Forced marriages: the trail of misery and fear in Britain

Baljit Kaur Howard was made to marry a family friend against her will: Albanpix

A helpline for victims has been inundated with callers. Jerome Taylor was given exclusive access to their harrowing stories

Hundreds of children fearing for their lives have called a new national helpline set up to assist victims of forced marriages since its launch four months ago, The Independent has learnt. Many are seeking ways to escape parents and family members who are trying to force them into unwanted marriages. Others have said they fear becoming victims of so-called “honour killings”, because of social and sexual behaviour that their community disapproves of.

According to the first national breakdown of callers, an average of 62 victims are phoning for help every week. One in 10 is under the age of 16. One 14-year-old girl said she was in fear of her life because she had become pregnant and thought her parents would kill her or marry her off if they found out.

The Derby-based Honour Network, which began taking calls in April, is the first national helpline to give advice to those who are afraid of being forced into marriage or at risk of suffering honour-based violence.

Run by the refuge charity Karma Nirvana and initially funded by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit, the network is staffed by survivors of forced marriages who help find refuges for women who predominantly hail from Britain’s South Asian and Middle Eastern communities.

According to Jasvinder Sanghera, who was disowned by her family for refusing a forced marriage and went on to set up Karma Nirvana, the youngest caller to the new helpline was 13.

“We have to move away from thinking that forced marriages and honour-based violence only affect a few people,” she said. “These numbers will be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Activists believe schools must do more to train teachers to be aware of the tell-tale signs that indicate a pupil might be at risk of a forced marriage so that they can alert the correct authorities without tipping off potentially violent family members.

Children who are taken out of school early and taken abroad for long periods of time are particularly at risk. In February, a Home Affairs Select Committee was told that in Bradford alone 250 girls aged 13 to 16 were taken off their school rolls in 2006 because they did not return from a visit abroad. At least 33 were still unaccounted for.

The Forced Marriage Unit, a joint venture between the Home Office and the Foreign Office, repatriates up to 70 victims a year who are forced into marriages abroad, but campaigners believe the true number is higher.

The most common age of victims calling the helpline was 17, while the Eastern, Midlands and London regions accounted for 57 per cent of all calls.

Although men can also be victims of forced marriages, 89 per cent of those appealing for help were female. Almost 80 per cent quoted “forced marriage” as the type of abuse being perpetrated, against them while 70 per cent also said they feared becoming victims of honour violence. When asked to name who was responsible for violence against them, just 13 per cent of victims mentioned husbands, while 71 per cent blamed immediate family.

“For me this is one of the most shocking, but insightful statistics,” said Ms Sanghera. “It shows how violence is being perpetrated by the entire community, not just abusive husbands. That’s why it is so hard to tackle and so difficult for people to escape.”

Campaigners complain that historically the Government, police and local authorities have been afraid of tackling forced marriages and honour crimes for fear of upsetting those communities accused of practising them. But they have broadly welcomed legislation which from November will enable potential victims obtain an injunction halting a forced marriage.

Keith Vaz MP, head of the Home Affairs Select Committee investigating forced marriages, said he was not surprised by the figures. “The committee found that the majority of cases of forced marriage happens in the under-18s,” he said. “I would like to praise the work that this helpline is doing.”

Anyone wanting to contact the Honour Network can do so by telephoning 0800 5999 247

Baljit Kaur Howard: ‘I was 17 and had never kissed a boy. I felt humiliated and degraded’

The home Baljit Kaur Howard has made for herself in a quiet Ipswich cul-de-sac is a world away from what she calls her “previous life”. In her sitting room, a mug of tea in hand, she rests her head on her new husband, Phil. “It’s taken me a long time to learn to love Phil,” she says. “Before we met I’d never known what it was like to be loved unconditionally.”

Bal, as she likes to be known, was 17 when her father announced that she was going to be married to a family friend she had met only once before. She then spent eight years trapped in an oppressive, loveless marriage. “I had always expected to have an arranged marriage, but I did not expect a forced marriage,” she says. “I told my father that I didn’t want to marry him. He just said, ‘You’d better get used to the idea. If you run away I will find you’.”

Now aged 39, Bal considers herself lucky. She escaped, but in doing so has been disowned by her family.

Born in the Indian Punjab to a Sikh family, Bal came to England at the age of one with her parents, who settled in Darlington.

“Growing up in Darlington was a schizophrenic existence,” she recalls. “The house was India. Shoes and Western clothes were forbidden. So was English. But at school I was free. I ran around and made friends with whoever I wanted. I could actually be myself.”

But by the time she reached puberty Bal’s attendance at school had dropped from 100 per cent to 50. “I remember my father telling me: ‘There’s no need for an education where you’re going’. But to my knowledge no one ever bothered to find out why I stopped turning up.”

Bal believes school should have more of a role in looking for the signs of exclusion. She also believes that marriage registrars should be on the lookout for people who appear to be marrying against their will. Shortly after the marriage Bal was taken to her in-laws’ home in Huddersfield where she slept with her ex-husband for the first time. “I was given a glass of milk to drink by a female member of his family. They said it would help me sleep. I was 17 and had never even kissed a boy before. I felt humiliated and degraded. I couldn’t believe that my own parents had forced me into this utterly miserable situation.”

The concept of honour had been so drummed into her that there were times Bal thought the only honourable escape was suicide.

She said: “I thought killing myself would be the one way I could end it all without dishonouring the family.” Instead, she decided to try for a child, someone whom she hoped would love her back as much as she needed to be loved.

But the stress was too much and she miscarried three times. It was then that Bal decided she could take no more. She began interviewing for jobs in the London area and secretly organised a flat to flee to. She also began removing any bits of paper from the house that could later be used to track her down.

“The day of my Great Escape – 28 March 1996 – was the day my life began again,” she says.

Five years and two diplomas later she met Phil in a pub and they married soon afterwards. “Invites went out to my family but they never showed up,” says Bal. “That was when I knew I had to let go.”

To read original article, go to:

India: Civil Rights or Civil War?

By Amaresh Misra

The recent series of bomb blasts that have rocked India―a series which has become a proverbial dark tunnel where no end is in sight―denote a new pattern. Till now communal riots were engineered by communal forces and the fascist part of the Indian state machinery to polarize society. This trend reached its apogee in the Gujarat 2002 riots.

The communal forces both inside and outside the Indian State machinery learnt some important lessons from Gujarat; chiefly that in this time and space, in the 21st century, it is very difficult to get away with organized pogroms―ultimately you have to pay a political price which the BJP did in the 2004 elections.

The communal forces then conjured a new phenomenon―why not start engineering bombs first in Hindu dominated areas, and then in Muslim areas?

The trend began with the July 2006 Mumbai serial train blasts in `Gujarati Hindu dominated’ first class compartments of the Mumbai metro rail; soon there were blasts in Muslim areas of Malegaon and Hyderbad.

In 2008, with elections just around the corner in April-May 2009, and the BJP getting relegated to the third position in electoral calculations in the post-nuclear deal vote phase, the bomb blast phenomenon has become endemic. From July 2008 at the time of writing this piece here have been several blasts―in the past week, blasts have occurred almost daily.

One thing is clear―it is not that bomb blasts are being engineered to create communal riots. That (communal riots following bomb blasts) simply has not happened―the new mantra seems to be of bomb blasts replacing communal riots. This means that if in the past riots were engineered to create communal polarization the same kind of polarization is being sought to be created by engineering bomb blasts.

So the pattern―4 blasts in a Hindu dominated area; then one or two in a Muslim dominated area―so Malegaon and Modesa after Bengaluroo, Ahmedabad and the two blasts in Delhi.

This is a foreign pattern for even Indian communal forces; this trend has been seen in areas where Mossad and CIA operate; a similar/exact phenomenon was seen in Lebanon where Beirut, a beautiful and cosmopolitan Asiatic city was turned into an arena of sectarian Muslim-Christian conflict with bomb blasts being engineered every day in respective Muslim-Christian areas, something which now even Hollywood films (see Spy Game) admit as a CIA ploy to destroy Lebanon.

The post-American invasion Iraq situation too sees a similar thing―of sectarian Shia-Sunni violence being generated by the bomb blast phenomenon, engineered by the CIA, private US mercenary firms like Blackwater and the US forces.

A third region is Pakistan where too blasts take place respectively, in Shia or Sunni, Sindhi or Mohajir, NWFP or Punjabi or Baluchi areas alternately and with regularity. Here the western game is clear―America and Israel have been working for decades to dismember Pakistan and control its nuclear arsenal.

India was spared of this ordeal till 1991 as Prime Ministers like Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and even Rajiv Gandhi, did not allow Mossad-CIA penetration.

Before liberalization during Narsimha Rao’s regime, Indian passport holders could not travel to two places: Israel and South Africa. India was at the forefront of the International crusade against apartheid and the denial of a homeland for Palestinians.

Why is it that after liberalization, which was initiated soon after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, India recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations―and then the Babri Masjid demolition incident occurred?

So three things are related―liberalization of the Indian economy, the change in Indian foreign policy from an anti-Imperialist, pro-Third World position to a pro-American, pro-Israel stance, and the increasing persecution of Muslims, in an institutionalized form.

See that these three developments occur side by side―and now in 2008 we see India being turned into another Lebanon.

The biggest delusion of the RSS-BJP is that by blaming organizations like SIMI or Muslim `terrorists’ for the recent blasts they are doing some service to the nation. On the contrary, by not exposing the foreign Mossad-CIA hand, they are going against the interests of India. Why did the BJP-RSS not cry foul over the flight of Ken Haywood from India after the email sent by the so called `Indian Mujahideen’ group was traced to his computer in Navu Mumbai? Why was there no demand for a probe into the role of this dubious American national with shady evangelical, anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim connections in America? These connections can be seen by clicking on links like or or or or and

This is a question I would like to put before people like Javed Anand― did they write anything on the Ken Haywood angle?

This is a question I would like to put before Yogendra Yadav― we were engaged in a debate over SIMI and the wider Muslim question in India― a debate in which Shri Yadav differed on several points but agreed on one that innocent Muslims are being persecuted and liberals, secular forces or any religious group with a conscience ought to fight against the persecution.

Now the question is: Is Shri Yadav ready to demand a probe and come out on the streets on the issue of the Ken Haywood angle or the Bajrang Dal angle (that they were caught making bombs which exploded in their faces)? Is he willing to write as a member of the Governing Council of the ICSSR or otherwise against the total lack of concern in the Indian security agencies towards the Ken Haywood angle and the total failure to investigate into several instances where Bajrang Dal and Hindu Munaani and other RSS outfits have been found making bombs?

Another question: Are people like Tavleen Singh, who speak about `Islamic terrorism’, ready to even consider discussing the Ken Haywood or the Bajrang Dal angle in the recent bomb blasts and violence against Christians in Orissa and Karnataka?

If not willing to discuss the foreign or the RSS angle then there is something seriously wrong somewhere― I have mentioned earlier that SIMI or the Indian Mujahideen is a fiction, a phantom like the WMDs in Iraq― why can’t the liberals see this?

I was reading Shashi Tharoor’s piece in the Times of India; I have also seen Karan Thapar writing against violence perpetrated by VHP on Christians in Orissa. All this is very good and welcome― but why haven’t Shashi Tharoor or Karan Thapar ever written on violence against Muslims in India? Why hasn’t Karan Thapar ever written on the Ken Haywood angle? In the Times of India piece, Shashi Tharoor makes it a point to condemn `both’ types of violence― he is again placing the fictitious `Islamic terrorism’ and the invented `Indian Mujahideen’ at par with Bajrang Dal and the VHP― he does not even mention the RSS― what kind of a secularism and liberalism is this?

Let me be very clear and loud―today, supporting the persecution and the arrest and the torture of thousands of Muslim youth, is tantamount to being anti-national. Today being anti-Muslim is tantamount to being anti-national. All newspapers and people in the media have to realize this― including people like Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose, Vinod Mehta― that you will be held accountable personally for Muslim persecution― and for not exposing the Bajrang Dal-Ken Haywood angle in the deaths of countless Hindus and Muslims during the `bomb blast season’ underway― by nationalists― and this is coming from me, a left and a religious Sanatan Dharma Hindu figure, not a rootless, westernized pseudo-secular personality.

What India needs today are not just protests― we need a special prevention of atrocities against minorities act― something which makes refusal of housing and flats to minorities, refusal by a Police officer to register a FIR by minorities, or to act in their protection, failure of a District Magistrate or a Senior Superintendent of the Police to prevent a riot or a bomb blast, the picking up of Muslims and other minorities without a formal charge, the very idea of detention of Muslim youths after blasts, or encounter killings, the calling of Muslms by the name Laandiya or Katua, a stringent crime with due punishment.

India already has a prevention of violence/atrocities against Scheduled castes act― it is a crime to call a Dalit a Chamar; or not to register his or hers FIR. Why can’t a similar act, be enacted for the minorities?

In India the so called war against terror, against SIMI or the Indian Mujahideen is a fictitious, bogus war― the recent bomb blasts were engineered by security forces, and foreign agencies and RSS-Bajrang Dal. The real war is against Muslim/minority persecution, the appropriate response to Batla House type fake encounter killing, and the extension of civil liberties guaranteed in the Indian constitution. See the history of nations― in America and Europe mere constitutional guarantees were not enough― specific new laws had to be enacted from time to time to abolish slavery, protect minorities, and end persecution, segregation and racism.

America passed through its civil rights moment in the 1960s― India has to confront its own civil rights moment now. There is a simple message to Indian liberals― either support, the demand for a special civil rights act for minorities or perish― for soon the fascist forces persecuting Muslims will turn against you.

If there is a civil war in India on this issue― so be the case; in any case with direct American intervention in Pakistan, conflict between America and India is very near. Liberals do not understand this but the Indian army does― so there is bound to be a double civil war in India― one against foreign intervention in the Indian sub-continent and the other against anti-national fascist forces.

Where do liberals stand in this fight? The anti-national forces want India to be invaded― that is why they are launching Muslim persecution so that when NATO forces attack India, the country is weak internally.

They are of course deluded― as the history of 1857 shows, Indian Muslims are the single most nationalist forces alive in India today― persecution or no persecution, they will fight foreign invasion.
But what is our duty? The best course is to launch a mass movement now to end persecution and guarantee civil rights to Muslims and other minorities; otherwise a civil war, a military response against Modi and the RSS to save the Indian constitution and the Indian republic is imminent.

Choose what you want…

Amaresh Misra, historian and author, has written extensively and provocatively on the 1857 war of independence. He is also a columnist for Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times and several other newspapers and journals. He is the author of numerous books such as `Mangal Pandey: True Story of an Indian Revolutionary’, and `Lucknow: Fire of Grace’; his new two volume, 2000 page book on 1857 titled `War of Civilisations: India 1857 AD’, has just been published in India to national and International acclaim. Misra is also the Governing Council member of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the premier research organization of the Government of India.

Information pointed to by Ijaz Syed

Gendercide in Pakistan: Women are a colonized population!

By Fauzia Rafiq

Aurat Foundation has released numbers for the First Quarter of this year, January to March 2008: 91 days. Just for now, i will count them 90 in honor of the 90 Shaheed Women who were reported to be killed for ‘honour’ in these three months.
90 ‘Honour’ Killings…

This is somewhat the picture that emerges from this report:

Each Day in Pakistan
1 woman is killed for honour (read ‘male honour’)
4+ women are murdered (‘murdered by men’)
2+ women are abducted (‘abducted by men’)
1+ women are injured in ‘domestic violence’ (‘wife assault, daughter assault, sister assault, daughter-in-law assault, sister-in-law assault’)

Each Week in Pakistan
4+ women are raped
1+ women are gang-raped
5+ women commit suicide
2+ women face ‘custodial violence’ (‘sexual, physical, psychological abuse by officials while in police custody’)
2- women face sexual assault
1+ women are burnt (‘burnt with kerosine oil’)

Each month in Pakistan
1 woman faces acid attack

This is how a month looks like
30 women are killed for male honour
122 women are murdered
82 women are abducted
39+ women are injured in ‘domestic violence’
20 women are raped
6 women are gang-raped
22 women commit suicide
11+ women face ‘custodial violence’
8 women face sexual assault
5+ women are burnt

Women Are A Colonized Population in Pakistan
This is 152 women killed every month; and, 193 women abducted, battered, raped, gang-raped, violated in police custody, sexually assaulted, acid attacked and burnt. No wonder 22 women choose to end their lives each month.

Where 367 women are killed/assaulted/raped/humiliated each month, the entire population of women of that country is subjected to a minimum of 367 violent, cruel and gender-biased threats on monthly basis.

As well, and at the same time, 367 messages of vulgar victory are delivered to privileged Muslim men around the country.

The history of the colonization of Pakistani women may not be short and sweat but it is for sure un-complicated. In a feudal/tribal/religious society, the implementation of Muslim Sharia Laws, the Hudood Ordinances, provided what was lacking: the divine sanction to subjugate/abuse a whole population group to serve another. The Military, the MullaN and the US Empire have all benefited at the expense of Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats who are now reduced to errand boys/girls helping out to manage and exploit an already dis-empowered population.

Out of this, women, who are more than half the number of men, are rendered expendable. The ‘Declaration on Burying Women Alive/Killing of Women in the Name of “Honour” and other Customary Practices’, passed by women’s and human rights organizations in Islamabad after a national-level consultation in September, acknowledges and points to the situation like this:
‘that we will no longer allow women to be used as pawns – as convenient expendable targets – in feuds between men over murder, property, money, political and tribal rivalries, blood vendettas and misplaced perceptions of “honour” issues;’

Which Women?
The women being murdered, assaulted and mutilated in Pakistan are not you and me. I may be a ‘kari’ but i will not be the one caught/flogged/stoned/killed. It is inevitable that the woman who will suffer this punishment will be a woman of less social and economic status or a woman ‘belonging’ to men of less economic and social status; and, it will not matter if she is a ‘kari’ or not.

A woman Minister was shot dead by the eXtreme MullaNs last year but such instances are few and far between. So far, its 91 under-privileged women to about 1-2 privileged women a year.

Just as the war in Vietnam became an issue for American people and the Western world only when white soldiers began to die there in numbers, the gender-cide in Pakistan remains un-acknowledged by Pakistani people and the world because the women being killed/assaulted at the minimum rate of 367 per month do not belong to the privileged classes.

The ‘acknowledgment’ of gender-cide is not sought from the Military, MullaN or the Empire but from the progressive politicians, academicians, professionals, activists and bureaucrats who are engaged in a fight for peace, democracy and human rights.

We have to acknowledge a situation of urgency before we can respond to it; and, this is one such situation. Because you know why?

The ‘367 per month’ is an Inaccurate Number
Based on the information released by Aurat Foundation for the First Quarter of this year, the number of ‘honour’ killings rose from 1000 a year in 2001-2002 to 1192 a year in 2008. However, I truly believe that the actual number of killings is much higher.

Most cases involving lesser women/people do not get registered to be counted in researches and surveys. ‘Rapes and gang-rapes are a dime a dozen in feudal Pakistan; exploitation, of women, as also of other lesser mortals is managed in urban environments with sophistication. Neither, gets reported in routine.’ In Search of Decency by Zafar Samdani

There are graves being un-earthed in Pakistan of unregistered crimes against women. ‘… during the past two years, as many as 100 young girls and women had been murdered and their graves were unearthed recently.’ Motion Filed in Senate Against Killing of 100 Women

Delivering Justice to (under-privileged) Women
This is an article published in 2004 where the author recalls the memory of Nawabpur case that had happened in 1984. Beginning with the ‘Elder’ of the avenging family, the author has this to say in The tormenting memory of Nawabpur by Omar R. Quraishi :
‘One can only be astonished by the audacity of this man who probably saw it fit to deny or justify the parading of women naked at gunpoint, because one of their relatives allegedly had an affair or affairs with female relatives of the men who came to take revenge.
(Touch-wood 2008: Mir Israr Ullah Zehri)
‘A military court heard the case and after the incident an amendment (through the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance 1984 – Section 354 A) was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code.
(Touch-Wood 2008: Laws will be amended, Sherry Rehman)
‘It increased the maximum sentence from two years in jail to capital punishment for anyone who forced a woman to strip naked in public. Despite that, the men tried in the Nawabpur case were not given capital punishment or even life sentence.
(Touch-Wood 2008: The more influential culprits in the Baloch women case have not even been charged yet)
‘In fact, two months later they were all released on bail. Akbar’s shattered and broken family left the village fearing that the released men might return and persecute them.’
(Persecution is on. Three older women were buried alive for objecting to the earlier alive burials of five women.)

The Most Unfortunate Fact is the People Who Are Killing Women
In the case of Five (now Eight) women who were buried alive in Balochistan, seven people were arrested, and this is who they are:
‘The arrested include the fathers of the three girls, a brother of two of the girls, a cousin of one of the girls and two others whose identities have not been disclosed’.

This is robbing the hearts and souls of women. One hell of a scary ‘family’! I wonder why a society continues to protect it.

And that is why if we cannot mount enough legal and social resistance in Pakistan and outside to protect women in their homes, we will be putting a vast majority of women’s population at an increased risk of violence and abuse from ‘displeased’ and now a bit ‘hunted’ men in their lives.

This is even more true where women are living in tribal, rural or extreme religious home/family environments.
Aithae vudh hyati nochdae/mere sajjan saak peyarae

An Unscietific Indicator of the Current level of Resistance on this Issue
I am proud to belong to some of the most vibrant Pakistani lists on the Net; foremost among them is the one used by five organizations of progressive workers, peasants, women, and rights activists with over 3000 members.

On September 26, ‘Zardari flirts with Palin’ and ‘Zardari calls Palin gorgeous’ were posted with ‘Three more women buried alive in Balochistan today’.

From September 26 to October 1, the first two drew 19 and 6 posts while the third got 2.

From those two, one was mine.

I think that it is almost a true indicator of the order of our priorities in Pakistan; and in that order, women receiving alive burials for wanting to exercise their basic human rights are remembered twice every 25 instances of imperial gossip.

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Indignation against ‘karo-kari’ a positive sign

By Khadijah Shah

Jacobabad, Pakistan: Despite tall claims made by successive governments, the state of women in the country, particularly in Sindh remains unchanged where nearly 250 women are executed in the name of honour every year. Honour killing is the name given to murders where the offender claims the victim, usually a woman, has brought his family into disgrace.

In many cases, the victims held properties that the male members of their families did not wish to lose if the women chose to marry outside the family. Unfortunately, most such cases went unreported in the past. But a new trend of reporting such matters to the relevant authorities is emerging fast.

On Friday, a man lodged an FIR against his father accusing him of killing his innocent teenaged daughter on the pretext of karo-kari in Lal Khan Panhor village in Thul.

Thirteen-year-old Hanifan was at her home when her father, suspecting her of having an affair with her cousin, Mohammad Salah Banglani, strangled her to death. Later, the man, Mohammad Khan, surrendered himself to the Thul police and confessed to having killed his daughter.

Consequently, the victim’s brother, Araz Mohammad, lodged an FIR against his father stating that his sister was innocent and had been murdered in cold blood.

The police handed over the body to relatives after a post-mortem examination conducted at the Thul hospital.

Observers may recall that only a few weeks back a man had also lodged an FIR against his son in a similar case.

Moula Buksh Lohar of Jafarabad had stated in the FIR registered at the Miranpur police station of Garhi Khairo area, that his son, Ghulam Shabbir, had a monetary dispute with Sobho Katohar. After an exchange of hot words with Sobho Katohar, his son came home and shot his wife dead. Later, he also gunned down Sobho Katohar and accused both the victims of having an affair, which Moula Buksh Lohar
insisted was fabricated by his son.

With the reporting of the second such case, it is hoped that a day will dawn soon when this heinous tradition will become a thing of the past.

Ferhan Mazher
Chairman (Rays of Development Organization, Sargodha, Pakistan)

Sexual cleansing in Iraq

Islamist deaths squads are hunting down gay Iraqis and summarily executing them

Peter Tatchell
Thursday September 25 2008 07:00 BST

(Some of the links in this article will take you to sites containing images of violence which you may find disturbing)

The “improved” security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not those who are gay. Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, as Newsweek recently revealed.

One of these clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa urging the killing of lesbians and gays in the “most severe way possible”.

The short film, Queer Fear – Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq, produced by David Grey for Village Film, documents the tragic fates of a several individual gay Iraqis. You can view it here. Watch and weep. It is a truly poignant and moving documentary about the terrorisation and murder of Iraqi lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Since this film was made, the killings have continued and, many say, got worse. For gay Iraqis there is little evidence of the transition to democracy. They don’t experience any newfound respect for human rights. Life for them is even worse than under the tyrant Saddam Hussein.

It is a death sentence in today’s “liberated” Iraq to love a person of the same sex, or for a woman to have sex outside of marriage, or for a Muslim to give up his or her faith or embrace another religion.

The reality on the ground is that theocracy is taking hold of the country, including in Basra, which was abandoned by the British military. In place of foreign occupation, the city’s inhabitants now endure the terror of fundamentalist militias and death squads.

Those who are deemed insufficiently devout and pure are liable to be assassinated.

The death squads of the Badr organisation and the Mahdi army are targeting gays and lesbians, according to UN reports, in a systematic campaign of sexual cleansing. They proudly boast of their success, claiming that they have already exterminated all “perverts and sodomites” in many of the major cities.

You can view photos of a few of the LGBT victims of these summary executions here and here.

My friends in Iraq have relayed to me the tragic story of five gay activists, who belonged to the underground gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT.

Eye-witnesses confirm that they saw the men being led out of a house at gunpoint by officers in police uniform. Yes, Iraqi police! Nothing has been heard of the five victims since then. In all probability, they have been executed by the police – or by Islamist death squads who have infiltrated the Iraqi police and who are using their uniforms to carry out so-called honour killings of gay people, unchaste women and many others.

The arrested and disappeared men were Amjad 27, Rafid 29, Hassan 24, Ayman 19 and Ali 21. As members of Iraq’s covert gay rights movement, for the previous few months they had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, relaying details of the murders to the outside world, and providing safe houses and support to other gay people fleeing the death squads.

Their abduction is just one of many outrages by anti-gay death squads. lslamist killers burst into the home of two lesbian women in the city of Najaf. They shot them dead, slashed their throats, and also murdered a young child who the women had rescued from the sex trade. The two women, both in their mid-30s, were members of Iraqi LGBT. They were providing a safe house for gay men on the run from death squads. By sheer luck, none of the men who were being given shelter in the house were at home when the assassins struck. They have since fled to Baghdad, and are hiding in an Iraqi LGBT safe house there.

Large parts of Iraq are now under the de facto control of the militias and their death squad units. They enforce a harsh interpretation of sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as “crimes against Islam”. These “crimes” include listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.

Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Bush and Brown-backed Iraqi government. The Mahdi army is the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr organisation is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s governing coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship. The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But if the Mahdi or Badr militias gain in influence and strength, as seems likely in the long-term, it could result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.

Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant. I campaigned against his blood-stained misrule for nearly 30 years. But while Saddam was president, there was certainly no danger of gay people being assassinated in their homes and in the street by religious fanatics.

Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is much worse. Even children suspected of being gay are abducted and later found much shot in the head.

Lesbian and gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police, since the police are heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. The death squads can kill with impunity. Pro-fundamentalist ministers in the Iraqi government are turning a blind eye to the killings, and helping to protect the killers. Some “liberation”.

Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. Since they don’t yet have a bank account, they request that cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!”, with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT”, and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT.

See Iraqi LGBT for more information or to make a donation by PayPal.

To read original article, go to:

‘Violence Against Women’? No! GENDER-CIDE in Pakistan!

By Fauzia Rafiq

I write this as tears unstoppable, fall from my eyes. The mourning for the five women buried alive in Balochistan was hardly over when the news came late last night that three more women were buried alive for speaking against the atrocities done earlier to Bibi Jannat, Bibi Fatmah, Bibi Fauzia, Bibi Benaam1 and Bibi Benaam2 in July of this year. Though we say Five, the sources suspect the women buried alive in July 2008 were Seven; this makes it Eight or Ten.

Though i do, but right now i am not crying for Three Five Eight or Ten women. I am crying for uncountable number of women killed for honour and revenge in Pakistan since the Eighties. But just to keep my feet on the ground, here is the approximate exact number for the last Six months: 225 for ‘honour’ and 722 for ‘no-honour’ = 947 or Nine Hundred and Forty Seven Only.

But wait, these are stats collected by Aurat Foundation, a non-profit organization that can not reach each neighborhood and each village of the country. The researchers would have had to rely on police records and government statistics, and in both these areas the numbers are known to NOT reflect the reality of the reference. Pakistan Human Rights Commission (PHRC), Asian Human rights Commission (AHRC), and women’s direct service and advocacy organizations show many complaints in their service registers about the police not registering the cases in these matters.

In Pakistan, some say, read it three times the number. Shall we read it 2841 instead of 947 then? That’s too much. Lets just double the number instead of tripling it: 1894 in 6 months. From January to June 2008. However, counting and numbers fast become irrelevant at times when what is happening to women in a country can no more be defined as ‘honour killings’, ‘domestic violence’, ‘wife assault’ or ‘violence against women’. It’s gender-cide.

This gender-cide began in Pakistan in the Eighties with the implementation of Muslim Sharia Laws, and has continued through the Nineties as Muslim extremists have flourished to gain commanding political ground in Punjab, Balochistan and the NWFP. Now reaching a level of urgency in 2008, it puts the largest majority of Pakistani women at the direct risk of sexual violence, torture and death. The ones most vulnerable are in rural and tribal areas where the terrifying control exercised by local influential men is protected by religion, law and the gun with zero tolerance for dissent.

The majority of women living in rural and tribal areas are at risk more than ever because though women were being killed and exploited for revenge, family honor, watta-satta, karo-kari and other similar social and cultural constructs, it was never as often, as brutal and as much as it is now with the blanket protection provided by Islamic laws, edicts and notions. For the reader who does not see the connection: a society that by law requires women survivors of rape, for example, to produce four Muslim male eyewitnesses of upright character to prove or even to register the case against the rapists, is setting women up for increased instances of rape, sexual violence, honour killings and murders.

So, at any pressure point in the life of a woman or in the life of her family or community, she will be the first casuality of justice, likely with no possibility of help from outside the room, home or village.

The case of Five Baloch Women Buried Alive this July, signifies the cruelty, cold-bloodedness and the absolute control enjoyed by the perpetrators in a situation of ‘family’ interaction. Not only that, it reveals the nature of deadly silences and conspiracies that involve such acts of inhuman violence carried out against unarmed women; and, we are not even certain of the number or the names of the individuals who died there.

In a village called Mirwah in Balochistan, two young sister and a friend studied in the nearby high school. As are the customs, they were likely ‘given’ or ‘taken’ by another relative/s for their sons from childhood. The three young women Benaam 1 (16-18), Benaam 2 (16-18) and Fauzia (18) did not want to marry where their ‘families’ wanted them to. They discussed this matter with two older relatives Fatmah (45) and Jannat (38); the matter was taken to the family elders or Jirga that went on to rule against the wishes of the three young women.

The three young women, however, were strong in their resolve to stand up to the unjust authoritarianism dished out to women by elders/jirgas. With support of Jannat and Fatmah, they went to the nearby city to contract civil marriages.

At this point, they were abducted by a group of armed men in a government vehicle and brought to another small village in the desert. The abductors included the fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins of five women, and some local political goons. Reports say that the men hit and shot the three young women, and then began to bury them while they were still alive.

Fatmah and Jannat tried to stop them, and were also shot and hurled into the ground alive.

This happened in the second week of July but we came to know of it at the end of August when Baloch Senator Yasmeen Shah with help from some courageous journalists, brought it out in the open. The alive burials of women were defended in the Senate; and, the extensive cover up and silencing that was underway was shamefacedly perfected by the provincial and federal power brokers.

Pressure from rights activists and women’s groups pushed Pakistan People Party (PPP) to take a stand amidst a power-balancing act as it took over the government. Leaders of women’s groups in Pakistan held a nation-wide consultation and released a statement of action titled Declaration on Burying Women Alive/Killing of Women in the Name of “Honour” and other Customary Practices issued by Joint Action Committees (JACs), Women’s Action Forums (WAF chapters), Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) and Violence Against Women Watch Groups. The Supreme Court of Pakistan took sou motu notice. The newly instituted government of the PPP responded as if it was going to do something about it but nothing has really been done. A post by the Karachi Committee of Communist Workers & Peasants Party (CMKP), an association of five workers peasants and women’s organizations, says:
‘We feel that the issue regarding the atrocities meted out to five Baloch women who were buried alive on the orders of a tribal jirga not too long ago is being side-tracked, just like other similar issues before this one.’
Protest against atrocities meted out to five women buried alive

And then the news last night!
Three older women were also buried alive in July for demanding basic human rights for women in Pakistan. They were from the same village: Mirwah.
They were buried alive at the same place: Babakot.

Death anywhere
but when i die
bury me in Babakot
so that i can become a part
of the sand
that layered the bleeding flesh
of my sisters

Send An Appeal Letter

First published at Uddari Weblog

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The Real Face of Muslim Extremism: Osama takes cues from Heredi Jews

By Fauzia Rafiq

All indicators point to the fact that Muslim Extremism led by the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TIP) is on the rise in Pakistan, and no one can disagree after the Mariott hotel blast in Islamabad last week, and the increased instances of threats and violence against women throughout the country.

As a woman from Pakistan, the embodiments of Muslim extremism/fundamentalism/conservatism are my identified enemies . So, let me show you the face of my enemy but before that, here is a saying: ‘the face of my enemy’s enemy is like my enemy’. You will see that its not just a tongue twister.

‘... M had scandalised members of her … community by leaving her husband and embracing a secular lifestyle. The men, all … theologically conservative …, tackled her to the ground, slammed her head against the floor and tied a rag around her mouth. One assailant sat on her head as the others kicked her while demanding to know the names of the men she was seeing… They also threatened to kill her if she did not leave the neighbourhood…

Sounds like the Lal Masjid Squad who abducted, held and tortured local and foreign women for not following the favored moral code, in Islamabad.
Its the militants of the Heredi sect of Judaism in Jerusalem.

Here are a few more gems.
1. Socio-Political Bullys
Both Muslim and Jewish extremists bully their respective populations into following their own lists in music, literature, art and films by destroying every thing that does not please them, and so usurping the right of others to self-expression and enjoyment.
‘Self-appointed moral guardians, dubbed the ‘modesty police’ by Israel’s modern secular media, roam Jerusalem’s ultra-religious neighbourhoods enforcing the voluminous and ever growing list of rabbinical laws such as the recent decree banning the sale of MP4 players.’
Sounds familiar!
The heaps of burning tapes, CDs, DVDs in city squares in Islamabad and in various parts of the NWFP; the unforgiveable destruction of Budha statutues in Afghanistan; the bans on singing, dancing, painting.

2. Obsession withh Women’s Fashion
Both Muslim and Jewish extremists appear obsessed with Women’s fashion, clothing and lifestyle/s.
About 100 Haredi women have taken to wearing scarves and veils to cover themselves much like Muslim women.’
‘… a library housing copies of the enormous notices pasted on the walls of Mea Shearim and other religious neighbourhoods berating women for wearing wigs instead of scarves and advertising appropriate dress on buses.’
Here Taliban lead Heredi.
Taliban blow up primary and high schools where girls appear without veils; women are issued public threats to ‘mend their ways’ and if they don’t, their faces are disfigured with acid attacks.

3. Adam and Eve Story Promoters
Both buy into, and apply, the perverted myth of Adam and Eve as the basis of their understanding of a family nucleus.
‘Non-religious girls don’t dress properly. They encourage me to sin’
It sounds different but it is the same thing.
The myth of sinful Eve misleading poor Adam that permeates the Muslim collective and individual concsiousness, and is the basis of the Shariah Laws, and other edicts and cultural norms regarding women, relationships and family.

4. Increased Levels of Appeasement
Both Muslim and Jewish extremists are gaining ground and being more aggressive in bullying weaker population groups such as the women and petty criminals.
The transport ministry, which regulates and funds bus transport through private companies, has allowed operators to provide ‘kosher’ or ‘pure’ routes, where women are required to sit at the back and cannot board unless appropriately dressed.’
Appeasements galore!
The history of Pakistan provides many lists of appeasements to religious extremists by the army generals and politicians, and we can see the outcomes of that in our syllabus, education system, and our laws.
But one of the most unexpected ‘appeasements’ came the other day when the Awami National Party (ANP) announced that Shariah Laws ‘…as per the desires of the local people and the Taliban’, would be implemented during the current month.
The ANP is the successor of the National Awami Party (NAP) of Wali Khan, the party that was established by the Lal Khan, Pride of the Subcontinent, the Sarhadi Gandhi, the Great Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who taught us how to run political movements without assimilating into the opposition. He taught us this lesson at his own cost of a lifespan spent in jails.
Sardar Asfandyar Wali! What a sad position to take. In my view, what you are trying to protect by giving in to the Taliban at this point, is what will destroy ANP in the NWFP. This is not what we wish for the brave movement of Pashtuns that you have inherited.

5. Desire to control technology
An unexplicable negativity for computers, facebooks, chat programs.
If we discover someone has a computer at home we throw the children out of school
A father in Saudi Arabia had killed his daughter for using Facebook.

6. Segregation of Sexes
Both parties appear content after achieving segregation/sepration between sexes.
‘Inside the Haredi neighbourhoods separation between the sexes is becoming increasingly strict. Husbands and wives socialise separately and during Jewish holidays men and women walk on opposite sides of the street. …in a few weeks, when religious Jews will dance to celebrate the receiving of the Torah, men and women would rejoice separately, breaking a 50- year tradition of the sexes mingling in this neighbourhood during this event.’
Pakistan thrives on a culture of exclusion; we bar women from mosques, and keep them segregated in shrines, schools; social, religious and cultural events.

7. Tactics of Aggression
Both Jewish and Muslim extremists are gaining ground in their societies, and are way more aggressive in attacking women
According to Menachem Friedman, a sociology professor at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, the orthodox are imposing their rules more forcefully than before and the lives of the city’s women are becoming more circumscribed, and sometimes more dangerous, as a result.’
In Pakistan, the lives of urban and rural women are becoming more humiliating and life-threatening’.

8. Extremist women are equal to extremist men
Well, both Jewish and Muslim extremist women are as much up to the task as their men, defeating the myth of the superiority of the male in an environment where it will never amount to much.
Haredi women also participated in the bullying.’
We know the Burqa-clad weapon-weilding moral police of Lal Masjid unleashed on the capital city of Islamabad.

And all these years i thought, Taliban were taking their cues from Saudi Arabia via Osama Bin Laden. Now, i think Osama takes cues from the Heredi Jews.

Israel: Aggressive campaign against secular women By Toni O’Loughlin

US Bases Worldwide! In case u r looking for a holiday spot

By Tom Engelhardt,
America garrison the globe in ways that really are unprecedented, and yet, if you live in the United States, you basically wouldn’t know it.

By Tom Engelhardt
Posted September 8, 2008.

US garrisons the globe in ways that really are unprecedented, and yet, if you live in the United States, you basically wouldn’t know it.

Here it is, as simply as I can put it: In the course of any year, there must be relatively few countries on this planet on which U.S. soldiers do not set foot, whether with guns blazing, humanitarian aid in hand, or just for a friendly visit. In startling numbers of countries, our soldiers not only arrive, but stay interminably, if not indefinitely. Sometimes they live on military bases built to the tune of billions of dollars that amount to sizeable American towns (with accompanying amenities), sometimes on stripped down forward operating bases that may not even have showers. When those troops don’t stay, often American equipment does — carefully stored for further use at tiny “cooperative security locations,” known informally as “lily pads” (from which U.S. troops, like so many frogs, could assumedly leap quickly into a region in crisis).

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military “sites” abroad.

The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard — that is, the population of an American town — are functionally floating bases.

And here’s the other half of that simple truth: We don’t care to know about it. We, the American people, aided and abetted by our politicians, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media, are knee-deep in base denial.

Now, that’s the gist of it. If, like most Americans, that’s more than you care to know, stop here.

Where the Sun Never Sets

Let’s face it, we’re on an imperial bender and it’s been a long, long night. Even now, in the wee hours, the Pentagon continues its massive expansion of recent years; we spend militarily as if there were no tomorrow; we’re still building bases as if the world were our oyster; and we’re still in denial. Someone should phone the imperial equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But let’s start in a sunnier time, less than two decades ago, when it seemed that there would be many tomorrows, all painted red, white, and blue. Remember the 1990s when the U.S. was hailed — or perhaps more accurately, Washington hailed itself — not just as the planet’s “sole superpower” or even its unique “hyperpower,” but as its “global policeman,” the only cop on the block? As it happened, our leaders took that label seriously and our central police headquarters, that famed five-sided building in Washington D.C, promptly began dropping police stations — aka military bases — in or near the oil heartlands of the planet (Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait) after successful wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf.

As those bases multiplied, it seemed that we were embarking on a new, post-Soviet version of “containment.” With the USSR gone, however, what we were containing grew a lot vaguer and, before 9/11, no one spoke its name. Nonetheless, it was, in essence, Muslims who happened to live on so many of the key oil lands of the planet.

Yes, for a while we also kept intact our old bases from our triumphant mega-war against Japan and Germany, and then the stalemated “police action” in South Korea (1950-1953) — vast structures which added up to something like an all-military American version of the old British Raj. According to the Pentagon, we still have a total of 124 bases in Japan, up to 38 on the small island of Okinawa, and 87 in South Korea. (Of course, there were setbacks. The giant bases we built in South Vietnam were lost in 1975, and we were peaceably ejected from our major bases in the Philippines in 1992.)

But imagine the hubris involved in the idea of being “global policeman” or “sheriff” and marching into a Dodge City that was nothing less than Planet Earth itself. Naturally, with a whole passel of bad guys out there, a global “swamp” to be “drained,” as key Bush administration officials loved to describe it post-9/11, we armed ourselves to kill, not stun. And the police stations Well, they were often something to behold — and they still are.

Let’s start with the basics: Almost 70 years after World War II, the sun is still incapable of setting on the American “empire of bases” — in Chalmers Johnson’s phrase — which at this moment stretches from Australia to Italy, Japan to Qatar, Iraq to Colombia, Greenland to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, Rumania to Okinawa. And new bases of various kinds are going up all the time (always with rumors of more to come). For instance, an American missile system is slated to go into Poland and a radar system into Israel. That will mean Americans stationed in both countries and, undoubtedly, modest bases of one sort or another to go with them. (The Israeli one — “the first American base on Israeli territory” — reports Aluf Benn of Haaretz, will be in the Negev desert.)

There are 194 countries on the planet (more or less), and officially 39 of them have American “facilities,” large and/or small. But those are only the bases the Pentagon officially acknowledges. Others simply aren’t counted, either because, as in the case of Jordan, a country finds it politically preferable not to acknowledge such bases; because, as in the case of Pakistan, the American military shares bases that are officially Pakistani; or because bases in war zones, no matter how elaborate, somehow don’t count. In other words, that 39 figure doesn’t even include Iraq or Afghanistan. By 2005, according to the Washington Post, there were 106 American bases in Iraq, ranging from tiny outposts to mega-bases like Balad Air Base and the ill-named Camp Victory that house tens of thousands of troops, private contractors, Defense Department civilians, have bus routes, traffic lights, PXes, big name fast-food restaurants, and so on.

Some of these bases are, in effect, “American towns” on foreign soil. In Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base, previously used by the Soviets in their occupation of the country, is the largest and best known. There are, however, many more, large and small, including Kandahar Air Base, located in what was once the unofficial capital of the Taliban, which even has a full-scale hockey rink (evidently for its Canadian contingent of troops).

You would think that all of this would be genuine news, that the establishment of new bases would regularly generate significant news stories, that books by the score would pour out on America’s version of imperial control. But here’s the strange thing: We garrison the globe in ways that really are — not to put too fine a point on it — unprecedented, and yet, if you happen to live in the United States, you basically wouldn’t know it; or, thought about another way, you wouldn’t have to know it.

In Washington, our garrisoning of the world is so taken for granted that no one seems to blink when billions go into a new base in some exotic, embattled, war-torn land. There’s no discussion, no debate at all. News about bases abroad, and Pentagon basing strategy, is, at best, inside-the-fold stuff, meant for policy wonks and news jockeys. There may be no subject more taken for granted in Washington, less seriously attended to, or more deserving of coverage.

Missing Bases
Americans have, of course, always prided themselves on exporting “democracy,” not empire. So empire-talk hasn’t generally been an American staple and, perhaps for that reason, all those bases prove an awkward subject to bring up or focus too closely on. When it came to empire-talk in general, there was a brief period after 9/11 when the neoconservatives, in full-throated triumph, began to compare us to Rome and Britain at their imperial height (though we were believed to be incomparably, uniquely more powerful). It was, in the phrase of the time, a “unipolar moment.” Even liberal war hawks started talking about taking up “the burden” of empire or, in the phrase of Michael Ignatieff, now a Canadian politician but, in that period, still at Harvard and considered a significant American intellectual, “empire lite.”

On the whole, however, those in Washington and in the media haven’t considered it germane to remind Americans of just exactly how we have attempted to “police” and control the world these last years. I’ve had two modest encounters with base denial myself:

In the spring of 2004, a journalism student I was working with emailed me a clip, dated October 20, 2003 — less than seven months after American troops entered Baghdad — from a prestigious engineering magazine. It quoted Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer “tasked with facilities development” in Iraq, speaking proudly of the several billion dollars (“the numbers are staggering”) that had already been sunk into base construction in that country. Well, I was staggered anyway. American journalists, however, hardly noticed, even though significant sums were already pouring into a series of mega-bases that were clearly meant to be permanent fixtures on the Iraqi landscape. (The Bush administration carefully avoided using the word “permanent” in any context whatsoever, and these bases were first dubbed “enduring camps.”)

Within two years, according to the Washington Post (in a piece that, typically, appeared on page A27 of the paper), the U.S. had those 106 bases in Iraq at a cost that, while unknown, must have been staggering indeed. Just stop for a moment and consider that number: 106. It boggles the mind, but not, it seems, American newspaper or TV journalism. has covered this subject regularly ever since, in part because these massive “facts on the ground,” these modern Ziggurats, were clearly evidence of the Bush administration’s long-term plans and intentions in that country. Not surprisingly, this year, U.S. negotiators finally offered the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki its terms for a so-called status of forces agreement, evidently initially demanding the right to occupy into the distant future 58 of the bases it has built.

It has always been obvious — to me, at least — that any discussion of Iraq policy in this country, of timelines or “time horizons,” drawdowns or withdrawals, made little sense if those giant facts on the ground weren’t taken into account. And yet you have to search the U.S. press carefully to find any reporting on the subject, nor have bases played any real role in debates in Washington or the nation over Iraq policy.

I could go further: I can think of two intrepid American journalists, Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post and Guy Raz of NPR, who actually visited a single U.S. mega-base, Balad Air Base, which reputedly has a level of air traffic similar to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow, and offered substantial reports on it. But, as far as I know, they, like the cheese of children’s song, stand alone. I doubt that in the last five years Americans tuning in to their television news have ever been able to see a single report from Iraq that gave a view of what the bases we have built there look like or cost. Although reporters visit them often enough and, for instance, have regularly offered reports from Camp Victory in Baghdad on what’s going on in the rest of Iraq, the cameras never pan away from the reporters to show us the gigantic base itself.

More than five years after ground was broken for the first major American base in Iraq, this is, it seems to me, a remarkable record of media denial. American bases in Afghanistan have generally experienced a similar fate.

My second encounter with base denial came in my other life. When not running, I’m a book editor; to be more specific, I’m Chalmers Johnson’s editor. I worked on the prophetic Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which was published back in 2000 to a singular lack of attention — until, of course, the attacks of 9/11, after which it became a bestseller, adding both “blowback” and the phrase “unintended consequences” to the American lexicon.

By the time The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, the second volume in his Blowback Trilogy, came out in 2004, reviewers, critics, and commentators were all paying attention. The heart of that book focused on how the U.S. garrisons the planet, laying out Pentagon basing policies and discussing specific bases in remarkable detail. This represented serious research and breakthrough work, and the book indeed received much attention here, including major, generally positive reviews. Startlingly, however, not a single mainstream review, no matter how positive, paid any attention, or even really acknowledged, his chapters on the bases, or bothered to discuss the U.S. as a global garrison state. Only three years later did a major reviewer pay the subject serious attention. When Jonathan Freedland reviewed Nemesis, the final book in the Trilogy, in the New York Review of Books, he noticed the obvious and, in a discussion of U.S. basing policy, wrote, for instance:

“Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it’s just that Americans are blind to them. America is an ’empire of bases,’ he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost.”

Not surprisingly, Freedland is not an American journalist, but a British one who works for the Guardian.

In the U.S., military bases really only matter, and so make headlines, when the Pentagon attempts to close some of the vast numbers of them scattered across this country. Then, the fear of lost jobs and lost income in local communities leads to headlines and hubbub.

Of course, millions of Americans know about our bases abroad firsthand. In this sense, they may be the least well kept secrets on the planet. American troops, private contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees all have spent extended periods of time on at least one U.S. base abroad. And yet no one seems to notice the near news blackout on our global bases or consider it the least bit strange.

The Foreshortened American Century
In a nutshell, occupying the planet, base by base, normally simply isn’t news. Americans may pay no attention and yet, of course, they do pay. It turns out to be a staggeringly expensive process for U.S. taxpayers. Writing of a major 2004 Pentagon global base overhaul (largely aimed at relocating many of them closer to the oil heartlands of the planet), Mike Mechanic of Mother Jones magazine online points out the following: “An expert panel convened by Congress to assess the overseas basing realignment put the cost at $20 billion, counting indirect expenses overlooked by the Pentagon, which had initially budgeted one-fifth that amount.”

And that’s only the most obvious way Americans pay. It’s hard for us even to begin to grasp just how military (and punitive) is the face that the U.S. has presented to the world, especially during George W. Bush’s two terms in office. (Increasingly, that same face is also presented to Americans. For instance, as Paul Krugman indicated recently, the civilian Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] has been so thoroughly wrecked these last years that significant planning for the response to Hurricane Gustav fell on the shoulders of the military’s Bush-created U.S. Northern Command.)

In purely practical terms, though, Americans are unlikely to be able to shoulder forever the massive global role the Pentagon and successive administrations have laid out for us. Sooner or later, cutbacks will come and the sun will slowly begin to set on our base-world abroad.

In the Cold War era, there were, of course, two “superpowers,” the lesser of which disappeared in 1991 after a lifespan of 74 years. Looking at what seemed to be a power vacuum across the Bering Straits, the leaders of the other power prematurely declared themselves triumphant in what had been an epic struggle for global hegemony. It now seems that, rather than victory, the second superpower was just heading for the exit far more slowly.

As of now, “the American Century,” birthed by Time/Life publisher Henry Luce in 1941, has lasted but 67 years. Today, you have to be in full-scale denial not to know that the twenty-first century — whether it proves to be the Century of Multipolarity, the Century of China, the Century of Energy, or the Century of Chaos — will not be an American one. The unipolar moment is already so over and, sooner or later, those mega-bases and lily pads alike will wash up on the shores of history, evidence of a remarkable fantasy of a global Pax Americana.

Not that you’re likely to hear much about this in the run-up to November 4th in the U.S. Here, fantasy reigns in both parties where a relatively upbeat view of our globally dominant future is a given, and will remain so, no matter who enters the White House in January 2009. After all, who’s going to run for president not on the idea that “it’s morning again in America,” but on the recognition that it’s the wee small hours of the morning, the bender is ending, and the hangover Well, it’s going to be a doozy.

Better take some B vitamins and get a little sleep. The world’s probably not going to look so great by the dawn’s early light.

[Note on Sources: It’s rare indeed that the U.S. empire of bases gets anything like the attention it deserves, so, when it does, praise is in order. Mother Jones online has just launched a major project to map out and analyze U.S. bases worldwide. It includes a superb new piece on bases by Chalmers Johnson, “America’s Unwelcome Advances” and a number of other top-notch pieces, including one on “How to Stay in Iraq for 1,000 Years” by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan (the second part of whose Pentagon expansion series will be posted at this site soon). Check out the package of pieces at MJ by clicking here. Perhaps most significant, the magazine has produced an impressive online interactive map of U.S. bases worldwide. Check it out by clicking here. But when you zoom in on an individual country, do note that the first base figures you’ll see are the Pentagon’s and so possibly not complete. You need to read the MJ texts below each map to get a fuller picture. As will be obvious, if you click on the links in this post, I made good use of MJ’s efforts, for which I offer many thanks.]

Tom Engelhardt, Editor of, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.

Information provided by Yakkho

Israel: Aggressive campaign against secular women

By Toni O’Loughlin

The Haredi sect has launched an aggressive campaign against the secular lifestyles of women in Jerusalem. (The Observer)

Four months ago in the middle of the night, six men dressed in wide-brimmed black hats, black coats, white shirts and black trousers burst into the Jerusalem apartment of a young Jewish woman and taught her a lesson.

Mikhail, who is reluctant to give her full name, had scandalised members of her ultra-orthodox Jewish community by leaving her husband and embracing a secular lifestyle. The men, all members of the theologically conservative Haredi branch of Judaism, tackled her to the ground, slammed her head against the floor and tied a rag around her mouth. One assailant sat on her head as the others kicked her while demanding to know the names of the men she was seeing.

They also threatened to kill her if she did not leave the neighbourhood, which contains many secular as well as religious residents. ‘A woman is only OK if she has a family, kids and a husband,’ said Mikhail with a sigh.

Welcome to the new, increasingly orthodox, Jerusalem. The attack on Mikhail, although exceptionally brutal, was only the latest in a string of assaults over the past two years against Jewish women accused of immoral behaviour in the city.

In relative terms, Orthodox Jews dominate Jerusalem to a greater extent than in any other city in Israel. More than 30 per cent of its Jewish residents are Haredi while only 22 per cent are secular. Of the remaining 47 per cent, 14 per cent say they are religious and 33 per cent say they are traditional Jews.

According to Menachem Friedman, a sociology professor at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, the orthodox are imposing their rules more forcefully than before and the lives of the city’s women are becoming more circumscribed, and sometimes more dangerous, as a result. Friedman grew up in an ultra-orthodox family and has been studying the Haredi for 49 years. He said the extreme atmosphere is tangible.

Self-appointed moral guardians, dubbed the ‘modesty police’ by Israel’s modern secular media, roam Jerusalem’s ultra-religious neighbourhoods enforcing the voluminous and ever growing list of rabbinical laws such as the recent decree banning the sale of MP4 players. About 100 Haredi women have taken to wearing scarves and veils to cover themselves much like Muslim women.

Yoel Kreus is known locally in the Mea Shearim area of the city as the ‘manager of operations’. He describes himself as a ‘shmira’, a Hebrew word that translates as ‘watcher of Israel’. ‘I make sure the rabbis’ decisions happen … I help you to be a moral person,’ he said.

Much of Kreus’s time is spent checking out reports of illicit use of new technologies by members of the Haredi community. ‘If we discover someone has a computer at home we throw the children out of school,’ he said. Enforcing dictates on women’s behaviour is another vital part of his brief.

He runs a library housing copies of the enormous notices pasted on the walls of Mea Shearim and other religious neighbourhoods berating women for wearing wigs instead of scarves and advertising appropriate dress on buses.

Signs warning women not to enter if they are wearing trousers, short sleeves or a skirt above the knees, hang in the neighbourhood. One is affixed outside Kreus’s two-room house where he lives with his wife and 11 children. ‘Every week there’s a complaint about the way women dress,’ said Kreus.

Extraordinarily, he admitted to slashing the tyres of women who have driven into the neighbourhood who, he said, were indecently dressed. ‘There was a mess with the police,’ he said. ‘Now I’m trying new creative methods, not using violence. Now I make a small hole in their tyres and the air deflates slowly. I’m not destroying their car.’

Inside the Haredi neighbourhoods separation between the sexes is becoming increasingly strict. Husbands and wives socialise separately and during Jewish holidays men and women walk on opposite sides of the street.

Kreus said that in a few weeks, when religious Jews will dance to celebrate the receiving of the Torah, men and women would rejoice separately, breaking a 50- year tradition of the sexes mingling in this neighbourhood during this event.

He maintained that separation was necessary beyond the boundaries of the neighbourhood. ‘Having secular people on the buses is a problem. They go like animals, without clothes. Non-religious girls don’t dress properly. They encourage me to sin,’ he said.

With the demographics skewed in their favour, government authorities are acquiescing to the growing demands of the ultra-orthodox. The transport ministry, which regulates and funds bus transport through private companies, has allowed operators to provide ‘kosher’ or ‘pure’ routes, where women are required to sit at the back and cannot board unless appropriately dressed.

More than a dozen women have filed complaints after being verbally or physically attacked on the buses. ‘Sometimes it’s an official group but often it’s one or two men who start to complain and the other men follow,’ said the Israel Religious Action Centre’s legal director, Einat Hurvitz. ‘The drivers allow them to intimidate the women.’ Haredi women also participated in the bullying.

‘I was wearing jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt and as I was getting on the bus someone told me I couldn’t get on the bus like that,’ said Iris Yoffe who was travelling from Jerusalem to her parents’ home in the northern city of Haifa. ‘I ignored him and paid the driver.’ But then, said Yoffe, two women blocked her way and told her to get off. ‘When I refused they started yelling at me.’

According to Friedman, the growing intolerance is only likely to worsen. ‘They’ve built an imaginary idealistic world where everyone is pious.’ Increasingly, Jewish women in Jerusalem are required to conform to that vision.

21 September 2008

The Observer The Guardian

‘The ignored face of Eve’, Women in Refugee Camp in Risalpur

By Ayesha Tammy Haq

(The writer is a corporate lawyer and host of a weekly talk show on Satellite television and a freelance columnist)

The bombing in Bajaur started early last month and has been relentless. United Nations estimates that around three hundred thousand people have fled the area. Some went to live with host families in Dir and Malakand but the majority made their way down to Murdan from where they were sent to one of the many camps set up to deal with the influx of what the UN politely calls “internally displaced people” but who are in reality homeless at home- refugees in their own country.

At the Government Boys High school Risalpur, a few miles from Nowshera, one of the many refuge camps has been set, up to cater to some of this huge internal displacement from Bajaur. The daily steady stream of refugees continues, because despite the government’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire for the month of Ramzan, the bombing by the Pakistani and US forces has continued unabated. The faces of despair and hopelessness say it all. Tired, hungry and terrified tens of thousands of men women and children have run the gauntlet and made their way down what they hope will be a safe heaven.

The camp, barely six weeks old was set up after the bombing started in Bajaur. It is squalid and over crowded. It lacks sanitation, has no proper management and seems to be hampered by all the plagues camps and the lack funds. Refugee camps are never good places to be, and despite all good intentions and in some cases, hug efforts to the contrary; they are the embodiments of neglect and tragedy.

The North West Frontier Province is not unfamiliar with refuge camps, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then the civil war that followed in Afghanistan saw a massive influx of refugees into
Pakistan. Humanitarian aid and the international committee not withstanding the camps where miserable and management left to be desired. A woman unaccompanied by a father, husband, son or other male family member was treated like a non person, the camp administration refused to register them, as a result they were not entitled to accommodation, food, or what ever little was on offer and called life and were forced to subside on the margins of camp society. Not much of a difference in the way they were treated by the Taliban. Today the situation in the camps is pretty much the same; unaccompanied women face the same problems. Having fled the war they are not met with the
new and enlightened administration that should have learnt lessons from the past but by an administration that seems to have not only learnt nothing it treat them pretty much the same way as the Taliban treats women as non people with no rights.

Women in the camps I visited had been confronted by this problem as well and it was only when a group of foreign journalists saw what was going on and asked why “unaccompanied” women were not being registered and why Talibanesque values were being employed in the camps did those in charge do an about turn and registered the women. Shockingly all this is happening at a time when the government of the day claims to espouse secular liberal values.

Women are not unaccompanied out of choice; this is after all a tribal society where a women’s status is tied to that of a man. Some of the women have lost their husbands to the bombing. This is the human face of this war that is being fought in a place far away and does not touch us, even though our new government has claimed it as our war. One of the women I met have lost her husband in the first attack and when the village evacuated to the refuge camps her only son stayed behind to protect the family property, which was a small piece of land with the mud brick house and some livestock which are now their solo source of income. The distraught mother only wept and prayed for the safety of her son. Poverty and a lack of options are what led to this family having to make this terrible choice.

Once they have been registered and allocated accommodation women are required to observe strict PURDAH that means staying inside the tent, which through the heat of August and September is like living in a fly infested furnace. The tents are small, made of canvas and house an entire family. The better furnished ones have some matting for the inmates to sit and sleep on. Most have one simple mat through which they damp of the soil comes through resulting in respiratory and other
problems. These sound terrible but are the latest of their problems ass the camps lack basic sanitation and facilities are lacking, as a result diarrhea endemic, measles and cholera have broken out and the
main causality are children. These are children who are dying of diseases in the camps every day and cannot be buried at home, weeps a mother who has lost her daughter to cholera, who will come to the
child’s grave when we return home she asks.

Internal displacement is one thing each family has its own story to tell there is some tragedy attached to just about every one. The local school, teacher, a young man, got married the day before the bombing. He can not find his wife. He stayed behind to look for her. All the money he had saved to start a new life was spent on getting out of Bajaur, making it to Mardan and looking for his wife and her family in the many camps. It’s been five weeks and he has not been able to find her. She may be in Dir or Malakand or some other place, he will have to wait to find her. He has no money left his teachers salary will only be paid when he goes back home and he can’t risk going home until the bombing stops. There are children who have been orphan by the fighting. A 12 year old was now parent to her four and six year old siblings.

It is heartbreaking and yet the bombing continue. The humanitarian crisis is on such a large scale yet it does not merit much mention or space in the press. These lives too are precious and you cannot raise a generation in a war, squalor, in fear and expect it to be the peace makers of tomorrow.

All the people I spoke to say the same thing, they wanted to be a part of Pakistan and to be treated like Pakistani and with enforceable rights. They want to see developments, schools, hospitals, jobs better and safer futures of their children. None of them claimed to support the Taliban. In fact they said they did not want the system of governance that the Taliban had on offer, they want to see the
constitution of Pakistan apply to them not the frontier crimes regulation act, they want to know that they have rights and a say in their futures. They are innocent civilians and are bearing the burnt
of this war one just hope that we don’t lose them.

Khadijah shah
Rays of Development Organization, Sargodha , Pakistan.