House approves free public wireless Internet access in public buildings, terminals, parks, plazas - Saturday, 30 May 2015
Three chiefs of police in Region 3 ordered relieved over ‘Oplan Lambat-Sibat’ - Saturday, 30 May 2015
Saturday, 30 May 2015 00:00 Published in Commentary
Copenhagen — ”Unwanted” and “uncivilized” — foreigners are sometimes shocked by the blunt tone of Denmark’s debate on Muslim immigration, and with a general election around the corner politicians show no sign of toning it down.
“There’s no way you can integrate with all this rhetoric because people think you’re a criminal or a freeloader,” said Kelly Draper, a British-born teacher who came to the Scandinavian country seven years ago.
“The last time I watched the Danish news... they had four main stories and three of them were about how immigrants were ruining everything,” she added.
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Wednesday called an election for June 18, and 10 years after daily Jyllands-Posten published the Mohammed cartoons that sparked lethal protests in some Muslim countries, immigration and Islam remain at the top of the agenda.
The opposition right-wing bloc is currently leading the polls, but even if it does well in the election it would need the support of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP) to pass legislation in parliament.
Like its peers in other European countries, the party regularly makes comments that some find offensive and even racist, but the level of hyperbole and vitriol is what takes foreigners by surprise.
“I’m Jewish so I always tell (Danes), you just take the word Muslim, switch it out with Jewish and you’ve got Germany of the 1930s,” said David Miller, an American expatriate living in Copenhagen.
DPP lawmakers have likened the Muslim veil to the swastika, the Koran to Mein Kampf and argued that Islam is “the greatest threat to our civilization.” Former party leader Pia Kjaersgaard claimed immigrant-heavy parts of Danish cities were “populated by people from a lower level of civilization.”
Echoing that sentiment, Anders Vistisen, a Danish member of the European Parliament, last year described population growth in Muslim countries as “humanity’s greatest challenge.”
“About the Jews’ situation in Europe: The Muslims continue where Hitler left off. Only the treatment Hitler got will change the situation,” former parliamentarian Mogens Camre, who now serves as a councilor in a Copenhagen suburb, wrote on Twitter last year.
The DPP’s role in Danish politics has arguably made it the most influential party of its kind in Europe, and with some polls giving it one in five votes amid rising numbers of refugees from Syria, its power shows no sign of waning.
The party was allowed to shape Danish migration policies into some of Europe’s toughest in exchange for supporting in parliament Danish governments between 2001 and 2011.
It is unclear if it will seek to join a future right-wing government, which observers say would limit its ability to U-turn on controversial issues when public opinion changes.
Over time, voters have found it harder to distinguish between the DPP’s views and those of the main right-wing party, Venstre.
In an op-ed titled “Happy Eid to all Muslims!,” a leading Venstre MP last year suggested selecting immigrants based on their religion.
“There are big differences in the ability and willingness for integration depending on whether it is a Christian American or a Swede or a Muslim Somali or Pakistani who comes here,” Inger Stoejberg wrote in daily Berlingske.
In the 2011 election, the ruling Social Democrats campaigned on rolling back some of the immigration policies introduced by the previous government, but after losing voters to the DPP it too has changed its message.
In October, its spokeswoman on immigration came under fire for describing refugees as “unwanted guests, no matter how you look at it.”
In March, a new campaign poster showed the Social Democratic prime minister next to the slogan: “If you come to Denmark you should work,” referring to the relatively high unemployment rate among immigrants.
In the wake of February’s twin attacks in Copenhagen by gunman Omar El-Hussein, many Danes asked themselves how a young man born and bred in their country could have felt so alienated from the society in which he lived.
Some people, mostly on the left, argued that the national conversation on Islam had made it harder for Muslims to integrate.
Even before the attacks a December poll found that 44 percent of Danes were “sometimes ashamed of the Danish immigration debate,” while one in three Danish Turks said they had considered leaving the country because of it.
It’s unlikely to convince the DPP’s spokesman on immigration issues, Martin Henriksen, who once described Islam as “a terrorist movement” but who now prefers the term “an ideology of conquest.”
“There are some people who think it’s offensive if you say that 20 percent of those in Danish prisons come from a Muslim background,” the lawmaker, who represents a working class constituency outside Copenhagen, told AFP in his office in the Danish parliament.
“But it’s just a fact, it’s reality, and then I think you should just say it and have a debate based on that,” he added.
Friday, 29 May 2015 00:00 Published in Commentary
Hotan, China — It was not until late on her wedding day that Aygul told her parents she was even in a relationship. And they were furious.
A year later, her Uighur father was still so angry she had chosen a Han husband he beat her up in a Beijing train station, stamping on her throat as he hurled insults.
“They hounded me and demanded I choose: My mother and father or my husband,” said the 26-year-old website editor. “They told me I had to leave him.”
Against a backdrop of prejudice and violence, inter-ethnic marriages between Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority who speak a Turkic language, and China’s ethnic majority Han are extremely rare.
Uighurs in their home region of Xinjiang have long chafed under Beijing’s yoke and say they face restrictions on religion, language and culture, with some yearning for independence.
China counters it has brought development and raised living standards, blaming sporadic but intensifying violence that killed more than 200 last year on Islamist separatists with overseas connections.
Official media have labored to showcase Han-Uighur marriages — with couples singing the praises of the government and Communist Party — as a symbol of “ethnic unity.”
The phrase is common on propaganda posters throughout Xinjiang, but such messages have to contend with centuries of division.
“Since I was 12, my mother always told me: ‘Concentrate on your studies and don’t find a Han boyfriend’,” said Aygul. “But I was educated in a Chinese-language school and most of my classmates and friends were Han.”
Her husband Xiaohe, a 30-year-old translator, had already given up pork, prohibited by Islam, and tried to make a good impression on her parents with a three-page handwritten letter in Uighur, without success.
Ming, a Han married to Ahman, a Uighur woman from the oil town of Karamay, got a similar reaction the first time he spoke to her parents.
“Her father told me: ‘If you are going to marry my daughter, then I’ll disown her,’” he said.
His wife — who was attacked by a group of Uighur classmates as a teenager for having a previous Han boyfriend — added: “My parents see my marriage to a Han as a loss of face.”
Uighur-Han marriages are largely confined to wealthier, more educated Uighurs, who often attend Mandarin-language schools and go to university outside Xinjiang, or the very poor, mainly from tight-knit farming communities where Han residents speak Uighur and share customs.
Both sides often cite cultural or religious differences for the divide, but Newcastle University professor Joanne Smith Finley, a Uighur culture expert, said the true but unspoken issue is politics.
“The number one reason for the taboo on inter-ethnic courtship and intermarriage is inter-ethnic conflict,” she said, adding that Uighur women married to Han men face the harshest ostracism due to the patriarchal nature of Islamic societies.
“A Han Chinese man taking a Uighur woman as his wife is seen as symbolic invasion,” she explained.
“Just as China is taking the oil, natural gas, gold and jade, and has reduced the people to a marginalized, impoverished and disenfranchised section of society in Xinjiang, when a Chinese man takes a Uighur wife, Uighurs view that as the physical embodiment of what China the state is doing to the Uighur homeland.”
Uighurs had the lowest intermarriage rate of China’s 56 officially recognized ethnic groups at 1 percent, according to Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences researcher Li Xiaoxia, who analyzed 2000 census data. That fell to 0.6 percent for Uighur-Han unions.
“There is huge difference between Uighurs and Han in terms of culture and language,” she said, adding that more recent data showed little change. “People are prone to look for relationships with someone with the same ethnicity.”
Yet the Hui, who like Uighurs are Muslim, have an intermarriage rate about 13 times higher — although they share a language and many more live in China’s heartland cities.
The reaction of Ming’s parents was typical of how many Han view Uighurs, informed by stereotypes and casual racism.
“My parents thought all Uighurs were pickpockets or scam artists selling so-called ethnic food for inflated prices,” said the 28-year-old, a manager at a state-owned company.
Xiaohe’s parents, from the northern province of Hebei, were more positive. “At first my parents thought it was strange, but then they found out she graduated from Peking University” — an elite school often called the Harvard of China — he said.
“They said: ‘Your grades were never that good and your wife is so smart, this is great.’”
The couples who spoke to AFP requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Ahman, Ming, Aygul and Xiaohe are members of a mixed couples’ chat group where they swap stories, tips and support. Their unions have only survived because they live in Beijing, they say.
“It would be impossible for us to be married and live in Xinjiang,” said Xiaohe. “The social pressures are just too intense.”
Thursday, 28 May 2015 00:00 Published in Commentary
Baghdad, Iraq — Iraqi forces launched a broad operation on Tuesday to tighten the noose on jihadists controlling Anbar, but Shiite militias gave it a name that risked raising sectarian tensions.
Ten days after the Islamic State group’s shock capture of the capital of Iraq’s largest province, a spokesman said an offensive to cut off Anbar and prepare for a bid to retake Ramadi had begun.
“The operation’s goal is to liberate those regions between Salaheddin and Anbar and try to isolate the province of Anbar,” said Hashed al-Shaabi spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi.
The Hashed al-Shaabi (“popular mobilisation” in Arabic) is an umbrella group for mostly Shiite militia and volunteers, which the government called in after the Islamic State group (IS) captured Ramadi on May 17.
Assadi said the latest offensive had been dubbed “Operation Labaik ya Hussein,” which roughly translates as “We are at your service, Hussein” and refers to one of the most revered imams in Shiite Islam.
The Pentagon, which is also active against IS in Anbar with air strikes, was clearly frustrated with the choice of an explicitly sectarian codename for an operation into Iraq’s Sunni bastion.
“I think it’s unhelpful,” spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.
“We’ve long said... the key to victory, the key to expelling ISIL from Iraq is a unified Iraq,” Warren said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
Washington had been in favor of keeping the Shiite Hashed forces out of Anbar, but the abysmal performance of the security forces in Ramadi left Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi without other options.
Abadi, who has striven to paint the Hashed as a cross-sectarian force by including Sunni fighters in it, did not immediately comment on the controversy.
The operation launched on Tuesday involves 4,000 men, including from the security forces, heading south from Salaheddin to sever IS supply routes to Anbar.
The jihadists control most of the province and the government holds just a few isolated pockets.
Regular forces and Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries also made progress south and west of Ramadi, an army lieutenant colonel told AFP, retaking an area called Al-Taesh.
“The Iraqi security forces and Hashed al-Shaabi have now cut off all supply routes for IS in Ramadi from the south,” provincial council member Arkan Khalaf al-Tarmuz said.
Washington on Monday had moved to appease Baghdad after a previous spat with the Pentagon, whose chief accused Iraqi forces of “lacking the will to fight.”
Ashton Carter’s remarks to CNN were widely perceived as unfair in Iraq, where some forces have put up valiant resistance to IS.
In a call to Abadi, the White House quoted Vice President Joe Biden as saying he “recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past 18 months in Ramadi and elsewhere.”
Tehran, main backer of the paramilitary groups sent to Anbar’s rescue, was gloating and suggested it was Washington that was indecisive in its approach to IS.
“How can you be in that country under the pretext of protecting the Iraqis and do nothing? This is no more than being an accomplice in a plot,” said General Qassem Suleimani, the Revolutionary Guards’ commander of foreign operations.
The US-led coalition has carried out more than 3,000 strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria over the past 10 months.
Baghdad and Washington had boasted that IS was a waning force after months of territorial losses, but Ramadi’s fall signaled that the jihadist group may have been written off too soon.
Its seizure of the city prompted 55,000 residents to flee, according to the United Nations.
Many have been prevented from entering provinces, for fear they have been infiltrated by IS.
Some Sunni Arab politicians and activists have described the move as unconstitutional and discriminatory against the minority community.
The International Rescue Committee said the restriction was forcing some people to return to conflict areas.
“Thousands of people fleeing Ramadi are stuck at checkpoints or being denied entry to safe areas,” IRC’s Syrian crisis response regional director Mark Schnellbaecher said.
“For some people the situation has become so hopeless that they are returning to the conflict in Ramadi.”
In a twin attack last week, IS seized Palmyra in eastern Syria and the nearby ruins of the ancient city, considered one of the world’s archaeological jewels.
A video posted online by a channel that works only in IS-controlled areas showed the Unesco-listed site, including its famous theatre and colonnade.
The 90-second undated raw footage also includes a brief shot of a street, in which no IS fighters or flags can be seen.
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