Thursday, November 29, 2012

Catching Up with Enaam Arnaout of Benevolence International Foundation

pic-friedemannThere are many sad stories about Muslims who were sent to prison. Not all of them were misguided romantics framed by the FBI. Some earlier victims of the “War on Terror” were sincere followers of Islam, who went out of their way to serve the poor and hungry in war torn areas around the globe. Many of these people like Iraqi Dr. Rafil Dhafir, of Help the Needy and Palestinian Shukri Abu Baker of Holy Land Foundation, will likely die in prison due to their long sentences, for no crime besides raising money to feed Muslims living under US and Israeli military occupation. 

Dr. Aafia Siddique, a child development researcher who became passionately obsessed with helping the Bosnians, started a collection of used boots while studying at at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She made a purchase in a military surplus outlet, possibly steel toed boots, sparking FBI interest. Dr. Siddique and her three children were kidnapped while awaiting a train in Pakistan in 2003. She and at least one son spent years being tortured in Bagram prison in Afghanistan until news of her existence was spread by prisoners who were released as a result of a bombing by the Taliban. Siddique was released to the US after inquiries from the UK as to her whereabouts following these reports. She remains imprisoned in a mental hospital in New York State despite repeated requests from the Pakistani government to have her repatriated.

Therefore, it is on a bright note that TMO reports that our dear Syrian brother Enaam Arnaout was released in July 2010. He is alive in Chicago and doing reasonably well after serving nine years in a CMU prison in Terre Haute, largely for his involvement in supplying the Bosnian army with steel toed boots in an effort to help prevent injuries from land mines. Prosecutors accused him of defrauding donors to Benevolence International Foundation, which was collecting money for humanitarian relief, in providing “military equipment.” However, this author clearly remembers that BIF fundraisers focused on the need for protective footwear. There was no fraud involved.

The whole case made very little sense to the public, since we thought the US was supposedly on Bosnia’s side in the war. Court documents imply that the charity was targeted by neocons in the Bush administration because international money exchanges made by Islamic charity organizations often use mechanisms outside of the western banking system. 

Muslims sponsoring orphans in foreign lands were not considered the threat, per se, but the ability of Muslim organizations to move money around in order to perhaps influence the outcome of world events – keeping people alive  to fight another day – was seen as a threat to the world order. 

Arnaout’s drama unfolded in 2002, when he was taken away from us, shortly after his charity office in Palos Hills, IL was raided by the FBI. Bush closed all the orphanages and clinics that American Muslims sponsored in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan and China; upon which thousands of children, including polio victims, were depending on for their survival. 

The Chicago Tribune reports: “About a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration highlighted the charges against Arnaout, saying he had provided material support to al-Qaida. But on the day of his trial in 2003, the Syrian native pleaded guilty to diverting charity money to pay for boots, uniforms and other equipment for Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. The government dropped charges that he aided a terrorist group.

“According to his lawyers, Arnaout was released in July 2010 from federal prison to a halfway house, then placed on home detention so he could work as a used-car salesman. By February 2011, he began his three-year supervised release.”

That he received so light a sentence (nine years) is remarkable, especially after the publicizing of his old photos from LIFE magazine in the 80’s showing him walking next to Osama bin Laden, testifying to Arab News on Soviet napalm bombing, and US news reports that he had driven bin Laden’s wife to the airport. 

While he was working on his masters degree in Pakistan, he met many public figures including Abdullah Azzam. Arnaout fought in the Battle of Jaji in 1987 against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and is regarded by many as a war hero. 

Now 50 years old, Arnaout lives alone in Chicago and works long hours at a used car lot in order to support his six children, who live abroad. He has not seen them, nor their mothers, since his release from prison due to fears that he might be subject to arrest if he travels to those countries because of his history. Arnaout communicates by Skype with his family regularly. 

Arnaout gained permission from a judge to travel to Saudi Arabia twice during his probation period in order to see his elderly mother, brother, and other family members. He was greeted with rose petals and great festivities, as he kissed his mother’s feet. His travel was delayed due to harassment by Turkish and Jordanian authorities at airports, despite being cleared for travel by US authorities. His probation period will end in February 2014.

Arnaout is the eighth of ten children, three of whom were murdered in their home in Hamah by a special force of the Syrian army in 1980, due to his brother Bassam Arnaout, a famous leader of an Islamic Brotherhood splinter group of front fighters in militant opposition to Hafez al Assad’s government.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Women, Mother Earth & the Environment


In the past, I have written about the connection between the women’s hijab and the struggle for protecting environmental resources. Hijab – beyond religion – is a political statement saying, “I will not be commodified.” 

Women’s bodies are essentially part of the earth’s resources. Her offspring can either thrive or become endangered. That is one reason why it is important to protect women.

Yet women’s persons are resources in themselves – embodiments of boundless love, beauty, organization and creativity when properly nourished. Women are the personal maintainers of human life and human culture. Yet, women are also usually in a weaker position than men, and so must struggle to complete their tasks on earth while simultaneously struggling to create a situation of sustainability on earth. 

Sustainability, in environmental terms, means actions that lead to general health of the soil, air and water. Sustainability, in human terms, means actions that lead to the general health of self esteem, relationships, and ability to contribute to the community. Many times, people in weaker positions like women and children, or indigenous populations such as Native Americans or Palestinians, suffer a lot because of the inability or refusal of the ruling class to hear their voices or care how they feel.

At this time in history, we as humans are at a watershed moment. The environment is in a state of crisis, largely our fault, due to a combination of unbridled consumerism and unbridled warmongering leading to burning up the ozone layer with bombs, airplanes, factories and automobiles. We as a species are at a point where we have to take responsibility for the way things are, and try to do better. Because if we don’t, we will all lose the feeling that our planet is a comfortable and safe place to live and have children.

While this is a pretty scary thing to realize, it’s also pretty amazing. God chose us, out of all the living species, to decide what is going to happen on this planet. There is no other species besides us that is competing for the goal of making decisions for everyone. Yes, whether you believe in God or not, we cannot deny that we as a species have been made responsible for everything – even a frog. And the proof is that there is no frog on earth, except in a fairy tale, that would ever be able to take responsibility for a human.

If we were imbued with the spirit of hope and faith, the potential of good action when realizing this intensely glorifying responsibility would be beyond religion. But most people are not aware that God created us to make the world a better place. 

Many people have already become cynical and decided that the earth is not a good place for raising children and have told themselves that they are doing the right thing by not investing in the future. Those of us who do have children often feel like victims of a hurricane, needing intense amounts of help but not ever receiving enough. It takes a village to raise a child, but today’s world is a prison complex of individual cells, where nobody really talks to anybody, and each child is completely and utterly on their own. 

Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, made five simple demands of President Obama in a recent article in the Huffington Post: 

1. Address climate change and ocean acidification.
2. Stem the extinction crisis.
3. Keep politics out of the Endangered Species Act and other vital environmental laws.
4. Safeguard our public lands, wild places and the Arctic.
5. Embrace a newer, cleaner energy.

While an oppressed person might view these demands for a safe living environment as basic part of being alive, a ruling class person might view other people’s life demands as negotiable, or even justify denying them through force. 

In Brazil, indigenous peoples and traditional groups occupied the Belo Monte construction site to protest the building of a dam. According to White Wolf Pack:

“Everything started with 13 fisherman camping on an island and evolved to almost 200 people between river-dependent community members, small farmers, boat pilots, indigenous leaders, and fisherman. Those 13 brave warriors managed to build a beautiful and organized community. A team of three women cooked day and night for everybody. The stories shared under the stunning sun and crazy storms; the laughs; tears; even the quarrels between people were a sign that we were becoming a big family. No dam could take that from us.” 

The protesters were all there “to denounce the violation of their rights and the government’s pre-conditions that where never met by the company. People should never have to negotiate to secure their rights. With that in mind, we know that the battle is not over, and the dream to stop the Belo Monte dam continues.”

The importance of power dynamics is addressed by Yashar Ali, Los Angeles author of On Her Terms: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Romance:

“Women are consciously and unconsciously taught that they are responsible for keeping the man by doing what’s necessary to make him happy. The onus is on women to change, to adjust, to push aside what they need or want in an effort to appease men so that they are willing to engage in dating or being in a relationship at all… Women are faced with the responsibility of maintaining the relationship, while men have the power to direct where the relationship goes.”

Ali’s book is meant to encourage women to stop ignoring or accepting behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable, and to stop making massive adjustments in their character and fundamental selves in order to make a man more comfortable.

“It’s time for women to stop giving up ground when it comes to romance and it’s also time for men to stop expecting them to give up this territory. For too many women, the tone, tenor, nature, path, and dynamics of the romantic part of their life is on the man’s terms. And it’s time for our society at large to recognize it and work to shift that imbalance.”

One of the beautiful things about Islam is that people should never have to negotiate to secure their rights. Human rights are non-negotiable. They are God-given and self-evident. The honor of the life of a human being is never negotiable. It is important for women to address imbalances in their personal relationships in the same way that it is important for all oppressed people who value the Earth to address imbalances in the environment.

Friday, November 09, 2012

From Foster Care to Life in Prison

Few children in the US are fully prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood by their eighteenth birthdays, even with the best of families. American young people generally spend their twenties in a state of limbo, searching for themselves as they complete their education and/or enter the workforce.
imagesJuveniles who have been placed in foster care face special challenges when they turn 18 because they must suddenly become responsible for managing their own lives. 

When kids “age out” of the system, they often end up returning to the unstable parental homes from which they were originally removed. The Boston Foundation conducted a study of the problem in 2008, and found that: 37 percent of former foster kids older than 18 had experienced homelessness; 54 percent were unemployed, and half of those with jobs worked fewer than 20 hours a week; 30 percent had been threatened or injured with a weapon; 25 percent had been arrested in the prior 12 months; and 11 percent reported being raped.” The study also showed that 39 percent reported being moved to 10 or more foster homes over the course of their lives, which resulted in a disruption of their education. 59 percent of the teens surveyed reported feeling “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row.”

The government stops tracking young adults once they leave foster care, but independent studies have demonstrated that up to 20 percent of all prisoners in the nation are former foster children. A government database of National Youth in Transition is being compiled, but it will not be completed until 2016. 

Steve Holt reports in Boston Magazine that “the New York-based group Children’s Rights is suing Massachusetts for violating the constitutional rights of children in its care. The class-action suit, expected to be heard in US District Court in Springfield early next year, was filed on behalf of six children the organization says have been “badly harmed” by abuse, neglect, and numerous placements while in the state’s foster care system. Connor B. v. Patrick also accuses the state of not adequately preparing adolescents in foster care for living independently as adults.”

Marie, a single mother overwhelmed with caring for her sick son lost her job, so her two children were temporarily removed from her home. When she finally got her children back, she learned that both of them “had been sexually abused over and over again” by the fourteen year old son of the foster mother.”

Former social worker Judy Andreas writes: “’Sendy was only two years old at the time,’ Marie cried to me. ‘Where was the foster mother? Why had Social Services snatched the children from my loving arms to put them in harms way?’” 

Marcia Robinson Lowry, Children’s Rights’ executive director explains that “taxpayers are paying for a system that, rather than protecting children, is further contributing to damage that children have gotten already in a home environment.”

Former foster child Donald Rudolph, age 18, murdered three people including his mother and sister in Weymouth, Massachusetts last year. Donald had “spent the past two years moving between foster homes, his parents’ houses, and the street,” reports Boston Magazine. He had been arrested four times and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia within a year after he left foster care. 

Donald had actually applied for continued assistance from the Department of Children and Families (DFC) but was automatically cut off after being incarcerated. Donald had the choice to reapply, but he did not do so. 

“And with that, Massachusetts willfully cut ties with a man it knew was mentally ill and a threat to others,” writes Holt. 

Donald’s mother reportedly told police he was off his medications and was out of control. Donald was arrested and pleaded guilty to burglary, dealing marijuana, and shooting a random woman with a pellet gun. On September 14, 2011, District Court Judge Diane Moriarty ordered him to receive mental health treatment, but no one was appointed to oversee his care. In October, he was arrested again for burglary, and was again set free, pending a November 29 court date. 

On November 10, 2011, he murdered his family. 

Donald’s surviving sister, Brittany Rudolph, who was away at college the night of the murders, says her brother’s years in foster car were filled with neglect and abuse. She says state officials missed clear signs that her brother needed continued intervention. “The way they handled it – the system,” she says, “they basically created a criminal.” 

Donald is certainly not Massachusetts’ youngest murderer. Fourteen-year-old Ernest Watkins IV of Boston was charged on October 6, 2012 with the death of a 39-year-old man during a robbery, after stabbing him 37 times. Under state law, any juvenile charged with murder is automatically tried as an adult. He will likely receive life in prison.  

Such cases as this inspire discussions on how violent youth crime could be best prevented, whether by putting more resources into supervising troubled teenagers or by locking them up more swiftly to prevent them from committing worse crimes. 

The flip side of the “tough on crime” approach of giving long prison terms to young murderers is that now the state faces increasing financial burdens from aging prisoners requiring medical care. James Ridgeway wrote an article in the Bay State Banner entitled “The Other Death Sentence: Aging and Dying in Prison,” about the experiences faced in prison by “men in various stages of bad health or terminal illness.” 

He describes the last days of Lefty Gilday, “a minor league ballplayer turned ‘60s revolutionary, a convicted cop killer and target of one of the most famous manhunts in Massachusetts history.” Lefty was loved and respected by the other inmates, who came to him to settle disputes. When he became infirm, his friends helped him to the toilet and cleaned him up. Joe Labriola, 66, who was convicted of killing an FBI informant, used to help Lefty get some fresh air by wheeling his chair into the yard and sitting with his arm around Lefty to keep him from falling out. 

Lefty was placed in isolation for throwing an empty milk carton at a prison guard, but Labriola snuck into Lefty’s cell one day and found stacks of unopened food containers. “Lefty said he couldn’t open the tabs to get at the food. The stench of piss and feces was overwhelming,” Ridgeway reports. 

There are countless prisoners who are so old and sick they are bed-ridden, clad in adult diapers. Some of them have families who are willing to take them, but the government refuses the release of prisoners, who are well beyond the point of posing a threat to society. Many other prisoners, who committed violent crimes as teenagers decades ago, but who have worked hard to better themselves and whose parole board has recommended their release, remain imprisoned at our expense. 

Funds are extremely limited for teens who need supervised help, yet funding seems to be unlimited for housing prisoners even until death. The amount of money spent on each life prisoner far exceeds what it would have cost to send each one to Harvard.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Massachusetts Candidates Differ Only Slightly on MidEast

While President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney have dominated presidential election coverage, the Massachusetts Senate race may be the second-most important race in the country. The Senate elections are crucial for President Obama. A return of a Democratic majority may unite the divided government he has had to work with the past two years.

Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren has prided herself on going after Wall Street banks and being “for the people.” The Democratic candidate, who enjoys a slight lead over Republican Scott Brown, made a splash in the most recent televised debate when she said, “I want to be blunt; we should not be fighting about equal pay for equal work and access to birth control in 2012.” 

When it comes to Israel, one could hope that Brown’s Republican values of lower taxation and less government spending – or Warren’s 99% values – would end our forced taxation by Israel. Sadly, not only do both candidates support Israel unconditionally, but they maintain a racist position encouraging and sponsoring the violent policing of non-Jews in the region.

Brown brags that he supported the Senate’s resolution which “reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself during Operation Cast Lead.” He writes, “I also firmly support the security barrier erected by Israel.” Brown states: 

“I unequivocally support the recently executed ten-year memorandum of understanding between the US and Israel which will provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel until 2017. Since the vast majority of that aid is spent on American products, it is good for both American employment and the American economy.”

Aren’t Republicans supposed to support free enterprise? Using taxpayer money to support specific businesses, most likely Jewish or Zionist-owned corporations like Starbucks and Home Depot to supply Israeli settlements and cities would certainly not help the average American small business owner. 

Warren is less clear on exactly how much of American taxpayers’ money she is willing to fork over to Israel but makes it clear that she will be spending US money to protect apartheid in the Holy Land: “To me, it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel, and I am committed to ensuring its long-term security by maintaining its qualitative military edge. Israel must be able to defend itself from the serious threats it faces from terrorist organizations to hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others…” 

Warren claims that Massachusetts benefits from high tech businesses owned by dual citizen Israelis. “There are approximately 100 companies in Massachusetts with Israeli founders or based on Israeli technologies – creating $2.4 billion in value and thousands of jobs for our economy.” However, Israeli companies, indirectly subsidized by US taxpayers, suck money away from the very working class citizen base that Warren appeals to. American high tech companies, which are not Jewish-owned, have a harder time competing for contracts when the US government practices such favoritism. 

Scott Brown’s foreign policy statement relies heavily on racist soundbites obviously borrowed from some unnamed “Talking Points Memo,” even maligning the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes. Elizabeth Warren phrases her own foreign policy statement in a more pleasantly ambiguous way but clearly accepts behavior that is violently racist in favor of Jews against Arabs and Muslims, and appears to draw from the same “Talking Points Memo.” 

For example, regarding Palestine, Brown emphasizes that his support for a two-state solution for peace is “premised on security for Israel and is not imposed by outside parties,” while Warren clarifies, “I do not believe that a lasting peace can be imposed from the outside.” What does this mean, other than that Israel’s decision to stop committing genocide against Palestinians must be purely voluntary? That the US has an obligation to arm Israel but no other country or group may arm Palestine? Both candidates clearly view Israel’s security as more important than the security of the United States by keeping us involved in this conflict.

Warren openly opposes the Palestinians’ application for UN membership. She claims to believe in a two-state solution but opposes the recognition of Palestine as a country. How can two countries negotiate when only one country is recognized as a country? This is one of many bizarre mental cliff leaps Warren’s political position takes. Brown’s logic also ventures into bizarro-land as he sloppily copies “Israel’s unconditional right to live in peace is equal to that of all other nations of the world” from the same “Talking Points Memo” – as if any other nation on earth enjoyed any “unconditional right to live in peace!” The racist tyrade continues as Brown reiterates the age old anti-Palestinian canard that there are no leaders to negotiate peace with: 

“I stand with Israel and the majority of leaders in support of a two-sate solution… However, with the Palestinian leadership now divided by a terrorist entity (Hamas) and the Palestinian authority, we do not yet have the fundamental requirements in place to begin negotiations… Until there is a non-terrorist entity on the other side of the table, negotiations cannot start.” 

Both Brown and Warren also oppose the non-existent Iranian nuclear bomb threat. Warren supports economic sanctions against Iran: “Like the President, I believe that the careless talk of rushing to war is unhelpful, and, like the President, I believe the United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” When a blogger recently mentioned to her that Iran is not even working on a nuclear weapon according to US official sources, Warren answered that she would have to “look into it.” Warren’s ignorance and arrogance against Iran seems almost palatable compared to the nearly psychotic ranting on Brown’s website: 

“Iran, the brutal theocracy run by a cabal of mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, represents an existential threat to Israel and a menace to United States interests. With visions of regional domination and international troublemaking, Ahmedinejad has stated with great clarity that the Holocaust did not occur and that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Not only does Scott support divestment from Iran but he would make it illegal to do business with any country that does business with Iran. He continues: “I also would work to restore funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC ) which was recently cut by the Obama administration and support continued intelligence sharing by the Mossad and the CIA.”

Regarding both Massachusetts Senatorial candidates, it would seem that they are largely struggling over who can agree with the same positions more forcefully, except that Warren prefers to starve Iranians rather than kill them with bombs, and that Scott seems to enjoy personal ties with the Mossad.