Eloping couple stoned to death by Taliban

Via the New York Times:

 The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had unsuccessfully tried to elope, according to Afghan officials and an eyewitness.

The punishment was carried out by hundreds of the victims’ neighbors and even their family members in a village in northern Kunduz Province, according to Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by telephone.

As a Taliban mullah prepared to read the judgment of a religious “court,” Mr. Khan said the lovers, a 25-year-old man named Khayyam and a 19-year-old woman named Siddiqa, defiantly confessed in public to their relationship. “They said, ‘We love each other no matter what happens,’ ” Mr. Khan said.

The executions were the latest in a series of cases where the Taliban have imposed their harsh version of Shariah law for social crimes, reminiscent of their behavior during their decade-long rule of the country. In recent years Taliban officials have sought to play down their bloody punishments of the past as they concentrated on building up popular support.

“We see it as a sign of a new confidence on the part of the Taliban in the application of their rules, like they did in the ’90s,” said Nader Nadery, a senior commissioner on Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. “We do see it as a trend, they’re showing more strength in recent months, not just in attacks, but including their own way of implementing laws, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings.”

The stoning deaths, along with similarly brazen attacks in northern Afghanistan, were also a sign of growing Taliban strength in parts of the country where until recently they had been weak or absent. In their home regions in southern Afghanistan, Mr. Nadery said, the Taliban have already been cracking down. “We’ve seen a big increase in intimidation of women and more strict rules on women,” he said.

Afghanistan is hell now. But it would probably be worse if we left.

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Israeli Orthodox Jews protest ethnic integration of schools

Via Reuters:

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel Thursday against a court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together.

Demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb with a large population of religious Jews, before some 80 Ashkenazi parents, Jews of European origin, were to report to jail for defying the Supreme Court ruling. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority has long been at odds with the Jewish state’s highest judicial authority over edicts which some devout Jews say interfere with their religious lifestyle.

The Ashkenazi parents resisting their daughters’ integration with Sephardi, or Middle Eastern, students at a girls’ religious school in the Jewish settlement of Immanuel in the occupied West Bank, deny the court’s allegations of racism. They say the two communities have different religious traditions and they do not want their children influenced by Sephardi practices.

Clothed in traditional heavy black garb, ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews held open-air prayers during the protests as police deployed in force, fearing possible violence.

“We have chosen the Torah,” one banner read, alluding to the community’s belief that the law of God is supreme.

Obama pledges $400 million for Palestinian aid

Via the LA Times:

President Obama pledged an infusion of $400 million in aid for housing, school construction and business development in the Palestinian territories Wednesday, saying after a one-on-one meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that the situation in Gaza is “inherently unstable.”

Obama had planned the White House meeting to talk mainly about the Middle East peace process. But in the aftermath of a deadly May 31 Israeli assault on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, the two leaders ended up focusing instead on the blockade of Gaza and its effects on the people who live there.

“We agree that Israelis have the right to prevent arms from entering into Gaza that can be used to launch attacks into Israeli territory,” Obama told reporters after his meeting with Abbas in the White House. “But we also think that it is important for us to explore new mechanisms so that we can have goods and services, and economic development, and the ability of people to start their own businesses, and to grow the economy and provide opportunity within Gaza.” 

The meeting between Obama and Abbas was scheduled before the attempt by activists to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza ended in the deaths of nine of them during the takeover by Israeli commandos, provoking international outrage.

In response, Israeli officials announced Wednesday that they would relax some border restrictions on Gaza, allowing in some snack foods and spices that had previously been off limits for delivery. Palestinian leaders dismissed the change as inconsequential because it does not allow more urgently needed items, such as fabric, fishing equipment, spare parts and electronics.

The Obama administration’s promise of aid includes money to increase access to clean drinking water, create jobs and build schools and affordable housing. State Department officials called the projects “a down payment” on the U.S. commitment to improving life in Gaza.

Last year, U.S. officials pledged a total of $900 million for Gaza and the West Bank, but acknowledged the difficulty of distributing the funds, especially because Hamas controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization. The aid announced Wednesday may be distributed through organizations performing relief work, State Department officials said.

Does anyone know if the Obama administration’s infusion of US resources to Palestine have any precedent? Did they recieve any aid from us under Bush II, or any president before him?

Hamas v. the Palestinian Authority

Via Shmuel Rosen in Slate:

With events in the Middle East moving rapidly, with political landscapes shifting week to week, few observers care to remember how the situation in Gaza came about and why. Since 2007, the policy of the International Quartet has been to isolate the government that controls Gaza after Hamas forces ousted the forces loyal to the official representative of Palestinians from the Strip in a coup. An ugly and violent coup. “In five days of intense fighting,” reported Der Spiegel, a respectable European publication, “Hamas wrested political control over the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Fatah’s troops offered surprisingly little resistance. By the end of [the] week, victorious Hamas fighters were driving [a Fatah leader’s] few remaining men half-naked through the streets, before executing them in the desert.”

So, there were very good reasons for isolating Hamas and attempting to contain the Gaza Strip. True, the government in charge of Gaza is a headache for Israel. But it is no less of a nuisance to the legitimate representative of the Palestinians—the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Those who want to strengthen the parties of peace have a choice to make: Recognizing Hamas would signal that the Palestinian Authority could no longer claim to represent the people of Gaza. It would signal that the world is willing to work with a bully, with a group refusing to commit—even rhetorically—to the cause of peace, that it has given up on a better life for the Palestinians of Gaza.

And the world has, indeed, given up on them. Masquerading as peace activists, wanting to do something about Palestinian suffering without always knowing how, the flotillas of naiveté and malice have set sail. “Insofar as they were bringing food and medicine to Gaza, they were humanitarians; but insofar as they were striking a blow for the government of Gaza, they were anti-humanitarians,” wrote Leon Wieseltier in a New Republic article that was generally critical of Israel’s actions. Wieseltier identified the dangerous island of isolated self-pity in which Israelis now reside. Enumerating the justifications for this self-pity, he refers to the “leaders, states, organizations, and peoples whose hostility to the Jewish state is irrational and absolute and in some cases murderous”—but he forgets to count a no-less-important reason for this sense of isolation: the international community’s dangerous impatience and unreliability.

Yes, hostility toward Israel played a role in the festival of criticism that followed the bloody raid on the blockade-defying flotilla earlier this week. But no less problematic was the show of untrustworthiness on the part of leaders, states, and organizations. Not even the United States, generally mellow in its response to the raid, could resist the temptation to define the situation in Gaza as “unacceptable and unsustainable.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “we have to deal with the situation in Gaza in a way that both protects Israel’s legitimate security interests and fulfills the needs of the people of Gaza.” That suggests the likely outcome of the flotilla affair will be that Israel’s security needs will be met, but less vigorously, and the “people of Gaza” will be abandoned. They will get more aid, more food and supplies, maybe some roads and buildings will be repaired—but abandoned they will be. Destined to be ruled by the ruthless and undemocratic Hamas regime without the international community’s protests or objections.

Five female anchors walk off Al-Jazeera over wardrobe remarks

Via NY Daily News:

Five female newscasters have walked out on their Al-Jazeera anchor positions after the Quatar-based company criticized them for their “clothes and decency,” according to the UK Daily Mail.

The fracas allegedly occurred after the women repeatedly appeared on television wearing make-up and not covering their hair. Al-Jazeera claims they have the right to enforce a dress code that reflects their “spirit and principles.” The women also said that deputy editor-in-chief Ayman Jaballah made ‘offensive remarks’ about them and their choice of dress. The journalists (Joumana Nammour, Lina Zahr al-Din, Jullinar Mousa, Luna al-Shibl and Nawfar Afli) are well-respected in the region and have seen an outpouring of support from bloggers.

Saudi woman fights back against religious police

Via the Jerusalem Post:

It was a scene Saudi women’s rights activists have dreamt of for years. When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition.

But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.

For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.

According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.

“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”

“The media and the Internet have given people a lot of power and the freedom to express their anger,” she said. “The Hai’a are like a militia, but now whenever they do something it’s all over the Internet. This gives them a horrible reputation and gives people power to react.”

Neither the religious police nor the Eastern Province police has made a statement on the incident, and both the names of the couple and the date of the incident have not been made public, but on Monday the incident was all over the Saudi media.

Should the woman be charged, she could face a lengthy prison term and lashings for assaulting a representative of a government institution.

Our sympathies are obviously with her.

REPOST: Please sign a petition to save the life of an Iranian LGBT activist

Via Coilhouse:

Kiana Firouz, 27 years old, is an outspoken Iranian LGBT rights activist, filmmaker, and actress. When clips of her video documentary work featuring the struggle and persecution of gays and lesbians in her country were acquired by Iranian intelligence, agents began to follow Firouz around Tehran, harassing and intimidating her. She fled for England where she could safely continue her work and studies.

She plays a starring role in Cul de Sac, a documentary film produced in the UK about the condition of lesbians in Iran, and based heavily on Firouz’s own life story. Directed by Ramin Goudarzi-Nejad and Mahshad Torkan, the movie will premiere in London in a few days. Since the trailer was posted on YouTube in December 2009, Cul de Sac has attracted global media attention, with thousands of views. Apparently, some of those views included members of Ahmadinejad’s puppet media in Iran. They know who Firouz is and what she stands for. They may want her to come back to the country she was born in to answer for it.

Here is the trailer for Cul de Sac (NSFW):

Firouz, understandably, has requested asylum from the British government. Much to everyone’s shock and dismay, the British Home Office has rejected her application for refugee status. Yes, they know she’s gay. Yes, they know she could be deported back to Iran at any time, and that if this happens, Firouz will most likely be sentenced to torture and death after being found guilty of the “unspeakable sin of homosexuality” because she has participated in explicit lesbian sex scenes in the movie, and been a fierce proponent for human rights in her country.

In Iran, the punishment for lesbianism involving mature consenting women consists of 100 lashes. This punishment can be applied up to three times. After a fourth violation of Iranian law, a woman convicted of “unrepentant homosexuality” is finally executed by hanging, often publicly, in front of a howling mob.

Here is the petition endorsed by Kiana Firouz herself.

And this is her story.