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Monday, October 31, 2011

Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering

We estimate the impact on pilgrims of performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Our method compares successful and unsuccessful applicants in a lottery used by Pakistan to allocate Hajj visas. Pilgrim accounts stress that the Hajj leads to a feeling of unity with fellow Muslims, but outsiders have sometimes feared that this could be accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. We find that participation in the Hajj increases observance of global Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting while decreasing participation in localized practices and beliefs such as the use of amulets and dowry. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment. Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions. The evidence suggests that these changes are more a result of exposure to and interaction with Hajjis from around the world, rather than religious instruction or a changed social role of pilgrims upon return.

Every year, more than two million Muslim men and women from over a hundred countries gather in Mecca to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage. Although the Hajj takes place on five specified days each year, pilgrims often spend a month engaged in prayer and ritual in Mecca and Medina. Pilgrims mix across the lines of ethnicity, nationality, sect, and gender that divide them in everyday life and affirm a common identity by performing the same rituals and dressing in similar garments that emphasize their equality.

Understanding the impact on pilgrims of participation in the Hajj sheds light not only on Islam and its institutions, but also on the shaping of beliefs and identity more generally. Of particular interest is how this experience affects views towards others – not only fellow Muslims with whom the pilgrim interacts but also with non-Muslims. Theories of social interaction suggest that exposure to other groups may promote empathy or antipathy towards them depending on the nature of the interaction(Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006; Stephan, 1978). In addition, the literature on social identity suggests that strengthened attachment to a group through interaction may be accompanied by negative feelings toward those outside the group (Tajfel and Turner, 1986).

Numerous pilgrim accounts suggest that the Hajj inspires feelings of unity with the worldwide Muslim community (Wolfe, 1997). Malcolm X’s experience is a vivid example. In 1964, Malcolm X broke from the heterodox Nation of Islam to become a Sunni Muslim and perform the Hajj. In a letter from Mecca, he wrote: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world… We were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white… [W]hat I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions” (Malcolm X with Haley, 1965).

Some have worried that by promoting greater unity among Muslims, the Hajj could have negative implications for non-Muslims. This was a concern of colonial authorities (Bose 2006, Low 2007). More recently, after it emerged that some of the July 7th bombers had undertaken the Hajj, the British intelligence services began monitoring pilgrims, fearing that the Hajj may help spread radical views (Sunday Times, 2007). Others have expressed concern that the Hajj induces shifts toward a particular type of Islam. Naipaul (1981) laments what he sees as the erosion of local religious traditions in South Asian Islam in favor of a Saudi or Arab version of Islam.

Of course, it is difficult to isolate the causal impact of the Hajj based on examples like those of Malcolm X or the July 7th bombers. Individuals who choose to undertake the Hajj differ from those who do not, and the choice to do so may reflect other life changes. Thus, changes in pilgrims’ views and behavior after the Hajj may not reflect its impact.

We assess the causal impact of the Hajj using data from a 2006 survey of more than 1,600 Sunni Muslim applicants to Pakistan’s Hajj visa allocation lottery. Saudi Arabia uses country-specific quotas to limit the number of Hajj pilgrims each year for safety and logistical reasons. Pakistan allocates a large share of its quota through a lottery. By comparing successful and unsuccessful applicants to this lottery, we construct causal estimates of the effect of performing the Hajj on this population, five to eight months after the completion of the Hajj.

Our results tend to support the idea that the Hajj helps to integrate the Muslim world, leading to a strengthening of global Islamic beliefs, a weakened attachment to localized religious customs, and a sense of unity and equality with others who are ordinarily separated in everyday life by sect, ethnicity, nationality, or gender, but who are brought together during the Hajj. While the Hajj may help forge a common Islamic identity, there is no evidence that this is defined in opposition to non- Muslims. On the contrary, the notions of equality and harmony tend to extend to adherents of other religions as well.

We find that Hajjis (those who have performed the Hajj) are more likely to undertake universally accepted global Muslim religious practices such as fasting and performing obligatory and supererogatory (optional) prayers. The Hajj reduces performance of less universally accepted, more localized practices such as using amulets and the necessity of giving dowry. For example, the Hajj increases regularly praying in the mosque by 26% and almost doubles the likelihood of nonobligatory fasting. At the same time, it reduces the practice of using amulets by 8% and the South Asian belief of according unequal marriage priority to widows relative to unmarried women by 18%.

The evidence suggests that the Hajj increases tolerance, which seems to apply not just within the Islamic world but also beyond it. Hajjis return with more positive views towards people from other countries. Hajjis are also more likely to state that various Pakistani ethnic and Muslim sectarian groups are equal, and that it is possible for such groups to live in harmony. These views of equality and harmony extend to non-Muslims as well. Hajjis are 22% more likely to declare that people of different religions are equal and 11% more likely to state that adherents of different religions can live in harmony.

We also find evidence that Hajjis are more peacefully inclined. For example, while not many in our sample are willing to publicly condemn the goals of Osama Bin Laden, Hajjis are almost twice as likely to do so. Hajjis are also more likely to express a preference for peace with India and are 17% more likely to declare that it is incorrect to physically punish someone who has dishonored the family.

There is little evidence that participating in the Hajj increases support for an enhanced role of religion in the state or politics, or that it induces negative views of the West. Hajjis are in fact less likely to believe that the state should enforce religious injunctions and that religious leaders should be able to dispense justice. Hajjis and non-Hajjis report similar views regarding the adoption of Western values and on the plausibility of conspiracy theories regarding the Sept 11th and July 7th attacks.

The feelings of unity and equality brought about by the Hajj extend across gender lines to an extent. Hajjis report more positive views on women’s attributes and abilities. For example, they are 6 percentage points more likely to think women are spiritually better than men, an increase of over 50%. They also express greater concern about women’s quality of life in Pakistan relative to other countries and about crimes against women in Pakistan. Hajjis are also more likely to support girls’ education and female participation in the professional workforce. Hajjis show an 8% increase in their declared preference for their daughters or granddaughters to adopt professional careers. While these effects are larger for female Hajjis, male Hajjis show similar changes in views.

However, not all views on gender change. In particular, Hajjis are no more likely to question Islamic doctrine, such as unequal inheritance laws across gender, or to express views that potentially challenge male authority within the household, such as the correctness of a woman divorcing her husband. This suggests that Pakistani Hajjis’ altered views on women reflect a movement away from local prejudices against women and towards fairer treatment within Islam, rather than a more general trend towards feminism.

Hajjis, primarily women, report lower levels of emotional and physical well being. This may be due to the physically taxing nature of the Hajj rituals, as well as changed beliefs and greater awareness of the Muslim world outside Pakistan, particularly for women.

Contrary to some of the historical literature on the Hajj (c.f. Azarya, 1978; Donnan, 1989; Yamba,1995), we do not find evidence in our sample of major changes, at least in the medium term, in the social engagement or role of Hajjis after their return.

While it is difficult to isolate what drives the impact of the Hajj, the evidence suggests that exposure to Muslims from around the world during the Hajj is important. While we find that Hajjis do not acquire greater formal religious knowledge, they do gain experiential knowledge of the diversity of Islamic practices and beliefs, gender roles within Islam, and, more broadly, the world beyond Pakistan. The Hajj’s impact on such knowledge and on some of the tolerant attitudes toward other groups tends to be larger for those traveling in smaller groups, who are more likely to have a broad range of social interactions with people from different backgrounds during the Hajj. Hajjis also show the largest positive gain in their views of other nationalities for Indonesians, the group they are most likely to observe during the Hajj other than Saudis. Hajjis’ changed views toward women also reflect the exposure channel since the Hajj offers Pakistani pilgrims a novel opportunity to interact with members of the opposite gender in a religious setting, and to observe interactions across the sexes among Muslims from nations which are more accepting of such interactions.

Further work is needed to examine how each of these effects generalize to other populations and how they may vary over time. For example, the impact of the Hajj on gender attitudes towards pilgrims from other countries where mixed gender interaction is more common may be smaller than the impact we see for Pakistani pilgrims. Moreover, to the extent the gender results reflect a convergence to the mean views of Hajjis, the Hajj may instead induce more conservative gender views for pilgrims from countries with more liberal gender attitudes than those of the average Hajji.

Our results connect to a broad literature on social interaction and the shaping of beliefs and identity that spans social psychology, political science, and economics. This literature uses evidence from laboratory experiments to suggest that while group interactions in competitive settings can exacerbate conflict, interactions that reward cooperation can improve relations among groups(Aronson and Patnoe, 1997; Johnson and Johnson, 1983; DeVries and Slavin, 1978; Slavin and Cooper, 1999). Given the dearth of natural experiments such as ours that randomly mix representative populations, it is difficult to determine how exposure to others in various real-world contexts affects relations between groups. Boisjoly et al. (2006) report evidence that exposure to African-American roommates generates more positive attitudes toward African-Americans among white students. Putnam (2007) suggests that, in the US context, religion may play a particularly important role as “glue” that unites disparate groups.

Our results also shed light on social identity theory, in particular the idea that strengthening the attachment to an in-group may lead to more negative feelings towards an out-group (Sherif et. al. 1954; Tajfel, 1970; Tajfel and Turner, 1986). Our evidence suggests that while Hajjis positively update their views towards groups they were exposed to on the Hajj, this positive updating also extends to their views on groups they were not exposed to.

Our findings also relate to a question in the sociology and economic modeling of religion about why religions often incorporate individually costly practices, and more broadly about the impact of religion on development (Barro and McCleary, 2003; Berman, 2000; Glaeser and Glendon, 1998; Guiso et al, 2003; Iannacone 1992; Sacerdote and Glaeser, 2001). Iannaccone (1992) suggests a model in which these practices serve a signaling role. Pilgrimage could potentially be seen in this light, but our results suggest that the Hajj may play a more direct role in contributing to the survival of Islam as a unified world religion. Over time, religions with far-flung adherents tend to evolve separate strands which may eventually break away into different religions. Our analysis suggests that the Hajj may reduce dissent and splits in Islam by moving Hajjis toward a common set of practices, making them more tolerant of differences among Muslims, and by creating a stronger shared identity. This may be particularly significant for a religion, such as Islam, without a centralized hierarchy that can enforce common practices and beliefs and promote unity among followers.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 gives some background on the Hajj, focusing on aspects that contextualize our findings. Section 3 lays out our statistical approach, outlines aspects of the visa application process that are important for our identification strategy, and gives details of the survey. Section 4 presents the main empirical results on religious practice and belief, tolerance, gender, and well-being. Section 5 explores potential channels for the observed effects. Section 6 concludes with some underpinnings and broader implications of our results.

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Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering

UNESCO gives Palestinians full membership

PARIS: The United Nations’ cultural agency decided on Monday to give the Palestinians full membership of the body, a vote that will boost their bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations.

UNESCO is the first UN agency the Palestinians have joined as a full member since President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on Sept. 23.

The United States, Canada, Germany and Holland voted against Palestinian membership. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor. Britain and Italy abstained.

Washington is likely to cut funding to UNESCO over the vote.

“The action today will complicate our ability to support UNESCO,” David T. Killion, US ambassador to UNESCO, told journalists after the vote.

“The US has been clear for the need of a two-state resolution, but the only path is through direct negotiations and there are no shortcuts, and initiatives like today are counterproductive.”

The vote highlighted divisions over foreign policy within the European Union, some of whose 27 members voted for and some against Palestinian membership.

Austrian UNESCO ambassador Ursula Plassnik, whose country voted in favor, said she regretted the European Union could not arrive at a common position on the Palestinian issue.

The Palestinians obtained backing from two-thirds of UNESCO’s members to become the 195th member of UNESCO, with status as “an observer entity.” Of 173 countries that voted from a possible 185, 107 voted in favor, 14 voted against, 52 abstained and 12 were absent.

Forty representatives of the 58-member board has voted in favor of putting the matter to a vote earlier this month, with four — the United States, Germany, Romania and Latvia — voting against and 14 abstaining.

Admission will be seen by the Palestinians as a moral victory in their bid for full UN membership but could be costly for UNESCO.

US legislation stipulates that it can cut off funding to any UN agency that grants full membership to Palestinians.

Israel called the vote a “tragedy.”

“This resolution is a tragedy for UNESCO ... UNESCO deals in science and not science fiction and nevertheless (UNESCO) adopted the science fiction reality,” said Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO.

Israel has said the Palestinian bid would amount to politicization of the agency that would undermine its ability to carry out its mandate.

Source: Reuters

Jailed Somali woman faces anti-Muslim bigotry

According to numerous reports in the press here, Amina Farah Ali, the jailed humanitarian worker convicted of ‘material support for a foreign terrorist organization’ on Oct. 20, is facing religious discrimination in the Sherburne County Jail.

Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott refuses to allow Ali to wear a scarf, or hijab, to cover her head, a common religious practice for many Muslim women.

Ali, who is awaiting sentencing, is accused of helping al-Shabab, an Islamist organization that fights to free Somalia from foreign domination. In addition to a conspiracy charge, she was convicted of 12 material support charges. Each charge carries up to a 15 year sentence.

A friend of Ali’s, Hawo Mohamed Hassan, was convicted of 2 counts of lying to an FBI agent and is also awaiting sentencing.

On the day of their conviction, Mick Kelly, of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression stated, “These women have done nothing wrong. They care about the people of Somalia and worked to make the country a better place. The U.S. government has no business dictating what political party, religion or social movements that the Somali people chose to support. The laws on ‘material support for terrorism’ should be scrapped.”

Kenyan jets bomb southern Somali town, 12 killed

At least 12 people were killed on Sunday when two Kenyan jets bombed the southern Somali town of Jilib, residents and officials said, as the east African nation's fights to rid Somalia of Islamist al Shabaab rebels.

Kenya moved its troops into Somalia in mid-October in pursuit of Somali insurgents it blames for a series of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent assaults on its security forces in the border province of North Eastern.

Source: Reuters

Angola: Somalis in Angola Jails Still Complaining, Need for Urgent Help

The Somali citizens in Angola jails are still complaining and saying that they facing very appalling living conditions.

Those Somalis have been in jails of Luanda for more than one year and they undergo constant torture from the jail wardens.

Dahir Ugas Mire, a spokesperson for Somali community in Angola told Shabelle Radio that those Somalis who are in the prisons are in their hardest lifetime.

Mr. Mire added that they eat once a day. He said the government of Angola ordered the young Somali young guys to leave the country soon as immigrants.

The spokesman warned that those guys may die of hunger and torture if the violations against them continue.

He also called on the parents of the jailed men and women in Angola to stage huge complaint protests in front of Somali president office to demand the release of their jailed sons and daughters.

However, Somalia's minister of planning and international cooperation recently said they are planning to free the Somali nationals in Angola jails.

Source: AllAfrica

You can shoot Somali pirates

PM to let Brit ships use guns on hijack mob

BRIT ships yesterday got the green light from David Cameron to SHOOT pirates.

The PM declared it was time to fight back against Somali hijackers holding vessels to ransom — announcing ships sailing under our flag will for the first time be allowed to hire armed guards.

Mr Cameron said: "The extent of the hijack and ransom of ships around the Horn of Africa is a complete stain on our world.

"The fact a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system is a complete insult." The PM said he was determined to take a lead in tackling the burgeoning peril — which now costs the world £10billion a year in lost trade.

Around 200 commercial ships sail under the Brit flag — and it has been illegal for them to have gun crews.

New licences will let them do so in pirate hotspots.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening confirmed: "Officials are acting quickly to facilitate the change in policy and are working closely with the shipping industry and partners in the region to achieve this."

The move comes just weeks after Brit commandos freed 23 hostages from a ship boarded by Somali pirates off the east coast of Africa.

Last year kidnapped Brit tourists Paul and Rachel Chandler spent months in captivity before being freed. Mr Cameron held talks on ways to combat the menace when he met African leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Australia.

Other measures being taken include Treasury support for Kenya's battle to seize pirates' assets. Countries such as Mauritius and the Seychelles — desperate to end the high seas curse — could also get help to put pirates in the dock and jail them.

Somali group’s tape calls for terrorist attacks on countries, including Canada

By Sahra Abdi and Omar Faruq
Reuters, with a report from The Associated Press

An al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group has released an audio tape calling for terrorist attacks in a host of countries, including Canada.

The tape posted by al-Shabaab was allegedly made by a U.S. citizen who blew himself up during an attack on an African Union base in Somalia’s capital on Saturday that killed at least 10 people.

The young man urges others to “do jihad in America, do jihad in Canada” and in other parts of the world.

He also urges other youth not to “just chill all day” but to carry out attacks against non-Muslims around the world.

On Sunday, 10 al-Shabaab rebels were killed in a Kenyan air raid on the southern Somali town of Jilib, the military said, as the East African nation fights to rid Somalia of the militants.

Kenya moved its troops into Somalia in mid-October in pursuit of Somali insurgents it blames for a series of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent assaults on its security forces in the border province of North Eastern.

Residents and officials told Reuters earlier on Sunday that at least 12 civilians were killed when two Kenyan jets bombed Jilib.

“Intelligence reached us that they were there and we carried out an opportunistic strike. We killed 10 al-Shabaab fighters and there was no collateral damage,” Emmanuel Chirchir, the Kenyan military spokesman, told Reuters on the phone.

Mr. Chirchir said al-Shabaab was spreading propaganda by claiming that civilians and children had been killed in the raid. He said a senior official of the group was killed in an earlier strike on the port of Kismayu, a few days ago.

“The jets bombarded two places, an al Shabaab base and a nearby IDP camp,” said Hassan Abdiwahab, a resident in Jilib, 120 kilometres north of Kismayu.

An al-Shabaab leader in the town said the five bombs dropped by the planes hit a bus stop, the IDP camp and an area just outside of the town.

A top official of the group, Sheik Muktar Robow Abu Mansoor, on Thursday urged al-Shabaab followers to attack Kenya with “huge blasts” in retaliation for the campaign that is being carried out jointly with Somali government troops.

The call followed two grenade attacks in the capital Nairobi that killed one person and injured at least 20 on Monday. Unidentified militants also carried out two attacks on vehicles in the remote northern Kenya.

Mohammud Farah, spokesman for the Ras Kamboni militia that is allied to the Somali Transitional Federal Government, said they seized a four-by-four vehicle laden with explosives that was headed to Kenya.

“Our forces in patrol found the car eight kilometres away from the town on its way to Kenya and we have discovered different types of explosive materials in the car,” Mr. Farah told Reuters from Dhobley town, which is close to the border.

The vehicle was carrying 10 passengers, four of whom were identified as al Shabaab fighters, he added.

Kenya said on Saturday it was committed to withdrawal from Somalia once it is satisfied that it has stripped the group’s capacity to carry out attacks across the border.

Although the Kenyan chief of defence forces said his troops had chased al Shabaab from the whole of Gedo region, the two-week old campaign has been slowed considerably by heavy rains.

Mr. Chirchir said the intense rains had started to abate, allowing Kenyan forces to plan an offensive of Afmadow in Lower Juba region, where al Shabaab has been digging in after reinforcing with fighters from other areas.

“Now that the rains have subsided, the taking of Afmadow is likely. It should be very soon,” he said.

Two Ugandan soldiers were injured on Saturday when African Union troops came under an al Shabaab attack in Mogadishu.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete expressed their support for Kenya’s military action in Somalia, the Kenyan presidency said in a statement from Perth, Australia, where President Mwai Kibaki was attending the Commonwealth summit.

Source: The Globe and Mail

A child is born and world population hits 7 billion

Doctor wonders 'whether there will be food, clean water, shelter, education and a decent life for every child'

Countries around the world marked the world's population reaching 7 billion Monday with lavish ceremonies for newborn infants symbolizing the milestone and warnings that there may be too many humans for the planet's resources.

While demographers are unsure exactly when the world's population will reach the 7 billion mark, the U.N. is using Monday to symbolically mark the day.

A string of festivities are being held worldwide, with a series of symbolic 7-billionth babies being born.

The celebrations began in the Philippines, where baby Danica May Camacho was greeted with cheers and an explosion of photographers' flashbulbs at Manila's Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Danica, whose name means morning star, had been chosen by the U.N. to be one of a number of symbolic 7 billionth babies. It is not known who the actual baby is.

Danica arrived two minutes before midnight Sunday, but doctors decided that was close enough to count for a Monday birthday.

'She looks so lovely'
The baby received a shower of gifts, from a chocolate cake marked "7B Philippines" to a gift certificate for shoes.

"She looks so lovely," the mother, Camille Galura, whispered as she cradled the 5.5-pound baby, who was born about a month premature.

The baby was the second for Galura and her partner, Florante Camacho, a struggling driver who supports the family on a tiny salary.

Dr. Eric Tayag, of the Philippines' Department of Health, said later that the birth came with a warning.

"Seven billion is a number we should think about deeply," he said.

"We should really focus on the question of whether there will be food, clean water, shelter, education and a decent life for every child," he said. "If the answer is 'no,' it would be better for people to look at easing this population explosion."

Chart: 7 billion people

The Guardian reported that children chosen to mark the world's population reaching six billion and five billion — Adnan Nevic, 12, of Bosnia Herzogovina, and Matej Gaspar, from Croatia, respectively — felt they had been forgotten.

"We saw Kofi Annan as almost like a godfather to him," Adnan's father, Jasminko, told the Guardian. Adnan said: "He held me up when I was two days old but since then we have heard nothing from them."

Population growth rate slows
According to the United Nations Population Fund, the seven-billionth child is most likely to be a boy born in India or China, but the trend of fertility in the longer term is in a different direction, Dudley Poston, a professor of sociology and demographics at Texas A&M University, told Reuters.

For the first time ever, the human reproduction rate is slowing, in many places slowing significantly, and the slowing growth is not only happening in Europe and Japan, he said.

"Once your fertility rates drops below two, it is very very hard to get it to go back up again," Poston told Reuters.

"We now have 75 countries in the world where the fertility rate is below two," meaning the average woman is having fewer than two children.

That is far below the rate of 2.2 to 2.3 considered optimal to hold the population steady, factoring in the number of females who have no children or who don't live to reach childbearing age.

While he said Europe and the industrialized democracies of east Asia are the poster children for demographic shift, low birth rates are also being seen in Brazil, in China, and in the Islamic Middle East, where the fertility rate in the United Arab Emirates is 1.8.

"Japan is losing more people today than they're gaining," Poston said. "South Korea has an alarmingly low fertility rate, 1.1."

Not long ago, the opposite was true. In 1970, the average fertility rate worldwide was 4.5, leading to predictions of demographic doom in books like Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside" and Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb."

Wars, unrest once feared
They saw a world where hoards of wildly reproducing humans desperate for dwindling food supplies would destroy social cohesion and spark wars and societal unrest.

But a funny thing happened on the way to population Armageddon.

Poston said the fastest growth period in the history of the world was in the mid to late 1960s, which prompted a gloomy outlook for the future.

"When Paul Ehrlich wrote that book the world was growing at about 2 percent per year," Poston said. "Now we're growing at about half that."

But Poston said a combination of factors led to what may be the most significant demographic shift ever.

In the industrialized West, improved methods of birth control and greater opportunities for women in the workplace and in society meant the end of 5,000 years of women generally being considered society's baby-makers.

In China, there has been aggressive enforcement of a "one-child" policy, drastically reducing population growth rates.

Worldwide, urbanization has reduced the need for large families beneficial in rural agricultural areas.

Reasons for significant growth rate declines in places like Iran, where the rate has fallen from 7.0 in 1974 to 1.9, remain more of a mystery, but Poston said they probably could be traced to cultural changes that can be very difficult to reverse.

"We have been growing very, very fast in the world and now we're starting to slow down," he said.

March of science
Poston said it took until about 1800 for the earth to see its one billionth resident, as high fertility rates were effectively countered by high infant mortality rates, diseases, and nearly continuous warfare that generally cut down men at the height of their most active reproductive years.

The march of science led to a decrease in infant mortality and deadly diseases, and combined with a continued high fertility rate led to a huge population bloom. The two billionth human was born in 1930, and the six billionth in 1999.

Moreover, the warfare and constant societal violence that helped keep the population in check has retreated, Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker said in his recent book "The Better Angels of our Nature."

"It is really only in the countries of sub Saharan Africa where fertility is still high...," Poston said, "but even in several of these countries there have been fertility declines in recent years."

So Poston said while it took 12 years to reach Monday's seven billion mark from six billion, it will take 14 years to reach eight billion — the first time in history a billion milestone has taken longer to reach than the one before — and then 18 years to reach nine billion.

Thus far the world has been able to produce enough food to feed its new mouths.

The U.N. says world food production per person today is 41 percent higher than in 1961, thanks largely to the "Green Revolution" in farming which brought higher yields not only to Western farmers, but brought traditional subsistence farming in Africa and Asia into the modern age.

Food production per capita in India today is 37 percent higher than fifty years ago, according to the World Bank.

Some still fear food shortages and price rises, and problems with supplies of other commodities like oil.

"(Whether) the rate of farm production slow down or level off is uncertain," Poston said. "But right now there is no difficulty."

And the trends may bring problems of a different sort, he said, predicting the world will begin seeing the impact of declining populations in as little as 40 years.

"That is going to be the issue in the future," Poston said. "We are going to have to start thinking for the first time in human history about fewer."

That will mean thinking in an entirely new way about everything from resource production to old age pensions, he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Source: MSNBC

“Guban” burns away misconceptions of Somali culture in Ph.D candidate’s new novel

By Shayna Orens
Columbia Daily Spectator

Book by Columbia Ph.D candidate and teaching fellow should be read not just for its stunning imagery and language, but also for what it says about the human condition.

“Guban” author Abdi Latif Ega, above, paints a portrait of Somalia and its rich culture and history that is often ignored in mainstream mass media portrayals of the African nation.
Douglas Kessel for Spectator

In Somali, “guban” means “burnt.” In Columbia Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow Abdi Latif Ega’s new novel, “Guban,” the word takes on multiple connotations. Literally, the word refers to the volcanic region of northwestern Somalia, where the mountains appear physically burnt. But “guban” also resonates metaphorically throughout the work. Through his portrayal of Somalia between the 1960s and 1991, prior to its collapse, Ega explores what “guban” means for the people who have to “take the fire” of power imbalance, postcolonial modernization, Westernization, and proxy warfare.

“Guban” is a book that should be read—not just for its stunning imagery and language—but also for what it says about the human condition. Though Lit Hum professors often discourage students from taking the macro route in examining a text, “Guban” is a complicated, probing work that must be examined as such. The novel establishes context for Somalia that readers might be familiar with, all the while challenging that very image.

“The book goes beyond the nomenclature of pirates, warlords, terrorists,” Ega said.

Ega remarked that he wanted to write about Somalia’s collapse in 1991 but could not do so without first establishing context. He felt that the issue was too complex to approach without providing readers with some background of its history.

“I had to create a space where people understand,” he said.

He seeks to offer an alternate narrative to the way Somalia is portrayed by the media. “Guban” engages its audience, forcing readers to see Twosmo, whose journey the novel traces, as unequivocally human.

“The work should engage people and speak for itself,” Ega said.

At times the work’s exposé can be uncomfortable—but not in a bad way. Ega makes transparent a culture his readers are likely unfamiliar with. Yet woven into the cultural differences—which include a society premised on clan hierarchy and a currency system based on the exchange of camels—are subdued portraits of similarities in the human experience, such as a child’s fascination with nature or a woman’s devotion to prayer. And these moments, in which readers can see themselves, happen in sync with the corruption of a nation and Twosmo’s flight out of a broken Somalia.

Readers are challenged to ask themselves, “What if that were me?”

Ega accomplishes this humanization in a way that is both subtle and beautiful. The following excerpt is just one example of the stunning imagery that permeates the novel:

“It was evening in the capital and the colors of the women’s silk painted the scene around Beheyeah like a Cezanne. The multicolored pastels of the long translucent dears, and the beautiful head silks the women used to cover their hair—light blue, off-tan, turquoise, jade, meandering blue—all accentuated the tall and handsome chocolate brown of the Somal women as they walked the capital in groups.”

Ega, who is originally from Somalia, inserts his own memories into his text. The juxtaposition of alluring imagery with a deeply conflicted land creates images of a Somalia remarkably different from what the typical American might infer from watching the news.

“Guban” is the first novel in what Ega hopes will be part of a trilogy portraying Somalia from the medieval times to the present day. The book will be released in late fall.

Source: The Columbia Stectator

Women must play greater role in conflict prevention, peacebuilding – Security Council

The Security Council today welcomed efforts by countries to implement a landmark resolution calling for strengthening women’s participation in peacebuilding, peacekeeping, conflict prevention and mediation process, but voiced concern over continuing gaps in implementing the resolution.

Several senior UN officials – including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women – and representatives more than 50 countries addressed a day-long debate at the Council on progress since resolution 1325 was unanimously adopted in 2000.

The resolution calls for action to reverse the egregious and inhumane treatment of women and girls during conflicts, the denial of their human rights and their exclusion from decision-making in situations of armed conflict, in peacemaking and peacebuilding.

In a presidential statement the 15-member Council commended the countries that have formulated or updated their national action plans and strategies to increase the participation of women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

“The Security Council, however, remains concerned about the persistence of gaps and challenges that seriously hinder the implementation of [the] resolution, including the continued low numbers of women in formal institutions of conflict prevention and resolution, particularly in preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts,” the statement said.

It also noted that the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes committed against women and girls has been strengthened through the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other tribunals. It also reiterated its intention to enhance efforts to fight impunity and uphold accountability for serious crimes against women.

“The Security Council continues to encourage Member States to deploy greater numbers of female military and police personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations and reiterates that all military and police personnel should be provided with adequate training to carry out their responsibilities,” the statement added.

Earlier, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the greater involvement of women in conflict prevention and mediation, the essential building blocks in reinforcing democracy.

“Women’s participation remains low, both in official and observer roles. This has to change,” he said, pledging that the UN would lead by example, and noting that the number of women leading UN peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding missions had gone up over the past year to six out of 28 missions.

He said the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) had increased the proportion of female candidates in its roster of senior mediators, team members and thematic experts to 35 per cent. In the field, UN teams are supporting women so they can engage in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, management and reconciliation, he added.

The Council received Mr. Ban’s latest report on the women and peace and security, presented by UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, in which he voiced concern that implementation had been so uneven.

“Proactive steps must be taken to accelerate implementation of key elements of this agenda, such as strengthening women’s engagement in conflict resolution and deterring widespread and systematic abuses of women’s rights during conflict,” he wrote.

The report covers findings in five areas of the women, peace and security agenda – prevention, participation, protection, relief and recovery, and coordination and accountability for results – noting that there is growing recognition of women’s roles in peace and security, and highlighting an increasing number of innovative measures and good practices.

“Member State participants in contact groups supporting specific peace processes should offer negotiating parties various incentives, such as training, logistics support or adding a negotiating seat, in order to ensure women’s inclusion on delegations,” he wrote.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report, Ms. Bachelet stressed that women’s participation in resolving and preventing conflict is not an optional, but an essential ingredient of peacebuilding.

“As we go forward, we need determined leadership – by all of us – the Security Council, Member States, civil society, and the United Nations, to fully engage women in mediation and conflict prevention. This will advance peace and security and deepen democracy around the world,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet pointed out that the UN system was working to increase post-conflict spending on women’s empowerment and gender equality to a minimum of 15 per cent of overall post-conflict financing within a few years.

The President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Lazarous Kapambwe, emphasized women must be fully incorporated in efforts to rebuild societies through playing key roles in negotiating peace agreements, national reconciliation and economic recovery.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Somali pirates release 6 Indians

After keeping them in illegal detention for more than 18 months, the Somali pirate have released six Indian, reportedly after their kin paid a ransom of eight million dollars.

They released men - Jaswinder Singh, Dhiraj Tiwari, Ganesh Mohite, Santosh Yadav, Swapnil Jadhav and Shahji Kumar Purshotaman - are expected to reach India on Sunday, said Ranjan Lakhanpal, chairman of World Human Rights Protection Council.

He confirmed that the Indians were released “after paying ransom money”.

Earlier, Lakhanpal and Ansar Burney, former Pakistan Federal Minister for Human Rights had moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking release of the detainees, including six Indians and two Pakistani national, of MV Iceberg-1 from the Somali pirates. The ship, bearing a Panama flag, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on March 29,2010.

“Eighteen months have passed and yet the government seems to have taken few steps to get them released,’’ the petitioners said.

ource: The Indian Express

Somali-American a suicide bomber in Mogadishu attack: militants

A team of suicide bombers and gunmen disguised as soldiers assaulted an African Union base in the Somali capital on Saturday, sparking a two-hour gunfight that left at least 10 people dead, security officials said. The al-Qaida-linked Islamist militant group that claimed the attack said one of the bombers was Somali-American.

The attack underscored the militants’ ability to carry out complex and deadly operations even after AU troops forced them from most of Mogadishu and a famine in their strongholds weakened their forces. Earlier this month, Kenya sent troops into Somalia after a string of cross-border attacks and kidnappings blamed on Somali gunmen and militants battling Somalia’s weak, U.N.-backed government.

During Saturday’s attack, the two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the entrance to the compound, then more armed attackers jumped over the walls, a Nairobi-based security official said. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The true extent of casualties from the assault was unclear, although a Somali soldier, Col. Nor Abdi, said at least 10 people were killed.

“They were dressed in Somali military uniform and disguised as ordinary soldiers,” Abdi said. “Then they tried to enter the base and (AU) soldiers fired at them. Then heavy gunfire started and all of them were killed. I don’t know how many they were but they were more than 10 men.”

In a claim posted on, a website it frequently uses, al-Shabab militants said one of the bombers was a Somali-American and claimed he was the second Somali-American involved in a suicide attack in Mogadishu within five months. They did not name the youth or offer further details, and the claim could not immediately be independently verified.

U.S. authorities say that around 20 American citizens, most of Somali descent, have traveled to Somalia to fight with the al-Shabab insurgents. The most well-known among them is Omar Hammami from Alabama, known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki, who posts internet videos in which he raps about the conflict.

Al-Shabab claimed to have killed dozens of AU soldiers and government troops in Saturday’s assault, but the group habitually exaggerates the number of people it kills and an AU statement did not mention casualty figures.

“With the access routes to the base cut off by other units of the Mujahideen, the Ugandan forces and (government) militia trapped inside the compound were soon massacred and all military arsenal and ammunitions seized. Some of the Ugandan soldiers who managed to escape the compound were later pursued and killed,” the al-Shabab statement said.

It was written in perfect English, a sign of the growing sophistication of al-Shabab’s media wing.

The AU statement said its forces had “beaten off” the attack. AU troops have been in Somalia since 2007. Some 9,000 AU soldiers are helping Somalia’s government hang on to the capital.

Meanwhile, the chief of Kenya’s armed forces, Gen. Julius Karangi, told reporters that the country does not have a timeframe for leaving Somalia.

“When the Kenya government and the people of this country feel that they are safe enough from the al-Shabab menace, we shall pull back,” Karangi said. “Key success factors or indicators will be in the form of a highly degraded al-Shabab capacity.”

His statement raised questions about whether Kenya risks becoming bogged down in an open-ended occupation of its war-ravaged neighbor. Both the U.N. and Ethiopia sent forces into Somalia at different times during its 20-year-old civil war but were forced to withdraw without ending the conflict.

Karangi said Kenya has no interest in permanently occupying Somalia and is working with its government. The Somali president has criticized the Kenyan intervention, but Kenyan officials said they expected “clarification” from a high-level Somali delegation on Monday.

So far Kenya has suffered one fatality due to al-Shabab fire, Karangi said, although five people were killed when their helicopter crashed. He said hundreds of al-Shabab were believed to be killed although he had no way of confirming that directly. Al-Shabab militants have mostly withdrawn without fighting Kenyan forces.

Although Kenya has bilateral military agreements with countries such as the United States and Britain, those allies are not directly militarily involved in the incursion into Somalia, Karangi said.

“There has been a lot of talk about other friends of ours participating militarily in what we are engaged in, and the answer is no,” he said.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991. More than 600,000 Somali refugees have fled the fighting and famine in their homeland and now live in Kenya. The Kenyan government is deeply worried about the rapidly swelling refugee camps in the north, which it considers a severe security problem.

Source: The Associated Press

Khat is destroying lives in Brent says campaigner

A BRENT campaigner claims a legal drug is destroying lives in Wembley and is stepping up his campaign to see it banned in the UK.

Abukar Awale, 41, a community engagement officer at Copland School, is juggling his working life with a dedicated crusade to ban Khat, a plant grown and consumed in parts of north east Africa and the Middle East.

It appears his efforts are making waves as the government has confirmed it is embarking on a full review of the legal high.

Khat, pronounced 'cat', is imported into the UK in huge quantities and is a legal substance, despite containing cathine and cathinone - which is also found in the now illegal party drug meow moew.

Khat, which sells at around £4 for a bundle, is chewed and produces feelings of euphoria, increased energy and enhanced self esteem. Mental health professionals have said that withdrawal from Khat can lead to feelings of depression. It has also been linked to unemployment in users.

Mr Awale, a father of five who now lives in Westminster, was a former Khat addict. He says that the plant "destroyed" his life, and when he stopped taking the drug he had to rebuild everything from scratch. He believes there is a "serious problem" with the drug in Wembley, particularly for the Somali community, and says it is making the integration of Somali people difficult.

Mr Awale has been busy lobbying politicians to get the drug classified in the UK in line with some European countries. He claims to have gathered more than 70,000 signatures for a petition, which he will soon be delivering to the Government.

Mr Awale said his battle with Khat began when he moved to the country in 1997. He said: "I was struggling to settle in here, and it was getting me down. I was applying for asylum with the Home Office and it took six years for that to be sorted out, I could not work, it was very hard.

"I ended up going to this pub, which has a lot of Somali customers, and that was where it all started. I lost my confidence, my self esteem, I became paranoid. It all reached a head in 2004, and that was when I stopped. I haven't had it since and I wouldn't touch it again. I despise it."

After he gave up, Mr Awale went on training courses to prepare him for the world of work, before starting the career he loves.

"It was extremely hard to come off it, I had the shakes, I wouldn't have got through it without my wife."

He has been working on his 'Stop Khat Coming to the UK' campaign, for the past few years, meeting with the likes of the former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

He will shortly present his petition in the hope that he can push the Government to act quickly.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The Home Secretary wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to set out the Government's priorities for inclusion in the Advisory Council's work programme in 2011/12.

“These priorities include the need for a review of the available evidence relating to the harms of khat and for the ACMD to provide advice in relation to its control under Misuse of Drugs legislation.

“We will consider the ACMD's advice carefully along with all other relevant factors relating to public health and protection."


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hope restored as Somali's plant next year’s harvest

Continuous heavy rain has not dampened the spirit of thousands of Somali's who are now leaving crowded refugee camps and returning home after being displaced by East Africa’s worst drought in decades.

They leave, assured that SOS Children staff across Somalia will continue to assist them and their families, who require on-going life-saving support.

Planting is underway
The planting of sorghum and maize is well underway across many parts of Somalia, as men return home after being displaced by the region's devastating drought. They leave in hope that the heavy rains of recent weeks will lead to a healthy spring harvest – the first in two years.

To encourage planting, SOS Children have assured them that the women and children who remain in the camps will continue to receive much-needed food supplies and medical services. Those returning to their villages are also being cared for: food will be provided and support given in order to help them get back to a life of self-sufficiency.

Long-term medical care facilities
Last month alone, more than 4,000 people benefited from SOS Children's therapeutic feeding programmes and medical care provided in the Badbado refugee camp in Mogadishu. However, the clinic in the camp cannot match the sophisticated services that the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu offered, which was sadly forced to close two weeks ago due to ongoing fighting and insecurity.

Meeting the ever-changing needs of some of the poorest people in the world is a daunting task for the SOS Children team in Somalia. Getting from A to B in Mogadishu is a challenge in itself, not just because of the insecurity that continues to blight the capital city, but because of the impassable pools of mud on most roads that prevent movement of personnel and much-needed supplies.

Dialogue and long-established trust yields results
Diplomatic efforts are underway to help reopen the SOS Hospital and the adjacent SOS Children’s Village that remain closed for a third week. The narrow street that separates the two compounds functions as the battle line between troops and allies of the Somali Transitional Government and Al-Shabaab forces. The children who were evacuated as a result of the fighting are safe and continue to be cared for in a temporary village outside the city.

The distribution of food continues unabated in the Bay region of southern Somalia, an area controlled by Al-Shabaab where SOS teams have increased the level of medical services in response to a fresh outbreak of measles and the likelihood of additional cases of acute diarrhoea.


State's Somali population grows

Minnesota's Somali population is still the largest in the United States, according to new census data released Thursday.

The new estimate of people of Somali descent in Minnesota is over 32,000, based on American Community Surveys taken by the Census Bureau from 2008-10. This updates last year's tally of nearly 27,000 Somalis.

The survey's margin of error means the population could be as high as 36,000 or as low as 29,000.

"The [Somali] community has long felt it is a bit larger than the Census Bureau estimate, but this number doesn't feel uncomfortable to me," State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said.

Minnesota Somalis put the number much higher -- about 70,000 according to the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.

The estimate includes people born in Somalia and their descendants.

Other states with large Somali populations: Ohio with 12,300; Washington with 9,300; and California with 7,500.

Like most immigrant groups, Somalis in Minnesota are younger than the general population. The median age is about 25 years and about half are 24 years old or younger. The statewide median age is more than a decade older at 37 years, and only about a third of the population is 24 or younger.

The Somali immigration to Minnesota has been the largest part of a broader influx of people from sub-Saharan Africa. That group now numbers more than 100,000, according to the new estimates.


Somalis abroad see potential to help back home

More than one million Somalis live outside their native land - but many in that diaspora have set out to help tackle some of Somalia's biggest problems through NGOs formed in foreign countries, such as the Netherlands.

Fatumo Farah is one of about 32,000 Somalis living in the Netherlands. She is also the director of HIRDA, a Dutch-Somalian NGO that provides humanitarian aid, education and other support to Somalis back home.

Her organization recently held an awareness-raising event in Amsterdam. The program featured a performance by a trio of African musicians and a traditional Somali meal, as well as a documentary by a group of Somali filmmakers.

The film chronicles Farah's journey back to Somalia - her first trip in 18 years. It was shocking for her to see the toll the drought and ongoing civil war had taken on her countrymen.

"You don't see any color in the clothes of the people," Farah told Deutsche Welle. "It was gray and black. And that shows the desperation of the people."

In the film about her journey, hordes of refugees arrive at overcrowded camps on the Kenyan border, looking tired and emaciated.

One of the women interviewed talks of how she was forced to leave five of her children behind. They were alive, she said, but they were thirsty and weak, and she couldn't bear to watch them die.

A humanitarian crisis

About 1.5 million Somalis are displaced within their own country, and hundreds of thousands more have fled to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. For two decades, Somalia has been plagued by civil war, and now it's facing the worst drought in 60 years.

Abdishakur Elmi Hasan is a Somali journalist who moved to the Netherlands four years ago.

"The country I left is a country which is terrible at the moment," he said. "There's a war going between the so-called Somali government against the al-Shabab terror group, and every day people are dying and the situation gets worse when it comes to drought."

Somalia is a land of clans, which have been unable to agree on a political way forward for the country. The transitional federal government, or TFG, is close to powerless and has few resources to fight against the numerous rebels.

On top of that, the rise of the al-Qaeda-backed al-Shabab militia has perpetuated the country's instability.

Twenty years of civil war has also posed major problems in terms of education. Some 80 percent of Somalis don't know how to read or write. Armed conflict and poverty is all the younger generations have ever known.

Hope in the diaspora

Somali writer Yasmine Allas has been living in Europe for 24 years. She talks proudly about growing up in Somalia but said it pains her to see how it looks now. Yet she is confident that Somalis living abroad can help.

"The hope is now within the diaspora; the diaspora has had experience with other intellectuals, with a different world with other norms and values, has seen how people deal with each other," she said.

"They know how law and democracy work; how essential the freedom of speech can be to a society; how you can have your own opinion and respect that of others, even when you don't agree."

This diaspora numbers about one million Somalis around the world. The Netherlands is one of the top five destinations, with some 32,000 Somali expatriates.

Mohamed Elmi is one of them. He is a spokesman for the Dutch Federation of Somali Associations, which represents 57 NGOs that are actively helping Somalis back home or in the Netherlands.

Elmi left his country in 1993, when he was eight years old. He, too, believes that the Somali diaspora can play an important role in influencing the country's future path.

"If you look at the diaspora today, they all have relatives in the government; they all have relatives in Somalia," he said. "And they can say to their relatives, who are doing wrong or (making) bad decisions, 'Stop that - this is not in the interest of the Somali community.'"

Clan conflict

Elmi said part of the problem is that ties to clan and tribal interests prevent local leaders from exploring a broader range of solutions.

Fatumo Farah of the NGO HIRDA also believes there are too many internal feuds going on within the Somali culture - but she said things are changing, nevertheless.

"You need a government that can provide services like education, health, security, all those things," she said. "The clan issue is always there, but it's getting less strong."

Yet despite the fact that some expats also support certain clans over others, Farah said the diaspora provides an important contribution to Somalia.

Nearly half of the country's population is jobless - and World Bank figures show that relatives living abroad send up to $1 billion, or nearly 706 million euros, back to Somalia each year. That accounts for up to half of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Promoting peace

The diaspora can also take on a mediating role in conflicts back home. Farah provided an example from 1994, when Somalis in the Netherlands helped two fighting clans reconcile. Now, the two groups are able to coexist peacefully.

"That's an example of what the diaspora can do," she said. "If they join their forces to contribute to the peace in Somalia, they can do a lot of things."

Somalis in the Netherlands have also been actively campaigning against female genital mutilation, which affects about 95 percent of women in Somalia. Others have been providing technical knowledge to assist struggling farmers. And more recently, groups have been increasing their efforts to prevent young Somalis in the diaspora from joining radical armed groups.

Whether it's on the ground or from abroad, there seems to be a strong sense from Somalis across the globe that they've got an important role to play in the future of their home country.

Author: Cintia Taylor / arp
Editor: Anke Rasper

Source: The Deutsche Welle

US flies drones from Ethiopia to fight Somali militants

The remotely-piloted aircraft can be equipped with missiles and satellite guided bombs

The US military has begun flying drone aircraft from a base in Ethiopia, as part of its fight against Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia.

US officials have confirmed to the BBC that the base, in the southern city of Arba Minch, is now operational.

But they stressed that the remotely-piloted drones were being used only for surveillance, and not for air strikes.

It is part of a growing counter-terrorism presence in the region as the US pursues groups with al-Qaeda links.

The US military has reportedly spent millions of dollars upgrading the remote, civilian airport - from which Reaper drones are now being flown.

The remotely-piloted aircraft can be equipped with missiles and satellite guided bombs.

News of the drone deployment was first reported by the Washington Post late on Thursday. US officials confirmed to the BBC that aircraft were now in Ethiopia.

However, the officials added that the drones were flying unarmed because their use is considered sensitive by Ethiopia's government.

The Ethio­pian foreign ministry has previously denied the presence of US drones in the country. On Thursday, a spokesman for the Ethio­pian embassy in the US told the Washington Post that remained Addis Ababa's position.

"We don't entertain foreign military bases in Ethi­o­pia," Tesfaye Yilma, the head of public diplomacy for the embassy, told the Post.

The drones are used in a surveillance role against the al-Shabab militant group - based in Somalia, and already the focus of drone missions flown from other bases in the region.

Source: BBC News

Newly-Arrived Somali Refugees Crowd Dollo Ado Center

The flow of Somali refugees into Ethiopia appears to be picking up again as Kenyan troops advance into southern Somalia, raising security fears. As dusk falls at the Dollo Ado transit station on the Ethiopia/Somalia border, 5,000 new refugees settle in for another night of uncertainty.

They are the latest wave in the mass exodus from southern Somalia, where a combination of war and drought has left them no choice but to give up everything and flee their homeland. It is a desperate attempt to rescue themselves from starvation, and insecurity.

For now, their lives are on hold.

Fleeing en masse

As darkness descends over the sprawling tent city, long lines form outside the camp kitchen; men and women in separate queues clutching pink tickets that entitle them to a bowl of warm gruel that will tide them over till morning.

In the open-air corrugated metal offices nearby, UN refugee agency workers prepare for the inevitable next wave of refugees that will arrive in the morning.

Two hundred people showed up this day, and the flight from the famine zone has been picking up again since word came that Kenyan soldiers had crossed the border to drive out al-Qaeda inspired Islamist extremists known as al-Shabab, who have held them virtual captives, preventing them from getting outside help even as drought destroyed their crops and killed their livestock.

Contempt for al-Shabab

Those who make it to Dollo Ado say al-Shabab fighters are trying to stop them from leaving, even as famine grips the land. Young men of fighting age are especially susceptible to being detained at al-Shabab check posts. The rebels need fighters.

Al-Shabab means “the youth” in the Somali language, but these young men have rejected the rebels' extremist ideology. They speak of the fighters with contempt, spitting out the word al-Shabab as they tell how they used all sorts of ruses, and traveled circuitous routes along back roads under cover of darkness to avoid the gunmen.

As evening settles in, the sound of children is interspersed with the crackle of short wave radios. This night, the foreign voices are telling of fighting in southern Somalia as the Kenyan soldiers advance, northward toward the strategic port of Kismayo, and of the arrests of suspected al-Shabab militants in Nairobi, where a cache of explosives was found.

A walk through the camp attracts hordes of children, giving a visitor a Pied Piper-ish feeling. These kids have nothing else to do. I have brought a VOA soccer ball, and a bunch of young men who had been playing with a ragged rubber ball eagerly gather round and ask to have their picture taken.

Seeking survival, life

This is one of the few happy moments at the transit center. In a tent nearby, there are few smiles as one family observes the birth of a new son. His nine-month pregnant mother arrived here riding on a donkey, only days before delivering a child who begins life as a refugee.

These 5,000 transit center residents will be relocated within a few weeks, as soon as a new camp is built. The four existing camps are filled to capacity with 125,000 people who have arrived at Dollo Ado since the mass exodus from Somalia began earlier this year.

And word in the camps is that more people are on the way. Those already here say relatives who had stayed behind are now giving up on remaining there, and deciding to attempt the hazardous journey. Life is becoming unbearable as al-Shabab fighters try to burrow in with the local population to hide in the face of the Kenyan army's advance.

By comparison, existing in a tent in a barren desert refugee camp in a foreign land seems pretty good.

Source: VOA News

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kenyan Invasion Worsening South Somali Humanitarian Crisis

Kenya Admits It Has Been Planning Invasion for Years

With Kenya continuing to pour troops into Southern Somalia, aid groups are warning that the invasion is making an already disastrous humanitarian situation far worse, as the influx of troops adds more pressure to a population on the brink of starvation.

Already the fighting in the region is making it even harder to deliver aid into the region, and since the Kenyan military is attacking towns the residents are no longer able to flee across the border into refugee camps.

Oxfam warned that the situation is “increasingly alarming” and that the portions of Somalia affected by the famine are expected to grow as the offensive continues. They reported that the number of refugees fleeing has dropped to 100 in the past week since the invasion from 3,400 the previous week.

Though Kenya had insisted the invasion was a response to recent kidnappings, officials are now admitting that this was not the case, and that the Kenyan military has been planning to invade Somalia for years in hopes of propping up friendly militias in the region.


U.S. confirms Somali abduction

Washington confirmed that a U.S. national was kidnapped along with another foreign aid worker from northern Somalia earlier this week.

The Danish Demining Group, in statements posted on its Web site, confirmed that two foreign nationals were kidnapped this week from northern Somalia.

The Danish Refugee Council, which includes the demining group, confirmed their identities as Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, 60, a Danish national.

The U.S. State Department, in a statement, confirmed the abduction.

"We are working with contacts in Kenya and Somalia to ascertain further information and have been in contact with the individual's family to provide all appropriate consular assistance," the statement read.

The DRC called on the media to show respect and restraint on the matter.

A series of kidnappings from the region prompted the Kenyan military to send its forces into Somalia to take on rebels of al-Qaida's affiliate al-Shabaab.

U.N. officials had said the security situation in the region, notably the rise in the number of kidnappings, was hampering humanitarian work in Somalia, which is struggling with a devastating drought.

"In a difficult time, where the Somali people are already facing extreme difficulties due to conflicts and drought, it is essential to secure access for humanitarian assistance to the people in need," the DRC said.

Source: United Press International

Somali protests jail ban on headscarf with refusal to leave cell

Less than a week after she was convicted in a scheme to send money to a group battling Somalia's fledgling government, Amina Farah Ali is refusing to come out of her jail cell to eat, her attorney said.

The issue stems from the Rochester, Minn., woman's belief that her religion, Islam, requires her to wear a head covering, or hijab, when in public. The Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, where she is being held, doesn't allow them.

The jail forbid the covering despite a judge's assurances to the woman last week in a Minneapolis courtroom that her religious customs would be accommodated.

But Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis didn't spell out how far those accommodations would go, and the man in charge of the jail said prisoners aren't allowed to wear anything on their heads.

"All inmates are issued jail-issue clothing, and they have to wear that" said Pat Carr, jail commander for the Sherburne County sheriff's office. "Nobody wears hats while in custody, or any type of headgear."

He said Ali wasn't being singled out for her religion.

"It's like any religious person," he said. "A Christian couldn't wear a crucifix. No personal clothing is allowed in the jail."

Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott said Ali was eating, but he didn't know if she was eating in a dayroom with other prisoners or was having food brought to her cell.

"We don't have any concerns," he said.

Ali, 35, was convicted last Thursday of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Shabaab, a Somali group the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

She also was found guilty of 12 counts of providing material support stemming from a dozen wire transfers totaling $8,608 she made to al-Shabaab between September 2008 and July 2009.

Co-defendant Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, of Rochester was convicted of conspiracy and two counts of lying to the FBI.

After the verdicts were delivered, Davis sent Hassan to a halfway house to await sentencing, but he told Ali he was sending her to jail.

Ali told the judge she wanted to be "protected" from being handled or seen by male corrections officers. Her comments stemmed from two nights she spent in the Sherburne County Jail at the start of the trial after Davis found her in contempt for refusing to stand each time court convened and recessed.

She based that refusal on religion, too. She said a passage in haddith, the collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, included a story of how the prophet told a group they needn't stand when they greet him.

Ali told Davis that if she wouldn't have to rise for Muhammad, she didn't have to stand when court was convened. He gave her five days in jail for each time she remained seated.

On the trial's third day - after two nights in jail - she began to stand when instructed. But she complained she had been mistreated and that jailers hadn't allowed her to observe her religious customs.

After the verdict, Davis told Ali that whatever facility she was sent to "will be aware of any customs that have to be met because of your religion."

He didn't spell those out, though, and Ali's attorney, Dan Scott, said Wednesday that the judge's instructions generally end at the jail door.

"He's a judge. The sheriff is the sheriff. Those are two different worlds," Scott said.

Ramsey County jailers don't allow Muslim women to wear hijab, said sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson. He said it is a safety issue, and the same policy bars belts or any other item that isn't jail-issue.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections allows women to wear hijabs in their cell or at religious services, but inmates can't wear them when they are in the general prison population.

Corrections spokesman John Schadl said the policy extends to other religions.

There is a variety of opinion among Muslims on whether women must wear hijabs. In general, Islam holds that both men and women should dress modestly, and some interpret passages in the Quran to mean women should cover their heads when in public.

Other Muslims interpret the passages differently, believing a woman's decision whether to wear a hijab is hers alone.

Scott said he believed he should pursue a solution through the jail's administrative procedures before taking the matter to court.

"I can't believe they won't let her wear a scarf on her head," he said. "I think it'll get resolved. It's just a matter of talking to people."

David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.

Source: The Twin Cities Pioneer Press

Arafat Day on Nov. 5

Eid Al-Adha will be celebrated on Sunday, November 6, 2011.

The Arafat Day, when pilgrims stand in prayer in the plain of Arafat during Haj, will be on Saturday, Nov. 5, while Eid Al-Adha will be celebrated in the Kingdom on Sunday, the Supreme Court announced.

“It has been confirmed that the first day of Dul Hijjah is on Friday, Oct. 28 as the new crescent was sighted by a number of people on Thursday evening,” the court said.

Source: The Arab News

Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah appoints Prince Naif as crown prince

A file picture of newly appointed Crown Prince and Deputy Premier Prince Naif.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has appointed Prince Naif as the crown prince and deputy premier, the Royal Court statement said late Thursday. The prince was appointed after the king met the Bayah Council, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Prince Naif was the second deputy premier and interior minister in the Council of Ministers. He will continue to head the Interior Ministry along with his new positions.

Prince Naif, who has been the second deputy premier since 2009, was born in Taif in 1933 as the 23rd son of the founder of the Kingdom — King Abdul Aziz. He was educated in the princes' school, in addition to receiving instruction from his father and eminent religious leaders.

Prince Naif began his political career as deputy governor of Riyadh and later became the region's governor during the lifetime of King Abdul Aziz.

King Faisal appointed Prince Naif deputy minister of Interior in 1970. Four years later, the prince became deputy minister of interior with the rank of minister. King Khaled appointed Prince Naif as minister of state for Internal Affairs in 1975, and later in the same year, was named the minister of interior, a position in which he continued to serve till his appointment as crown prince and deputy premier on Friday.

Al shabaab claims ambush Kenyan soldiers in the somali border

The Al shabaab fighters, which US alleges to be Al Qaeda’s surrogate in the horn of Africa, have claimed victory over fighting with Kenyan military in southern Somalia.

Sheikh Abdi-aziz Abu Mus’ab, a spokesperson for Al shabaab told the local press that they have battled with Kenyan forces just outside of Dhobley in Lower Jubba region.

The fighting started after Al shabaab fighters ambushed Kenyan military in Lower Jubba region, according to Al shabaab spokesman.

He said they killed a number of Kenyans and burnt down five of the military wagons during the combat. Three of the burnt down wagons were dragged back by Kenyan forces, the official added.

The Al shabaab movement has vowed they will keep on their struggle against what they called Kenyan incursion in Somalia.

For his part, Abdinasir Sayrar, a spokesperson for Rasmkaboni group, speaking to local radio has denied the claims made by Al shabaab.

Kenya has not released any comments about the fighting on Thursday so far.

Source" The Mareeg Online

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New census data shows Minn.'s Somali population still largest in US, grows to more than 32,000

Minnesota's Somali population is still the largest in the United States, according to new census data released early Thursday that raised the number of people of Somali ancestry in the state to more than 32,000.

The new estimate is based on American Community Surveys taken by the bureau from 2008-2010 and updates last year's estimate of nearly 27,000 Somalis in the state. Because the estimates are derived from surveys, they include a margin of error, which means the census calculates the population could be as high as 36,000 or as low as 29,000.

"The (Somali) community has long felt it is a bit larger than the Census Bureau estimate, but this number doesn't feel uncomfortable to me," State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said.

The estimate includes both people born in Somalia and their descendants. Other states that have large Somali populations include Ohio with 12,300, Washington with 9,300 and California with 7,500, according to the latest estimates.

The Somali immigration to Minnesota has been the largest part of a broader influx of people from sub-Saharan Africa in recent years in the state. That broader group now numbers more than 100,000 in the state, according to the new estimates, and promises to keep growing as young couples marry and have children.

Like most immigrant groups, Somalis in Minnesota are younger than the general population with a median age of about 25 years. About half of the Somali population is 24 years old or younger. The median age of the state's general population is more than a decade older at 37 years, and only about a third of the population is 24 years old or younger.

Members of Minnesota's Somali community have been in the news amid long-running federal investigations into recruiting and financing of people from the U.S. to train or fight for al-Shabab in Somalia. U.S. government officials consider the group to be a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaida.

Two women, both U.S. citizens of Somali descent, were convicted last week of conspiring to funnel money to al-Shabab. They were among 20 people charged in the Minnesota investigations.

Unlike some other populations in Minnesota, including the Hmong, those of Somali descent are not asked about their ancestry during the census. So the survey data represents the Census Bureau's best estimate of the population.

The data released early Thursday also includes snapshots into more than 40 topics. For instance, the state's overall median household income is about $56,500, but there were wide differences in income from race to race.

Asian households had the highest median income at about $61,000 followed by white households at $58,500. Black households reported the lowest median incomes at $27,500.

Gillaspy said the data was not surprising since the household incomes of Asian families have been increasing in recent years.

President Obama African Policy; Somalia Neocolonialist Genocide…

By Torrance Stephens
Staff Writer;

I often wonder what Obama’s father would say about his son’s incessant intervention in Africa. For certain, I know he would not say Obama’s loves him some Africa. Maybe he would because every time we look around, he sending troops to the continent left and right and in all cases to date, to murder established leaders. We saw what his intervention in Libya resulted in and we know that the goal in Uganda is to kill Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). And in Somalia, a nation that has not had a functioning government since 1991 when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, we may be doing our most dirtiest job.

Mohammed Siad Barre came to power via a military coup in October 1969 scientific socialism as Somali state policy – Somali nationalism with the goal of uniting all Somali people under one flag. Once (1970s), the United State provided military and economic assistance to Somalia, and the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu became one of the biggest American diplomatic missions in Africa. After being criticized by the world for providing military support to the Siad Barre regime, efforts in Congress to cut off military assistance to Somali finally succeeded in 1989.

Although we know that the present food and refugee emergency in Somalia is considered to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, placing millions at immediate risk via disease, drought and massive starvation, the Obama administration sent a U.S. Marine task force to the region instead of focusing on humanitarian aid and has escalated drone attacks in Somalia that contribute even more to the starvation and death of additional millions of Africans. For it is the administrations belief that the al-Shabab resistance is mostly responsible for the drought emergency.

Strange since the Obama administration has put in place policies to limit food aid to the region in an effort to starve out those who might be supporting the Shabab. Yes food as a weapon of war in Somalia. What we forget is that the problems of today can be connected to our action four yeas ago when we got the Ethiopian government to invade Somalia in an effort to overthrow an Islamist government that had established peace by ended street battles between warlords and militias via islamic fundamentalist law..

But what is more problematic for me as an African American who has lived in the region (Ethiopia in 1999) and visited Somalia, is the reckless manner in which we disrespect and lessen the value of lives there via the US policy of using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to kill civilians in the hundreds daily. In addition, this is not even mentioned on the news nor is discussed openly by President Obama almost Bush-like. Maybe this is why the President is seeking to ban the access of international news agencies the likes of Press TV who reports such daily.

When I lived in Africa, Press TV, BBC, Der Welt Television (Germany) and Al-Jazerra were watched more than any American News outlet and to me are equal to ITN and PBS in their coverage of world news. Since I do not have cable television, I am left to reading the web sites of these respected news agencies. Case in point, the information I have found on the aforementioned in the past two weeks alone is startling and unbeknownst to most US citizens.

On Oct 14, 2001, an attack by a US UAV resulted in the killing of at least 78 people and injured 64 others in southern Somalia. The attack, which occurred near Qooqani town located in southern Somalia happened the same day another US drone attack killed 11 civilians and wounded 34 more in Hoosingow district in the south of the country. Oct 21, 2001 another attack by a US unmanned aerial vehicle killed at least 44 civilians and injured 63 others in southern Somalia near Ras Kamboni town in the Badhaadhe district of Lower Juba region near the border with Kenya. Several hours latter, a US done attack killed 22 in Kudhaa Island in southern Somalia near the border with Kenya.

Somali military officials reported an attack on Oct 22, 2011 near the town of Bilis Qooqani, an unmanned US drone strike killed at least 49 people in famine-stricken in southern Somalia, while injuring at least 68 others. The next day, Oct 23, 2011, US drones carried out attacks near the Bilis Qooqani districts in southern Somalia, leaving 9 dead and 14 others wounded.

The following day, On Oct 24, 2011, an attack took place in the Somali island of Kudhaa near the country’s border with Kenya according to Somali army officer Colonel Aden Dheere in which killed at least 36 Somali people. Latter that day, another 59 people were killed and dozens more injured during French military attacks on Kudhaa.

In each case Washington claims the airstrikes target militants, though most such attacks have resulted in civilian casualties in Somalia. More recently representatives of the Obama administration have denied any “US involved or supported airstrikes in Somalia: a claim friends and associates of mine from my days living in the region contradict.

Whatever the case, the facts remain the same. First, Somalia strategic location in the horn of Africa and its vast natural resources cannot be questioned. Second, It is not implausible that the US would do anything to keep China, India and Russia out of the region. Third, the nation is a geopolitical prize that has brought about the United States via the Obama administration to use neocolonial approaches to develop a foothold in the nation as well as offers a reason to employ resources of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), to achieve any clandestine objectives, especially in the context of the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Supported by the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) and the Special Operations Command (SOCAFRICA). Not to mention they are involved with assisting the brother of President Yoweri Museveni in training troops for military efforts both in Somalia and Uganda. Strange since the Obama administration as recently as yesterday denied any involvement in arial strikes in Somalia. Like I said, very Bush-like.


Is Somalia A Quagmire With No Solutions?

Ask most Americans what country is the biggest global headache, and the answer you are most likely to receive is Afghanistan. This is a fair point, seeing as troops from the US and her allies have been involved there for about a decade, but in reality the country that continues to have what seems to be the most insurmountable difficulties is Somalia.

Somalia is a country that has not had a unified government since 1991 and barring some remarkable turnaround or large intervention is not likely to have one anytime soon.

In 1991, the totalitarian dictator General Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted by allied forces from the north and south, but since then numerous political groups and clans have been fighting each other over control of parcels of land. The disastrous results for the people of Somalia have been predictable. About 43% of the Somali population lives on less than $1/day. Famine is not unknown to the Somali people, with 300,000 dying in 1992 and a famine occurring in southern Somalia as recently as this year.

Just as predictable as the dire effects of a 22-year collapse of government on the Somali people is the rise of extremist and criminal groups. Al-Shabaab, or “The Youth," is an Islamic insurgency group that has been labeled a terrorist group by numerous Western nations and has pledged loyalty to Al-Qaeda. The Islamist group controls the majority of southern Somalia and has been known to enforce a brutally strict form of sharia, including stoning a 13-year old girl for alleged adultery.

On the other end of the spectrum is the rise of piracy in Somalia. As of October, Somali pirates are believed to be behind 24 hijackings, accounting for 2/3 of such incidents in the world. Piracy in Somalia was nearly non-existent before the collapse of the Barre government. Now, it is a multi-million dollar industry supporting towns on the coast of Somalia. The direct and indirect cost of Somali piracy for the international maritime community and related industries now reaches well into the billions.

With so many problems, the clear answer is that Somalia needs a stable and working government to at the very least enforce a tenuous peace and then begin rebuilding a broken country. The currently-recognized government of Somalia is the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), but the actual power of the TFG is minimal. There have been successes, such as bringing in factions of the TFG’s former adversary, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), but there are many problems as well. Only recently was the TFG able to take control of Mogadishu, and it is unclear whether this is a lasting victory for the TFG or simply a temporary setback for Al-Shabaab. The TFG’s control over southern Somalia is practically non-existent, and it is still unclear how the government could control Somaliland, a province in the north with secessionist tendencies. Even their long-term control in supposedly pro-TFG areas such as Puntland is brought into question by actions like piracy, which is based primarily from this province.

The stability of Somalia is not likely to come from outside of the country, either. Western nations were scared away after the United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II), which ended in the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident. Combined with the fatigue and unpopularity that have come with recent nation-building attempts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western intervention seems highly unlikely. The African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) has been going on since 2007, but the effectiveness of these troops is unclear, nor have they been used as a means to reunite the country.

Somali neighbors have tried more unilateral approaches, but these actions have not helped to lead toward a untied Somalia, nor is any action in the future necessarily a positive step. A U.S.-backed intervention by Ethiopia in 2006 prevented the ICU from obtaining a dominant position in Somalia and paved the way for the return of the TFG. Their presence in Somalia, however, was not popular on either side of the border, and it is unlikely that any Ethiopian presence could bring peace in Somalia. Kenya has also recently entered Somalia to hunt down Al-Shabaab militants, but the size of the mission suggests it is only temporary. Their involvement in Somalia has also been questioned by the TFG, and there is a distinct worry in Kenya that Al-Shabaab will retaliate, if they have not already.

The difficult and consistent problems inside Somalia do not suggest that there is an easy solution. The only sure way of achieving any stability in Somalia is through direct and large-scale intervention, but this is not a politically viable solution, nor is this a task that anyone wishes to lead and operate. The most viable action available seems to be an increase in support for the TFG through information sharing and military, economic, and humanitarian aid. This is no guarantee of success in Somalia, and the TFG could disintegrate into a useless body, but for now, it seems that we must put our hopes in them.