Saturday, June 1, 2013

Turkey fears of Islamic challenge to secular state

Turkish pianist Fazil Say received a suspended 10-month jail term on Monday for mocking Islam on Twitter. Secular Turks have become increasingly concerned over what they see as the creeping Islamization of society. "Honestly, we were not expecting this ruling, and all I can say is, both legally and for the country, it's a sad decision," Say's lawyer Meltem Akyol told Reuters. The blasphemy charges were brought against Say in June last year. In their suit, prosecutors cited several sarcastic messages about believers and Islamic concepts of Heaven. The musician, who has served as a cultural ambassador to the European Union, denied the accusations. RT’s Maria Finoshina reported from Turkey how residents are concerned by the growing dominance of Islamic values: Censorship is imposed on TV shows, museums are turned into mosques, and attempts are even being made to introduce Ottoman-style uniforms for flight attendants. Turkish women fear their rights are being infringed even though they are seemingly free to wear and do what they want. “The reformed education system is split into three parts of four years each, the result - thousands of girls leave school before the end, encouraging young marriages. The state promotes having at least five kids. Only three out of ten women today go to work. It’s far from a democratic model of society,” says Şenal Sarihan, the head of the group Women of the Republic. The Turkish opposition speaks of a dangerous tendency: nine decades after Turkey broke with the Islamic rule of the Ottoman Empire in favor of an anti-clerical, pro-Western vision, the ideas and values that were rejected appear to some to be making a comeback. “We are very concerned because Turkey is a secular democracy. But Islam has become the only reference. It says what to do, what to wear, what to eat, what not to eat,” Faruk Logoglu, CHP party vice-chairman said. Turkey under Erdogan has made impressive progress. Its economy is booming and its role in the region and internationally, is increasing. Now, the secular part of the Turkish society is worried all of that could be harmed by Turkey getting ultra-religious and going the Ottoman empire way.

Thousands of protesters pack Istanbul’s Taksim Square, over 900 arrested across Turkey

Bombs, boredom threaten Pakistan's "Pashto" song-and-dance cinema

A projectionist lies asleep in the sweltering Pakistani heat, his face covered by a cloth. A colleague rewinds a reel manually while on screen, through the hashish smoke, a woman bounces on a bed singing "hello, hello, hello" into a cellphone. To this, her would-be lover, who is in another room and is old and apparently drunk, sings "hello, hello, hello" back to her while splashing his head and shoulders with aftershave. Then the two of them, both fully clothed, sing it again. Welcome to the strangely innocent and overwhelmingly seedy world of Pashto cinema, or Pollywood, which once made its home in Pakistan's wild frontier town of Peshawar, but is now confined to a handful of theatres that haven't been attacked by Islamists. The Taliban banned cinema and music during their five-year rule in neighboring Afghanistan, deeming them un-Islamic, and insisted that women wear all-enveloping burqas. The Pakistani Taliban are just as strict and in Pashto cinema, where there is no sex or even kissing and only a bit of midriff on show, all their rules are broken. Several cinemas have been attacked, three of them either bombed or burnt to the ground. Bombs have also gone off outside the cinemas. But even some of those who hate the Taliban are scornful and the industry has been fading over the decades as India's higher-quality Bollywood movies have flourished. "It's been known for families (in the largely ethnic Pashtun northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to kill a daughter who becomes a singer in the movies," one resident of Peshawar said. "People love the songs, but not the singers." The films, now mostly made in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, are crudely made stories with love, valour and Pashtun identity at their core. They feature middle-aged, heavily armed heroes with long moustaches wooing much younger women who, when not bouncing fully dressed on beds, sing a lot in the hills of northwest Pakistan. Some say the vulgarity has been introduced by Punjabi film makers desperate to fill cinemas. And some theatres slip in blue movies between shows. The macho interest of Pashto films is addressed with guns, swords, knives and bloodshed. In the posters advertising the films, the wild-eyed men are often pictured smoking three cigarettes at once, with one behind the ear for good measure. FIRE EXTINGUISHERS AT THE READY Peshawar's Arshad Cinema, complete with private boxes, is grim and dark, with dirty stone steps, crumbling walls and bare wires hanging from the ceilings. Opposite is a brand new medical centre, eight storeys high and built on the site of another Pashto cinema which was destroyed. The projectors are decades old and noisy. At the foot of one was a can of oil and three fire extinguishers near at hand. The picture itself was out of focus and the soundtrack painfully distorted. "People like Pashto films because they are based on stories about society," Arshad manager Khalid Khan said. "But when there are stories in the media saying there are four or five suicide bombers in Peshawar, no one comes to the cinema. And we are suffering losses." But another reason for the losses is the repetitive story lines and vulgarity, though by western standards, the films are too soft and restrained to be considered pornography. "The films we used to watch in cinemas were based on stories and real issues," said Safdar Khan, 70. "But going to the cinema is considered a shame or bad thing today due to the obscenity." Scriptwriter Nazir Bhati believes Pashto movies are on their way out because they are so monotonous. "I gave up my job when a producer asked me to include vulgar bits," he told a newspaper. Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly Northwest Frontier Province. Once a majestic walled city, a centre of culture, trade, architecture and education, Peshawar is now hectic, congested and plagued by violence. It has witnessed dozens of bomb attacks in recent years, either launched by the Pakistani Taliban seeking to bring down the government or the result of sectarian violence. But it remains a centre of Pashtun culture which celebrates the reputation of fearless warriors, the heroes of the films, even if overweight and apparently the wrong side of 60. The men in the pitch-black auditorium lounge around in their seats, smoking cigarettes and more powerful substances and cheering the good bits. But for an outsider, it's difficult to tell which bits are good. "The projectors are old," Arshad manager Khan said. "And there is so much smoke. So the quality is bad."

Pashto Song: ''' A Tribute To Benazir Bhutto '''

Syria slams Erdogan for violence against protesters

Syria gleefully turned the tables on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday over his response to anti-government demonstrations, calling on him to halt the violent repression of peaceful protests or resign.Syrian state television broadcast hours of live footage from Istanbul, where thousands of protesters clashed for a second day with riot police who fired teargas and water cannons. The unrest was triggered by government plans for a building complex in Istanbul s Taksim Square, long a venue for political protest, but widened into a show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). "The demands of the Turkish people don t deserve all this violence," Syrian television quoted Information Minister Omran Zoabi as saying. "If Erdogan is unable to pursue non-violent means, he should resign." "Erdogan s repression of peaceful protest ... shows how detached he is from reality."

TURKEY POLICE BRUTALITY: Prostesters remain defiant on 5th day, despite police brutality on Istanbul's iconic İstiklal Avenue

The Turkish police's crackdown targeting the demonstrators protesting the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park continued on June 1, as clashes broke out in Istanbul's symbolic Istiklal Avenue and the Beşiktaş district on the European side of the city. Security forces used tear gas and water cannons this morning to quell protesters who had gathered on İstiklal Avenue, as well as its sidestreets. When the police fired the water and gas, protesters tried to escape from the narrow streets leading to the Cihangir neighborhood. Between 4,000 and 5,000 protesters gathered again after the police's first intervention. However police fired once again, entering the pedestrian street with a water cannon riot vehicle. Some protesters made barricades with trees and bins about 100 meters from Saint Anthony's Church, near Galatasaray Square. Around an hour later the police destroyed the barricade and protesters escaped into sidestreets. Despite the repeated police interventions, the numbers gathered at the protests only increased. Protesters chanted slogans against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, calling on the government to resign.Most shops did not open after the violence of the previous day, and one of the busiest streets of Istanbul looked completely paralyzed on a Saturday. Crowds also crossed the Bosphorus Bridge to the European side in the early morning hours of June 1, seeking to reach Taksim Square. However, their route was blocked by police who again fired tear gas and water cannon near the Beşiktaş district. The heart of Istanbul's entertainment area had turned into a battlefield during the late hours of May 31, as security forces staged a merciless crackdown on peaceful protesters who were gathered to denounce the brutal dawn raid against demonstrators occupying Gezi Park. Major connections leading to Taksim - Sıraselviler, Tarlabaşı, Harbiye and Beşiktaş - as well as İstiklal Avenue were all blocked by the riot police, who fired tear gas without making any distinction between protesters and locals. Two choppers were also circling the skies in the area, while ambulances continuously brought new patients to the hospitals. Dozens of protestors were reported injured by witnesses. Several hotels around the Taksim area provided support to the injured or those who suffered respiratory problems due to tear gas. The number of protesters in Istanbul taken into custody has grown to 138 on June 1, police have said. Some residents in the area banged pots and pans from their homes to protest the government over the crackdown and express support for the protesters in the streets. Meanwhile İbrahim Kalın, the adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in his twitter account today that İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş and representatives from Taksim Gazi Park Platform and the Chamber of Architects would meet today and discuss a joint-solution. Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Turkey does not want to experience the Germany of 40's in 2013, while responding to journalists in Ankara, before moving to Istanbul for a scheduled public meeting in Istanbul's Kadıköy today. The CHP's Istanbul meeting will start at 4 p.m. Today and is expected to net a large crowd upon the party's call last week. The protesters, who started their mobilization to raise awareness on the demolition of one of the city's last remaining green areas, started chanting for the resignation of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the police's relentless tear gas campaign. Twelve protesters were injured during the morning raid, according to the Istanbul's Governor's Office. However, witnesses’ accounts put the number much higher.

Peshawar: Anti-polio drive to resume on June 10 amid tight security

After an intensified security plan has been chalked out for protection of teams, the authorities on Friday decided to resume the anti-polio campaign in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on June 10. The security plan was finalised at a high-level meeting of the security and Health Department officials with Peshawar Commissioner Sahibzada Mohammad Anis in the chair. At least 700,000 children under five years of age will be administered drops by the volunteers of 2000 teams that will be properly guarded by the police. Sahibzada Mohammad Anis said the volunteers would be provided adequate security during the campaign. The anti-polio vaccination campaign was suspended on May 28 after a female volunteer Sharafata, 18, was killed and another volunteer, Sumbul, 20, was wounded when armed men attacked the team in Kaga Wala village on the outskirts of Peshawar. Sumbul is still being treated at the Lady Reading Hospital since she suffered two bullet wounds on her upper body. The women were not being guarded by the police as promised by the government after a number of attacks on anti-polio vaccination teams during the last couple of months. The local police said the volunteers in the area had refused police security, saying it can cause more threat to the teams. After the attack, the police launched a search operation in the area, during which 14 suspects were rounded up. A police sub-inspector Salim Khan suffered heart attack during the search operation and died. These volunteers are hardly paid Rs500 per day for putting their lives in danger to fight the menace of polio all over the country. The anti-polio campaign had to be suspended on a number of occasions in the past due to the attacks in Peshawar, Karachi, Charsadda, Nowshera, Mardan and other parts of the country. Only male volunteers are carrying out the anti-polio vaccination campaign in many tribal areas due to the threats. In December, at least eight anti-polio volunteers were killed and a few wounded in coordinated attacks on two consecutive days in Karachi, Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda, after which the authorities had to suspend the drive all over the country. The killing spree started from Karachi on December 17, 2012 when five volunteers were killed while another woman was shot dead and her co-worker wounded in Peshawar. This was followed by killing of two more volunteers in attacks in Peshawar, Charsadda and Nowshera the very next day as authorities had decided to continue the campaign. The killings on the second consecutive day, however, led to suspension of the drive to avoid more casualties. A proper security was ordered for the polio teams all over the country and it was decided to carry out the campaigns without much publicity. However, the killings of the volunteers as well as the cops guarding the teams continued. A cop was shot dead and another wounded in Mardan while another policeman was killed in Swabi while guarding the polio vaccinators in their respective areas in the past months.

Pakistan: Forgotten orphan
Even at the best of times, this orphan goes largely ignored and forgotten. And it is hardly surprising if the state-run schooling is not even distantly in view on any radar at this point in time when the polity across the spectrum is so obsessively preoccupied with the election aftermath. But the worry is that there is no sign if the poor thing state-run schooling will come to the focus when the nation is through with the pleasures and pangs of the poll and the governments settle down on their thrones. No doubt, this time round various political parties and groups had spoken of education a bit more elaborately in their manifestoes. But that talk was mostly on trite, familiar lines. State-run schooling, as such, hardly received any much mention from any of them. And this is quite disturbing, to say the least. For, nobody can dispute that state-run schooling makes up the key part of the country's educational pyramid. It indisputably stands unrivalled as far as its reach goes. It is the country's biggest and largest network for the schooling of the nation's children, and arguably the only opening available to the rural folks in our sprawling countryside to send their offspring for mainstream education. Appallingly, despite its position of primacy in the country's educational dispensation, the system has been let to rot over the years nonchalantly. So much so, a huge mess of it has become visibly, screaming for urgent remedial measures to come alive. Yet, if in spite of that, the rotting system has failed to draw the attention of the power contenders in the poll, what hope could be entertained if the incoming rulers would set about revamping this schooling system that alone caters to the education need of the huge populace of poor children even in urban areas, let alone the desolate poverty-ridden countryside? But this is not acceptable any more. The system must improve at any rate. The children of the poor have every right to education, and the state is bound by the constitution and the law to give them this right. They must have every opportunity to develop their potential and their inherent talents, with which they are endowed no lesser than their rich peers. This opportunity has not been afforded them in the past. No sincere or worthwhile government effort has ever been made over the past decades to resurrect the collapsing state-schooling system. That has to change now. Over the time, much pedantic talk has come forth from the thinking class. Quite often have the citizens been bombarded with statistics like rates of enrolments and dropouts, and percentages of male and female enrolments and dropouts, and what not. The din of demagoguery and populism have been no lesser deafening. No dearth either has been in pious vows and tall promises. But one thing has been constant all along: the state-run schooling has just been hurtling down unchecked. And that downward slide still continues, with no evident worry in the quarters that should be deeply concerned. None of the power contenders had spoken of the rotten state-run schooling all through the hustings. And as yet, none of the incoming rulers has spoken of it. This is quite unsettling. So long as the state-run schooling stays a mess, the whole of talk like Education for All and constitutional right of every child to education would remain sheer bunkum and the accomplishment of these objectives just a pipedream. Hence, the incoming rulers, even those who were saddled in power previously, must, for a change, focus first on salvaging the crumbling state-run schooling from the morass it is stuck in so ruinously and putting it on the right track. A hugely painstaking job it certainly would be, for the system having long fallen into wholesale decay and annihilation. But the effort would be worth it, and a big nation-building enterprise too. No exaggeration would it be to say that revamping of this devastated system would indeed be a step towards national enlightenment. Would any of the incomers take this plunge? Better keep the fingers crossed. At times even unimagined happening do occur, though. So you never know, even though the past has not been so eventful on this score.

PPPP wins Jacobabad PS-14 seat after recount

The Express Tribune
Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians’ (PPPP) candidate Sardar Muqeem Khoso, who earlier lost the PS-14 seat from Jacobabad, emerged victorious after recounting at polling station no.38 on Saturday. According to the May 11 election results, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz’s (PML-N) candidate Aslam Abro had earlier won the seat. Khoso, who was not satisfied with the results, moved the Sindh High Court which ordered recounting at polling station no.38 set up at Government Primary School Hawaldar Brohi. The recounting was done under the supervision of the District Returning Officer (DRO), District and Sessions Judge Jacobabad Amjad Hussain Bohio and Returning Officer Ramesh Lal. Khoso was declared the winner after the recounting with 15,838 votes, while Abro lost with a close margin securing 15,776 votes.