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Expat wanderer

Al Qaeda in Maghreb Spends Last Night in Timbuktu Destroying Ancient Manuscripts

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Ignorant militants destroy ancient Islamic documents and writings; from yesterday’s BBC News:

A group of jihadis came knocking at the gate late on Wednesday night last week. But the Ahmed Baba centre in the Malian city of Timbuktu is not the kind of library that would accept visitors after dark.

The Islamist militants tricked the guard and said they were coming to secure the place. But once inside, they ransacked the centre’s reading room.

When historian Abdoulaye Cisse arrived early in the morning, the pile of ashes was still warm.

“They probably spent most of the night in there,” he said.

Dozens of empty handcrafted boxes still litter the floor of the hallway. Ashes haven’t been removed yet either.

A few people come in and out surveying the irreparable damage and lament the remains of a cultural trove kept in Timbuktu for centuries.

Treasure trove of African history
At least 2,000 manuscripts were stored in this centre that was opened in 2009, funded by the South African government.

The project was meant to catalogue and preserve the city’s historical documents, many of which continue to be held by families or smaller libraries.

Another 28,000 were due to be transferred to the Ahmed Baba premises but were instead sent to the capital after al-Qaeda militants arrived in the city last year.

Each box is tagged with a reference number and if the search is properly done, these tags should reveal the full extent of the damage.

It could also reveal how many were simply stolen.

“These fighters know too well how much these papers are valued, it’s a huge wealth that will be impossible to replace,” Mr Cisse told the BBC.

The Institute’s manuscripts date back to the 13th century (file image)
“When I surveyed the reading room, I found about 30 left so I brought them home to secure them,” he said.

The offending texts ranged from history to geography and astronomy, medicine and Islamic law; writings dating back in some cases as far as the 13th Century.

In the reading room, shelves were emptied and the desk equipped with a magnifying glass vandalised.

Named after a saint of the ancient city who wrote many manuscripts himself, the Ahmed Baba centre stands out for its modernity but was designed to echo the famous Timbuktu style of dry-mud walls.

The Islamist militants prepared to flee last week knowing that an assault by the French-led forces on their positions here was imminent.

But in their haste, they took the time to commit one last act of vengeance.

They had sparked worldwide condemnation last year when they destroyed sacred tombs and shrines designated as Unesco World Heritage sites on the pretext that they violated principles of Islamic law.

Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
700,000 manuscripts had survived in public libraries and private collections
Books on religion, law, literature and science

Elhadj Djitteye, who used to guide visitors in town, reckons that the fighters linked to al-Qaeda carried out the attack on the library in response to the French military intervention ordered earlier in January by President Francois Hollande.

Noting that the jihadis hadn’t touched the manuscripts in 10 months of occupation, Mr Djitteye sadly comments that they “hit Timbuktu straight at its heart”.

The militants’ destructive parting gesture left many residents feeling that another part of their celebrated city’s history had just been erased.

The people of Timbuktu have been anxious to return to some kind of normal life since the French and Malian troops entered they city and were hailed as “liberators”.

Reminders of the extremists, like the black banners proclaiming sharia at the city gates, are being removed.

But in just under a year, the Islamist militants have inflicted lasting damage on Mali’s most renowned cultural centre. The scars left by Timbuktu’s occupation are likely to take much longer to heal.

• Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
700,000 manuscripts survive in public libraries and private collections, books on religion, law, literature and science
• Added to Unesco world heritage list in 1988 for its three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums
• They played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa; the oldest dates from 1329
• Islamists destroyed mausoleums after seizing the city

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January 31, 2013 Posted by | Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Values | , , | 2 Comments

Ansar Din Runs Away From Mali in Disarray After French Air Strikes

Last year, we were honored to have a member of the Algerian Seal team at our table for dinner. Together with the French, they got the job done clearing the rats out of Mali in short time.

From today’s BBC News:

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Three weeks of French targeted air strikes in northern Mali have left Islamist militants “in disarray”, France’s defence minister has said.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said the jihadists had now scattered, marking a “turning-point” in France’s intervention.

His comments come as the French troops continue to secure Kidal, the last town occupied by militants.

France is preparing to hand over towns it has captured to an African force, which has begun to deploy to Mali.

So far about 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, are thought to be on the ground.

It will be the job of the African Union-backed force, the International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma), to root out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents that have fled into the desert and mountains further north.

Meanwhile, at least two Malian soldiers have been killed when their vehicle hit a landmine south-west of Gao.

‘Tactical withdrawal’
Mr Le Drian said that some militants in Mali and been on a “military adventure and have returned home”.

Others had made a “tactical withdrawal to the Adrar des Ifoghas”, the mountainous region east of Kidal covering some 250,000 sq km (96,525 sq miles), he said.

Although this was now a turning-point for France, he said it did not mean that “the military risks and the fighting has ended”.

He also said he backed the idea of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Mali.

The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris says the UN Security Council had previously been uncomfortable about deploying a force under a UN mandate, but support is growing.

Envoys believe it would easier to monitor and prevent human rights abuses if the UN could pick and choose which national contingents to use, he says.

A French army spokesman in Bamako, Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Dosseur, told the BBC French Service that France’s special forces were in Kidal, but the majority of troops were still at the airport.

A heavy sandstorm that had hampered operations on Wednesday was starting to clear, and troops may soon be able to continue their deployment, he said.

Haminy Maiga, who heads the regional assembly in Kidal, said he had witnessed no fighting as French forces entered and two helicopters were patrolling overhead.

Correspondents say the bigger problem is how to manage the concerns of the separatist Tuareg fighters in Kidal – the only city in the north to have a majority ethnic Tuareg population.

Chad’s army is full of experienced desert fighters needed to fight the militants
The secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said its fighters would support the French but would not allow the return of the Malian army, which it accused of “crimes against the civilian population”.

Human rights groups have accused the Malian army of targeting ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians.

The Tuareg rebels launched the insurgency in October 2011 before falling out with the Islamist militants.

The Islamist fighters extended their control of the vast north of Mali in April 2012, in the wake of a military coup.

An MNLA spokesman told the BBC that its fighters had entered Kidal on Saturday and found no Islamist militants there.

Kidal was until recently under the control of the Ansar Dine Islamist group, which has strong ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The Islamic Movement of Azawad (IMA), which recently split from Ansar Dine, had said that it was in control of Kidal.

The IMA, which has Tuareg fighters amongst its members, has also said it rejects “extremism and terrorism” and wants a peaceful solution.

France – the former colonial power in Mali – launched a military operation this month after the Islamist militants appeared to be threatening the south.

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Bureaucracy, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, France, Living Conditions, Political Issues | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karen Thompson Walker and The Age of Miracles

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The Age of Miracles is a very odd name for this book, which starts off in a beautiful little coastal town in California, a very normal, modern town, and then everything changes. Suddenly, the earth’s rotation is slowing, incrementally, but resulting in longer and longer days and longer and longer nights. The difference is small at first, but grows.

Julia is in sixth grade, a painful time anyway in most lives where your body suddenly changes and all your relationships with all your friends change, and boys become a major factor. Imagine. All this AND the earth’s rotation is slowing.

No one knows what to expect. No one knows why or how the rotational slowing is happening, and no one has a clue how to fix it. Do you stay on a 24 hour clock, as the days grow to 30 hours? Forty hours? Can you even function in a forty hour day, or sleep a 40 hour night? How do you stay on a 24 hour clock and force yourself to sleep when the sun is shining brightly overhead? How do you have a school day entirely in the middle of the darkest part of the night? How does food continue to grow? What impact does this have on birds? Migrations? How does kicking a soccer ball feel when earth’s gravitational field starts to lessen?

The author does a brilliant job in a what-if situation, and manages to make it quite real. Don’t read this book if you are the suggestible type – it’s just one more thing you’ll start worrying about when you don’t need to. If you can read speculative fiction without letting it influence you, then by all means read this book, it is a good read.

January 30, 2013 Posted by | Books, Community, Environment, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Parenting, Relationships, Technical Issue, Weather | Leave a comment

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

Death of Bees was another powerful recommendation by National Public Radio.

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I believe in a greater power, in a God who sends things my way and that I am meant to be paying attention. Several books have been recommended to me lately which I didn’t choose, or might have avoided had I known how painfully they dealt with poor parenting and children in the depths of horrific poverty.

Here is what the lead into the book says:

Today Is Christmas Eve,
Today is my birthday,
Today I am fifteen,
Today I buried my parents
in the back yard.
Neither of them were beloved.

Oh my goodness! I am sucked in immediately. And immediately I am overcome by the grinding nature of poverty, the enormous amount of energy it takes just to be fed, to have a roof over your head, to function in the bureaucracy that seeks to ameliorate the burdens of poverty.

I am horrified by the lives of innocent children in the hands of people who should never have responsibility for anyone, even themselves, their decision making skills are so non-existent. There are parents who have no idea what self-sacrifice GOOD parenting requires, who raise children who are often trying to survive their own parents.

The Death of Bees has redemption. It has two sisters who love one another and are smarter than the average child. It has a neighbor who notices, not in a snoopy or intrusive way, but in a kind, helping and ultimately sacrificial way. It has moments of black humor, when the neighbor’s dog keeps digging at the parental graves in the backyard and bringing bones inside just at the worst moments.

Ultimately, it is a tale of survival, in spite of the parents, in spite of the system, in spite of betrayals by family and friends. There is a glimmer of hope that life may be different for these sisters, if they can survive their upbringing and overcome their childhood.

Now, go read the book 🙂

January 30, 2013 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Family Issues, Fiction, Financial Issues, Food, Friends & Friendship, Humor, Lies, Living Conditions, Parenting, Relationships, Social Issues, Values | , | 4 Comments

Amitav Ghosh and River of Smoke

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The National Public Radio website recommended this book as one of the best historical fiction reads, and I had never heard of it, so I ordered it. I ordered it in spite of the little voice I had in my head reminding me that this was the second in a trilogy, that the first is Sea of Poppies. I was too eager. I wanted to jump right in, and the review said it could be read stand-alone. I had read Ghosh’s Glass Palace a couple years ago for book club, loved it, and was eager to read this one.

With a raging cold and no possible way I can be around humanity, it was a good time to start. Just picking up the book, it has a dense feel. Once you start, it is like being suddenly in a whirlpool, drowning in new words, characters who have more than one name and more than one identity, whirling between England, Mauritius, Hindustan, Gujerat, Hong Kong, Macau and China, whirling between cultures and professions and trades, but oh, what a ride.

CharybdisPainting

It would have been helpful to be reading River of Smoke on an iPad, where I could poke at a new word and it would give me the meaning, but in truth, you can guess a lot of the meaning of the vocabulary from the context. The seafarers all speak a language sort of like Jack Sparrow, a pidgen language filled with simplified grammar and with words from many nations and cultures. It forces you to slow down. It’s worth it. It would also be nice if you could poke on a place-name and have Google Earth show you where it is. There used to be a website called Google Books, and you could put in a book and it would show you the places in which actions in the book took place; that would be particularly handy reading this book, provide context in place-relations.

But reading slowly is it’s own reward. This book has depth, depth of character, depth of textures and senses, and depth of morality. I love a book like this where you can smell the smoke drifting over the water, where you can smell the sewer and bloated animal corpses floating outside the foreign hongs of the Canton traders, you can feel the textures of the textiles and see their colors, you can taste the exquisiteness of Macau cuisine and you can hike in a Hong Kong not yet settled by anyone, Chinese or foreign.

The scope of time covered by the major part of the story is short, although there are years of back-stories for several characters. The period is 1837-8, during which the Chinese Emperor decides to put teeth in the long established edict against opium trade to China. The edict had been in place, but not enforced, and China watched her citizens sink into opium addiction and lowered productivity. The traders were making fortunes – shiploads of money. Opium was grown in India and shipped from there to China.

When the ban against shipping opium into China is announced, many traders believe it is just another attempt to attain greater bribes on the part of the mandarins, and decline to obey. There is great debate, and while it is lively in the book, it is based on documents from that era, many of the arguments word for word. Traders stood to loose a great deal of money, in truth, it would ruin most of them to lose their shipments.

There is a side story I also like, that of the botanical trade between China and England, and the importation of many of the garden plants we take for granted today, which were unknown until sent from China. Camellia – one of which is the plant for tea, did you know that? Roses, azaleas, orchids – many many familiar plants would be missing from our gardens were it not for their introduction during this period.

Ghosh gives us disparate characters of many cultures and upbringings, and slowly weaves them together, each one tangential to all the others, some closely interwoven. It is a fascinating read, and I can’t wait for the next volume. I may have to go back and read Sea of Poppies while I am waiting.

January 30, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Character, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Fiction, Financial Issues, Food, Friends & Friendship, India, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Payback is a Bummer

People all around Pensacola are dropping like flies; the weather fluctuates between hot and humid and cold and dry, with thunderstorms marking the boundaries, and there are colds and flu popping up everywhere. I’ve flown serenely through the season without much problem, just a little four day cold around Christmas, feeling thankful for my strong immune system. I may have been a little smug.

And then, WHAM, it hit. One minute I was in a meeting, and the next, as I headed home, I was sniffing and reaching for a tissue. It quickly got worse. It was one of those nights where you can’t sleep because you are drowning in your own mucus. I know, I know, too much information, too graphic. Trust me, the reality has been worse. I stayed in bed most of Friday, and Saturday, when I was feeling better, we discovered our water heater has sprung a leak. All that mopping up was probably good exercise; once we got all the water up we were OK. Yesterday, my sniffles had turned into aching, irritated sinuses, so I spent the day putting warmth on my face.

This morning, we have the plumbers coming in with a new water heater, I feel marginally better, and I know I will feel a LOT better once I can get a hot shower 🙂

There was a huge blessing in all this. Our calendars for January and February are full, winter is the active season in Pensacola. We have events, we have commitments, and we have house guests coming. In the entire period, I only had five dates with no obligations, and that was this weekend. It’s a strange thing to be thankful for, but I thank God to be sick during a time when I can stay home and take care of myself, and I don’t have to call anyone and renege on an obligation.

It’s also wonderful that if the water heater was going to go (and it is ten years old) it burst while we were here, and we were able to stop the flow and mop up the water before it caused a lot of damage. We had a water heater go out several homes ago, while we were out of town, and oh, what a mess we came back to, and it took forever to get all the carpeting dried out and replaced. It’s wonderful that we could take care of this BEFORE our house guests start arriving.

water_heater

We’ve been exploring tankless heaters; our heater is smack in the center of the house, a terrible location, where, if it goes, it can cause a lot of damage. We’ll go ahead with a regular old-fashioned heater this time, but suddenly, we have some urgency to trying to install tankless – maybe in the next couple of years. We had tankless heaters in Germany, and in the Middle East; we are used to them and comfortable with the idea. I like the idea of not keeping water warm when we are not using it, and heating it only when we do. I also like the idea of not having gallons and gallons of water spilling into my kitchen, dining room, living room and family room when the tank goes 😦

I miss my energy . . . I no longer feel smug, no longer assured of my good health. I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to be normal, without sinus pain, without this thick-headed draggy feeling. I think I’m on the mend; the last three days I couldn’t even begin to think about writing a blog entry . . .

January 28, 2013 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Survival, Weather | 4 Comments

Maladies of the Soul

Part of my morning meditation is that after I finish my readings from The Lectionary, I find the daily reading in Forward Day by Day. Today’s is particularly interesting, relating to Jesus healing the woman who touched the hem of his garment and was cured of her hemorrhagic disease. He lists some of the maladies of the soul, for which belief in Jesus is the best medicine:

MONDAY, January 28

Mark 5:21-43. [There was a woman] who had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.

Even the most talented and dedicated physician has an occasional patient who can identify with those words. Doctors, being human, are fallible, and some unhappy conditions have no human cure.

But then there is Jesus. Healing was a major part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Often, as in this woman’s case, a physical malady is cured. This is true today as well. But many people, in Jesus’ day and ours, suffer from illnesses which are not cured, either by Jesus or a physician. What of them?

Three things: First, it is appropriate to pray for healing. Second, dying is integral to the world as God has created it. Generations are meant to come and go; no one should try to hang around here forever. Everyone’s body will wear out someday and a holy death is part of holy living. Third, the most important healing is not of the body but of the soul. Diseases of the soul include bitterness, anger, greed, seeking revenge, grasping for control, and condemning other people and groups of people. From these maladies, Jesus heals not some but all who follow in his way.

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Faith, Lectionary Readings, Spiritual | Leave a comment

New Mexico Bill Would Criminalize Abortions After Rape As ‘Tampering With Evidence’

And Republicans wonder why they have problems getting elected, why they are accused of war on women. This proposed law is not a whole lot different than Morocco’s law that the rapist can escape prosecution by marrying the rape victim. Like let’s just go back a couple centuries where women have no rights, and a rape victim is considered damaged property. So a rape victim who has an abortion is prosecuted for destroying evidence???’

New Mexico is an interesting state, historically Republican but trending Democrat. No wonder . . .

New Mexico Bill Would Criminalize Abortions After Rape As ‘Tampering With Evidence’
Laura Bassett
lbassett@huffingtonpost.com

A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico introduced a bill on Wednesday that would legally require victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term in order to use the fetus as evidence for a sexual assault trial.

House Bill 206, introduced by state Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R), would charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy with a third-degree felony for “tampering with evidence.”

“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime,” the bill says.

Third-degree felonies in New Mexico carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico, a progressive nonprofit opposing the bill, called it “blatantly unconstitutional” on Thursday.

“The bill turns victims of rape and incest into felons and forces them to become incubators of evidence for the state,” he said. “According to Republican philosophy, victims who are ‘legitimately raped’ will now have to carry the fetus to term in order to prove their case.“

The bill is unlikely to pass, as Democrats have a majority in both chambers of New Mexico’s state legislature.

UPDATE: 12:25 p.m. — Brown said in a statement Thursday that she introduced the bill with the goal of punishing the person who commits incest or rape and then procures or facilitates an abortion to destroy the evidence of the crime.

“New Mexico needs to strengthen its laws to deter sex offenders,” said Brown. “By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help to protect women across our state.”

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Community, Crime, Health Issues, Living Conditions, News, Political Issues, Social Issues, Technical Issue, Women's Issues | | 2 Comments

Indian Gang Rape Case Goes to Trial

From today’s Huffpost

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India Gang Rape Trial Begins In New Delhi
By ASHOK SHARMA

NEW DELHI — The trial of five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus began in a closed courtroom Thursday with opening arguments by the prosecution lawyers in a special fast-track court set up just weeks ago to handle sexual assault cases.

The brutal attack last month set off protests across India and opened a national debate about the epidemic of violence against women. A government committee established in the wake of the attack has called for a complete overhaul of the way the criminal justice system deals with rape, sexual assaults and crimes against women in general.

The five men on trial – who face a maximum sentence of death by hanging if convicted – covered their faces with woolen caps as they walked into the courtroom Thursday surrounded by a phalanx of armed police. Two hours later, after proceedings were over, they were whisked away by the police.

Details of the day’s proceedings were not available. The courtroom was closed to the public and the media – a routine move in Indian rape cases – even though defense lawyers had argued that since the victim is dead, the proceedings should be opened. There was also a gag order on the lawyers to not reveal what happened inside the court.

Judge Yogesh Khanna turned down requests by journalists Thursday that they be briefed on the day’s proceedings and said the gag order would remain.

Since Friday is a public holiday in India, the next hearing in the case was set for Monday, when the defense will present its opening arguments.

A sixth suspect in the case has claimed he is a juvenile and is expected to be tried in a juvenile court.

On Thursday, a magistrate separately rejected a petition by Subramanian Swamy, a prominent politician, that no leniency be shown toward the accused who claims to be a juvenile because of the brutal nature of the crime, said Jagdish Shetty, an aide to Swamy.

Documents presented by prosecution last week to the Juvenile Justice Board indicated that the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the attack, which would make him ineligible for the death penalty.

Magistrate Geetanjali Goel is expected to rule on the suspect’s age on Jan.28.

The suspect, who is not being identified by The Associated Press because he says he is 17, would face three years in a reform facility if convicted as a juvenile.

After the fast-track court hearing, M.L. Sharma, a defense lawyer for Mukesh Singh, one of the accused, said he had withdrawn from the case. V.K. Anand, who represents Mukesh’s brother Ram Singh, will now defend both brothers. The two lawyers had been arguing over who was Mukesh Singh’s real lawyer.

Sharma said he left the case to save his client from being tortured to fire him. He has long maintained that the other defense lawyers were planted by the police to ensure guilty verdicts.

Dozens of police were outside the sprawling court complex in south New Delhi where the trial is taking place. Inside the court, about 30 policemen blocked access to the room where Khanna heard the prosecution’s case.

Outside the courtroom scores of journalists and curious onlookers crowded the hallway.

Prosecutor Dayan Krishnan warned defense lawyers that if they spoke to journalists he would slap contempt of court notices on them, said V.K. Anand, a defense lawyer.

Police say the victim and a male friend were attacked after boarding a bus Dec. 16 as they tried to return home after an evening showing of the movie “Life of Pi.” The six men, the only occupants of the private bus, allegedly beat the man with a metal bar and raped the woman with it, inflicting massive internal injuries to her, police said. The victims were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

Abhilasha Kumari, a New Delhi-based sociologist, said the attack could end up having a large impact on the country.

`’This case has brought the violence against women center stage and it has, out of sheer public pressure, forced the government to sensitize itself to crimes against women,” she said.

The trial began a day after a government panel recommended India strictly enforce sexual assault laws, commit to holding speedy rape trials and change the antiquated penal code to protect women.

The panel appointed to examine the criminal justice system’s handling of violence against women, received a staggering 80,000 suggestions from women’s groups and thousands of ordinary citizens.

Among the panel’s suggestions were a ban on a traumatic vaginal exam of rape victims and an end to political interference in sex crime cases. It has also suggested the appointment of more judges to help speed up India’s sluggish judicial process and clear millions of pending cases.

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the government would take the recommendations to the Cabinet and Parliament.

“Procedural inadequacies that lead to inordinate delays need to be addressed,” he told reporters.

Although I have marked this with “Women’s Issues,” it is only a women’s issue when violence is directed against women and women have a limited access to justice in the system. Rape is a crime of power, inflicting unwanted and uninvited invasion of the very most personal nature. It happens to men, too. Men are far less likely to come forward. They live with the shame; many commit suicide or turn to drugs and alcohol to escape the pain. One day, with women leading the way, men, too, will be able to come forward and claim justice against those who violate them.

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Community, Crime, Family Issues, Health Issues, India, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

Saudi Arabian Court Refuses to Charge Saudi Blogger

Raif Badawi: Court refuses to charge Saudi blogger
By Sebastian Usher
Arab affairs editor, BBC News

It is unclear what Mr Badawi’s fate will be now the court has refused to charge him

A court in Saudi Arabia has found that a liberal blogger accused of apostasy has no case to answer.

The court had the power to sentence Raif Badawi to death had it found him guilty.

But it refused to charge him, referring his case back to a lower court.

Mr Badawi, the young co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested last year and accused of insulting Islam and showing disobedience.

His lawyer, Waleed Abu Alkhair, says he became a target for Saudi authorities after declaring 7 May last year a “day for Saudi liberals” – in order to have more open discussion about social and religious issues.

The evidence against him included the fact that he pressed the ‘Like’ button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians”

His wife, Ensaf, has stood by him but told the BBC of the personal cost of the case, with friends and family distancing themselves or even turning against them.

She now lives in Lebanon, but says she has received threatening messages.

“Two or three days after Raif’s hearing, I started to receive phone calls from unknown people, saying ‘we are going to kill your husband’. But I didn’t respond to them.”

This was after a judge in a lower court recommended that Mr Badawi should be tried for apostasy – for which he could have faced the death penalty – if the higher court had backed the charges.

The evidence against him included the fact that he pressed the “Like” button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians.

It is unclear what happens next, but sources close to Mr Badawi say he believes he will now be shuttled between various courts to keep him in prison without attracting the further international criticism that a guilty verdict might bring.

Mr Badawi’s case is not unique. It highlights the constant push and pull between reformist and deeply conservative forces in Saudi Arabia.

A prominent writer, Turki al-Hamad, is currently under a form of house arrest for recent tweets criticising Islamists – he, too, could be charged with apostasy.

Another writer and blogger, Hamza Kashgari, was extradited from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia almost a year ago on similar charges. He has repented in court, but remains in jail.

January 23, 2013 Posted by | Blogging, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Free Speech, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues | Leave a comment