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France on Edge

Muslims In France Warn Of Rising 'Islamophobia'

August 14th 2013

Muslims at prayer

Muslim leaders and groups are warning against a rising climate of "Islamophobia" in France as the government vows to stamp out extremism in any form.

The statements follow the arrest on August 11 of a military serviceman suspected of planning an attack on a mosque outside the city of Lyon. The 23-year-old suspect, stationed at a local air force base, reportedly planned a gun attack on the mosque to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Described by the Interior Ministry as "close to the extreme right," the suspect has also been accused of carrying out an earlier mosque attack. Reacting to the arrest, Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, called for government action to counter the fear of Muslims. Read more ..

The Way We Are

A Serbian Engineer's Two-Wheeled Message Of Peace

August 13th 2013

Serbian Church

In a sense, Rasko Tanasijevic's entire life has been about roads and bridges.

Every summer for the past 10 years the retired automotive engineer has led a group of cyclists through heat, rain, and punishing hills for 470 kilometers from his hometown of Kragujevac in central Serbia to Mostar in southwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Tanasijevic's purpose is simple enough -- to resurrect the good will and comradeship that he remembers from the Yugoslavia of his youth, from a time before the Balkan wars plunged the region into a mire of ethnic and religious animosity. Ten cyclists, mostly from the Junior Paralympic Club in Kragujevac, left home on July 24. Kragujevic Deputy Mayor Bojadzic Pavlovic was on hand to give them a warm send-off.

"Kragujevac, as a [United Nations] Messenger of Peace City, sends in this way a message of peace to the whole world," the official told RFE/RL. "That message is gathering more and more support from those in favor of cooperation between the citizens of Serbia and those of Bosnia. The reactions are phenomenal, and our citizens greet these athletes with great joy. You cannot imagine the popularity this marathon has on the Bosnian side. It is something unreal." Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Pakistan's 'Little Brazil' Lives For The Love Of Soccer

August 12th 2013

Soccer Ball

Residents of one of Pakistan's most dangerous urban neighborhoods live for the love of soccer.

The sprawling Karachi slum of Lyari has earned itself the nickname "Little Brazil," a nod to its reputation as a soccer center in a cricket-crazed country.

Lyari, home to Pakistan's indigenous African community, the Sheedis, has provided some of the most distinguished soccer players in Pakistan's history. But the neighborhood is increasingly gaining fame for its deadly gang violence, religious extremism, and poverty.

The neighborhood's reputations collided on August 7 when a bombing at a local soccer match killed at least 11, including several young players, and wounded more than 20. The bomb hit just after a local politician from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) presented trophies to the winning team. Lyari was once a bustling fishing village, but the arrival of big industry and immigrants after the creation of Pakistan in 1947 changed its landscape and economic prospects. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Muslims Across US Mark End of Ramadan

August 11th 2013

Muslim American girl with flag

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan drew to a close, Muslim-Americans of diverse backgrounds and national origins gathered in mosques and Islamic centers across the United States to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, or "fast breaking" holiday.

While prayers mark the beginning of the celebration, Eid breakfast is an important meal for practicing Muslims, who had been fasting from sunrise to sunset for an entire month.

During Eid al-Fitr, Muslims around the world celebrate by performing special prayers, paying social visits and seeking to strengthen family and community bonds.

Eid prayers in the U.S. are usually held either in local mosques or in public facilities designed to accommodate large gatherings. Esam Omeish led the prayers at a ballroom at a hotel in the northern part of the U.S. state of Virginia. “Eid prayers here are attended by Muslims from more than 40 different backgrounds and national origins. That much diversity does not exist elsewhere except during the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca,” said Omeish. Read more ..

Switzerland on Edge

Swiss Town Bans Asylum Seekers from Public Spaces

August 10th 2013

Switzerland railway

A small town in Switzerland says it will ban asylum-seekers from certain public places, including the local swimming pool and library. The move has caused outrage, especially among human rights groups who say it's "racist" and warn the policy could spread to other parts of the country. But analysts say even as politicians across economically stagnant Europe are using anti-immigration rhetoric as a way to gain popular support, national and international laws should protect immigrants’ rights.

The town of Bremgarten is banning asylum seekers from a total of 32 “exclusion zones,” including libraries, playing fields and swimming pools. The head of Switzerland's Federal Office of Immigration, Mario Gattiker, has said the town wanted to avoid “friction and resentment” between locals and asylum seekers. But human rights groups said it’s an infringement of the asylum seekers' human rights. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Judaism

Acid Attack on Two Jewish Teachers in Zanzibar

August 9th 2013

Jakaya Kikwete
Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete

Two girls who were the victims of a devastating acid attack on the island of Zanzibar Wednesday may have been targeted because they were Jewish, friends of the pair told police, the UK’s The Daily Mail reported. The British teenagers suffered painful burns when acid was thrown in their faces as they walked to a restaurant on the mostly Muslim island. The pair are now back in England receiving treatment and recovering from their wounds.

Witnesses described seeing two men on a moped throw acid at the girls. Police said that five suspects were detained on Thursday in the capital’s historic Stone Town district, where Kirstie Trup and Katie Gee, both 18, were attacked, Britain’s Telegraph reported. Police have also issued a warrant for the arrest of Islamist preacher Sheikh Issa Ponda Issa, amid suggestions his teaching could have influenced the attackers. Read more ..

The Way We Are

South Africa Marks National Women’s Day

August 9th 2013

Clinton South Africa

Friday, August 9th, is National Women’s Day in South Africa. It commemorates the 1956 march by 20-thousand women against the country’s apartheid era pass laws. The laws severely restricted travel by non-whites and segregated society. The only surviving leader of that march remembers the struggle for equality not only for people of color, but for women.

Sophie Williams-de Bruyn was 19 years old when efforts to stage the march began. “Well, South Africa in 1956 was a very polarized country and a very oppressive place to live in. And as you know the laws didn’t allow race groups to live together. We had all sorts of laws keeping us apart. We were all grouped into our own places of abode,” she said. Whites, blacks, coloreds – these were official government designations to classify South Africa’s population. She was classified as colored. Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Malians Call for Criminalization of Slavery

August 8th 2013

Mopti market

Slavery is still practiced among some groups in Mali. Activists had made some gains in their fight to outlaw the custom until early 2012, when a Tuareg rebellion and subsequent military coup plunged the country into chaos. Now, as Mali prepares to elect its next president, activists say the time is right to push for a law banning the centuries-old practice.

Although slavery was prohibited by the Malian constitution of 1960, it was never formally criminalized in law. Soumaguel Oyahit, secretary-general of the human rights association, Temedt, and himself a member of Mali’s slave caste, said the practice continues in conservative religious communities and among ethnic groups, including the Tuareg.  

“We are trying to prioritize the eradication of a tradition that we call descent-based slavery,” said Oyahit. “What this means is that across northern Mali and the Sahel, a child born to a woman who is a member of the slave caste, living in a family that has traditionally kept slaves, is itself condemned to being a slave. There is no law criminalizing this practice.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

During Ramadan, A Long Wait For Dusk In The Land Of The Midnight Sun

August 7th 2013

Muslims at prayer

On August 8, many Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the monthlong Ramadan fast.

Ramadan, which is based on lunar cycles rather than the international calendar, can occur at any time of the year.

This year, the Islamic holy month coincided with the longest days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere for the first time since the 1980s. For fasting Muslims that has meant especially long, hot days with no food or water between dawn and dusk.

The holiday presents a particular challenge in the northern countries of Scandinavia, where summertime means nearly full-time daylight. The Finnish capital, Helsinki, at 60 degrees latitude, is one of the world's northernmost cities, with the summertime sun setting as late as 10:30 p.m. and rising just a few hours later. Read more ..

The Way We Are

In Ukraine, A New Way Of Looking At Pain – And Death

August 6th 2013


It's been a hard year for Antonina Lubyana.

First, the pensioner fell from bed, breaking a hip and the bones in her hand. When the fractures failed to heal, doctors discovered she had advanced bone cancer. Lubyana now suffers from debilitating pain and is barely able to sit, even in a wheelchair.

"It's hard to sit for very long. I have to walk a little every once in awhile, but then I lie down again," she says. "The pain can be very intense, and then you either have to get a shot or take some kind of pills. But the pain never goes away entirely. [The medicine] helps many people, but not me."

To fight the aches that shudder through her spine and limbs, Lubyana receives shots of Olfen, a relatively mild painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug. 

She is one of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients across the former Soviet Union who advocates say are enduring unnecessary suffering due to a shortage of effective, affordable drugs and a legacy of medical ignorance about how to treat severe pain.

Still, despite her bad fortune, Lubyana is one of the lucky ones. She receives full-time care in a Kyiv hospice, a service that is still a rarity in the former Soviet Union. And her country, Ukraine, this year became the first in the region to legalize better access to strong pain medication for patients dying from cancer, AIDS, and other incurable illnesses. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Activists Take Aim At Toy Guns

August 5th 2013

Taliban in Pakistan

Toy guns don't kill people, people kill people. Nevertheless, campaigners in Pakistan are aiming to get imitation Kalashnikovs and Glocks off the streets, saying they help breed a culture of violence among children.

The campaigners have targeted Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of Ramadan (August 7-9) to launch their effort, knowing that children will be eager to buy new toys with the pocket money they traditionally receive during the festivities.

Nongovernmental organizations, poets, singers, and peace activists plan to fight back by staging walks, petitioning the authorities, and talking to parents and shopkeepers in the hope they minimize interest in the toy weapons that traders stock up on during Eid al-Fitr. Sana Ijaz, a peace activist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, explains why toy guns pose a threat in the restive northwestern province.

"If we expose our children to these things from a tender age," Ijaz says, "it will not be difficult for them to fall into the hands of extremists when they are teenagers. The extremists can easily trap them into conducting a suicide bombing or being trained for other similar violent acts. Childhood exposure to toy guns can make them easily adapt to using weapons [when they grow up]." Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Tomb of The Patriarchs Desecrated by Muslims Three Times During Ramadan

August 4th 2013

Tomb of Patriarchs vandalism Ramadan 2013
Doorpost from which the Mezuzahs were stolen.
(credit: Tomb of Patriarchs Administration)

For the third time this month, Muslims frequenting the Tomb of Patriarchs desecrated Jewish religious objects at the site, tearing the Mezuzahs off the doorposts again and stealing them. They took advantage of the special visiting privileges the Muslims receive during the month of Ramadan, during which the Tomb of Patriarchs is opened only for Muslims and closed for Jews on Fridays of the month and the special dates. Local police announced they have arrested two Palestinians in connection with the vandalism, but that they were still searching for the thieves. The act was recorded by surveillance cameras. A member of the Waqf was nearby during the act of sabotage.

The site administration has decided to limit access of Palestinians in response to these repetitive attacks. Muslims aged 18–35 will not receive access on the special days allocated to Muslims. They further stated they would not allow such actions to continue without a response and that they were taking further actions to prevent such attacks in the future. Read more ..

Economic Jihad

Landmark Class Action Suit Filed in Australia Against Sydney BDS Advocating Prof

August 2nd 2013

Boycott Israel

A landmark class action suit was filed on Wednesday in an Australian court, for the first time applying the country’s anti-racism laws to protecting Israel from boycott, divestment and sanctions activity, Israeli civil rights group Shurat HaDin said in a statement.

Shurat HaDin said the suit, filed by the organization’s Australian solicitor Alexander Hamilton with the Australian Human Rights Commission, fell under the country’s Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.

The specific complaint was against faculty and students at Sydney University for calling for the severing of links with Israeli institutions, actions that would be deemed racist and in violation of Australian Federal anti-discrimination laws. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Outdoor Activities Aid Healing Process for Traumatized Military Veterans

July 31st 2013

I wanna go home

Veterans participating in extended outdoor group recreation show signs of improved mental health, suggesting a link between the activities and long-term psychological well-being, according to results of a new University of Michigan study. Veterans were surveyed before and after a multi-day wilderness recreation experience, which involved camping and hiking in groups of between six and 12 participants. More than half of participants reported that they frequently experienced physical or mental health problems in everyday life.

One week after the experience, veterans reported a greater than 10 percent improvement in several measures of psychological well-being, a 9 percent increase in social functioning, and a nearly 8 percent gain in positive life outlook. In some cases, the results persisted over the next month. Read more ..

Healthy Edge

Ethical Dilemmas of Accepting Organ Donations from Criminals

July 30th 2013


Some people feel so "creeped out" they would decline an organ or blood that came from a murderer or thief, according to a new University of Michigan study.

In addition, study respondents express concern that their personality or behavior may change to become more like that of the donor, as a result of the donation.

Recipients prefer to get an organ or DNA transplant or blood transfusion from a donor whose personality or behavior matches theirs, says Meredith Meyer, the study's lead author and a research fellow in psychology. People tend to think one's behaviors and personalities are partly due to something hidden deep inside their blood or bodily organs, she says.

Meyer and her colleagues were most surprised to learn people felt as strongly about the source of blood transfusions as they did about heart transplants. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Soaring Ramadan Food Prices Take Toll in Northern Nigeria

July 29th 2013

Nigerian farmers

Food prices are soaring in Nigerian cities as Muslims stock up on traditional foods for the evening feasts that follow daily Ramadan fasts.

In a country where most live in abject poverty, many are paying as much as six times the normal price for many food items.

But in the country's predominantly Muslim and already impoverished north, where regional instabilities linked to the presence of the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram are ongoing, soaring costs have left many especially vulnerable.

Outside a market in Kaduna, one shopper says holiday season's increased prices have further impoverished many, as sellers know that customers are willing to pay higher prices in order to make particular preparations for Ramadan feasts. “They feel that people are in need of these products so they inflate the prices," one shopper said. "It is very, very obvious. ... For example, when you want to buy fruit like your pineapples or your oranges and your things for breaking the fast, you see people inflating the prices.” But some sellers say the increased prices reflect inflated costs that farmers charge during the holy month. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Yemeni Girl Escapes Early Marriage, Raises Awareness

July 27th 2013

Pakistani honor victims

Nada al-Ahdal, the 11-year-old Yemeni girl who says in a viral YouTube video that she ran away from home to escape a forced marriage, told Radio Sawa that money is the main motive behind her parents' intentions.

In the interview, she talked about the details of her ordeal. “I thought a lot about escaping my parent’s house during the night,  so at six a.m. I ran away by myself and I was not afraid,”  she said, and added that she is now under the protection of Yemeni Women Union, a nonprofit that empowers women and promotes their rights.

Nada has succeeded in attracting worldwide attention through her video in which she says “I would rather die than get married.”

She also asks in the three-minute clip, “What happened to childhood innocence? What have the children done wrong to get married off like that?”

Ahdal’s uncle, Abdul Salam al-Ahdal, told Radio Sawa his niece refuses to return to her parents because of their determination to marry her off.

He said attempts to persuade her parents to change their decision, especially the argument that she is too young to get married, have not succeeded despite the intervention of officials and humanitarian organizations. He added that “radical Islamic parties” have threatened him and Nada because they want her and the whole case “to disappear” unless she submits to her parents’ will. Nada Ahdal told Radio Sawa she is not planning to go back to her parents, whom she has not forgiven. She said she will solve her problem on her own, though she is not sure how. 

She said that her parents want her to marry a 22-year-old for financial purposes, the fundamental reason behind child forced marriage in Yemen. “After I solve my own problem, I will try to help any other young girl going through the same situation as mine,” she said. Read more ..

Education Edge

Teacher Turnover Hurts Students' Academic Performance

July 26th 2013

Teacher turnover negatively affects student learning in math and English, a researcher from the University of Michigan School of Education and colleagues found.

The impact is particularly strong in low-performing schools and among black students, they say.

Matthew Ronfeldt, U-M assistant professor of educational studies, and colleagues Susanna Loeb of Stanford University and James Wyckoff of the University of Virginia studied data over an eight-year period beginning with the 2001-02 academic year that included 850,000 observations of New York City public school fourth- and fifth-grade students. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Electronic Health Records May Reduce Outpatient Costs

July 25th 2013

Click to select Image

Use of electronic health records can reduce the costs of outpatient care by roughly 3 percent, compared to relying on traditional paper records. That's according to a new study from the University of Michigan that examined more than four years of healthcare cost data in nine communities. The "outpatient care" category in the study included the costs of doctor's visits as well as services typically ordered during those visits in laboratory, pharmacy and radiology.

The study is groundbreaking in its breadth. It compares the healthcare costs of 179,000 patients in three Massachusetts communities that widely adopted electronic health records and six control communities that did not. The findings support the prevailing but sometimes criticized assumption that computerizing medical histories can lead to lower healthcare expenses. Read more ..

Broken Borders

US Farmers Keep Eye on Immigration Reform

July 24th 2013

wheat fields

American farmers are experiencing a shortage of people to work their fields.  The workers they do have are largely from Latin America and in the United States with false documents.  Farmers say without immigration reform, both problems will continue.

Imperial Valley farmers call this the dead season.  Summer temperatures consistently stay above 38 degrees Celsius.  Not much is growing in the fields at the moment, but in the winter there will be lettuce and celery on the ground and in the spring, cantaloupes and watermelons. 

But even in the summer dead season, there is work for Francisco Saucedo.  He drives a tractor, tilling the field to prepare the land for planting in the autumn.  He lives in Mexico and wakes up at two in the morning everyday to beat the long lines at the border crossing, so he can start work at 6:00 am. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Central Asian Children Keep Ramadan Caroling Alive

July 23rd 2013

Koran and prayer beads

Ramadan fasting in Tashkent was nearly over on the evening of July 10 when Lola Yunusova heard a loud knock on her front door. Opening it, she was met by three children practicing a tradition found mostly only in Central Asia -- Ramadan caroling.

Much like Christmas caroling in the West, during Ramadan Central Asian children go door-to-door to sing for their neighbors. As with Halloween's "Trick or Treat" tradition in some Western countries, Central Asian carolers ask for a treat -- usually receiving money or candy.

But unlike Christmas and Halloween, Central Asian Ramadan caroling can last an entire month and that's why Yunusova sometimes finds the tradition tedious.

"Small kids come every day singing," she says. "We give them money. But when the same children come every day, we say, 'That's enough. Don't come again.' Because every day, the same children are coming. Many parents do not allow their children to go out singing for Ramadan -- and neither do we. Why should we? They are like beggars. Nobody likes them. They pound on your door and keep ringing the doorbell. Personally, I don't like it. When you come out, there are usually three or four of them practically shouting, 'Blah, blah, blah, blah...give us some money.'" Read more ..

Inside Brazil

Pope Francis Embraced Upon Arrival in Brazil

July 23rd 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Tens of thousands of cheering faithful greeted Pope Francis Monday on his arrival in Brazil, mobbing a motorcade carrying the pontiff into central Rio de Janeiro at the start of a weeklong visit. Video showed security officers struggling at several points to push back the joyous crowds, while the pope rolled down the window of his car to touch those who reached inside.  One woman handed the 76-year-old pope an infant, whom he kissed before handing back.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and a host of dignitaries met the Argentine-born Francis - the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio - as he stepped off a commercial airliner to begin his visit. Later, anti-government protesters clashed with police outside the palace holding the official papal welcoming ceremony.  Reports from the scene said crowd anger appeared directed at Brazilian leaders, not at the pontiff.

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Religious Leader Approves Of Restrictive Edict On Women

July 22nd 2013

Afgan Women in Burka

One of Afghanistan's top religious figures has defended a series of religious decrees that observers warn could further erode women's rights in the country.

The eight-article fatwa was issued by a local ulema, or religious council, in the district of Deh Salah in the northern province of Baghlan last month. Among the edicts was a ban on women leaving their homes without a male companion and another that banned the sale of cosmetics on the basis that they are "un-Islamic" and promote adultery.

The fatwa, reminiscent of the strict edicts imposed by the Taliban during its rule of Afghanistan, prompted condemnation from rights activists and many of the district's residents. But while only senior clerics have the right to issue such edicts, the country's top religious figures have stayed silent on the issue up to now.

That changed when Mawlawi Enayatullah Baligh, a presidential adviser who serves on Afghanistan's top religious panel, the Ulema Council, staunchly defended the edicts while discussing the closure of cosmetics shops. "There is no way these shops could have stayed open," he told the Reuters news agency on July 20. "Shops are for business, not adultery." Read more ..

The Way We Are

US Survivors of Military Sexual Assaults Seek Better Treatment

July 21st 2013

Abused woman

Four U.S. military veterans who are survivors of military sexual assaults testified Friday before a House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs subcommittee. They asked for better care and treatment for their trauma from the U.S. Veterans Administration.

The U.S. Defense Department released a study in May estimating that as many as 26,000 military members were victims of sexual assault in the military last year. 

The Republican Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Dan Benishek, broke that number down. "Last fiscal year there were roughly 71 incidents of sexual assault every single day among those who wear our uniform," said Benishek.

Four veterans who were victims of sexual assault traveled to Washington, D.C., to tell lawmakers their story and to ask for changes in the way survivors are treated. Victoria Sanders is a U.S. Army veteran who was raped by a fellow soldier when she was 20 years old. Read more ..

The Way We Are

A Constitutional Right to Health Care

July 20th 2013

Obamacare Protest

Uruguay has it. So does Latvia, and Senegal. In fact, more than half of the world's countries have some degree of a guaranteed, specific right to public health and medical care for their citizens written into their national constitutions.

The United States is one of 86 countries whose constitutions do not guarantee their citizens any kind of health protection. That's the finding of a new study from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health that examined the level and scope of constitutional protection of specific rights to public health and medical care, as well as the broad right to health.

The study examined the constitutions of all United Nations member states and found the results to be mixed, despite the fact that all U.N. members have universally recognized the right to health, which is written into the original foundational document establishing the international body in 1948.The researchers reviewed the constitutions of all the member states as amended to two points in time: August 2007 and June 2011. Read more ..

Heatwave Crisis

Israeli Forgotten Baby Syndrome Campaign

July 19th 2013

Daliat el-Carmel

Forgotten Baby Syndrome is something we, as a society, is having trouble coming to terms with. We do everything we can to protect our young. We recycle our trash to conserve the planet for the future of our children and even donate old cars to Kars for Kids because we know they are responsible stewards for the environment that belongs not only to us but to our grandchildren. We teach our children not to cross on red lights and not to talk to strangers. We strap our babies into sturdy car seats and then forget about them—for hours—in the heat!

How this happens no one is quite sure. In fact, most of us are sure it couldn’t happen to us. We’re not those kinds of parents. But we see the parents of the poor lost souls and they look like decent sorts. People like us.

We see that it happens. And it’s beginning to frighten us.

Worldwide Tragedy

Not that it’s any comfort, but it isn’t only happening in America but all over the world. Recently in Israel, for example, three babies lost their lives to Forgotten Baby Syndrome during the space of two weeks. Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross, the Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency rescue service, immediately kicked into full gear, launching a national campaign to tell parents about this terrible phenomenon in which babies are left forgotten, in parked cars, in the heat. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghanistan's Only Olympic Medalist Boycotts Taekwondo Championships

July 17th 2013

Rohullash Nekpa

Afghanistan's first and only Olympic medal winner, Rohullah Nekpa, united a country in celebration and pride after his sporting heroics at the Beijing and London Games. But now the taekwondo icon is boycotting the sport's world championships to protest discrimination within the sport in his homeland.

Nekpa was part of a seven-member Afghanistan team that is due to take part in the World Taekwondo Championships (WTF) in Mexico, which begins on July 15.

But the 26-year-old, who belongs to the Hazara minority, says he is willing to forfeit the opportunity in order to highlight the ethnic and sectarian bias that is rife within Afghanistan's Taekwondo Federation (ATF). Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Oldest Use of Flowers in Grave Lining

July 16th 2013

Grave lined with flowers
Field photo of grave lined with plants and flowers (credit: E. Gerstein)

When did people first begin to express their feelings with flowers? It turns out that in prehistoric times, Mount Carmel residents in what today is northern Israel buried their dead on a literal bed of fragrant wild flowers, such as Judean sage, as well as blooming plants of the mint and figwort families. Assuming they had the same positive associations with flowers that we do today, these ancient humans must have sought to ensure for the deceased a pleasant passage from the world of the living.

This discovery is the oldest known use of flowers in grave lining. According to radiocarbon dating performed by Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the graves are 11,700 to 13,700 years old. Dr. Boaretto was part of an international team, headed by archaeologist Prof. Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa, that performed excavations in the Raqefet Cave overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It had been inhabited by the Natufians, prehistoric hunter-gatherers who were widespread in the Near East. The findings were reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Dr. Boaretto and her group at the Weizmann Institute are currently exploring additional fascinating questions from the distant past, among them: When exactly did modern humans leave Africa, ultimately replacing the Neanderthals in the Near East and Europe? Is it possible to use the tiny mineral remains of plants to date ancient sites? Did the collapse of empires in the Early Bronze Age occur earlier than previously thought? Read more ..

Inside Togo

Togolese Academics Battle for Linguistic Heritage

July 15th 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

Experts estimate that nearly half of the world's 6,000 languages will disappear by the end of the century, casualties of urbanization, economic development and globalization.

In Togo, home to 39 distinct tongues — some 2,000 languages are spoken across the continent — Professor N'bueke Adovi Goeh-Akue of the University of Lome is just one of several academic trying to preserve a rich local heritage.

Now focused on making documentaries of the cultural customs of the Gen, one of the myriad ethnic groups that contribute to the diversity of this tiny West African country, Goeh-Akue says he ultimately plans to launch a graduate research program on different aspects of Togo's culture. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Women's Rights Activists Tell Rohani What They Want

July 14th 2013

Women's Rights Activists

A group of prominent Iranian women’s rights activists and intellectuals have outlined some of their main demands for Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rohani, who spoke against gender discrimination during his campaign and said women and men should enjoy the same rights and opportunities.

The group is among many Iranians who will be closely watching the new president -- who has promised to establish a Ministry for Women's Affairs -- to see whether he can deliver on his campaign promise of moderation.

The activists expressed their demands and concerns in a July 10 meeting in Tehran at which two of Rohani’s representatives were present, according to a report by the Focus on Iranian Women website. The group included several well-known figures who have come under state pressure for advocating change. Participants said the situation of Iranian women deteriorated under outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and some of their modest gains were rolled back. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Mayor Shot Dead Over Cosmetic Row

July 14th 2013


Nothing in Afghanistan stokes uproar like a controversy involving women -- be it their role in government, access to education, or even their right to buy makeup.

That may explain a growing row over cosmetic shops for women that has now claimed the life of a local mayor in Afghanistan.

Abdul Rassoul, district mayor of Deh Salah in the northern province of Baghlan, was gunned down by a shopkeeper during a raid late on July 6. The district's police commander, Abdul Ahad, said Rassoul was shot three times and later pronounced dead upon arrival at a local hospital. Ahad said police launched a manhunt to capture the suspected killer, who fled the scene and has not been seen since the incident. The police commander stressed that Rassoul acted on his own. Read more ..

Inside Russia

Orthodox Patriarch Says Russians Should Spend More Time in Contemplation

July 13th 2013

Russian Orthodox patriarch Kirill

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has urged Russians to have less fun and spend more of their free time in seclusion. On July 11, Kirill said there was "more fun than needed" in the life of Russians.

He said people spent a lot of their energy working and should occupy their time in isolated, quiet places instead of celebrating during their vacations. The patriarch cited the rugged archipelago of Valaam, close to the border with Finland, as a suitable holiday destination. Valaam is home to a 14th-century monastery and has a population of roughly 600.

The ultraconservative patriarch, who is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has not hesitated to speak his mind on a number of other issues in the past.

Earlier this year, he sparked controversy by describing feminism as a "very dangerous" phenomenon. Read more ..

Peru on Edge

Corporate Conquistadores: Peru’s Mineral Extraction Industry Boosts Economy While Rural Poor Suffer

July 13th 2013

Machu Picchu Peru

Peru has showcased remarkable economic growth in the past decade, shedding its troubled financial history and significantly emerging in the international market. Many attribute the recent economic successes of Peru to a booming commodities market that has provided Peruvian mines with an influx of foreign investment and, consequently, a surge in mining exports.

However, Peru’s reliance on the mining sector to sustain economic performance and modernize the country has failed to generate mass economic improvements for the rural poor, many of whom are further marginalized by the focus now being fixed on the increase in mining exports and the failure to address widespread inequality. Although the environmental consequences of mining in Peru and the local protests that have followed are concerns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, these issues will not be addressed in this report (though this crucial topic certainly deserves further in-depth analysis). Instead, this article addresses the socioeconomic isolation that constrains rural peoples largely due to their proximity to mining projects and the failure of public and private initiatives to address the root of this disparity. Ultimately, the neoliberal economic model adopted by the Peruvian government, which relies on mineral exports, prevents the rural contingency of the population access to economic prosperity. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Obesity Trait Passed on From Fathers to Offspring

July 13th 2013

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If you are obese and hope to be a father, here's another reason to lose weight: your children and grandchildren may inherit your waistline or metabolic disorders. That's because scientists have discovered in mice that obese fathers, even those who did not show any signs of diabetes, passed this negative trait on most frequently to their daughters. Sons don't entirely dodge this genetic bullet either—both sons and daughters of obese fathers have increased risks of developing metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

"If these findings hold true in humans, then a father's diet and body composition at the time of conception is likely to affect his future child's health and risk of lifelong disease," said Tod Fullston, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the Robinson Institute, Research Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. "Fathers should aim to be as healthy as possible at the time of conception to give future generations the best possible chance of good health." Read more ..

Latin Amerca on Edge

Teachers Unions: Corrupt Institutions or Necessary Protectors?

July 12th 2013

Union Protest

Across Latin America, several countries have witnessed a growing number of strikes and marches organized by students and teachers who are protesting the current state of their national education systems. While student protests, such as the ongoing movement in Chile, tend to call for better quality and greater access to education, teachers are more inclined to demand increased pay and improved tenure. In the past month, teachers unions in a number of Latin American countries, including Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, and Mexico, have organized national strikes that often put children out of school for days. Particularly in Mexico, these strikes have been extremely disruptive and violent, resulting in widespread destruction and unrest. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Bedouin Arabs Run Torture Camps in Sinai

July 11th 2013


An absolutely horrific story out of the Sinai peninsula: Bedouin Arabs are kidnapping Christians from Africa and then ransoming them for exorbitant sums. When destitute families cannot pay the ransoms, the victims are tortured to death.

The Christian Broadcasting Network reports many of these Christians flee their African homeland seeking a better life in Israel. They are abducted from refugee camps by Bedouins and then smuggled to Sinai. It is there that the torture begins.

CBN reports:
"Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago -- even a bit more -- it started also to be a place of human torture," Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, said. Shoham has documented more than 1,300 cases of torture in the Sinai. Those survivors ... made it to Israel. But most of the cases of torture are not documented. Read more ..

UK on Edge

British Ban on Addictive Khat Draws Dire Threats from Kenyans

July 10th 2013

Khat courtesy of DEA

Some Kenyans, especially farmers, are calling for the African nation to usher British troops out ofthe east African nation following a controversial regulation imposed by the United Kingdom. This followed a ban a stimulant known as khat that was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May last week. The leaves and stems of Catha edulis are chewed for a mild stimulant effect. Its trade involves millions of dollars each year.

Khat, which is known in Kenya as miraa, is sold as loose leaves that when chewed produce euphoria and loss of appetite. The amphetamine-like stimulant has been classified by the World Health Organization as drug of abuse that can cause mild to moderate psychological dependence among its users. Read more ..

Eugenic America

Report Reveals California Duped Women into Sterilization since 1990s

July 9th 2013

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Nearly 250 women have been sterilized in California prisons since the 1990s, according to a new investigative report. As recently as 2010, women were pressured into having tubal ligation surgery at the behest of the California prison system in a process that has been likened to the racist past of the Golden State.

It was in California, as in a number of other states of the union, that thousands of Americans were compelled under law to undergo sterilization. As documented his book War Against the Weak, author Edwin Black chronicles the emergence in the United States of the racist pseudo-science known as eugenics that provided the basis for forced sterilizations of classes of people deemed “unfit” for reproduction. The discredited practice, which National Socialist Germany aped, was thought to have been largely eliminated by the early 1960s.

According to the report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, however, female inmates in California prisons were often told – while in labor – that they should have the surgery even while they were not told why the procedure was necessary. The report showed that between 1997 and 2010, the state government of California paid more than $147,000 for tubal ligations for 148 women that were conducted without proper state approval or oversight.

For example, Kimberly Jeffrey, 43, said she was pressured on a number of occasions, even while strapped on an operating table, to have the sterilization procedure after giving birth to her son who is now three years of age. Christina Cordero, 34, who gave birth in Valley State prison in 2006, says she felt like she was coerced into having the sterilization surgery after giving birth. “As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” said Cordero, who served a two year prison sentence. “Today, I wish I would have never had it done.” Read more ..

Inside Australia

Iraqi Refugee to Boost Cricket in Multicultural Australia

July 9th 2013


An Iraqi refugee has been chosen to help boost the profile of cricket in Australia.  Sam Almaliki, who’s 24, has been appointed to a senior community development role at Cricket Australia, the sports powerful governing body.  He first encountered cricket watching fellow refugees play at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Center where his family was held for eight months after fleeing Iraq.

Cricket is Australia’s national game but lacks the diversity found in the other major sports, including rugby football. The job of widening cricket’s appeal has fallen to an Iraqi refugee from Basra. Sam Almaliki says he knew nothing about the sport until he was eight years old.

“My first exposure to cricket was while being detained in the Villawood Detention Center as my family and I were seeking asylum, and I saw Tamil detainees playing the game,” he said. Unlike other sports in Australia, cricket has not mirrored the nation’s multicultural make-up.  About 40 percent of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one migrant parent.

Large numbers of new settlers from India and China could eventually change the face of the national cricket team. "It is going to start to become a really multicultural team, whereas as before it was, you know, mostly Australian, but now that we have multiculturalism in Australia then the team is going to start looking that way as well,” says Dev, 13, who come from an Indian background and is very familiar with the game. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Botched Circumcisions Kill 30 South African Boys

July 8th 2013


South Africa’s ruling party has said enough is enough after 30 boys died over the weekend because of botched ritual circumcisions.  The latest wave of deaths has doubled this year’s toll, making 2013 one of the deadliest years on record.

South Africa's ruling ANC party says it is “distressed” by reports of the deaths of some 30 boys and the hospitalization of 300 more from ritual circumcisions in rural Eastern Cape province.

To that end, the ANC is calling for modernization of this ancient, secret ritual.  Each year, tens of thousands of boys leave their homes for the ritual that is said to include physical challenges, deprivation and isolation. Most boys go through the ritual as teenagers; officials have said 30,000 boys have signed up this year. Read more ..

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