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Sunday, 22 December 2013

Mohammad most popular name for Glasgow babies in 2013

Published on 20 December 2013

MOHAMMAD is top name for babies born in Glasgow for the first time.

It was the most popular boys' name in the city last year, with 71 being given the name. The previous year it was the third most popular behind Riley and Daniel.

The most popular girls' name in Glasgow was Olivia, with 63.

Across Scotland, Jack and Sophie were the top names for the sixth year in a row.

Glasgow follows London where the combined spellings of the name Mohammad have been the most popular in the city for the past three years.

Many other European cities have recorded Mohammad as the most common boys name in recent years, particularly in France and Belgium and as the most popular Islamic forename it is estimated to be the most common given name in the world.

However, many Muslims who have Mohammad as their first name are known by their second forename, making its popularity less obvious.

Mohammad, the prophet of Islam, is the most famous example of the name and there have been many others people with the name using various spellings.

Some 561 boys across Scotland were named Jack in the first 11 months of this year, while 474 girls were given the name Sophie.

Jack has been in the top spot for six years in a row and represented 2.1% of the boys' names registered in 2013. Sophie - the first name of 1.9% of newborn girls registered this year - has held first place for nine consecutive years.

The statistics, published by National Records of Scotland (NRS), show that while the leading names remain constant, there are some notable fluctuations within the table of the top 100 most popular names.

For boys, James became the second most popular boys' name for the first time in this century, pushing Lewis into third.

Oliver rose six places to fourth, and Daniel is up one at fifth.

The two new entrants to the boys' top 10 were Lucas and Charlie, while Logan, Alexander and Harry completed the list. Ethan and Riley dropped out of the boys' top 10, but names such as Harris, Jacob, Noah and Thomas have pushed their way into the top 20.

For girls, Olivia climbed two places to become the second most popular name this year and, being registered 465 times, was just nine behind Sophie in numbers.

Emily fell from second to third, and Isla rose from sixth to fourth.

The girls' top 10 also had two new entrants in the shape of the names Ella and Millie, with Lucy, Ava, Amelia and Jessica making up the list. Lily and Mia fell out of the top 10 into the top 20, sitting alongside top 20 new entrant Erin.

Big climbers in the 2013 top 50 list included Leo and Kai for boys and Poppy and Daisy for girls.

Overall, the NRS registered the births of around 26,700 boys and 25,200 girls in the first 11 months of this year. The top 50 boys' first names accounted for 42% of all those registered while the top 50 girls' first names represented 40% of all names registered. During the period from January until the end of November, parents chose more than 7400 different first names for their children and around 4800 were unique.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

"Only in Israel do minorities have human rights.” - Atta Farhat, the head of the Druse Zionist Council Language

Zionist Conference for Human Rights was held in front of a packed room at the Zionist Organization of America House in Tel Aviv.

Father Nadaf and other speakers at Zionist Conference for Human Rights

Father Nadaf and other speakers at Zionist Conference for Human Rights Photo: Kobi Doverz


Representatives from minority communities in Israel staunchly came out in support of the country as a Jewish and democratic state Monday, at a human rights event held by the Zionist organization Im Tirtzu.

The conference titled Zionist Conference for Human Rights, was held in front of a packed room at the Zionist Organization of America House in Tel Aviv.

Individuals from the Muslim, Druse, Beduin, and Christian Arab communities spoke about Israel’s role in defending human rights, in a mixed crowd that also included a rabbi, a Kibbutznik and a homosexual.

“Human Rights are not a trademark owned by the New Israel Fund and the enemies of Zionism,” said Ronen Shoval, founder and chairman of Im Tirtzu.

“Anyone who wants human rights in the Middle East has only one option – to connect to the Jewish state that preserves human rights,” he said.

Shoval told The Jerusalem Post that the purpose of the event was to draw attention to Israeli minorities that support the state and “understand that only in a Jewish state will they have human rights.”

One objective of the conference is “to break the monopoly of human rights” that the “extremist anti-Zionist forces” currently have on the issue and to share the term, “human rights” with the entire political spectrum, he said.

Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest who supports IDF enlistment and the integration of Christians into Israeli society spoke at the event, stating that as a priest that lives in the Middle East, “I understand that human rights cannot be taken for granted.”

People that are “slandering the state enjoy a high standard of living and are spitting into the well from which they drink,” he said.

Earlier this month, Father Nadaf’s son was attacked and ended up in the hospital, for what is alleged to be an attack motivated by his views in support of Israel and army service.

He told the Post earlier this month that he has been suffering from incitement for a year and-a-half now, since he called in 2012 for Christians to enter the army.

Anet Haskia, an Arab-Israeli Muslim from Acre, declared, “I am a proud Zionist,” and that she is against a Palestinian state and a division of the country. “There are a lot like me,” she added and said her daughter is the first Muslim to be enlisted in the Golani Infantry Brigade.

She acknowledges that racism exists in Israel, but that “society will not change if we do not integrate.”

“Arab MKs that are against the state are a tube of hate which nourishes many citizens,” Haskia said. “[MK Ahmed] Tibi called me delusional and others tried to silence me. They call us fascists, but they are fascists with their opinions on the gay community in Arab society” and their inaction on the issue of violence against Arab women.

Atta Farhat, the head of the Druse Zionist Council for Israel, said, “Look at the countries around us, they are in chaos. Only in Israel do minorities have human rights.” 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Israel Provides Humanitarian Aid To Syria War Victims

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that it is providing humanitarian aid to victims of the civil war inside neighboring Syria, saying it has funneled food and other emergency supplies to embattled villages just across the frontier.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon made the announcement during a visit to the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights. Syrian troops and rebels have been clashing in the area for months, and hundreds of civilians have fled especially heavy fighting to neighboring Lebanon in recent days."We can't sit by and watch the humanitarian difficulties on the other side," Yaalon said. "We've transferred water, food, including baby food, taking into consideration that these villages are besieged and they don't have access to any other place. So therefore yes, we are assisting with humanitarian aid along the fence."

Israel and Syria are bitter enemies, and Israel has avoided taking sides in the Syrian fighting that pits President Bashar Assad's government against rebels seeking to oust it. Still, dozens of wounded Syrians have been treated at Israeli hospitals. Last month, a pregnant Syrian woman escaping the bloodshed gave birth in an Israeli hospital.

Yaalon's statement was the first time Israel has acknowledged sending supplies into the battle zone.

An Israeli defense official said the shipments have been going on for several months. He said much of the aid has been transferred through the United Nations, and other supplies are placed along the frontier so needy Syrians can get them directly.

The Israelis have not tried to hide the origin of the goods, and some items, including medicine and diapers, are made in Israel and have Hebrew writing on them, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Israel has been carefully monitoring the Syrian war since it erupted in March 2011. While relations are hostile, the ruling Assad family has kept the border area with Israel quiet for most of the past 40 years. Israel is concerned that Assad's ouster could push the country into the hands of militant Islamic extremists or sectarian warfare, destabilizing the region. More than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011, according to U.N. estimates.

The Syrian fighting, mostly errant fire, sometimes spills over into Israeli border communities, damaging property and crops, spreading panic and sparking fires. Israel occasionally retaliates.

Israel is also believed to have carried out several airstrikes on several weapons shipments headed to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the airstrikes.

American Jewish Leader urges King Mohammed VI to “stop” controversial anti-Israeli law

Jamal Saidi
Jamal Saidi is an English teacher. He is also a coach in Human development. He is certified by Canadian Training Center of Human Development and the British Horisons Learning. He obtained his BA in English literature from Ben Msik faculty in Casablanca.He is ...
American Jewish Leader urges King Mohammed VI to “stop” controversial anti-Israeli law

Casablanca- A global Jewish human rights organization addressed a letter to king Mohamed VI urging him stop a draft law that seeks to criminalize normalized relations with Israel.

The draft law aims to strengthen the legal arsenal against “trade”, “financial”, “banking” and “insurance operations” with Israel.

A restriction would also be placed on “the participation of Moroccans, both those residing in the Kingdom or in Israel, in activities held in the Jewish state.

According to the draft law, which was presented by five parliamentary groups, the presence of Israelis in Morocco would be strictly prohibited, and would be deemed an “offense” punishable by “two to five years of imprisonment and a fine between MAD 100,000 and MAD 1 million.”

Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Director for International Relations, sent the letter to King Mohammed VI during his visit to the United States.

 In his letter, Dr. Shimon raised alarm about risks posed by the law on Morocco’s image as a country of tolerance best known for its warm ties with Jewish community around the world: “in your absence, various groups in your Parliament plan to damage Morocco’s reputation for tolerance, its standing as a Western ally and its long history of warm ties with the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora in the United States, Europe and Israel.”

He recalled Morocco’s welcome of the Jews in the fifteenth century when they were expelled from Spain, along with the Muslims, and sought refuge in the country: “in 1492, your dynasty welcomed Muslim refugees, together with their Jewish neighbors, both expelled from Christian fundamentalist Spain. These Jewish immigrants contributed greatly to Morocco’s prosperity, just as their departure resulted in a sharp decline in Spanish power”.

He also recalled that King Mohamed V, the grandfather of the current king, protected the Jews from the Nazi during the tough times of the second world war, highlighting that “over 250,000 of your former subjects still recall with affection the World War II protection they enjoyed from your grandfather, King Mohammed, in the face of the anti-Semitic laws of the Vichy-France administration. Thousands of Jews, most of them Israeli, now annually visit Morocco as tourists, pilgrims to Jewish grave-sites or business and cultural delegations.”

The SWC’s director went on to explain the content of  the draft law when he said,“ Your Majesty, behind your back, a number of political parties aim to ram through Parliament a law, entitled ‘Criminalizing Normalization with the Israeli Entity.’ The law intends to prohibit all participation in activities of Moroccan citizens and residents in which Israelis or Israeli organizations are involved, with punishments of 2 to 5 years imprisonment plus fines of 10,000 to 100,000 euros. The relations to be penalized are listed as ‘economic, political, cultural, artistic or other contacts’”

He also indicated the impact the draft bill could have, if approved, on the Moroccan economy and it image at the global level: “this law would not only endanger the Jews remaining in Morocco, it would set a precedent for the exclusion of other minorities, thereby wrecking Your Majesty’s 2011 newly enacted human rights based Constitution. Indeed, it may also deter foreign investment prospects, both current and future”.

Dr. Shimon Samuelsargued that “the proposal includes ‘a declaration of diplomatic war’ against all countries that have citizens holding Israeli nationality, as well as against all Moroccans with family ties in Israel, in violation of anti-discrimination provisions of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where Morocco holds an observer status.”

He concluded by urging the king to interfere in order to stop the draft law and ensure that “this unconstitutional and damaging draft law remains a draft.”

Meanwhile, the controversial bill continues to raise concern in Israel. Joel Rubinfeld, co-chairman of the European Jewish Parliament condemns the draft law because it “threatens the opening of Morocco to Israel,” adding that “we must not allow radicalism to take over us.Jewish News One, an English news channel deemed the proposed bill as “anti-Semitic”.

On the other hand, Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish community in Marrakech-Essaouira insisted that the said bill does not have the slightest chance of being passed in the House of Representatives, believing that “the king will never approve of this law.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global Jewish human rights organization that fights anti-Semitism. According to the center’s official website, the rights group is accredited as an NGO at international organizations, including the United Nations, UNESCO, OSCE, Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO) and the Council of Europe. Based in Los Angeles, the Center maintains offices in New York, Toronto, Miami, Chicago, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Jerusalem.

© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or or redistributed

Boris: ‘Jewish community leads the world in charity’

Boris Johnson this week claimed the Jewish community “leads the world” in charitable giving, writes Justin Cohen.

Boris Johnson with Dreidel Man at Chanukah In The Square last week.

Boris Johnson with Dreidel Man at Chanukah In The Square last week.

The Mayor of London’s comments came in an interview during last Thursday’s Chanukah celebrations in Trafalgar Square and on the same day that he toured a leading Jewish charity in Hendon.

He told the record 6,000 crowd that he was hopeful for an economic recovery in London and called for a simultaneous “boom in giving”.

Asked what London Jewry could do to help achieve that goal, Johnson told the Jewish News: “Just what they’re doing. The Jewish community traditionally leads the world in its spirit of giving, there’s no question about that. It’s something that’s been so for hundreds of years and it’s a wonderful thing to see it happening in London. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just do more of it.”

The mayor had earlier visited Hendon to take part in  a question and answer session with business figures at The Pillar Hotel and visit The Boys Clubhouse,  which has helped more than 150 youngsters who have been or at risk of being excluded from school or are not in employment.

Johnson played pool with some of the boys during his visit to the charity – which offers careers advice, therapy and mentoring – with local MP Matthew Offord.

“The Clubhouse is fantastic and a classic example of the kind of thing the Jewish community does to look after young people who need help,” he said. “It is a totally wonderful institution and I urge people to support it.” During Chanukah in the Square – organised by the Jewish Leadership Forum and Chabad – Johnson described London Jewry as “the greatest Jewish community” on earth.

Surveying the massive crowds singing and dancing in one of London’s most iconic landmarks, he said: “This is extraordinary. It’s proof of the dynamism, vitality of the Jewish community. It’s a great thing for London. People of other faiths or no faith look at this and they think what a wonderful city it is that it can bring people together and celebrate.”

Moshé Yaalon : “Nous ne pouvons pas rester les bras croisés pour les civils syriens”


Le ministre israélien de la Défense Moshé Yaalon a affirmé mardi, lors d’une visite à la frontière syrienne, qu’Israël a acheminé en Syrie une aide humanitaire à destination de la population civile.

“Nous ne pouvons pas rester les bras croisés quand des civils sont confrontés à une crise humanitaire”, a-t-il déclaré.

“Nous avons transmis de la nourriture, de l’eau, des aliments pour bébés et d’autres produits humanitaires” à des villages syriens, a-t-il ajouté, sans préciser si cette aide humanitaire s’est faite en collaboration avec les rebelles islamistes syriens.

Depuis mars dernier, Tsahal a installé un hôpital de campagne sur les hauteurs du Golan dispensant des soins de première urgence aux blessés syriens, certains sont soignés sur place et renvoyés dans leur pays,d’autres sont transférés dans des hôpitaux en Israël.

Les autorités israéliennes se gardent quant à elles de divulguer le chiffre global des blessés syriens soignés dans tous ses hôpitaux.

L’État hébreu a jusqu’ici dépensé près de 6 millions de dollars pour le traitement des blessés syriens.

Faouzi Ahmed – © Le Monde Juif .info

UK Parliament holds first reception to honour the Jewish Gay Community

The event took place in Parliament last night
The event took place in Parliament last night

The first ever Jewish LGBT event was held in Parliament yesterday, hosted by Mike Freer MP, who noted positive changes within the Jewish community around issues such as equal marriage.

The event, arranged by the Jewish gay community’s lobbying and social activism group Keshet UK, was held to celebrate both the Jewish festival of Chanukah and the passing of same-sex marriage, which will see Liberal and Reform synagogues solemnising gay marriages for the first time next year.

The event was hosted by Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer, who recently won the PinkNews Parliamentary Speech of the Year for his contribution to the same-sex marriage debate. He told the 100 community activists, rabbis, MPs and Peers : “Looking in from the outside as a non-Jew, since the big debates over same-sex marriage in the past year I’ve personally seen a sea change of attitude in the Jewish community. Changing the law will really change the lives of gay Jews”

The Communities minister, Stephen Williams MP, who like Mike Freer, is openly gay said: “Often you feel like you are treading on eggshells when bringing up the top of gender and sexuality in religion; several strands of the Jewish faith are now showing that you can be entirely comfortable with your sexuality and your religion.

“In order to achieve this, some people have to be the outriders within their own faith and I am glad that you are doing this within yours.”

Although Liberal and Reform Judaism will hold same-sex marriages, the United Synagogue, the main orthodox movement headed by the Chief Rabbi is opposed to gay couples marrying even in civil settings.

The Chief Rabbi did not attend the LGBT Jewish reception, although it was supported by the cross communal Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Crossbencher Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, whose synagogue is planning round-the-clock services on the day the first same-sex marriages can be held said: “In the nine years that I’ve spent in Parliament, I am proud of attending the debates and voting on no two pieces of legislation more than civil partnerships and gay marriage. We all need to push at one button to make our community, like us here to be more gay friendly and more celebratory than it is now.”

Rabbi Lionel Blue, the broadcaster and first openly gay Rabbi in the UK, emotionally said that the event was a “modern miracle, Chanukah is a festival of wonder, tonight is truly a moment of wonder.”

Benjamin Cohen, the publisher of PinkNews, who co-founded Keshet UK said: “This event held in the heart of the British establishment has shown that gay Jews have finally come out of the shadows. The support that Keshet UK has received from across the Jewish community, including from the Orthodox section, shows that being gay is no longer a bar to Jewish communal life.”

Keshet UK chair Alma Smith said: “We are proud of what we have achieved but know there is so much more to do to realise full inclusion of LGBT people within the British Jewish community. After experiencing the welcome that our community has felt here in Parliament this evening we hope that more people will step forward to help realise this necessity and share our message of acceptance and inclusion in synagogues regardless of sexuality and gender identity.”

A state for the Jewish people

The slogan, “two state solution,” or its literal equivalent in Hebrew “two states for two people,” coined by members of the extreme Israeli left only a few decades ago, has become the widely accepted norm here in Israel and the world over. On the basis of this approach, the current round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was launched. The declared hope was to reach a binding, final agreement within 9 months thereby ending the hundred-year conflict between us and our immediate neighbors.

In the last parliamentary elections, the left and center parties adopted this concept as THE way to implement the vision of a democratic Jewish state, living safely within its borders. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu in his famous Bar-Ilan speech embraced this mantra and is presumably working towards its implementation. The “two state solution” is a legitimate policy when one looks objectively at our region in Middle Eastern circles or those of Europe and the UN. It is undoubtedly a worthy long-term goal.

The call for “two states for two people” demands of our Palestinian counterparts a series of decisions and concrete action. They will have to give up the “right of return,” compromise on Jerusalem, come to terms with the fact that they will not receive sovereign power for all areas beyond the green line and mostly, they will have to recognize the end of the conflict – and declare so openly.

It is not at all clear if the Palestinians, neither the people nor their leaders, are ready for this transition. In my view, this does not bode well for the prospects to end the conflict in 6 months time. I fear that at the end of the current round of negotiations we will not be any closer to an agreement than we were at its inception.

Our main goal is to maintain the identity of Israel as a democratic state with a solid Jewish majority. Without a parting of ways, territorial and gubernatorial, between Israel and the Palestinians, we will find ourselves in an irreversible process that will result in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea becoming a bi-national state. The time available to us to avoid this precarious eventuality is rather limited.

Has the moment not arrived that we look past the “two-state solution” and bilateral diplomacy and focus on our own national interests?

Shouldn’t we act unilaterally and move forward to achieve territorial separation that is necessary to secure a democratic state of Israel with a solid Jewish majority?

This is not a call to abandon negotiations or diplomacy. Of course, we must continue to explore any and all options, as we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to reach a peace agreement with our neighbors.

Nevertheless, the concept of a “democratic state for the Jewish people” is first and foremost a declaration of Israelis about their future. It does not depend on the goodwill of others and it defines a clear path of action towards its implementation.

As long as the Palestinians are not shooting at us, is it really a vital interest of Israel to make sure the Palestinians have a state? Do we really care if they are part of Egypt or Jordan? Do we really care what shape their internal government takes or whether theirs is democratic in essence? Naturally it is preferable to have peaceful, democratic Palestine as our neighbor, but if this paradigm is not possible, why should we let it decide our future? Is it not time to prioritize our own interests over notions of historical justice?

The call for a democratic Jewish state is so basic that its roots can be found in the dreams of the early Zionists and the sentiment expressed in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. That vision included aspirations for an equitable society and better life for all.

But these are goals for Israel’s next phase. We will never reach that stage unless we leave decisions over our future in our own hands and stifle the ability of the Palestinians to veto our future and that of our children.

It is high time for a paradigm change. Israel should declare publicly and without any delay that if the current round of negotiations does not lead to a peace agreement (as I am afraid it will not), Israel will act to implement an unilateral separation from the Palestinians. We should present a separation map and a detailed time-table for its execution. Passage of the proposed law of evacuation and compensation (Pinui Pizui) of inhabitants of isolated settlements should be the first step.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

BBC fails to tell Jewish half of the story

 On the anniversary of the passing of UN resolution 181 on the Partition of Palestine the BBC dutifully undertook a PR campaign on behalf of the Palestinian refugee agency UNWRA, featuring a slide show of the early years of Palestinian refugees. As the excellentBBC Watch explains, the BBC duly ignored a 21 November conference telling the 'untold' story of Jewish refugees, thus breaching its owns editorial guidelines on impartiality. Lack of suitable photographic material cannot be a valid excuse: BelowPoint of No Return has put together its own slide show. 

On November 30th 2013 the BBC News website’s home page and Middle East page both promoted a feature titled “In pictures: Early years of Palestinian refugees” which showcases images from the newly digitised archives of UNRWA – currently being promoted by that organization within the framework of its permanent public relations campaign. 

In pictures Palestinian refugees
Quite how the promotion of campaigning material produced by politically motivated organisations can be considered part of the BBC’s remit or in adherence to its editorial guidelines on impartiality is a (big) question in itself, but it is notable that the captions to the photographs showcased by the BBC adhere diligently to the UNRWA script, with the text accompanying the final photograph, for example, reading:

“There are now four generations of Palestinian refugees. The “right of return” to their former homes in what is now Israel remains one of the thorniest issues in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

But of course the issue of Palestinian refugees is only half the story. The other half – that of Jewish refugees from Arab lands – has no dedicated UN refugee agency to document its history, no hereditary refugee status, no UN sponsored ‘Solidarity Day’ and no UN funded committee  to champion its ‘inalienable rights’.

The other half of that story has in fact never been mentioned in any UN resolution whatsoever in the past 66 years, as was pointed out by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, at a special UN session held on November 21st.

“In his statement, Prosor decried the United Nations’ actions. “Since 1947, there have been 687 resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. Over 100 of those resolutions “deal specifically with the Palestinians refugees. And yet as we speak today, not one resolution says a single word about the Jewish refugees.”  ”

The special session was titled “The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” and was hosted by the World Jewish Congress. The event featured testimonies from speakers including Lucette LagnadoLinda Menuhin and Levana Zamirand the film below was also screened. In conversation with BBC Watch, Ambassador Prosor noted that only one Arab country was represented at the event. 

Read post in full


Point of No Return's 'slide show':the early years of Jewish refugees

(Above) Yemenite Jews in a camp in Aden waiting to be transferred to Israel (1948 - 49).The Magic Carpet airlift (below) transported 48,000 Jews from Yemen. (JDC archives)
Above: Ezra Haddad, a young polio victim from Iraq, is helped to walk at at hospital in Israel (1950)  Below: Egyptian Jews arrive at the Greek port of Piraeus in 1957 on their way to Israel (JDC archives)

Photographer Robert Capa 's iconic image (above) of a Jewish refugee girl at the Sha'ar Ha'aliya camp outside Haifa. Below: wooden huts at the Talpiot ma'abara, 1950

Malala, Pakistan, and Israel

Malala Yousafzai. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A few days ago, I was sitting at home undergoing a multicultural musical experience. I was, in fact, listening to a number of Qawwali songs from Pakistan. For many years, singers like Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers (all now deceased) have been favourites of mine. Qawwali will never take the place of the Portuguese fado I have known and loved for so long, or the traditional Irish music I have known all my life. But it is a vibrant and energetic form of singing and musicianship that carries in its heart the Sufi poetry of the region, of northern India, parts of Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Look for it on YouTube, it will surprise you.

Although this is religious poetry from the Sufi tradition, it plays a wider part in society. One excellent performance by Aziz Mian has an audience made up of upper-class Pakistanis, including young women, some of them extremely beautiful (go here). That in itself shows the complications of Pakistani society.

Sufism is a spiritual tradition that has always stood in contrast to the worldly concerns of the rich and powerful. In Qawwali concerts like this, two realities are mixed. Not only that, but men and women are sitting together, another contradiction and an affront to the religious authorities who like to tell other Pakistanis how to live their lives. There are Westerners in this audience, and even if the men and women dress in traditional clothes, there are no veils. It’s hard to believe an assembly like this would shut the door on non-Muslims who wanted to watch and listen to a great figure of Pakistani culture.

In the West, a better-known product of Pakistani culture is a 16-year-old schoolgirl from the Swat Valley. Just over a year ago, Malala Youssefzai lay dangerously wounded after a Taliban assassin shot her in the head at close range. Malala was already an advocate of education for girls, but the Taliban condemned female education and shut down as many schools as they could, threatening death to students and teachers alike. The bullies won out, bombing and burning out schools that would not bend to their hatred of women and knowledge. Malala spoke out from her small village school until, in 2012, the Taliban decided to take revenge and silence her voice forever. Except that their ill-fated attempt did the opposite.

In Birmingham, in the wicked West, doctors saved her life. In due course, she recovered from her injuries. Since then she has gone on to become a symbol of everything the Taliban hate, a symbol for peace, co-existence, and, above all, education. She is known all over the world. She is already one of the most famous Pakistanis, male or female, to have lived. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest ever nominee, and she came very close indeed to receiving it.

She has been given enough prestigious awards to last her several lifetimes, and may well enter the Guinness Book of Records for their sheer number. She has been received by the U.S. President and the Queen of Great Britain, by Prime Ministers, and innumerable dignitaries everywhere. She has spoken to the General Assembly of the United Nations. No matter where she goes, people listen to her. She talks of peace and education, and her message goes deep. Instead of silencing her, the Taliban turned her into a megaphone to trumpet aloud the emptiness of their philosophy.

You would think the Pakistanis would love her to bits, and, of course, large numbers of them do. She’s bigger than all the Qawwali singers put together. Her name is everywhere. One day, she could stand for the post of Prime Minister. And God help the Taliban if that day ever dawns.

But a week or two ago, I came across a news item that disturbed me greatly. Two organizations representing private schools in Pakistan have banned her book, I Am Malala from more than 40,000 schools across Pakistan. The book, apparently, is an insult to Islam and shows Malala herself to be nothing more than a tool of the West. So, the leaders of an important sector of the Pakistani educational world has chosen to ban Pakistan’s best-known and most loved proponent of education, not just in Pakistan, but all around the world. It sounds like some sick joke, but it’s true. This is happening in a country that can’t even provide even primary education for half its children.

Malala’s influence on young Pakistani girls and teenagers has been and remains enormous. Pakistan (as I shall argue) needs educated men and women to produce a better-educated workforce that will help the country compete in the international marketplace. According to UNESCO, Pakistan’s literacy rate places the country at 113 out of 120 countries surveyed. In some places, the female literacy rate stands at 3 percent. And two educational bodies are banning an innocuous book by the country’s foremost advocate of female education. And Pakistanis almost lead the world in their hatred of Jews and Israel.

Why has this estimable book been banned? Simple: about a month before the edict, the Pakistani Tehreek-e Taliban had issued the threat that it would target any shop that tried to sell the book. They added that they would kill Malala in the end.

The problems with the book are essentially religious problems, problems that show yet again how obstinate Islam is to the slightest hint of change. For example, we are told that when Malala (or her ghostwriter) wrote the name of the prophet, Muhammad, she did not add the letters PBUH — Peace Be Upon Him — or SAW to stand for the Arabic equivalent, Salla’llah ‘alayhi wa sallam. We are once more in the realm of a neurosis that has put its grip on Muslims around the world. I encountered this same problem in the 1970s in Iran: nothing has changed.

Writing in English, it is not common usage much less obligatory to place honorifics after names. You can call me Denis MacEoin MA, PhD if you need to, but just the name will suffice in all but very formal situations. Adding phrases like these (and they are used after more than just the names of prophets) makes it very hard indeed for scholars of religion or history to write in a neutral style.

Malala’s next mistake was to pass on her father’s views on Salman Rushdie’s infamous novel, The Satanic Verses, which had drawn down on the author threats of murder and mayhem. ‘Malala says that her father sees The Satanic Verses as “offensive to Islam but believes strongly in the freedom of speech.” “First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book” the book quotes her father as saying. So it’s not enough to find the book offensive, but we can’t even read it or talk about it? And Pakistan is almost at the bottom of the heap when it comes to education. Need we ask why?

Another matter found offensive by these giants of Pakistani education was Malala’s reference to the two million-strong Ahmadi community, a religious group that has been declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani government, and which suffers prolonged and severe persecution without any attempt to protect them by the authorities. Malala simply calls for some degree of tolerance and is castigated for it by the obscurantists who control everything in a country determined to set its face against the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.

Despite the largely secularist policies and intentions of Jinnah, Pakistan is still under the thumb of the holier-than-thou men in beards and turbans, men who always know more than anyone else, even the best educated, who are always closer to God than anyone else, and who reckon they know how to put their fingers on apostasy and unbelief wherever they rear their ugly heads. Even if they don’t raise their heads, the mullas can always make them up.

Fortunately, there are other voices in Pakistan. Perhaps the loudest is Pervez Hoodbhoy, an openly-avowed supporter of Malala, the remarkable Professor of Nuclear Physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, a man who has won almost as many awards as she has. Active in many fields, he has devoted much of his writing and debating to education, and he has extolled the benefits of secularism and deplored the harm done to his country by the religious leadership and their insistence on hardline, unchanging traditionalism.

‘No major invention or discovery has emerged from the Muslim world for well over seven centuries now. That arrested scientific development is one important element—although by no means the only one—that contributes to the present marginalization of Muslims and a growing sense of injustice and victimhood.’ (‘Science and the Islamic World – The quest for rapprochement’, Physics Today, August 2007.)

In a compelling and insightful article, he examines the roots of the modern problem through four ‘metrics’: the quantity of scientific output, the role played by science and technology in national economies, the extent and quality of higher education, and the degree to which science is present or absent in popular culture.

He cites a study from the International Islamic University in Malaysia, which shows that Muslim countries have a mere 8.5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1000 population, compared with a world average of 40.7 and 139.3 for countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Forty-six Muslim countries together contributed 1.17% of the world’s science literature, yet 1.66% came from India and 1.48% from Spain. Of the 28 lowest producers of scientific articles in 2003, no fewer than half belonged to Muslim countries. By another measure, he points out that his own country, Pakistan, has produced a mere 8 patents in 43 years. More Israeli (population 7.5 million) patents are registered in the United States than from Russia, India and China combined (combined population 2.5 billion).

He adds that “no Pakistani university, including QAU, allowed Mohammad Abdus Salam to set foot on its campus, although he had received the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his role in formulating the standard model of particle physics.” The reason? Abdus Salam belonged to the deeply unpopular and much persecuted Ahmadi sect (referred to by Malala), the only Islamic denomination to forbid jihad. Imagine any of my old universities (Dublin, Edinburgh, or Cambridge) refusing entry to a Nobel Prize winner who happened to be a Jew or a Muslim or a Seventh-Day Adventist.

This inability to match up to the challenges of the modern world has much to do with a reluctance to obtain knowledge from non-Muslim sources. The UN Arab Human Development Report for 2003 makes this clear:

given that ‘English represents around 85 percent of the total world knowledge balance,’ one might guess that ‘knowledge-hungry countries,’ the Arab states included, would take heed of the sway of English, or at the very least, would seek out the English language as a major source of translation. Yet, from all source-languages combined, the Arab world’s 330 million people translated a meager 330 books per year; that is, ‘one fifth of the number [of books] translated in Greece [home to 12 million Greeks].’ Indeed, from the times of the Caliph al-Ma’mun (ca. 800 CE) to the beginnings of the twenty-first century, the ‘Arab world’ had translated a paltry 10,000 books: the equivalent of what Spain translates in a single year.

Now, surely you’ve been wondering when I would get back to Israel. That was the real reason for my writing this piece. There is, of course, an enormous disparity between the scientific, medical, and technological work done in Israel, the Start-up Nation, and the near total absence of such work in Pakistan, with its 8 patents in 43 years. In part,it’s a failure of education for the population; but Hoodbhoy says that isn’t the real cause of the backwardness. More than anything, it’s a total failure of all Muslim societies to understand that proper knowledge is obtained through hard questions, painful criticism, and a lack of control over what may be asked or answered. When trivial religious reasons are cited for the banning of a book, when certain types of research are considered inappropriate or blasphemous, when academics or journalists can lose their jobs for daring to point out deficiencies in society or religion — obscurantism triumphs and whole populations are forced to live in the Dark Ages.

Critics of Malala say she has become a tool of the West, a Trojan Horse whose books attempts to bring dangerous Western views into the public arena. As usual, conspiracy theories abound, protecting Muslims from even the mildest of criticism, the very whiff of dialogue. It is this same obscurantism that has created in a majority of Muslims — Deobandis and Barelwis alike — the false idea that the state of Israel is inimical to Islam, that it wages war on innocent Muslims, that it is a modern embodiment of the Jewish conspiracies of the time of Muhammad, that Jews are bitter enemies of Muslims, and that it has been planted by the West in the Arab world to serve as a modern colony.

Sensible debate would have shown many years ago that Jews are not enemies and that Israel prefers to help Muslims, not hurt them — something it has demonstrated again and again yet never received much gratitude for. The Taliban use violence or the threat to use it, while other ‘ulama use other forms of threats to ensure their control over all intellectual issues, pretending they know God’s will and offering a wide range of social sanctions. In a country like Pakistan, where the very thought of shame can prompt a man to murder his wife or daughters, the mere suggestion of divine displeasure is more than enough to make all but the most foolhardy to pull back from controversy or the very breath of it. Apostates are killed.

It’s like this across the Muslim world, but the religious fanaticism is getting worse in country after country. Everywhere it is a way to sign your own death warrant just to say you like some Jews or that you visited Israel and found it a good place for a Muslim to be, or that you think Riff Cohen is cool (and she is!) or you are turned on by the laid-back voice of Ethiopian-Israeli singer Ester Rada or that hating Jews is a no-no or that it’s time for the Palestinians to build their state and to leave Israel alone. Or whatever. Palestinians have been executed for selling land to Jews. Your life isn’t yours when the self-appointed dictators of Islamic righteousness take over.

The backwardness of the Islamic mentality manifests itself in innumerable ways, but nowhere more than in hatred of the state of Israel. Like the postmodernist thinking that has infected so much of the Western left, this hatred rocks the known world from its moorings. Next time there’s an earthquake or a tsunami in the Muslim world, the governments concerned will help their people by refusing entry to the highly trained and experienced Israeli aid workers who have already helped the distressed in 140 countries. In 2004, following a major earthquake in Iran, Israelis offered aid: they were told where to go. Some years later, after a disaster in Pakistan, both Indian and Israeli volunteers were turned back at the border.

Left-wing activists call Israel a Nazi state and an apartheid state, when the opposite is true. The Malala Youssefzai case is a pale reflection of this, turning things round in accordance with the whims of bigoted and uneducated shaykhs. There are educated Muslim clerics, but few have more than a smattering of secular or Western knowledge. They don’t know how to read a book like The Satanic Verses or I Am Malala, and they can’t read a progressive, balanced country like Israel. Only rare men like Pervez Hoodbhoy speak out about the challenges faced by Pakistan, because they have had a secular education. Christians went through the Enlightenment and came out better for it. Jews went through the Haskalah and, to a large extent, became the kind of Jews who created modern Israel. But the Muslim world has known no Enlightenment and no Haskalah, hasn’t even had its own Reformation. It’s time politicians recognized that this is the source of the impasse between Israel and its neighbours. Politics are not, on the whole, the problem. The problem is unenlightened men who treat a progressive schoolgirl like a pariah.



Denis MacEoin was born in Belfast (1949) and has degrees in English (MA, Dublin), Persian, Arabic and Islamic history (MA, Edinburgh) and Persian Studies (PhD, Cambridge). He has written some 35 books, 26 novels and nine works on Islam and the post-Shi’ite religion of Babism, as well as numerous articles and major encyclopedia entries. He taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University and was editor of The Middle East Quarterly. Currently, he devotes much of his time to pro-Israel advocacy. His most recent book is Dear Gary, Why You’re Wrong about Israel.

Stop Al-Qaida's Infitration on the Internet - or More British Jihadists Will Die in Syria

Syria bodies
The bodies of civilian activists are carried away following a recent confrontation in the Syrian civil war [Reuters].

The confirmation this week of a second British man killed in Syria has shed some light on a disturbing trend - that of young British Muslims travelling to Syria to take part in the Syrian civil war, which has now entered its third year. Mohammed El-Araj, who was 23 and from West London, was reported to have been killed in August in an attempted ambush on pro-Assad forces near Aleppo. Another Briton, Ibrahim al-Mazwagi from North London, was killed in February, after travelling to Syria having previously taken part in the Libyan conflict.

It is estimated that there are between 200 and 300 British citizens currently taking part in the civil war in Syria, in addition to several hundred fighters from other European countries, although no clear figures are available. While the main secular opposition grouping, the Free Syrian Army, has the broad support of European governments, as many as 90% of foreign fighters are said to have joined extremist jihadi groups, many of which are linked to al-Qaida, most notably Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (Isis). Al-Qaida has, in the past, recruited Western jihadis radicalised overseas to commit terrorist attacks in their home countries, most notably in the 7/7 attacks. This makes the participation of young British citizens in extremist groups in Syria particularly worrying.

The phenomenon of young British Muslims taking part in conflicts overseas is not new. It is believed that hundreds of British citizens travelled to Afghanistan and Bosnia in the 80s and 90s, to fight in what they saw as the struggle of Muslims against Russian and Serbian oppression. However, the emergence of the internet as an ungoverned space for the dissemination of the extremist Islamist narrative, coupled with the identity crisis experienced by some Muslim youth in the West, has allowed for the latest wave of radicalisation to be conducted on a far wider scale, resulting in a much faster internationalising of the Syrian civil war relative to previous conflicts.

The extremist narrative of Western oppression of Muslims has effectively been used to encourage a younger generation to take part in a war in which Muslims are killing Muslims on a horrific scale, with frequent reports of atrocities such as the execution of unarmed civilians perpetrated by all sides. The appeal of adventure and danger, and the opportunity to belong to a movement which purports to represent their Muslim identity is a powerful draw to idealistic young men with a sense of alienation from British society, and a frustration at the failure of the West to prevent the killing of Muslims in Syria and other areas.  Of course, such a narrative - that simultaneously condemns Western intervention in former conflicts and condemns the lack of it in Syria - does not stand up to rational argument, but it has nevertheless clearly been persuasive to vulnerable minds, rightfully outraged at events in the Middle East.

The internet has been used effectively by al-Qaida and related groups to spread their narratives. Marginal religious scholars, often self-proclaimed, have been able to gain wide audiences online for takfiri proclamations, which declare certain individuals or groups to be non-Muslim for the purpose of legitimising their killing, which has happened in the case of Shia Muslims in Syria. There is now an urgent need for greater investment in challenging extremism online, as well as in the 'real world'. This can be done in part by establishing a strong positive narrative which helps British young people at risk of radicalisation to integrate into British society, and to challenge the extremist narrative that is now effectively promoting the large-scale killing of both Muslims and non-Muslims.

At the same time, it would be wrong to consider all British fighters in Syria as a terrorist threat to the UK on their return. Although the Terrorism Act 2006 allows for the prosecution of those who have taken part in extremist activity overseas, permitting former fighters to return to their jobs and families without harassment from the law, as for example many former fighters in Afghanistan did, would be likely to help toward their deradicalisation. The trouble for the security services, as their chiefs explained in the televised select committee earlier this month, is in knowing which ones pose a real threat.  In the meantime, it is essential to expose the incoherence and hypocrisy of the extremist narrative, and provide strong credible alternative models for participation in British society.

Ed Swan is Programmes Officer at the Quilliam Foundation, the world's first counter-extremism think tank. Visit the Quilliam website to find out more