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Twitter launches versions of its site in four right-to-left languages to help attract more users in the Middle East and Asia.

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Islam is not a sword or shield for the global political stage, but a belief system designed to purify the human heart

As of 6pm (UK time) today, 7,894 people had signed a petition urging the Saudi government to drop all charges of blasphemy against Hamza Kashgari, a columnist for the Jeddah-based daily Al-Bilad. Kashgari, 23, had sparked outrage for detailing an imaginary conversation with the prophet Muhammad on his Twitter account, in which he addressed him as an equal: “I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”

After generating over 30,000 fevered responses (including a number of death threats), Kashgari deleted the post and issued a formal apology. However, this did not stop the juggernaut. As of 6pm (UK time) today, A Facebook page entitled “The Saudi people want the execution of Hamza Kashgari” had 26,632 members – a figure that sadly dwarfs the number who had signed the petition to save him.

There is a familiar explanation for the scale of the hate campaign against Kashgari: some of his fellow citizens had been following his writings for many months, waiting for him to “trip up”. He tried to flee to New Zealand via Kuala Lumpur but was arrested by Malaysian police at Kuala Lumpur airport. Having been detained for several hours, he was finally extradited back to Saudi Arabia. According to Human Rights Watch, he was kept incommunicado and denied access to legal representation and the UN refugee agency.

In the meantime, a Jeddah public prosecutor was compiling the necessary paperwork to bring a case against Kashgari, on charges of "disrespecting God" and "insulting the prophet". Both charges carry the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

On top of the usual questions about freedom of expression and its limits, such punishments – whether real or implied – point to a much graver crisis. Any religious faith that is born of insecurity is likely to react rather than respond, to silence dissent rather than embrace it, and to regurgitate black-and-white answers where few exist. But at the same time it makes the soul hungry for greater incarnations of its opposite: religious faith that has grown out of a place of love and contentment, whose most notable by-product is genuine compassion and wishing for others what you would want for yourself.

Rewind 1,400 years, and there are countless examples where the prophet Muhammad utilised the latter approach. One tradition relates that an elderly woman used to throw rubbish on the prophet whenever he passed by her house. This occurred on a daily basis, yet he showed no signs of anger or irritation. One day, the rubbish-throwing ritual stopped, and Muhammad asked a neighbour where the woman had disappeared to. Upon being told that she was unwell, the prophet asked for permission to pay a visit and assist with her recovery. The elderly woman was so moved by this act of kindness, she converted to Islam straight away.

The people threatening Hamza Kashgari should stop, re-examine their motives and remember what Islam is actually for. It is not a sword or shield for the global political stage, nor is it a stick with which to beat minorities. Finally, it is not the equivalent of a product manual, as some followers seem to think. Instead, it is a belief system designed to purify the human heart. There is a famous hadith which encapsulates this beautifully. In it, the prophet says: “Verily, in the body there is a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the body is all sound. If it is corrupt, the body is all corrupt. Verily, it is the heart.”

Tehmina Kazi © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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An attack today on an Israeli embassy car in New Delhi which has left two people seriously injured including a diplomat’s wife was captured on Twitter by a passing journalist. Read here how the story unfolded


Shiv Malik © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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As the quest for reforms continues in the Arab world, the U.S. is increasuing its influence over anti-government activists in the region. America is conducting a cyber-war in a bid to direct the spread of the pro-democracy movement. But as RT’s Gayane Chichakyan reports, U.S intentions could easily backfire.

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This week on War News Radio, an update on the United Nations report on Syria, an anti-terrorism raid in China, freed political prisoners in Iran, and more.

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WILL SULLIVAN: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Will Sullivan.

ALLISON HRABAR: And I’m Allison Hrabar. The United Nations released a report this week on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, confirming that large-scale attacks have harmed many civilians, including children. The report also verified that the nerve gas Sarin was used in the Ghouta area of Damascus. While the report itself refrained from blaming either side for the attacks, several news agencies have interpreted the information in the report as undeniable proof implicating the Syrian military in these attacks. Russia has criticized the report as “one-sided” and the information in it as “insufficient.” Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad said in an interview that he had not read the UN report but added that he welcomes the return of UN investigators to Syria for a follow-up on its findings.

WILL SULLIVAN: This past week, a series of car bombs in Shi’ite neighborhoods of Baghdad claimed 35 lives. Several news agencies have blamed Sunni groups and consider the violence yet another example of escalating sectarian conflict. This most recent attack was preceded by two others earlier in the week: a suicide bomb detonation at a funeral, which killed more than 20 people, and a bombing at a Sunni mosque, which killed at least 30. Causes of the significant surge in violence include spillover from Syria and an April incident in which the Iraqi army raided a Sunni protest camp. These incidents coincided with the release of United Nations figures that bring the year’s death toll to over 5,000

ALLISON HRABAR: Amanullah Aman, a top election official in Afghanistan, was shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle as he walked to his office this week. Shortly after the attack, the Taliban accepted responsibility on Twitter. Several news agencies have speculated that the attack was intended to derail the upcoming Afghan elections, towards which the Taliban have voiced strong opposition. The Independent Election Commission opened the registration process for presidential candidates this week, and the elections are set for April 5th of next year.

WILL SULLIVAN: Iranian authorities unexpectedly freed eleven political prisoners this week, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The release comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prepares to attend the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Iranian political analysts have said the release is a notable step in Rouhani’s efforts to rebuild diplomatic ties with the United States. In addition to Sotoudeh, several journalists, former ministers, and members of reformist political parties were also released. Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, however, remains imprisoned on charges of espionage, though American officials have called for his release.

ALLISON HRABAR: An anti-terrorism raid killed at least 12 people and injured at least 20 in the Xinjiang region of China last month. Reports say that a group of Uighur men was making explosives at a facility near the town of Jigdejay, at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Authorities were tipped off about the group when a rocket launcher exploded accidentally. Dozens of armed security personnel then descended on the site. Thanks to an information blackout, the events of August 23 have only now been brought to light by local authorities, who came forward to speak to Radio Free Asia this week. The police have still refused to comment. The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority in China. Pronounced tensions exist between them and the Chinese government, and unrest and violence between the groups are not unusual. Uighur activists cite a history of discrimination by the Chinese government and continuing oppression.

WILL SULLIVAN: Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked documents concerning controversial United States surveillance programs last June, has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Sakharov prize is awarded by the European Parliament to honor, quote, “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.” This nomination comes six weeks after Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia, a move that was condemned by US President Barack Obama and other American political leaders. Though Snowden remains a largely divisive figure, his nomination signals that some in the international community look positively on his exposure of US surveillance policies.

ALLISON HRABAR: Twelve people were killed and approximately eight others were injured after a gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this week. After a prolonged face-off with police, the alleged shooter, Aaron Alexis, was killed. In the aftermath of the attack, news agencies have focused much of their investigation on the “erratic behavior” of Alexis preceding the shooting. A Newport Rhode Island police report showed that Alexis reported hearing voices through “the walls, floor and ceiling” of the Navy base he was working at six weeks ago. Alexis said that these voices used a “microwave machine” to send vibrations through the ceiling and into his body and worried that the voices posed a serious threat to his well-being. Alexis also had a longstanding history of legal problems. He was arrested for recklessly discharging a firearm while enlisted in the Navy, and had a pre-enlistment arrest on a similar firearms charge. However, he successfully passed a required background check to purchase the weapons and ammunition he later used in the shooting.

WILL SULLIVAN: Violent protests broke out in several major Greek cities this week in response to the stabbing of hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in the Keratsini District of Athens. After his death, 5,000 anti-fascist protesters took to the streets of Athens, and 6,000 gathered in Thessaloniki, Greece’s 2nd largest city. 41 people were detained in Keratsini and 36 more in Thessaloniki. The police have arrested a suspect, who confessed to murdering Fyssas and admitted to being a member of the far-right fascist party Golden Dawn. Leaders of the Golden Dawn party, however, denied any involvement in the murder.

ALLISON HRABAR: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Maggie Christ, Amy DiPierro, Nehmat Kaur, Jerry Qin, Rachel Sassella, Aaron True, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Allison Hrabar. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Gregg.carlstrom/Flickr Gregg.carlstrom/Flickr

Young protesters in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt took to the streets this summer in the name of democracy and social justice. Reporter Sadie Rittman spoke with these youths about their perspectives and experiences in what turned out to be much more than summer festivals.

SADIE RITTMAN: This summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I attended music festivals and county fairs in New York. I might describe the experience like this…

KARIM SHERIF: Everyone was happy.

PATRICIA SECHER: It was great. You know, it was positive. Everybody was, you know, together for the same cause. really positive. Everyone was just there for the same cause.

CAN SOKULLU: You can see every kind of people… You can see religious people, gay people, anyone.

RITTMAN: But those people you just heard weren’t fellow New Yorkers, and though their reflections seemed to describe a kind of festival-like atmosphere, they certainly weren’t celebrating music or deep fried Oreos. That was Karim Sherif, Patricia Secher and Can Sokullu, from Cairo, Sao Paulo and Istanbul respectively, and they spent their summers protesting for what they saw as the democratic falterings in their country. The feelings of togetherness, beauty and hope that they got from their – shall we say, ‘festivals’ – came at much higher stakes than mine.

SOKULLU: Its quite like a festival, seriously. You can see every kind of people, just chatting, helping each other. And then the police attack at night, because at night its hard to I guess catch things on camera so police prefer attacking at nightfall.

SECHER: There was a woman journalist that was hit in the eye and there were tons of pictures of her you know with a big eye and bleeding and purple and everything

SOKULLU: The joyous place suddenly becomes a hell

RITTMAN: The protests that these young people became occupied with were sparked for different reasons, and yet Particia, Can and Karim seem to share a common democratic spirit.

To explain the protests that began in Turkey on May 27th, Nedim Sener, a Turkish journalist who came to speak in New York, referred to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as an ‘authoritarian father’. He tries to control what the Turks read, how many children they have, and even what they eat, but Sener says that ‘some kids don’t like the spinach every night, and so they are protesting’.

The protests all started when this ‘wayward father’ sought to take away Istanbul’s Gezi Park, located in Taksim square, which 24 year old Can saw as an important symbol.

SOKULLU: The reason why I was there is that Taksim is like the symbol for the secular people in Turkey, and their aim was destroying that symbol.

It seems that Erdogan did react to the peaceful sit-in in the park like an authoritarian father would, when his police force was sent to try to teach his kids a disturbing lesson.

SOKULLU: The real reason was protecting trees at first, until the police officers really attacked those people. We suffered a lot from the gas bombs, seriously. The thing that everyone should protest police force, that’s the primary thing for me. People are generally protesting against the government itself.

RITTMAN: Being hit with gas bombs pushed Can and other protesting youths to become more politically aware, making them realize first hand that perhaps Erdogan’s democratic integrity is severely flawed.

SOKULLU: He says that how can I be a dictator, I came here with votes, when actually there are people being arrested, everyday. He wants more freedom for himself.

RITTMAN: Brazil’s mass protests, beginning on June 6th, were also sparked over a small-scale issue, an increase in bus fares. However, Nineteen year old law student from Sao Paolo, Patricia Secher, spoke to me about how the protests quickly broadened in scope to address larger social issues.

SECHER: In the beginning it was all just because of the public transportation price. But then people started talking about its not only about that but also because of education, and healtrh, and everything else we need to work out in our country because we have a pretty bad situation.

RITTMAN: Meanwhile, 22 year old engineering student Karim Sherif of Cairo describes Egypt’s mass protests from June 26th to July 3rd as a continuation of the country’s Arab Spring protests from January of 2011.

SHERIF: Everybody really wanted change. Nobody wanted this tyrant ruler again.

RITTMAN: Though protests in 2011 saw Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak ousted and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood party democratically elected, Karim and other protesting Egyptians didn’t think that Morsi was adequately fulfilling the democracy that they’d strived for

SHERIF: They want to tailor democracy in their own way

RITTMAN: Protesters succeeded in seeing Morsi removed from power, but unrest and controversies continued, especially around the question of whether it was really the people or a military coup that deposed Morsi.

SHERIF: I have friends, members in the Muslim brothers, ant I totally respect their point of view. At some point, at the point where they say it was a military coup – its not.

RITTMAN: Conversly, In Brazil, Patricia complains that the protests ended a little too abruptly, when bus fares were negotiated back down but the country’s larger social questions were just forgotten.

SECHER: Brazilian people have short term memory, because it feels like everyone forgot what happened

RITTMAN: In Turkey, the story is quite different. Whereas in Brazil the media was able to document and thus put a stop to police violence,

Reporters Without Borders refers to Turkey as ‘the world’s largest prison for journalists’. The New York Times reports that since May 72 journalists have been fired for covering protests. This means that the free press isn’t really there to protect its citizens, and Can says that without a free press to record their trials, protesters like him have been scared off the streets and onto twitter.”

SOKULLU: I wasn’t a twitter user until the protests began, now I am following lots of people. For instance, I am following every reporter who have been fired. I see warnings from twitter that there are police bus coming, you should get away from there, I’m getting warnings like that from twitter. Its really crucial.

RITTMAN: But even twitter isn’t safe from repression. Can says Turkish twitter users click ‘mark as spam’ to silence political opponents and can’t even hide behind to speak freely.

SOKULLU: Twitter in Turkey is like a war zone. They have actually assembled a police team for that, just for checking twitter, yeah. Its been in the paper, they don’t deny it. assembled a police team for twitter… its been in the paper, they don’t deny it. Ah, I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

RITTMAN: And so, as I headed back to school in September, though Can reports less and less protesting, his passions are still strong as he continues to send me updates over facebook chat. Nearby in Cairo, Karim sees an interim government that continues to promise the heightened level of democracy that he desires, yet he still remains distressed as headlines continue emerge such as ‘Egypt interim president defends military coup’ from Al Jazeera. All the way in Brazil, Patricia continues her studies feeling her city eerily return to normalcy with bus prices stagnant at 3 reales. In each case, the inner desire of these youths’ to strive towards democracy and social justice in their countries have not been quenched.

For War News Radio, I’m Sadie Rittman.

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