Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012!

May the New Year 2012 bring new hopes, new dreams, new adventures,
and new happinesses to all!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Praise of Muslim Men: A Start Towards Counterbalancing the Stereotypes

Asim Rehman defending women against domestic violence

I first read the following Huffington Post Religion article on the blog The Loon Watch.  I'm sure I would have appreciated it at any time, but it struck a particular chord as I was just in a bookstore killing time and looking at the Boxing Week sales. The bookstore was one of the Indigo's chain which dominates retail book sales in Canada. The chain is also the sponsor of a pro-Israel foundation, Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers (heseg=achievement in Hebrew; "lone" as in no family in Israel). This program encourages the recruitment of non-Israeli Jews into the IDF by granting them a 4-year all expenses paid scholarship to an Israeli university if they serve 2 years in the IDF. "All expenses" very generously includes all living expenses as well as tuition and academic supplies--which is rare. Most scholarships at the undergraduate level cover only tuition and maybe books. Certain countries, including Saudi Arabia, do offer scholarships which include a sum adequate to cover living expenses, but these are the exception.

As I was browsing, not buying, I wondered how many of the titles on sale at the local Indigo's would be from what I call the "I was abused by a Muslim man" shelf. Indigo's is very good at stocking and profiling all books on women abused by an individual Muslim man, or an Islamic regime. For a while, most were about Iranian situations. Nowadays, many are about Afghan ones. There is no counterbalancing content. Also the Religion Section has very few books on Islam, while the History and Political section has many about current conflicts, but not from an Arab or Islamic perspective. Needless to say, Bernard Lewis books have pride of place. Yes indeed, all the most recent hardback titles in that category were featured face up on the strategically placed sales tables.

I read the article below with that imbalanced presentation of Muslim men in that particular medium of books and their marketing as one lens. Another lens was that of the Muslim students I meet, men and women, whose fathers, like many of the men mentioned in the article, are encouraging their university studies, and have high hopes and expectations combined with a great deal of material and moral support for both sons and daughters. A third lens was that of Muslim husbands, including the hub, who have made compromises, sacrifices, and accommodations to encourage and support their wives in their chosen careers.

As I was reading, I was struck by how the list reflects the preoccupations of the compiler, though this is to be expected of any list. There is an emphasis on those in prominent positions who are formally as well as informally advocating women's rights, including that to a safe home environment. Domestic violence is a problem in Muslim cultures as in others, past and present. It was not so long ago in Western European and North American societies that domestic violence was tolerated, even supported, by conservative patriarchal elements, and that laws and law enforcement considered it a private matter. If called, police would arrive, calm the situation, ask if the beaten spouse, most often the wife, would like to press charges, and leave it up to them to do so. This changed over time, following the impact of the women's movement beginning in the 70's, and with better understanding of the greater peril that women who pressed charges faced, resulting in their refusal to press charges or dropping them--to the great frustration of police officers. To say that domestic violence is a problem in Muslim cultures is to begin to address it, while not suggesting that all Muslim men are abusive. Some are. Some cloak their behaviour in religion or in tradition, or both. Some make headlines, including in Canada currently, when the abuse rises to the level of "honour killing". Like most headlines, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Overall, I found the list more representative of the Muslim men I know, from all walks of society, and a variety of Muslim cultures, than the other headlines. What are your impressions?

Dr Mohamed Tantawi, Pediatrician, of Hackensack, New Jersey,
 makes the 2011 list of Favorite Kids' Docs as well as that below.

A Few Good Muslim Men -- Honoring Those Who Honor Women
Posted: 12/27/11 02:43 PM ET

If the stereotypical Muslim woman is an oppressed one, then the archetypal Muslim male is responsible for her condition. In news stories, popular entertainment media and even video games, the image of the violent, misogynistic or abusive Muslim man is present time and again.

To be sure, bad apples exist in every religious, ethnic and racial group. But there is a dearth of positive Muslim portrayals to counteract such negative images on TV or the big screen. As a result, your everyday regular Omars and Mohammeds are sometimes viewed with suspicion and fear.

As 2011 draws to a close, we take a moment to recognize the following Muslim men -- fathers, brothers, husbands, academics, advocates and religious leaders -- selected by others for their individual contributions to the lives of women and, thus, humanity at large:

Asim Rehman (36, New York): Asim is in-house counsel who volunteers his time representing domestic violence victims. Asim's wife describes him as a "fabulous" partner who encourages her intellectual pursuits. Asim has turned down professional opportunities requiring relocation so that his wife can remain in her NYC post, which she loves. The couple is expecting their first child and Asim "cooks, cleans and grocery shops without complaining." His wife says she "can't imagine a better partner than Asim."

Shyam K. Sriram (32, Georgia): A college professor, Shyam is known for his stance against violence against women and girls. In less than one year, he helped a fledgling initiative -- Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence -- become a viable one. Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence trains Muslim men how to teach others that violence against women and girls is Islamically impermissible.

Abed Awad (42, New Jersey): Abed was recognized by his colleagues for the work he has done on behalf of Muslim women both as a past Board Member of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, and on the legal front. An accomplished attorney with his own practice, he has earned a reputation for defending women's rights in religious divorces and other family law disputes.

Davi Barker (30, California): An artist and writer, Davi's wife -- an activist, attorney and community leader -- described him in this way: "He is exactly what I dreamed of when I thought I wanted to marry a man who lived his life and marriage through his faith. Religion, and more specifically 'love and mercy' dictate everything he does in our relationship. His support is what makes my work as [head of a civil rights organization] possible. From being understanding when I have a difficult case or am coming home late regularly to helping with the graphic design for [my organization] and carrying more than a fair share of chores around the house ... I couldn't do this without him."

Imam Mohamed Magid (40ish, Virginia): Imam Magid is the Imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Center) located in Sterling, Va. He is also President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Imam Magid was referenced by a congregant who characterized him as, "One of the biggest advocates out there for women's rights." He conducts domestic violence prevention training seminars for other Imams around the country and serves on the Board of Directors of Peaceful Families, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in Muslim families.

Omar Sharif (29, California): Omar was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda who spearheaded numerous small business projects which placed women at the forefront.

Mohamed Tantawi (38, New Jersey): Mohamed's wife says of him: "He's a great pediatrician, he does most of the cooking (and well too), he sings at Carnegie Hall. Most importantly, he does all that is in his power to preserve our family dynamic, one in which he is an active partner."

Ahmad Hussain (28, California): Currently in Nashville, Tenn., completing his surgical residency, Ahmad was also suggested for inclusion on this list by his wife, a filmmaker in California. She remarked about the breadth of sacrifices Ahmed has made for her. For instance, when she indicated her willingness to sacrifice her filmmaking career which requires her to spend half her time in Los Angeles in order to stay with him in Tennessee, he was adamantly opposed to her doing so: "He said he wouldn't be happy with himself if he kept me from becoming a filmmaker. He said it makes him happy to see me doing these things. ... I know it kills him -- he's tired, he's lonely, he's hungry -- but he can't be convinced."

Abdul H. Abdullah (67, Georgia): Abdul is the Chief Financial Officer of Baitul Salaam Residence for Abused and Neglected Women and Children. In addition to contributing his time and money to the organization, he also allows battered women to seek refuge at his private family business when they are in trouble.

Taraq Chand (late 60s, New Jersey): A father of four daughters and one son, he has taught his children that Islam supports women's rights. As a result his daughters are all professionals: a doctor, chemical engineer, pharmacist and soon-to-be-lawyer.

Sheikh Abdala Adhami (Washington, D.C.): Sheikh Adhami is an Islamic scholar who has been serving the Muslim community in the U.S. for more than 20 years. A Washington, D.C. native, he was praised by several women including a New Jersey Muslim mom who described him in the following manner: "Simply a magnificent person, he spoke endlessly on women's rights in Islam, with the notion that women should know their rights and men should know in order to protect these rights, and any infringements on those rights are seen as a crime in God's eyes. He spoke of the many prominent women throughout Islamic history... and how men would travel far and wide to study at their feet. He lectured on how women, even at the time of the Prophet [Muhammed], owned their own businesses and how this money was solely theirs -- to be shared with her family at her discretion, and any money she gave to her family was a charity... [His message] was in stark contrast to what we hear from the Taliban. It brought a peace and comfort and nourished a true connection with one's Lord -- and that is what religion is supposed to do."

Nabile Safdar (35, Maryland): An accomplished doctor who recently returned from a volunteer mission to Haiti where he provided much needed medical care, Nabile is a father to three young daughters. He delivers religious sermons to his local community preaching against spousal abuse while urging men to treat women with dignity and respect.

Ezat Yosafi (Connecticut): Born in Afghanistan, Ezat was recognized by his daughter, posthumously. She attributes her professional accomplishments as an attorney to her father's guidance and advice. He passed away in Connecticut in 2008.

Furqan Ahmed (27, New Jersey): Furqan's wife says that he is "someone who has made law school a more tolerable experience. ... It is not easy to be married to a law student as law school ... involves such a dedication of time and effort. But he really pushes me to do more and presses me to follow up with law firms. ... I think it is really helpful to have someone who is a partner in all aspects."

Ali Hussain (63, Massachusetts): Ali's daughter notes, "He's coached me in multiple ways with my career, helping me overcome hurdles, to be confident in new situations, maintain integrity, be bold yet gracious in asserting my needs. He also encourages [my sisters and me] to dream big and sometimes dreams for us even bigger than we do."

Prophet Muhammad (posthumously): He is considered by Muslims to be the seal to a long line of God's prophets and messengers beginning with Adam. The Prophet Muhammad's private relationships were based on open communication and mutual respect. He never asked anyone to wait on him and participated in household chores and childcare; he used to mend his own clothes, play with children and perform chores around the home. He promoted and nurtured the education of women (e.g. Aisha bint Abu Bakr). He never raised his hand against anyone in his household. He chastised the Muslim men who dared to strike their wives. In the words of the woman who praised him, "He was kind and respected women and asked men to do the same."

While the Muslim men included above are deserving of our collective support, recognition and accolades, this list is by no means an exhaustive one. Rather, these men are representative of many more Muslims whose names are not included here but whose lives and contributions are similarly noteworthy.

If I may humbly suggest, perhaps this year Hollywood can make the following addition to its collective list of new year resolution: more positive portrayals of the American Muslim community. After all, an image of the Muslim advocate effectively representing the rights of his (or her) female Muslim client in a religious divorce or the imam educating his congregation of Muslim women's equal social status is a truer realization of art imitating life.

On the subject of accolades, a note about Muslim culture. "Mashallah" is a word frequently heard used between Muslims. It literally means "whatever God wills." And it is often said in response to hearing about a person's good deed or impressive accomplishment.


Engy Abdelkader is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.


What Muslim man or men would you include in this list as praiseworthy?
What suggestions would you make to Hollywood about the representation of Muslim men?
What other ways might the prevailing stereotypes be counterbalanced?
Other thoughts, impressions, experiences, comments?

Omar Sharif, Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda, center, 
creator of business projects headed by women

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Greetings! December 25, 2011

Peace on Earth,
Good Will towards All!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Interfaith Christmas Charity

Depending on where you are in the world at the moment, you likely have one shopping day before Christmas, and just enough time to donate to a charity before the actual day of Christmas. Today, I just squeaked in a food donation, with 15 minutes to spare, before the charity I wanted to contribute to closed at noon until the 27th. I had hoped to have some time to shop, and add a contribution of clothing and toys as I had last year. I asked the woman in charge if they would still need donations just after Christmas, and she said, "Yes". I asked of what in particular, and she replied, "Everything". So I said I would add my clothing and toy donations then.

In retrospect, my questions were rather foolish, and brought on by my distress at discovering the offices would be closed so early. I was at the St Vincent de Paul Society, which is a Roman Catholic charity. Persisting in questions I knew the answer to, I asked if they gave only to members of the parish in need, or to others as well. As fast as I asked, she replied, "Religion doesn't enter into it; we give to the needy."  I added, "Of which there are many in this parish". In fact, I had deliberately chosen to donate there, as the parish has a mixed population, some extremely needy due to mental or physical impairment, or social circumstances, others newly arrived to Canada and still getting on their feet. Still others, whether native born or newer Canadians, are in a position to contribute to the well-being of others.

Christmas charity can bring food, clothes, and toys to all needy families, and is particularly important given the season. Even a hat, scarf, and mitts set is a good start for someone new to Canada, or down on their luck, and feeling the cold. Of course they will need much more, but it is a start, and one that people without many funds tend to overlook, as they try to find a suitable coat.

A couple of years ago, when I was getting my seemingly nightly order from the Middle East takeout, I made a point of asking the servers if Santa would be coming to their house. Most were single men in their 20s and 30s and just laughed along with me. However, an older man, an immigrant Muslim with 9 children, thought carefully, and said, yes, Santa did some times come to his house at Christmas, and brought treats and toys for the children. It was clear that at times his earnings were so low that he was on a charity list. He spoke of the experience with pleasure on behalf of his children, while leaving his own earning difficulties vague.

On the theme of interfaith charity at Christmas, I would like to share my experience last year, which was both unusual, and enlightening. What follows was part of a longer post on my cross-cultural shopping adventures last year, some of which were more pleasant than others, and which will be published in a separate post.

My Christmas Charity 2010

This year, as part of my grieving process after the loss of my father, and particularly as it is the first Christmas without him, I have been inspired to contribute to the St Vincent de Paul Society. St Vincent's is the Roman Catholic charity that provides for the needy, and particularly at Christmas makes sure that the less fortunate members of the parish and the broader community have food, clothing, toys, and gifts. This is the charity to which my father's family and my father would contribute, even while contributing to others--like the Salvation Army, who are particularly associated with Christmas.

The inspiration started when I attended mass on the First Sunday of Advent (for only the second time in my life) because I woke up grieving and needing to go to church and a mass, which is where I feel I can always connect with my father. At the end of that mass, in a prominent cathedral, there was an appeal from the head of the parish's St Vincent de Paul Society for parishioners to donate money in specialy provided pink envelopes.  That parish has a great number of poor, because it is in a downtown neighbourhood which is a mix of recent immigrants, low income families, psychiatric patients, and "lost souls".

I did give a monetary gift, but then, after the emotional hit of my father's birthdate, December 20th (which found me in a weekday mass, for the first time in my life), I decided to contribute goods to that parish's St Vincent de Paul Society. I began with a bag of groceries, followed with a second, and before I left for holidays on the 23rd, my Christmas garden of 2 white and 5 red poinsettias, and more groceries were donated.

Between the first, and the last donation, I started to find little things that I thought would make for a nice Christmas, and were both attractive and practical gifts--primarily for children, but also for adults. These included stuffed toys of high quality that were marked down from $5 to $1 each, because the penguin-snowman had 2008 on its scarf. As I said to the somewhat snarky cashier trying to promote the 2010 version at full price, I doubt that babies care about the year, and I am sure parents with few funds are happy to have a plush toy for baby. On my 3rd visit with the same cashier (10 stuffed toys, in 2 sets, and a 6th box of Christmas cards), I asked if those stuffed toys from 2008 had been marked down further. He stopped his derisive comment in mid-sentence when I told him I was buying them to give to charity.

In the meantime, I also found Old Navy trendy one size fits all gloves for $1 a pair in sets for boys/men as well as girls/women (still easier to buy for); packs of multiple hair clips, fancy pins, and special ponytail holders for girls and women of all ages for $2 each in an Ardene; and Old Navy children's socks in black, white, and grey unisex pairs, 10 pairs for $10. Oh, to have been in Old Navy on $1/winter scarf day! Still, for $30, which I can easily afford, even after my personal shopping for the season, I had the sense that 10 pairs of hands and 10 pairs of feet would be warm; and the girls, teens, and women in 5 families could share (fight over) hair bobbles, and feel that much more fashionable.

I must say that although I didn't enjoy the crowds of the last shopping days, this was among the most satisfying shopping I have ever done. While it is nice to select special gifts for the special people in one's life, it is uplifting to choose nice things one can imagine will bring joy to someone who is struggling, or struggling to provide for children.

In the past I have been happy to give money, or have it given by an association of which I am part. The only other act of Christmas charity which gave me the same level of satisfaction was shopping for a gift for one of the hub's female colleagues whose name he had drawn in the office gift exchange. The premise of that corporate Christmas party was to imagine the person at age 8, and buy them a toy. The wrapped and tagged toys were distributed by and from "Santa" who called each staff member to his place beside the Christmas tree at the office party. After opening and oohing and ahhing, the toys were collected and given to a children's charity.

I thought it was a brilliant idea, and the best exchange idea I'd ever experienced personally or vicariously. I had great fun maxing out the set limit on art supplies for a budding artist, or just a child who needed an opportunity for creativity and free expression. Alas, the next year, the new Christmas Party Committee decided that gag gifts with a sex theme would be more "fun".  Bah, humbug!

The reason I was buying a 6th box of Christmas cards from the snarky cashier above, is because somewhere between my dreadful Friday (Dec 17)--my anniversary reaction to the day I went to my family's home for the holidays last year, discovered my Dad was very ill, and returned to my normal life 4 months later, but grieving my Dad's passing--and Dec 20th, I read an article about Canada Post cancelling free postage for Christmas cards sent to "Any Canadian Forces Member" overseas.

Operation Santa Claus is a longstanding Canadian Forces program that makes sure even those with few correspondents receive cards and Santa packages over the holidays. In the past, Canada Post handled all related mail free, but has decided this year- the last one, supposedly, when we have combat troops in Afghanistan--to fund only those letters and parcels addressed to a specific service member, and to require postage on all those sent to "Any Canadian Forces Member".

The article described how this impacted school programs where annually the children spend time in art and literature classes making cards and composing letters, and look forward to the idea that some service member will enjoy receiving their creations. As so often happens with cutbacks affecting school children, teachers were paying the postage out of pocket.

Canada Post will continue to provide a program of free delivery to deployed troops. Parcels can be mailed for free to deployed CF members for the period 18 Oct 2010 to 7 January 2011. Letters and packages up to 500 grams can be mailed for free until the end of 2011. Visit the Canada Post Website for additional detail of the offer. Note that this program is not extended to mail addressed to "Any Canadian Forces Member " and all such items will require postage. [emphasis added]
--from the National Defense and Canadian Forces site, "Write the Troops"

I was, and am, incensed that Canada Post couldn't wait one more Christmas to choose this particular cost saving measure--until we at least supposedly won't have combat troops in Afghanistan. I also feel that it targets the vulnerable. Postage for letters and parcels sent to a specific armed forces member is still free. I guess that helps out armed forces families, and their friends, but presumably at least those service members have people wanting to send them greetings and gifts. Still, for me, the bottom line is they should have waited a year, if it had to be done.

Therefore, I decided to send cards this year, in part because of Canada Post's stupidity, and in part because my father would have liked the idea. I sent 216 hand signed cards with a little hand written note in English and French inside thanking them for their service and wishing them happy holidays and a happy New Year. Hopefully, the cards will give pleasure to someone far from home!

What part does charity play in your Christmas celebration?
What are your thoughts on charity across faiths?
What experiences have you had as a giver or recipient of charitable donations?
Other impressions, thoughts, comments?

While I was sleeping...Nov-Dec 2011

My sincere apologies to all readers and commentators for the dearth of posts during the months of November and December 2011, and even greater apologies for not updating as to why there were so few posts until now.

Over the last two months I have had both a relapse of symptoms in my ongoing recovery from iron deficiency, and been busy with professional obligations--a bad combination. Also I have had a couple of minor illnesses that just aggravated the situation, either by their symptoms or by side effects from combinations of medications. I am very lucky that all these issues are minor and treatable. Nonetheless, they have significantly interrupted my life, on and off line, over the last couple of months.

As indicated by the title and illustrations for this post, fatigue and sleepiness have been the most disruptive symptoms. When not actually asleep, I have been "sleep walking" through some days, not awake enough to do all the posts I have had in mind, or to even complete drafts sufficiently well to post them.

Because I was able to start posts, and believed every morning that I would be able to post that day, I never announced on the blog an interruption in posting. None was planned, and I never expected the last gap in posting to go on so long.

Similarly, I have been unable to reply to comments here, which are always most appreciated, or to comment on other blogs as I usually do with pleasure. My apologies to commentators, and other bloggers for both of those.

I am optimistic that I will be able to post and comment more regularly beginning with this holiday season. I certainly hope that I will remain more awake than the woman in the painting below, who is sleeping through the hot June Solstice sun!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy December Solstice 2011!

As I have written previously, The Winter Solstice: Where Physics Meets Culture for All, I find the December Solstice an interesting event and celebration. As a physical phenomenon of the earth's relationship to the sun, it is an event that affects all on earth, and has been marked in various ways by all cultures over time immemorial.

The time and date in the Gregorian Calendar on which the December Solstice falls varies with the naturally occurring phenomenon, and ranges between December 20th and 23rd each year. Of course, the point at which the shortest day/longest night in the Northern Hemisphere, or longest day/shortest night in the Southern Hemisphere occurs in different places at different times, depending on time zones.

This year, the December solstice has been occurring over December 21 and 22, so in the mid-range of the usual span of time. Winter has officially begun, as have the group of celebrations that mark this time before the renewal of Spring. All have in common a celebration of light, and the resilience of nature and the human spirit when faced with physical challenges to mind, body, and spirit. Of the ones that come most readily to mind, Hanukah, Christmas, New Year, and the Solstice, the latter is the one that is most universally embracing, even in the diversity of its global celebrations.

Ancient Egyptian depiction of 3 gods at the divine re-birth of the sun on 26 Khoiak (December 22)

On a more personal note, my father was a "Solstice baby", born December 20. This made him even more difficult to buy for, trying to think of 2 presents, one for his birthday, and one for Christmas. He finally stopped protesting not to get him anything, or merely not to worry about what we got him, and succumbed to the pressure of 3 united women not to buy himself anything from September on--just to make do, until we could buy the presents, and then make up for whatever needs hadn't been addressed on the Boxing Day sales.

As an adult, the December Solstice has been the time I often head to the family home for the holidays, in order to celebrate Dad's birthday too. Two years ago I arrived home to find he was seriously ill, and instead of spending the planned 10 days, I spent almost 4 months at home, helping him and the family (and myself) through his illness, and death.

Last year, I was still in an earlier phase of grieving, and so the Winter Solstice, as welcome as it always is for marking the beginning of longer days of sunlight to come, was tinged with sadness. This year, I have been much better, though still sadly noting his absence, as is to be expected at this phase of grieving.

Sunrise on Stonehenge December 22. 2011, a clear sunny solstice is a good omen.

I mention this more personal aspect, as these types of sadnesses tend to rebound at holiday times, and in the physically dark days of winter. More importantly, I wanted to remind others that normal grieving feels awful, but is eased appropriately with time, and sadnesses are lightened by the sun and the change of seasons marking time. This year, we will honor my Dad's memory by going out in the next few days to the same restaurant we would have gone to for his birthday celebration, and remember his joy at being there, and be joyous as he would have wished.

For the Winter Solstice itself, I have been buying traditional greenery like holly branches, lighting candles, and planning charitable Christmas gifts, as well as those for family. How about you?

To All,

A Wonderful December Soltice,

filled with days of light and joy!

Related Posts:
The Winter Solstice: Where Physics Meets Culture for All
The December (Winter/Summer) Solstice 2010 with a Total Eclipse of the Moon

December Solstice 2011-Celebration at Stonehenge-From "The winter solstice, a split second on Earth’s analog clock"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011: World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims; Suraya Foundation

Today, November 20, is a World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. This annual day of remembrance initiated by and for victims, and the bereaved (of fatalities), began in 1993 under the auspices of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims. Since 2003 both the UN and the WHO have promoted recognition on the third Sunday of November, for the victims and bereaved families.

I received news today of this year's acknowledgment through the Suraya Foundation. I first became aware of this foundation via a comment by the founder, Mohd Shahnawaz, "Shanz", on my post: Saudi Arabia Takes the Gold! In MVA’s, RTA’s, Car Accidents/ Fatalities/ Injuries. Since then, while I have long been planning a post on Suraya's Story, the foundation has grown impressively. It has been well designed and executed with a high degree of integrity from the very beginning. Now it has a number of adherents via Facebook, and Twitter, as well as the website; and, a number of important campaigns to not only raise awareness but change laws and behaviour in an effort to decrease the appalling statistics on road traffic accidents in the UAE, and by extension in the GCC.

Our Campaigns

The following are the campaigns Suraya Foundation has done to date valuing to about $60,000. Thanks to our Creative Sponsors and Volunteers to make this happen.

The "Are You Reckless?" Campaign― A hard hitting video and radio campaigns aimed at getting drivers to question their driving habits. Our main objective of this project was to provide case studies to governments and NGOs to study our campaign and adopt full time road safety campaigns. Watch the campaign here and SHARE it with your friends and families >>

Road Safety Comics - spreading awareness and teaching principles of road safety in a fun way, we have released a series of road safety comics. Have a look at the Rayden Kusumo's road safety comics >>

Share your story - We would like to hear your side of the story on how reckless accidents have affected your lives. Share your story and read the how reckless accidents have affected other people >>

The Oath Project ― a vow encouraging everyone to take the challenge of being a safer driver. If you believe that you’re a safe driver, please join us and take the oath >>

What is Killing people in the Gulf? ― an information graph completed on June 2010 (40 hours of data) highlighting the number of people killed by road accidents and its effect on the Middle East’s economy. Have a look at the infograph and please share it with other drivers >>

Suraya Foundation
Know somebody whose Precious life has been affected by accident in UAE ? Please share with us

Suraya Foundation
MIND MAP - This is our partial Suraya Foundation Mind map of followers. The cross are the places we need help with. Suggestions and Feedbacks are welcome.

Suraya Foundation grew out of a brother's love for his sister, and anguish at her death.

Suraya as a kid

Suraya Akhter (b.17 July 1986 - d. 17 March 2009) was a fashion designing student who lost her life in a reckless accident in United Arab Emirates last year. The accident was due to combination of reckless driving and bad road design. Since the only witness (Suraya's friend Aysha involved in crash) was suffering from amnesia, the court of RAK had preposterously ruled that it was Suraya's mistake and she must have committed suicide. The investigation was halted but accounts of accidents by police did not add up. Her brother, Mohd Shahnawaz narrates the story of highlights of her life and that unfaithful day. [Full story here]

Suraya Akhter

The Suraya Foundation has been formed to prevent accidents that can be averted by targeting drivers on psychological level. Since "Suraya" means "cluster of seven stars", we have adopted seven principles for our campaign to meet our objectives. The foundation has been formed to help ensure that you could be spared from the misery of suffering from the loss of a loved one. This foundation ensures that you and your loved ones are protected from reckless accidents' i.e. prevention of reckless accidents by changing attitudes of unsafe drivers and helping them adopt the principles of safe driving. - Mohd Shahnawaz

For archives on how this foundation began please go to [Rest in Peace My Little Sister]. Please share with us your story and read other stories on how the road accident epidemic is damaging the lives of thousands around the world.
As Mohd suggests, it is important to share stories for healthy grieving, to make meaning of senseless deaths, and to help effect change. Also, as he suggests, while road traffic accidents, and particularly fatalities, are unusually high in the GCC, they occur around the world.

HAPPY NATIONAL DAY! Proudly celebrate the 39th birthday of UAE and keep waving that flag! Drive Safely to the National Day Celebrations!

A number of stories come to my mind:

--a Moroccan child psychiatrist telling me of the number of head injuries they see in children as a result of traffic accidents, whether that is a child on the back of a parent's moped, or playing in the street, or travelling as an unbelted passenger in a car. In my own experience, a lack of adequate street lighting, play areas, and safety measures on 2 and 4 wheeled vehicles contributes to these statistics;

--a Canadian friend who was driving her usual commute home on a major highway, and was cut off by a transport truck trying to make his time to his next weigh station; she slammed into him (making the accident her fault), and the wreckage to her car was so bad that the provincial police notified her husband that she had died in the crash; by the time he got there, they had discovered she was alive, and she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, then directly by helicopter to a major medical trauma centre. She had a head injury, a broken nose, teeth, jaw, clavicle, ribs, pelvis, and, most sadly to me, a broken left heel from slamming on the brake so hard. The head injury has left her with weakness and reduced feeling on her left side (face, neck, arm, and leg). She has made an amazing recovery, had children, and resumed her career. Yet she still suffers medical and psychological consequences.

--my sister's friend had a collision with a truck while driving home for the weekend during the winter. She hit an icy patch and skid at high speed on the highway into the truck and then the partition. She died instantly--at 23.

--more than one pregnant patient in an irreversible coma after a car accident, maintained on life support until the healthy fetus could grow to viability and be delivered to the grieving father, and families.

--a woman and her family I saw for family therapy. Her husband was on his way to the hospital to see her and their new only baby for the first time, and was killed in a car accident. The whole family was traumatised, and I began seeing them months after the event, when the initial shock and coping mechanisms were giving way to a fuller realization of the event and its consequences.

On this day of remembrance, please share your stories here, and please check out the Suraya Foundation (website, Facebook, Twitter), its efforts, and how you might help.

Related Posts:
Saudi Arabia Takes the Gold! In MVA’s, RTA’s, Car Accidents/ Fatalities/ Injuries-Includes an important video, an analysis of causation, and academic and journalistic references.

R.I.P my little sister
how death of a loved one changes the meaning of life........

Sunday, November 6, 2011

!عيد مبارك Eid Al-Adha Mubarak! 1432/2011

Eid Mubarak!

!عيد مبارك

Greetings and Blessings This Eid-Al-Adha!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallowe'en 2011!

Related Post:
Happy Hallowe'en! [on background to the holiday]

Share your favourite Hallowe'en stories, experiences past and present!
Did you go out this year (yourself, with children, etc)?
Did you give out candy?
Did you have/attend a costume party?
Do you think ET should phone home? ;)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Social Media and the Arab Spring: From the Mobile Phone to Cyber Warfare

NETWORKED PROTESTS: Egyptian anti-government protesters taking photos with their cameraphones at the demonstration in downtown Cairo. Ghonim, the Google executive and cyberactivist who emerged as a leader of the anti-government protests in Egypt, said social media played a crucial role in the events that led to Mubarak's ouster after three decades of iron-fisted rule. - AP

I just saw, on the CBC's documentary program "The Passionate Eye", the BBC produced "How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring". I must admit, when I first saw the title announced onscreen as "Coming Next" after the news, I was underwhelmed. I decided to watch at least some of it, partly out of curiosity, partly out of "duty" to my own interest in the Arab Spring (Summer, Fall), and partly because otherwise I would have had to put brain to paper in various other forms. As soon as I saw that the documentary came from the BBC and was aired in the context of "The Passionate Eye", I was more enthusiastic.

This documentary not only did not disappoint, it reviewed and contextualized some known events in a way that led to new insight; it expanded my awareness of how various forms of technology and social media were used, including the ingenuity of the rebels as the regimes became more repressive of technologies as well as demonstrators; and, how the mobile phone vs the army became a cyber war of government hackers vs rebel bloggers and cyber activists.

The biggest surprise for me was the deliberate use of what "my Arabs" call "le téléphone arabe"--the Arab telephone, word of mouth, the grapevine--a low tech method infinitely more efficient that unreliable phone lines. This involved reaching non-cyber-connected Egyptians via taxi drivers. Activists in cabs would talk over the phone about plans to rally, and "let" the taxi drivers overhear--highly effective in bringing crowds to Tahrir Square, and other protest sites.

A Cairo taxi drives past a poster of Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak in Heliopolis, Cairo. (Dominic Nahr for The Wall Street Journal)

Technology is a toolkit in human hands, and in this documentary diverse human dimensions of the engagement with these tools are highlighted: the street demonstrator with a mobile in one hand and a rock in the other; the ingenious computer wunderkind dodging blocks and transmitting images to the world while being traumatized by them, and by a "profound sense of guilt" for rallying the crowds who became the victims; and, the awakening of the diasporas to the disseminated raw news from their homelands, leading to their demonstrating in Western streets, petitioning Western governments, or paying for the latest in palm-sized devices to record and broadcast the realities Arab dictators didn't/don't want known,

I feel lucky I had the opportunity to see this documentary on the same day as Tunisians voted, and Libyans declared their liberation from Qaddafi (more on those later). The version I saw had addenda updating the events in each country to October 23, 2011. I hope that if you haven't seen the documentary yet, you will take the opportunity to do so.

Below are a number of options: the 1st episode, on Tunisia then Egypt, in 4 fifteen minute segments; or, the 2 full hour long episodes on Tunisia and Egypt, then Libya and Syria. While these 4 countries are the main focus, Bahrainis have posted the 15 minute "Bahrain Part" (between the Egyptian and Libyan segments)--opening with the strategic importance of Bahrain for the West, and the role of the Saudis, and closing with a chilling justification for brutality against doctors and nurses.

How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring--Episode 1 (Tunisia and Egypt) in 4 segments (15 minutes each)

How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring--Episode 1 (Tunisia and Egypt); Episode 2 (Libya and Syria) (59 minutes each)

How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring--The Bahrain Part (between the Egypt and the Libya parts) (15 minutes)

Please share your general impressions of the role of all forms of cyber technology and social media in the Arab Spring (Summer, Fall), and/ or your impressions specifically of this documentary (or parts thereof).

Related Posts:
See the category Arabia History (ArabiaHistory) in the side bar; search by individual country using the Search function in the side bar; see the relevant Doha Debates categorized in the side bar.

Social media sites helped to spark the protests on 25 January. From the BBC article, "Egypt unrest: Bloggers take campaign to Tahrir Square"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16, 2011 Blog Action Day--World Food Day: From the International to the Personal

Thanks to my participation in last year's Blog Action Day the theme of which was water, "Water: From Many Meanings to One--Life!", I received e-mail notification of this year's, the theme of which is Food, to coincide with the simultaneously occurring World Food Day. At first I was underwhelmed with the topic, since though extremely important, it is one where it is easy to fall into well worn albeit true paradigms like the overabundance of food in some parts of the world and starvation in others. Yet, there are certainly multiple dimensions to food in the global context, and even those paradigms take on new urgency and nuance within the changing circumstances across the globe. Within a short time of reading the list of suggestions for Blog Action Day posts, I had a number of ideas, seemingly constantly reinforced by reading the daily news.

Why Food?

This year Blog Action Day  coincides with World Food Day, a time that focuses the world’s attention on food, something we all have in common.
There is so much to say about food.
We use food to mark times of celebration and sorrow. Lack of access to food causes devastating famines, whilst too much is causing a generation of new health problems. It can cost the world, or be too cheap for farmers to make a living.
The way we companies produce food and drinks can provide important jobs for communities or be completely destructive to habitats and local food producers. Food can give us energy to get through the day or contain ingredients that gives us allergic reactions.
Food can cooked by highly skilled chefs with inventive flair, or mass produced and delivered with speed at the side of road. It can be incredibly healthy or complete junk and bad for your health. It can taste delicious or be a locals only delicacy.
Food is important to our culture, identity and daily sustenance and the team at Blog Action invite you to join us to talk about food.

Some topics suggestions for your Blog Action Day post.
  • My favorite food
  • The famine in East Africa
  • To be organic or not to be, that is the question.
  • Hunger and poverty.
  • Best and worst food memory
  • Slow Food, Fast Food: What does it actually mean
  • Malnutrition
  • Conflict over Food: Will new wars be about arable land?
  • Is your hamburger hurting the environment?
    It takes 24 liters of water to produce one hamburger. That means it would take over 19.9 billion liters of water to make just one hamburger for every person in Europe.
  • Vegan, Vegetarian, Meat eater – Which one are you and why?
  • Trading in the future of food. What is the impact of food speculation?
  • Will we be able to feed 9 billion people in 2050?
  • How does Fair Trade food help farmers and communities get out of poverty?
  • Freeganism  – eating the things others throw away.
  • The scandal of food waste.
  • What is the best way to farm food?
  • Growing your own – the joys and heartache of growing what you eat?
  • Too much or too little taking food to extremes.
  • Strangest thing you have ever eaten.
  • What food means to your culture.

Going through a newspaper, whether in print or online, is itself a revelation of the diverse dimensions of food in the human experience and across cultures, around the physical and human geography of the globe.  Food features in the culinary section (recipes, new trends, new imports), the dining around town section (restaurant openings, reviews, recommendations), the health section (nutrition and health or illness, eating disorders--obesity, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, emotional eating, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and supplements), and in the international, national, and local parts of the news section.

Internationally food has been a major topic in the form of the famine in the East Horn of Africa, radiation concerns of food in and from Japan after the Fukushima disaster, and concerns about poor regulation of food imports from China. Many countries struggle with ongoing problems of poverty and nutrition, exacerbated or modified by more recent events: white poverty in South Africa; flooding in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; the US economic downturn resulting in working and middle class families relying on Food Banks; the ongoing after effects of the January 2010 earthquake on Haiti's chronic 4th world status, etc.

Nationally in Canada, there are recalls of contaminated food products grown or produced within Canada, and warnings about those that are a national issue in the US, as there is considerable importation. Locally, there is concern about legislation of junk food advertising and high availability to school children. Sometimes the local becomes national, as with the Toronto mayor's councilman brother serving as (yet again) a negative example, in his desire to put back/keep junk food machines in schools (the ones he and his mayoral sibling decide to keep open) as a big money maker. Financing education by enabling obesity, malnutrition, and lifelong health harmful habits? Indeed.

From left, Randy Ford, Rob Ford and Doug Ford, at the office of the family company, Deco Labels & Tags. On the wall behind them is a portrait of their father, Doug, who founded the company and served as a Conservative MPP from 1995 to 1999. DAVE RIDER/TORONTO STAR

Even more locally, that is personally, I am still struggling with recovering from an iron deficiency seemingly provoked by being female, demands on body outstripping supply by normally adequate dietary iron, too many tannins (in the form of caffeinated drinks) which wash out iron, to keep functioning through unusual demands on my energy (father's illness and death), and not taking usual occasional mild supplementation as recommended by GP. Though some of this was unavoidable, better self-care and self-awareness would probably have prevented this most annoying and lengthy phenomenon. Physician heal thyself--with the help of  the health care system, and regular visits to the family doctor. Same goes for the rest of you! :D

Related Posts:
Braving Mogadishu to Provide Medical Aid to Somalia: Canadian and Saudi Arabian Teams
Ramadan and the 2011 Somalia Famine: A Great Need for Zakat, Sadaqa, Charity; A Reluctant Response
Tim Hortons to Open in the GCC: A Primer for Neophytes
Fun with Food Art--Foodies and Photographers Do Your Thing!
Cross-Cultural Culinary "Catastrophes": True Confessions of Chez Chiara Readers
Halal French Cuisine: Gastronomic Integration by French Muslims
Saudi Arabia's Needy and Winter--"Warmth": The National Winter Initiative دفء: المبادرة الوطنية للشتاء

See Also:
World Food Day,16 October:"Food prices - from crisis to stability". A post from earlier this month by Saudi blogger Wafa' of My World and More, and Wafa Is Reading who has also done a number of very moving posts on the crisis in the East Horn of Africa.
Hungry in North Korea
Haiti revisited
White Poverty in South Africa
A simple day in the life...
Food Fight: Tomatina festival 2011
Horn of Africa: on the brink of a humanitarian crisis
Japan: three months after the quake
Pakistan: daily life
Haiti, one year later

Specifically on Saudi Arabia See Also:
the other face of saudi Arabia
“Poverty in Saudi Arabia Revisited”
Escaping poverty by suicide is prevalent in Saudi Arabia
تدوينات موسومة 'Poverty in Saudi Arabia'
in Arabic, with video and pictures
Saudi Arabia: Data [Economic] from the World Bank

How would you address any of the topics proposed for Blog Action Day 2011-Food?
Fess up, was your worst food experience one of your own making? :D

*This post was back dated by 5.5 hours to be sure it appeared as October 16, 2011 in its usual time zone.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

George Galloway Eviscerates the "Holocaust Justification" vs Palestinian Statehood (Arabic subtitles لماذا لا يمتلك الفلسطينيين حقاً في الأرض الموعودة؟)

George Galloway leading Viva Palestina humanitarian convoy, London, 2009

After the post, "Obama's Diminution on Palestinian Demand to UN", I was reflecting on the fact that Israel came into existence by a 1947 UN vote (33 for, 13 against, 10 abstentions) on its statehood, after the British handed responsibility for its troublesome mandate--Zionist terrorism against the British, clashing Jewish (Zionist) and Arab nationalisms--to the UN. This fact is neglected in all the talk against Palestine submitting to a UN vote its motion for full (or partial) membership status at the UN. As is the fact that the Arab nations' appeal to the International Court of Justice was also put to a vote, which they also lost.

  In favour
  Switched to in favour
  Not UNO member

The result of the 1947 vote was "UN Resolution 181", United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine (adopted November 29, 1947), which included the United Nations Partition Plan--2 states, one Jewish [a religion, and an ethnicity or race, depending on your definition], the other Arab [an ethnicity or race, depending on your definition] for Palestine, with detailed definitions of their borders. Resolution 181 also included provisions for religious and minority rights, and economic unity between the two states. This plan further provided a non-European state which would receive European Jews displaced during the Holocaust and WWII. Outsourcing one's refugee problem, if you will.

The timeline of this 1947 plan was: November 29, 1947 beginning of UN transitional powers; August 1, 1948-withdrawal of British troops; UN transitional government; October 1, 1948-the 2 independent states established; ongoing UN governance of Jerusalem.

This proposed timeline was interrupted by: the November 30, 1947 beginning of the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine (between Jewish and Arab forces in Jerusalem while the withdrawing British forces looked on), lasting until the British Mandate ended May 14, 1948; the May 14, 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence announced by David Ben-Gurion; the May 14, 1948 beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War; the 1949 Armistice agreements between Israel and neighbouring Arab countries, which resulted in greater territorial gains for Israel, the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza,the Golan Heights (Syria) and the Sinai Peninsula (now returned to Egypt), and the drawing of armistice lines (the Green Line, modified after the 1967 Six-Day War or Naksah, "setback") since debated as or considered permanent borders.

While I was reflecting on all this, a Saudi friend sent me the video below--much to my delight! I admire George Galloway's stand on and actions for Palestine, and his verbal abilities. I first became aware of this (now former) British MP when he participated in a 2007 Doha Debate. I have followed his (mis-)adventures in attempting to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza despite the Quartet supported Israeli embargo, Canada's refusal of entry to him for a speaking tour because of it (while on his way to speak at the UN, ie with entrance into the USA), and his successful court case against the Canadian Harper government in response.

In the short video below, Galloway politely but persistently undoes the logic of the Holocaust justification for the existence of Israel at the expense of the existence of Palestine, and the sacrifice of the Palestinian people(s).

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Related Posts:
Obama's Diminution on Palestinian Demand to UN
A terrorist by any other name is: a freedom fighter, a liberator, a martyr, a prime minister,... [1946 Zionist Bombing of the British Headquarters at the King David Hotel; Timeline of Palestine for the last 130 years]
An‑Naksah (The Setback) June 5-June 10: The 1967 Pre-Emptive Israeli War on Palestine that Reset Borders
Israel...Boarding...Humanitarian Flotilla...At A Loss For Words--Almost
Rachel Corrie in Israeli Custody--Again: When Does the Occupation End?

Israel Apartheid Week 2010--1-4 weeks focused on Palestine
Canada's Budding Norman Finkelstein; Who is Silencing Her; and Why I am Verklempt

Calling on Obama: Get Tough on Israel--The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
The Pro-Israel Lobby: Defending Israel or Stifling Debate including of the Saudi Peace Initiative--The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
Nuclear Warheads: If Israel, why not Iran, Saudi, the GCC, or MENA? The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
Peace in the Middle East: Will Obama Do Any Better?--Doha Debates Chez Chiara

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Turkey: Turning West, or East, or Both?

Geographically, modern Turkey is Eurasian, with its west in the West, ie Europe, and its east in the Middle East. Most of its sits on the region called Anatolia, extending from the Mediterranean Sea past the Black Sea. It borders Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Historically, Anatolia has been Aeolian, Ionian, Armenian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine, all before the Turkic peoples arrived in the 10th century from the eastern steppes. Afterward it was part of Turkic empires notably the Seljuk Empire, then part of the Mongol Empire, until the Ottoman Empire emerged in the 14th century, peaked in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, and then began a long decline until it was fully dismantled by the Treaty of Sèvres (1920).

At its peak, the Ottoman Empire extended well into Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The official religion was Islam, and Ottoman Turkish was a hybrid language of Turkish, Arabic, and Persian written in Arabic script. After its demise, and the reforms of Ataturk, it became a single nation state, officially secular, and a constitutional republic. Turkish, now written in Roman script, is the official language.

Turkey has been in the Western news a lot more than usual in the last few years. First, it was because of its proposed full entry into the EU. This proposal elicited a lot of debate about whether Turkey was part of Europe at all, or part of West Asia/ the Middle East. It also engendered more direct commentary about the "perils" of admitting a Muslim majority country, even a long "modernized", "progressive" one, where laws already existed against women wearing the hijab.

In the last two years Turkey has been in the news for its humanitarian aid to Gaza, which resulted in Israeli attacks and the loss of Turkish life. Earlier this year Turkey was seen as a mediator and a buffer against a negative impact on Western interests of the Arab Spring. However, since the decision by Israel to disculpate its own troops in the international incident against Turkish based humanitarian ships, Turkey has responded against Israel in ways that are unsettling to the West, or at least to the US. There are also economic issues inflaming old rivalries: Turkish exploration for oil and gas near Cypress, and the European Union's economic implosion, making the Middle East seen as a more reliable partner.

The article below raises the spectre of a conservative turn in Turkey, emphasizing external pressures more than the acknowledged internal ones. After all, Mr Erdogan was democratically elected, by a populace who presumably knew of the conservatism attributed to him.

Patrons sit outside a bar in Beyoglu, in the heart of Istanbul, where authorities have banned tables and chairs in the street since mid-July. Charla Jones for The Globe and Mail

Istanbul’s public drinking dispute is bigger than tables and chairs
ISTANBUL— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2011 7:57PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Oct. 05, 2011 6:08AM EDT

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently toured the Middle East, touting his government as a new model of Islamism – progressive, modern and tolerant – for a region at a political crossroads.

That kind of talk drives people crazy in the heart of Istanbul’s Beyoglu nightlife district.

Bar and restaurant owners say thousands of workers have lost their jobs after a decision in July that swept patio tables off the streets, and they speculate that the pious Mr. Erdogan may be trying to hide the most visibly hedonistic side of his country at this sensitive moment of outreach to the Arab world.

“We are turning East, politically and economically,” said Tahir Berrakkarasu, director of a local business association. “Today’s administration is against alcohol, basically, because they think it’s immoral.”

Much of the speculation focuses on a visit by the Prime Minister during a religious holiday this summer, which left the bar owner with the uncomfortable feeling that the patio dispute involved more than the usual bickering over municipal rules.

Istanbul still has a more rollicking bar scene than any Canadian city, and Mr. Erdogan has never admitted a role in the squabbles over its regulation. Tables and chairs in pedestrian walkways technically fall under the mandate of the local mayor. Supporters of the Prime Minister argue that the ruckus over patio tables could not have been linked with his foreign policy, or his religious views, by pointing out that the mayor’s men have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with restaurant owners for years.

Local officials set limits on how much of the sidewalk could serve as a seating area for eating and drinking, and establishments merrily thwarted those rules with a mix of bribery, trickery and brazen disobedience. The municipality’s failure to control the tables spilling into the streets gave the old neighbourhoods of Beyoglu a bohemian charm that attracted an estimated 2.6 million visitors on busy summer weekends.

The Prime Minister himself was among the recent visitors, although he wasn’t stopping for a beer. Witnesses saw a convoy of five or six black sedans roll into the neighbourhood on July 15, part of a three-day religious holiday. It’s rumoured that Mr. Erdogan was marking the occasion with a visit to the Galata Mevlevihanesi, an historic hall founded by Sufi Muslims in 1491.

A bar owner, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation against his business, said he saw the convoy leaving Beyoglu, slowly creeping down a hill. It was a typical Friday afternoon, he said, with patrons jam-packed at small tables that occupied the entire sidewalk, forcing throngs of pedestrians into the cobblestone street. The scene would have reflected the cosmopolitanism of this urban enclave, with local Muslim girls in short skirts often indistinguishable from tourists.

Somebody who appeared to be a bodyguard poked his head out of one of the black sedans and started screaming at people blocking the convoy’s path, the bar owner said. He cast doubt on a widespread rumour that patrons had lifted their beer and wine glasses to salute the Prime Minister, but added that it may have happened when he wasn’t looking.

If one of Mr. Erdogan’s bodyguards did lose his temper, it wouldn’t have been an isolated incident. A United Nations guard was hospitalized with bruised ribs on Sept. 23 after a fight with the Turkish Prime Minister’s entourage.

Nor would it have been unusual for Mr. Erdogan to make policy spontaneously: Last January, upon seeing a pair of concrete statues built in eastern Turkey in the name of peaceful relations between Turkey and Armenia, the Prime Minister reportedly called the sculpture “a monstrosity” and ordered it destroyed.

Whatever the impetus, municipal authorities scrambled to clear away the patios. A series of raids began on July 20, with swarms of security officers removing tables – at times, locals say, while patrons were eating. The head waiter at one restaurant recalled chasing after the trucks that removed his patio furniture; after long negotiations, he obtained a permit to recover the items from a municipal yard, only to discover that the security forces had smashed them.

A similarly crushing response quelled some of the demonstrations that sprang up against what became known as the “Table Operation.” In Galata Square, a teenager played saxophone while his friends sang protest songs; plainclothes security officers shoved their way into the crowd and arrested the ringleaders, amid scuffles.

A local business group, Beyder, says it has collected 30,000 signatures on a petition against the operation. The group estimates that 2,500 staff have lost their jobs, as the dispute drags into its third month, but a quick resolution seems unlikely.

“The problem is bigger than the tables and chairs,” said Aydin Ali Kalayci, an executive member of Beydar, who runs a popular restaurant. “The problem is that the money is flowing now from the Middle East, so they want to make changes in our society. Time is running out for us.”

More related to this story

* Turkish military ship raises hackles in oil and gas hunt
* Off Cyprus, the hunt for oil and gas threatens to rekindle an old conflict
* Turkey asserting itself on the world stage
* Israel's flotilla raid was ‘cause for war,’ Turkey PM says
* Turkey threatens to send warships to escort future Gaza aid boats
* Turkey backs Palestinian statehood; notifies Israeli diplomats to leave country


Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Mourners chant slogans as they wave Palestinian flags during the funeral ceremony of a Turkish activist who was killed when Israel seized the Gaza-bound 'Freedom Flotilla,' at Beyazit square in Istanbul, Turkey Friday. Murad Sezer/Reuters. From the Christian Monitor article, "Turkey-Israel crisis: Why the formerly obscure IHH is playing a key role". See also In Pictures: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid


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