January 29, 2007

Survey My Blog! (Please?)

In my efforts to provide the best information, analysis, and entertainment for my readers, I'm always looking to hear what the visitors to this blog have to say about it. In the next month or so, I will be making some major changes to my beloved blog, most prominently in terms of the design. I would also like to improve on the content and would appreciate your feedback in that regard.

If you could please take a few minutes to complete this survey, I would be very grateful. If you are a first time visitor to my blog, it would make more sense to visit the blog for a week or so and then fill out the survey (but you can still do it right away if you want).

Thank you all for being such great readers and commentators on my posts. Your interaction is a vital part of this blog. Thanks for taking the time to stop by, and I hope to continue providing quality posts on the topics that interest you and I most.


Click here to take my blog survey

You can also provide feedback via email, myoccupationblog@gmail.com

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January 26, 2007

Senator Rips Gonzalez on Extraordinary Rendition

What you will see in the video below is the best example for why we need to have a Democratic majority in Congress when we have a Republican in the White House. This is the way our system of checks and balances should ideally work. Knowledgeable representatives questioning those in power and defending the rights of the citizens they represent.

I've previously blogged about the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was arrested while traveling through the US, unjustifiably suspected of terrorist involvement, and subsequently flown to Syria, his country of birth. There, Syrian officials tortured him for months on end without any proof that he had been even remotely involved in "terrorist activity." The US sent him to Syria knowing fully well that he would be tortured there. They did so under an American policy known as extraordinary rendition, where suspected terrorists are sent to countries to be questioned using illegal torture methods, some of which are Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and some Eastern European countries. You can read more about the this reprehensible policy in my previous posts. Maher was finally flown back to Canada, where the government opened an investigation into the rendition. The results of the investigation showed that Maher Arar was completely innocent of the claims the US had made, that he should not have been sent to Syria, and that the Canadian intelligence officials had wrongly indicated he may have been involved in terrorist activity. The Canadian government apologized to Arar, and today announced that he would receive $10.5 million for his ordeal. The Canadian government also asked the US to start its own investigation into why he was sent to Syria.

"I wish I could buy my life back," he [Arar] lamented Friday after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the money and formally apologized for his hellish ordeal in a Syrian prison. "That's my biggest wish." Arar said no amount of cash can compensate for the 10 months he suffered in a tiny concrete cell, the agonizing torture sessions he endured, or the years he struggled under the damning label of suspected terrorist.
During a Senate Judiciary Hearing this week on Justice Department Oversight, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on the reasons why the US sent Arar to Syria instead of Canada, indicating that the US knew that he would be tortured there. Gonzalez fumbled a lame answer telling the senator that he would provide him with more information on the case in a week, privately. Senator Leahy did the right thing to question the Attorney General on this policy which he said has put our relations with close allies at risk.

Thank you, Senator, for speaking truth to power, for being the voice of many Americans who are against this dispicable policy, who are against torture in all forms, who are against the Bush administration's policies that place our lives at risk, and that taint the America that we all would hope is a beacon of freedom and justice instead of a safe haven for repression. You have given us hope that such injustices cannot go on forever without someone speaking out against them.

Below is the full video of the exchange between the senator and the attorney general. There is a shorter CNN clip here. Also, the strong statement Senator Leahy made before the questioning can be found here.

You can write a note thanking the Senator for his strong words and defense of our civil rights by clicking here or sending an email to senator_leahy@leahy.senate.gov.

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January 24, 2007

Rockin' Da State of Da Union

Even though I don't expect to see anything spectacular in the State of the Union Address, the political junkie in me makes me watch it in full every year. I enjoy looking at the attendees facial expressions and claps in coordination with what the president is saying. It's also fun to see how many smirks Dick Cheney can manage to pull off before the end of the speech, how many times Ted Kennedy will roll his eyes, and how many times Bush will say "nukelar". That's what I call good entertainment.

As I found my self dozing off towards the second half of the speech, I thankfully woke up in time to see the live action scene from the gallery where the NY construction-worker-turned-hero received a much deserved recognition by the president for saving the life of a man who had fallen on the subway tracks. But apparently, Wesley Autrey thought he was receiving a Grammy Award or something. I couldn't stop laughing as the president pointed to the gallery where Autrey was seated a few seats from Mrs. Bush. The man was beaming, and when the president looked up at him, he jumped up and started blowing kisses to the crowd, mouthing to the president "you da man" and flashing peace signs on his chest and just relishing his five minutes of fame. Even Bush looked like he was desperately holding himself from cracking up on the podium. It was indeed a moment to remember, and I'm sure everyone's eyes were wide open after that expecting another entertaining scene at the speech. If you missed it, the YouTube clip is below.

More Kodak moments (courtesy of Yahoo News Photos)

"oh my God, you already know what I'm going to say?"

"he's shaking my hand!!! ahhhhhhh!"

Pelosi: look at Condi, she wishes she was in my place! HAHAHAHA!
Cheney: no, no, look at the idiot Kerry, he still thinks he's running for president!
Bush: shutup you two, I'm getting scaaaaared!

If that guy can be president, I'm sure I can too!

Wesley Autrey waving to the crowd. You da man! (more below)

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January 22, 2007

The Lean Mean Smearing Machine

What happens when a Latino, a woman, and an African American decide to run for president of the United States? Well first of all, the neo-conservatives start to crap in their pants. After they take some of the pink stuff, they power up their lean, mean, candidate smearing machine!

Officially or unofficially, the election smearing campaign has begun. Several Democrats have announced the formation of "presidential exploratory committees," which is basically just a bunch of people getting together trying to guess how many hundred million dollars the candidate will need to win the nomination. The most prominent of these are of course Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, Governor Bill Richardson, and former vice-presidential candidate Senator John Edwards.

The smearing has already begun most prominently against Senator Barack Obama. Calling him "Barack Osama" was just a lame beginning. Then the "real stuff" appeared.

"He's really an undercover Muslim!" (Forget the fact that he's an openly Christian man who has been part of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ for decades)

"His middle name is Hussain! Like Saddam Hussain!!!" (grow up! He is named after his father who was a Kenyan Muslim. Barack lived most of his life with his non-Muslim mother and converted to Christianity as an adult)

"He even studied in a MADRASSA!" (at age SIX, Obama was living in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, and he attended Muslim and Catholic schools there. They were not religious schools. And I'm sure at age six they would begin making him memorize the whole Quran and apply the Sharia in his daily live, right? He was S-I-X for God's sake!)

Whether it is Clinton's peeps who are spreading these rumors or it's just the lean, mean, neo-conservative smearing machine, the msm is having a field day with it.

Sadly, this is the kind of publicity Barack Obama is getting today. Forget reality TV, these elections are going to be SO entertaining.

And just in case you're still worried that a "Muslim" (aaaaahhhhh!) will become president, rest assured, the polls already indicate that he's behind Clinton.

My premature guess? Edwards will win the nomination. And then we'll all start snoring again.

(Photo from Wikipedia, with my lame attempts at humor scribbled on in red)

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January 21, 2007

Let It Snow!

Finally it feels like winter here in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. It has been an unbelievably warm winter, if you can even call it that, with temperatures fluctuating in the 50's even up to the warm 70's! We haven't had a snow flake since the winter season "officially" started. Usually we would have had a couple of snow days by mid-January, but this is really been a different kind of winter. It was so warm that the cherry blossom tree in front of our house started blooming in December, which is not supposed to happen until March! I'm not an expert on global warming to say that that's the reason behind this warm up, but it definitely makes you wonder. According to the National Climatic Data Center, 2006 was the warmest year on record in the US and the 6th warmest year globally.

In any case, 2007 has arrived...let it snow let it snow let it snow! (but not too much dear God, I hate shoveling, and we Washingtonians are big babies when it comes to just an inch!)

sunset9 sunset5 sunset4 sunset6
just a few days ago, the sun was setting on a warm afternoon. you can see the cherry blossom tree blooming.

and today...
snow scene snow scene snow scene snow scene snow scene snow scene snow scene
(click to enlarge)

and I just felt like topping it off with this video; too bad you can't feel the cold :)

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January 19, 2007

Podcasting for Palestine

No, I'm not that technologically experienced, but fellow blogger Chris Brown has launched a new podcast focused on news and analysis about the occupied Palestinian territories. "A weekly podcast giving a voice to the voiceless" is how he describes it.

I've been listening to the news, interviews, and analysis on my way to and from work almost everyday, and have enjoyed it immensely. It is absolutely necessary that we tap into these new alternative media outlets that have the potential to reach a large number of people. Blogging and podcasting are becoming widely popular and it's great to see such efforts from young activists and those who really want to make a difference.

Chris has done a great job interviewing a variety of individuals who are able to speak about the situation in Palestine, from academics such as Nadia Hijab & Rania Masri, to the poet Suheir Hammad to businessman Sam Bahour.

I encourage you all to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or download it from the website. Pop into your iPod or other mp3 player and educate yourself about Life in Occupied Palestine.

Great job Chris, keep it up!

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January 14, 2007

Weekend Reading: Gitmo, Iraq, Etc.

For many of us this will be a long weekend, as Monday is a federal holiday commemorating the birthday of a great American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Plenty of time to sleep and be lazy, but for your reading "enjoyment", here are a couple of articles which I found to be timely and thought-provoking.

A Bahraini father imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay speaks to the world about his agony:
At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious. [LA Times]
Robert Kraiser, a journalist who covered the Vietnam War, speaks of failures in Iraq:
After nearly four years of ineffectual war-fighting, after the collapse of domestic support for President Bush and his policies, after the expenditure of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, it no longer seems possible to avoid the grim conclusion: For the United States, Iraq has become another Vietnam. [Washington Post]
Dahlia Lithwick scrutinizes the Bush administration's efforts in fighting the war on terrorism:
...It has finally become clear that the goal of these efforts isn't to win the war against terrorism; indeed, nothing about Padilla, Guantanamo Bay or signing statements moves the country an inch closer to eradicating terrorism. The object is a larger one: expanding executive power, for its own sake. [Washington Post]
Pentagon Official Doesn't Want Military Detainees to Have Lawyers:
The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties. [NY Times]
And one more...when you think the world is closing in on you, just count your blessings:
Instead, when the family arrived at Dulles International Airport late Tuesday afternoon, a frail-looking Kabir rode in a wheelchair. A navy knit cap concealed the damage wrought by chemotherapy. His leukemia had kept coming back with more and more vengeance until he unequivocally declared that he was done. [Washington Post]

January 11, 2007

Iraqi Children "Play" Civil War

I'm not a big fan of the Wall Street Journal, especially with regards to Iraq-related stories. But one article in today's paper caught my attention, and it "touched me" in a very sad kind of way. It's the story of a 5-year old boy living in a Shiite dominated town, finding pleasure in tagging along with the Mahdi Army, retelling stories of Shiite militias defending his neighborhood, and proudly calling his Sunni neighbors "terrorists." Who taught him this? Why should his favorite toy be a fake AK-47? Why should he want to beat up any kid he thinks isn't Shiite?

Maybe I should repeat this. A five year old...shouldn't he be learning the alphabet in his kindergarten class? The debate is over. This is how you know it's civil war. When the 5-year old Shiites and Sunnis are ganging up against each other and calling each other "terrorists." I'm sure the Sunni kids are playing similar "games."

In Baghdad Slum, Sectarian Strife Is Also Child's Play
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A year ago, a young gunman walked into Ali Hussein's living room and drew a weapon. The intruder's head was wrapped in a scarf, leaving a narrow slit for his eyes. His clothes were all black, the favorite attire of a powerful Shiite Muslim militia. He introduced himself as a commander, shouted the incantation "God is greater" and warned Sunni Muslims not to fight back. With that, he raised his plastic pistol.

The gunman's name is Hassoni, and he was only 4 years old at the time. The scene unfolded in his father's house in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, a sprawling Shiite Muslim district stretching toward the eastern edge of the Iraqi capital. "I was happy to see him this way because it means he has courage," Mr. Hussein, 26, said of his son. Since then, Hassoni's favorite game has grown more elaborate, migrating from the living room onto the neighboring streets, drawing in other children and increasingly emulating the violent world of the adults.

As Iraq careers toward full-scale civil war between its Shiite majority and Sunni minority, the culture of celebrating sectarian strife has taken root even among the very young in Sadr City. Home to more than two million people, the Baghdad district is the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia blamed for abducting and killing Sunnis. But to Sadr City residents, the Mahdi Army is a revered self-defense force, the only group they see as capable of preventing wholesale slaughter of Shiites at the hands of Sunni extremists. Shiite politicians blame atrocities against Sunnis on rogue forces that falsely claim to represent the real Mahdi Army.

The celebration of sectarian violence is widespread here. Some militia leaders have acquired almost mythical status, including Abu Dera, an elusive gangster alleged to be behind some of the worst sectarian killings of Sunnis. In the lore of the streets, Abu Dera and other fighters are Zorro-like figures who strike into the heart of Sunni neighborhoods, dispense swift revenge and return home unharmed.

Hassoni, who is now 5, spends hours listening to such tales in his family's grocery store, where customers routinely trade stories -- real and imagined -- of Shiite militias fighting Sunni insurgents. Abu Dera became his hero, and his father has helped encourage the adulation by playing songs on his stereo extolling the valor of Shiite gunmen. "Abu Dera is trying to kill the bad guys," said Mr. Hussein, who works as a security guard at the Ministry of Education and sometimes helps patrol his neighborhood.

A friendly boy with striking brown eyes and neatly combed hair falling over his forehead, Hassoni says he wants to grow up to be powerful enough to have a big car and armed guards surrounding him.

When he plays with friends, the boys divide themselves into two groups -- one Shiite and the other Sunni -- and shoot at each other with pellet guns, lurking behind cars and in roadside ditches. "Kids always refuse to be Sunnis, but because they need to play, some of them have to pretend to be Sunnis," said Mr. Hussein, who often watches his son's hours-long battles. Using trash, the children erect their own barricades. Hassoni likes to pretend to be Abu Dera and calls himself the leader of the gang. Other members include a boy nicknamed Bush Senior for his foreign-looking red hair. Hassoni often returns home with torn clothes and pellet bruises.

A few blocks away, Qassim Abdul-Ridha, a father of four, said his 6-year-old son, Karar, and his gang fight street battles against other children, often sending a girl to scout out the rivals' hiding places. Chanting "Muqtada" in homage to Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric who leads the Mahdi Army, the boys try to capture their opponents' toy guns as trophies.

The real Mahdi Army is always nearby to provide inspiration. Sometimes, Hassoni hangs around grown-up gunmen manning the real roadblocks and runs errands for them, such as bringing them food and drink. He also gathers war stories and then breathlessly relays them to his parents. The latest tale Hassoni heard on the street involved a group of Shiite gunmen who mounted a rescue mission of Shiite hostages held by Sunni extremists. The gunmen ended up kidnapping the kidnappers and brought them to Sadr City. "He's very excited, always smiling, when he tells us these stories," his father said.

One day, Hassoni brought home a steel pipe he found in a garbage dump and declared it to be a rocket launcher, which he was going to use to fire mortars at Sunni neighborhoods, much as real militiamen do. Asked recently what he thinks of Sunnis, he answered with one word: "terrorists." Together with other children, Hassoni fills empty bottles with sand, and sticks a twig in them to resemble a fuse. The bottles serve as make-believe bombs for use against imaginary Sunnis or American patrols.

Hassoni's arsenal of toy guns has grown from one plastic pistol to include two AK-47 models and a sniper rifle with a scope, now his favorite weapon. Mr. Hussein gave him the rifle as a gift at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan when Iraqi families exchange presents. Hassoni was so excited, his father says, that he paid no attention to a toy train and a toy piano given to him by his mother and aunt. The black life-size rifle looks completely real.

The line between the game and real life has grown increasingly blurry. In late November, suspected Sunni insurgents detonated five car bombs inside Sadr City, killing 240 Shiite civilians, the bloodiest attack since the U.S. invasion in 2003. The blasts occurred just over a mile from Mr. Hussein's house, and Hassoni saw the black plumes of smoke. Later that evening, Hassoni and other children patrolled their street looking for strangers. Hassoni started saying things like, "Sunnis hate us and don't want us to be anywhere near them," his father said.

A few days later, Hassoni and his gang spotted a boy they didn't know. They stopped him and demanded to know what he was doing on their street. "I heard the Mahdi Army saying that if you see strangers, ask them where they come from and what they are doing here," he said. "And that kid was not from our area." When the boy tried to run away, Hassoni and his friends caught him and beat him up.

Later, it turned out that the boy and his parents, all Shiites, were visiting relatives on Hassoni's street. "We had a lot of problems with our neighbors because of this fight," Mr. Hussein recalled. He said he sat his son down for a talk, telling him it is wrong to attack other boys. Hassoni promised to behave but said he will continue looking for strangers on his street.

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January 7, 2007

Have You Been 'Plutoed'?

Don't know what plutoed means? Get with the program. It's been designated the "word of the year". As you may recall, the tiny planet Pluto was evicted from the planetary system earlier this year much to the dismay of many fans. The result? A new word to describe what many consider a humorous twist to this astronomical event. Here's the story:
Pluto may no longer be a planet, but it has a new claim to fame: "Plutoed" has been chosen 2006 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.

The society defined "to pluto" as "to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet."

Here's to hoping I won't be "plutoed" by anyone this new year!


January 5, 2007

Keith Ellison Responds, Swears on Jefferson's Quran

Yesterday, January 4th, Representative-elect Keith Ellison was sworn in as the first Muslim Congressman. He placed his right hand on a copy of the Quran owned by one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. As noted in my earlier posts, Ellison has come under heavy attack for choosing to swear on the Quran because he is a Muslim. But in a savvy move forecasting his political wit, Ellison chose to shut the critics up by using Jefferson's Quran as a symbol of the man's open-mindedness and level of education compared to the bigots who roam the airwaves and even the chambers of Congress today. In a powerful editorial posted yesterday on the Washington Post's "On Faith" forum, Keith Ellison tells the American people to "Choose Generosity, Not Exclusion." It's a must read.
We need a politics of generosity based on the reality of abundance as opposed to a politics of not-enough. The richest 1 percent of the nation, on average, owns 190 times as much as a typical household. The child poverty rate in the United States is the highest of 16 other industrialized nations. Employers are shifting health insurance costs onto workers. Not only are fewer employees receiving health insurance through their employers, but those who still do are paying more for it.

Recently, I have become the focus of some criticism for my use of the Qu'ran for my ceremonial swearing in. Let me be clear, I am going to be sworn into office like all members of Congress. I am going to swear to uphold the United States Constitution. We seem to have lost the political vision of our founding document -- a vision of inclusion, tolerance and generosity.

I do not blame my critics for subscribing to a politics of scarcity and intolerance. However, I believe we all must project a new politics of generosity and inclusion This is the vision of the diverse coalition in my Congressional district. My constituents in Minnesota elected me to fight for a new politics in which a loving nation guarantees health care for all of its people; a new politics in which executive pay may not skyrocket while workers do not have enough to care for their families. I was elected to articulate a new politics in which no one is cut out of the American dream, not immigrants, not gays, not poor people, not even a Muslim committed to serve his nation.
Kudos to you, Mr. Ellison.

Photos of the ceremony:

Keith Ellison (D-MN) places his hand on an English translation of the Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson and held by his wife Kim (C) as he is sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Captitol Hill in Washington, January 4th, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young

Rep. Keith Ellison, places his hand on the Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson as his wife Kim Ellison holds the two-volume book during his swearing in ceremony, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, left, joins Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., as they look at the Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson which Ellison later used during his swearing in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

The Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson and used by Rep. Keith Ellison, is displayed at the Library of Congress , Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

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January 4, 2007

Iraq, After the Gallows

The world is still recovering from the hangover of Saddam's execution (no pun intended). With the leaking of a cell phone recording of the full hanging, more questions have been raised, and more people are angry with the way the cold blooded dictator was put to death. I've been following the reaction of the blogosphere in general, and the Iraqi blogosphere in particular, as well as other editorials in major newspapers around the world.

A great summary of the reactions of Iraqi bloggers to the hanging is provided by Iraq Slogger. While most of them agree that Saddam should have been put to death, nearly all condemn the way the execution was handled and indicate that such a shameful process does not bode well for the future of Iraq. Click here to read the full summary. (h/t Healing Iraq)

Sami - Iraqi Thoughts I am still shocked even after watching hours of TV. Its funny how as I grew up this was the man I hated most in my life and have always wanted him killed but for some reason the feelings of joy were not what I expected.

Iraq Pundit- Saddam has long been a dead man walking, and I don't care about him or whatever hell he has gone to. My concern is how his well-deserved execution will affect the continuing crisis in Iraq.

Dr Fadhil Badran (Iraq4Ever)- The assassination of Saddam Hussein has killed the last hope of peace in Iraq.

Treasure of Baghdad Although I expected it, I was shocked when I heard it. I felt I want to cry but my tears were mixed, tears of happiness and sadness at the same time. Memories of my life under Saddam flashed back in my mind like a train moving fast.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the killings and kidnappings have not stopped. Iraqi Konfused Kid provides a heart wrenching account of his friend's ordeal in attempting to save the lives of his brothers who have been kidnapped by militias. It's a must read.

But by far one of the best editorials I have read about the execution is Ghada Karmi's piece in the Guardian:
It was always clear that Saddam's fate was sealed from the moment US forces "got 'im", in Paul Bremer's tasteless phrase. He was to be used as a trophy of a mindless and catastrophic war, to redeem America's dented image. But it was also essential to stop him revealing secrets about the west's past enthusiasm in supporting and arming his regime. Hence he was tried on the relatively minor charge of killing 148 people in the village of Dujail, after a plot to assassinate him. Far better to put him away safely for that rather than risk his exposing western hypocrisy, treachery and double-dealing.
Also, today's New York Times editorial, "The Ugly Death of Saddam Hussein" hits the right note:
Saddam Hussein deserves no one’s pity. But as anyone who has seen the graphic cellphone video of his hanging can testify, his execution bore little resemblance to dispassionate, state-administered justice. The condemned dictator appeared to have been delivered from United States military custody into the hands of a Shiite lynch mob...

Most Americans, whatever their view of the war, understand that the rule of Saddam Hussein brought a murderous curse and untold suffering upon the Iraqi people. Mr. Hussein has now gone to his grave. But the outrageous manner of his killing, deliberately mimicking his own depraved methods, assures that his cruelty will outlive him.

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January 3, 2007

Keith Ellison & Thomas Jefferson's Quran

Yes, Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of this nation, owned a Quran, the holy book of Islam. He was known to be an education man, well-traveled, and believed to have obtained the book because he had a personal interest in learning more about different cultures and civilizations. His copy of the Quran sits in the Library of Congress, including his own notes written in the book. At his swearing in ceremony, the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, has decided to use Jefforson's copy of the Quran.

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help.

When Ellison announced that he will be using a Quran for the swearing in, some bigoted radio hosts and even congressmen objected, saying that such an act would be against tradition. Ironically, their statements are a slap in the face of our founding fathers who wanted independence so they can practice their religion free of any government or other intervention.

This is a very smart move on the part of Congressman Ellison who will be sworn in tomorrow with much attention focused on his faith. He made the right choice to remain steadfast in his desire to use the book he prescribes to and is bound to in such a ceremony. If he is expected to pledge allegiance to this country and his new position, he should do so in a manner that makes him comfortable. Condemning him for making such a choice when other representatives have chosen to use Bibles, Torahs, or no book at all, is purely discriminatory and is against the most fundamental rights this country is based upon.

Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Quran shows that although we have come a long way in developing our democracy, it is still the case that we have many individuals who choose to be impediments in the way of securing personal freedoms which every American is entitled to. These are the people we must be vigilant of, not those who choose to swear on their holy books.

Read the full Washington Post article here, and this from Reuters.
Related post: "We Don't Need Any More Muslim Congressmen"

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January 1, 2007

Saddam Hanged, Part II

It's nearly impossible to avoid the news of Saddam's execution over the past few days. Every blog I visit, every channel I watch, every newspaper I flip through, every conversation I have has involved the fate of the former Iraqi dictator. I wrote my last post about the hanging before I had seen the images of Saddam being taken to the gallows. Since then, a lot of feelings have come over me, the most prominent of which is an utter sense of hopelessness and mild disgust.

I'm disgusted with the videos which I don't believe should have been made public by random individuals who were present at the execution. I'm disgusted with the chants I heard while Saddam was being hanged; individuals calling out the name of Muqtada Al-Sadr, for example. I'm disgusted with the "houses of mourning" for Saddam that sprung up in different parts of the Arab world. There's a lot to be angry about right now.

Trying to take it all in, I'm starting to realize how much of a negative impact this event will have on the future of the Iraq that is already in shambles. Many questions come to mind when I think of what has happened over the past three and a half years in Iraq. Sanctions, weapons, lies, invasion, victory, capture, elections, trial, chaos, conviction, civil war, hanging.

Saddam Hussein deserved to die, and all Iraqis deserved to see the man who tortured them given the justice he deserves. All is a key word here. Not just the supporters of Al-Sadr, and Al-Maliki. But every single Iraqi, because they all suffered under his rule. Unfortunately, the occupation in Iraq has succeeded at intensifying the sectarian differences between Iraqis, and they have used Saddam as a tool for that. He has been portrayed as the representative of the Sunni population, although he abused any Sunni and any Iraqi who did not bow down to his commands. Projecting the hanging as a victory for only some Iraqis is wrong, but it is the only way to succeed in "dividing and conquering" what is left of Iraq. If Iraqis were united at this time, Saddam's hanging would have been much more meaningful. Instead, it has become an event that will only exacerbate the existing tensions between the population.

Saddam should not have been hanged until he was tried for every crime that he was accused of. Executing him after only one trial related to his Shiite victims, and ignoring the Kurds and Sunnis who were oppressed by this man can only be explained in one way. The trial, conviction, and sentence of Saddam Hussein was meant to divide the Iraqi people and not unite them against him. Iraqi Sunnis became synonymous with him which is baseless lie. As I mentioned before, every Iraqi suffered from him, and his victims from all sects and ethnicities should have been avenged through his trial and even present at his hanging. The fact that Moqtada Al-Sadr's loyalists were even able to penetrate what should have been a highly secure execution. Instead of chanting against the dictator and for a better future for Iraq, they chanted the name of a man who is a divisive leader of a militia responsible some of the chaos and not a uniting force in Iraq.

Finally, the fact that he was quickly executed while his trial on other charges has just begun raises many questions. Was the US afraid of a trial that would reveal that Saddam received his chemical weapons from them? Did they not want to hear Saddam say that they had secretly given him the green light to invade Kuwait? Did the US not want to highlight to the world the fact that they were silent while Saddam gassed the Kurds?

Too many questions, not enough answers. The only thing clear today is the bleak future of Iraq. I'll leave you with excerpts of some interesting articles on this subject.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial says the execution has become irrelevant today:
It is absurd to regret the death of a man so brutal. His removal from power was heartening to defenders of human rights everywhere. Yet it's worth asking, as U.S. troops go on heightened alert in Baghdad, whether Hussein's death represents progress or yet another anticlimax for Iraq. When his regime was toppled in the spring of 2003, and again at his ignominious capture three years ago, Iraqis and U.S. troops — not to mention Washington policymakers — allowed themselves to hope that they had reached some kind of turning point in the war.

No one voices such unrealistic optimism anymore. Hussein's irrelevance was one of the main achievements of the war in Iraq. It is also one of the main reasons why that war continues.
This from the New York Times article, "Hussein Divides Iraq, Even in Death":
Almost four years after United States troops entered Iraq with a broader foreign policy goal of ushering in a “new” Middle East, one built on democracy and rule of law, the execution of Mr. Hussein on one of the holiest days in Islam marked the unceremonious demise of that strategy, many Arab analysts said.

“If you compare the results to the objectives the U.S. claimed to realize, whether it was democracy or control of the region, their policies have evidently failed,” said Nawaf Kabbara, professor of political science at Balamand University in Beirut. “They were not able to spread democracy, control anything or make any serious breakthrough. It is a failure on all levels.”

As vicious as he was, Mr. Hussein also held the country firmly together. Beyond military control, there was a subtle social glue: Iraqis of all sects loved to hate Saddam together. Now that he is gone, Shiites are afraid to joke with Sunnis about him, and Sunnis feel they are being blamed for his crimes.

Others, namely Kurds, opposed the quick hanging. Now, Mr. Hussein will not testify in other important genocide cases, especially the trial over the Anfal military campaign against the Kurds, in which he is accused of unleashing mass killings and chemical attacks that killed tens of thousands of villagers.

“The truth of what happened in al-Anfal has been buried,” said Abu Abdul Rahman, a 38-year-old Kurdish taxi driver. “What happened in al-Anfal? Who took part in it?”

Mr. Hussein may be gone, but the fear that succeeded him is what defines her life today.

“Where can I live, if Baghdad is divided?” she said in English. “In the Shiite sector or Sunni sector?”

“I have to run away. It’s not a place to live in anymore.”

And this also from the NYT, "For Arab Critics, Hussein's Execution Symbolizes the Victory of Vengeance Over Justice":

“Saddam Hussein was guilty a thousand times over, but still the Americans and the Iraqi government managed to run a shabby trial,” said Jihad al-Khazen, a columnist and former editor of the pan-Arab newspapers Al Hayat and Asharq al Awsat. “If they organized a fair trial with international observers that could have served as a model for other countries. Instead they messed it up, and I think Saddam in the eyes of many people will now be seen as another martyr.”

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