, another black teen.

On the evening of July 28 Walker, along with his white girlfriend and cousin, was waiting at a bus stop when a hooded white man came along and directed a torrent of racist abuse. The three walked away with retaliating, but a gang of white men appeared from a nearby park. Walker's girlfriend and cousin ran to get help, but when they came back Walker was on the ground with an axe in the back of his head.

Since the attack there have been three arrests. The story sent shockwaves throughout the country, challenging the state of race relations in today's Britain.

The crime is almost identical to that of Stephen Lawrence, who was also murdered at a bus stop in south London in 1993.

As the investigation into those accused of the London bombings, many critics believe that the government's new policy on "shoot to kill" has created an open season on attacking on so-called "foreigners" such as Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot dead before it was realized that he was wrongfully suspected of being a suicide bomber. He was suspected because he "looked" Asian.

The UK really needs to take a closer look at it's own identity as a country.


Post-Colonial Moment: Michaëlle Jean

Michaëlle Jean was appointed as the new Governor General designate of Canada yesterday by Prime Minister Paul Martin at the approval of Queen Elizabeth II. The Governor General acts as the Queen's viceregal representative in Canada and is often viewed as the de facto head of state. She will officially by installed on September 27. The Haitian immigrant will be the first black person to hold this position. She will also be the third woman to be Governor General, replacing Adrienne Clarkson, the country's first Chinese woman to hold the position.

Prior to her position, Jean was a filmmaker and journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Jean married documentary filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond and together they made several films including the award-winning film, Haïti dans tous nos rêves (Haiti in all Our Dreams). In the film, she meets her uncle, the poet and essayist René Depestre, who went into exile in France from the Duvalier dictatorship and wrote about his dreams for Haiti, to tell him Haiti awaits his return. She has won many prizes, such as Amnesty International journalism award.

In announcing Jean as his choice to succeed Clarkson, Prime Minister Martin said that she "is a woman of talent and achievement. Her personal story is nothing short of extraordinary. And extraordinary is precisely what we seek in a Governor-General - who after all must represent all of Canada to all Canadians and to the rest of the world as well."

She has also been praised by both conservatives and liberals in the government. Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party, and also the Leader of the Opposition, congratulated Mme. Jean on her appointment and that her life story "serves as a great example to many Canadians. I know Mme. Jean will serve Canada in a dignified, vice-regal fashion."

With this said, how does Canada compare to the United States and other Western nations when appointing people of color and othe minorities to high political positions?


The Political and Social Future of Iran?

With the recent election Dr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new president of Iran, many critics are doubtful about the future of freedom and democracy. The former mayor of Tehran and civil engineer is widely seen as a conservative with Islamist and populist views. Many independent organizations have called on all like-minded groups to form an alliance against the 'new fascism' that has taken over the presidency.

In a letter written to the new president and two other key leaders, Amnesty International is urging the new government to launch a new program for human rights reform. In recent years Iran has been accused of being one of the most repressive countries in the world. Most recently the human rights community was outraged by the execution of two young men accused of asaulting a thirteen year old boy, one of whom was under age at the time of the assault. Many also believe that the two men were executed because of their perceived homosexuality.

The imprisonment of Mojtaba Saminejad, a blogger who was arrested for reporting the earlier arrest of three of his fellow Iranian bloggers, also questions the freedom of Iranians to openly criticize the government. Iran has arrested over 20 bloggers over the last year. Iranian bloggers who have been released have reported being the victims of torture. It is reported that Saminejad was placed in a prison that is notorious for its torture against its prisoners.

The lack of freedom of speech has long been an issue of complaint by progressive Iranians. Academic freedom is virtually none existant in the country's universities. Professors and students have been censored or expiled for expressing views about anything directly or indirectly related to challenging politics, religion or sex. Azar Nafisi, author of the bestselling book Reading Lolita in Tehran, quit her professorship at the University of Tehran because of the stringent restrictions, especially on women. Her book discusses the book group she formed with her brightest females students to discuss books that considered controversial and even dangerous to read within Iran's political climate.

Within Iran's Islamist system women's rights not is treated as a priority. Women and girls are still routinely checked in the streets if they are not wearing their hijab correctly or wearing makeup. Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, give a vivid depiction of women's lives throughout Iran.

Dr. Ahmadinezhad's pre-election pledges have included fighting poverty and fighting for justice and against corruption and discrimination. For him to follow through is something to be seen.


Book Review: Embroideries

In Marjane Satrapi's latest book, Embroideries, she takes on the sex lives of Iranian women. Like in her past books the author brings to life colorful, lively women who discuss their most inner secrets about men, love, and "getting your virginity back," as where the title of the book comes from. The stories range from a woman getting plastic surgery to keep her man interest to another woman who finds out her husband is gay only after her arranged marriage to him. The stories are funny, sad, enlightening and all around fascinating. Although many of the experiences are from a Muslim woman's perspective, any woman, no matter what religion, will enjoy and related to some of the stories. This book proves that no matter what part of the world a woman is from, women have to deal with the same issues of love, sex and man troubles. are