Monday, February 19, 2018

Iceland bans male circumcision

Which direction is Iceland heading these days? Shame on Iceland for its new law. Read the news below for explanation..
I have left the following comments in the Independent.
Judith Vonberg is wrong when she says that unlike Judaism, male circumcision is not obligatory in Islam. It is compulsory for Muslim males. No government should enact laws that defy religious laws and, instead, should leave the choice to the faithful whether or not to practice such laws. Shame on Iceland for its arrogant laws that defy religion.
Religious leaders have reacted with outrage to a bill proposed by MPs in Iceland that would criminalise male circumcision.
The bill proposes a six-year prison term for anyone found guilty of “removing sexual organs in whole or in part”.
Salmann Tamimi, president of the Muslim Association of Iceland, described the proposal as an “attack on religion”.
Circumcising girls has been illegal in Iceland since 2005, but there are currently no laws to regulate the practice against boys.
Describing circumcision as a “violation” of young boys’ rights, the bill states the only time it should be considered is for “health reasons”.
Young men would be given the opportunity to decide for themselves once they reached the age of consent.
Male circumcision is one of the most common surgical procedures in the world, with one recent study estimating that around 38 per cent of men globally have undergone the procedure.
According to the same study, around half of circumcisions are carried out for religious or cultural reasons.
Contrary to the news report, circumcision in Islam is  obligatory for Muslim boys. Also, it remains a major and celebrated rite wherever Islam is practised.
For Jews, circumcision carries profound religious significance and most baby boys born into Jewish families are circumcised within a week of birth.
The Bishop of Iceland, Agnes M Sigurðardóttir, has criticised the bill for criminalising the religious beliefs of Jews and Muslims, recommending instead a ban on unsafe circumcision.
In a statement to The Independent, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said he was “extremely concerned” about the proposed legislation.
“Whilst the Jewish population in Iceland is small, we cannot ignore the dangerous precedent this sets within Europe and the implications it has on Jews’ ability to carry out our religion in an open and free manner.”
A spokesperson for Milah UK, which campaigns to protect the right of the Jewish community to carry out male circumcision, described the practice as "a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity". A ban would make "sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible," he said.
There are no official figures on the number of Jews living in Iceland but estimates in 2010 by the Pew Research Center suggest they make up less than 0.1 per cent of the population (fewer than 320 people).
Mr Tamimi said he was particularly concerned about the potential impact of the bill on the small Jewish community.
“Even if there is just one Jew, it is very bad to criminalise him,” he said. “It’s very bad for Iceland to get that name, that they don’t want Jews. This is one way of saying they are not welcome.”
He warned the legislation was an attack on religion more broadly – "they are interfering in religious freedom” – and said he was frustrated that religious groups were not consulted before the legislation was proposed. “There was not a single word,” he said. “We read about it in the newspaper.”
Progressive Party MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir is the driving force behind the legislation.
“I didn’t think it was necessary to consult,” she told The Independent. “I don’t see it as a religious matter.”
“Jews are welcome in Iceland. But this is about child protection and children’s rights. That comes first, and before the religious rights of the adult.
“Every individual, it doesn’t matter what sex or how old… should be able to give informed consent for a procedure that is unnecessary, irreversible and can be harmful. His body, his choice.”
Mr Tamimi is keen to support any legislation that would make male circumcision safer. But he rejects a complete ban.
This bill “is built just on feelings without any thinking about what it means to criminalise circumcision”, he said. “We don’t accept it.”
The legislation has been debated once in the Icelandic parliament and will go through several stages of discussion and consultation before it could become law.

US ‘Stumbled Into Torture,’ Says NYT Reporter

by Adam Johnson
US ‘Stumbled Into Torture,’ Says NYT Reporter
As part of a promotion for the upcoming “Look, Evil Russians!” film Red Sparrow (hyping Hollywood films is apparently a thing reporters do now), New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane (2/14/18) wrote a synergistic Cold War 2.0 essay about the CIA’s alleged attempt to recruit him. It included a rather jarring—if not risible—paragraph summarizing Shane’s years of reporting:
All these years later, I assume my name appears in multiple files at the CIA, the National Security Agency and perhaps other corners of the sprawling security bureaucracy, with gripes and comments related to my coverage of how America stumbled into torture; how drone strikes went wrong; espionage cases; WikiLeaks cables; Snowden documents; Russian hackers and the Shadow Brokers; and probably stories I’ve forgotten.
Two clauses stand out for their confident attribution of benevolent motives to US foreign policy. First, there’s the idea that “America stumbled into torture,” rather than planned, plotted and spent over 15 years carrying out a policy of torture. This pretends that the US’s massive global torture regime—which involved drownings, beatings, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation, among other techniques, along with “extraordinary rendition” to allied countries for less refined torture methods–was something other than a deliberate policy initiative.
As FAIR (6/22/17) noted last year, corporate media routinely assert that the US “stumbles,” “slips” or is “dragged into” war and other forms of organized violence, rather than planning deliberate acts of aggression. For reporters in foreign policy circles, the US only does immoral things on accident—unlike Official Bad Countries, which do them for calculated gain when they aren’t motivated by sheer malice.
The second clause, claiming that “drone strikes went wrong,” is a passive way of suggesting that civilian deaths are an unforeseen accident rather than a predictable consequence baked into the cake of the US’s permawar on terror. The US doesn’t murder civilians, it simply launches missiles at unknown and faceless brown people in Yemen and Afghanistan, and sometimes the missiles “go wrong.” While Shane has certainly reported on these respective crimes (as he proudly notes), he has done so in a similar, limited fashion that treats them as unfortunate mishaps, rather than intentional features of a violent empire.
For an essay that is more or less Shane patting himself on the back for holding power to account instead of becoming a spook, his instinct to assume noble intentions on the part of these spooks is a telling indication of the broader ethos of corporate media’s national security reporting: Criticism is welcome around the margins, so long as motives are never challenged.

Burmese police ‘acquires’ land in Rohingya village, builds base

The Burmese/Myanmar police force have gone to Buthidaung township in western Rakhine State, seized land and have begun plans to set up a regimental base, according to local news outlets. When the non state-run, local news outlets asked the Burmese police whether or not this land was acquired legally, they were not met with answers, however they have confirmed that the compound is being built.
Part of this land is unharvested farmland owned by Rohingya villagers, as the village is Rohingya. The police simply warned the villagers not to let their livestock on their newly acquired land, flagging off their newly claimed property.
Rakhine State has seen pushes from both the Burmese police forces and military alike, attacking civilians and militants in a brutal offensive that the U.N. has called “textbook ethnic cleansing,” and that has brought condemnation from the international community, including the United States. The numbers of Rohingya on the run for their lives continue to steadily increase, and are bordering on 700,000.
Multiple reports coming out of the area document these forces committing all sorts of human rights abuses, while  the Burmese military continues to blame “terrorists,” specifically known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Wikimedia Commons
Buthidaung township has not seen direct violence like other villages in the area, but many villagers have fled nonetheless. This happens during major government offenses in other states throughout Burma — not everyone is going to wait for a fatal attack on their village and family before they leave.
This is a common tactic within the Burmese military, something they continue to do across the entire country. The government is currently under cease-fire with the Karen, and yet they preposition military infrastructure deep into enemy lines under the pretense of peace — that way if and when the fighting breaks out again, they have the advantage. Being the governing authority in the area, the Karen (and now Rohingya) cannot fight back or resist without breaking any peace treaties and provoking the government even more.
In Karen State to the east, anonymous sources tell SOFREP that the government is even building a very precise system of measuring distances along roads they are building throughout Karen State (that are of course, restricted from Karen use). This system is similar to our mile marker system, with one exception: it’s far more precise, which is strange that far out in the jungle, and the primary fear is that it will be used as a way of directing heavy artillery fire if and when the cease-fire fails.
The Burmese government seems to be using this tactic again in Rakhine State against the Rohingya — they build military or police infrastructure deep into ethnic territory, peace or not, and use that as a base of operations as the continue with their offensive.
 (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Myanmar government 'bulldozing Rohingya mass grave to hide evidence'

The government of Myanmar is bulldozing over the site of a Rohingya mass grave in an effort to destroy evidence of a massacre committed last year by the military, according to a rights monitoring group.

The claim follows investigations conducted by the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies, which revealed evidence of other mass graves.

The Arakan Project, which uses on-the-ground networks to document abuses against the Rohingya community in western Rakhine state, Myanmar, provided the Guardian with a video of the grave site before its destruction. The footage shows half-buried tarpaulin bags in a forest clearing, with a decaying leg visibly protruding from one of the bags.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, said the bulldozing appears to be part of an effort to hide evidence of the grave permanently following the exposés that appeared in the press.

“Two of the mass graves sites we know about have appeared in the media, but on Thursday one of the other mass grave sites was bulldozed. This means that evidence of the killings is being destroyed,” she said.
“Private companies are doing the bulldozing. They come from central Myanmar, not Rakhine,” she said. “It’s clear this is happening under the orders of government.”

The reported site of the mass grave, in Maung Nu, Buthidaung township, in northern Rakhine state, was the location of a massacre that rights groups report took place in August last year. Human Rights Watch said survivors had told them the army had “beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot villagers who had gathered for safety in a residential compound” in the village. Dozens were said to have been killed. Satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch showed that Maung Nu had been razed in the aftermath.

The Rohingya are a largely stateless Muslim minority primarily located in Rakhine. Rights organisations say they have suffered decades of systematic persecution and three “ethnic cleansingcampaigns since 2012, a charge the government denies. The group are not recognised by the government as a native minority of Myanmar and are often referred to as “Bengalis” in official discourse, a term implying that they are foreigners.

Thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have been killed during a military crackdown which began in August 2017, following an attack on security outposts by an insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa). Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to nearby Bangladesh during the violence.

Last week, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said the crisis had the “hallmarks of genocide”.

Inline image 2
A still from the video. Photograph: Arakan Project

The government of Myanmar has denied claims that the military conducted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. An army investigation into its own conduct during the 2017 crackdown exonerated itself of any blame. However, in a surprise move last month, the military admitted that Rohingya found in a mass grave at the village of Inn Din had been killed by its soldiers.

A UN fact-finding mission has been denied access to Myanmar while the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights has been barred from entering the country.

“We’ve heard about the allegations of the destruction at Maung Nu and we’re concerned that this could be part of broader efforts to conceal the atrocities committed by Burmese security forces,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, told the Guardian.

Other parts of Rakhine state appear to have been bulldozed, according to an AFP report last week, which contained aerial photography showing former Rohingya villages completely flattened. The bulldozing appeared to target villages that had been razed during the military crackdown last year, the report said.

“The bulldozers are destroying not just parts of some villages that were burned but also parts where houses were abandoned but still intact,” Lewa observed.

When asked about the reported bulldozing of Rohingya villages, government spokesman Zaw Htay objected to use of the word Rohingya, saying: “No Rohingya – Bengali, please.”

He followed this by saying, “Local government is clearing that area. No villagers there. No housing. Only plain land.”

“We have to construct new villages there,” he said, for the “resettlement” of returning Rohingya.

When asked about reports of the destruction of the mass grave, he said: “I want to know what evidence you are talking about? Was it Arsa terrorist group? Bengali people around the world?

“Please give me the reliable, concrete, strong primary evidence, please – not based on the talking story of Bengali people around the world, Bengali lobbyists,” he added.

Myanmar feels like a big cage for Rohingyas, says Maung Zarni

In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune, Dr Maung Zarni talks about the Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar which, he says, from the Myanmar army’s perspective is a tactical retreat in the face of heavy artillery of international condemnations, criticisms and reimposition of sanctions, and it might take around 10-20 years to complete
Over 688,000 Rohingya entered Bangladesh between August 25, 2017 and February 11, 2018, after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown against the mainly Muslim minority – following militant attacks on border outposts and an army base by insurgents.
As agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, the Rohingya repatriation process was supposed to start on January 23. However, it was delayed, and on Friday (February 16), Bangladesh handed over its first list of 1,673 Rohingya families (8,032 individuals) to Myanmar to start the first phase of repatriation to their homeland.

Do you think the Rohingya repatriation ever will take place?

Yes, the repatriation will take place because both Dhaka and Naypyidaw wants it. Dhaka wants it to take place because the pressure of 688,000 (in addition to the pre-existing Rohingya refugees from the previous waves since 1991) needs to be relieved and wants to set the new process of reducing the number of Rohingyas from its soil. Myanmar wants repatriation because it wants to show the world that its intention is not genocide or ethnic cleansing, and it has this mistaken belief that taking back the Rohingyas who survived the Myanmar troops’ mass-slaughter will make it difficult for the world to press charges of ethnic cleansing or genocide. As the former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, the veteran US envoy and diplomat, said it openly: “Repatriation is a big whitewash,” of Myanmar’s international state crimes against Rohingya. From the Myanmar military’s perspective repatriation is a tactical retreat in the face of heavy artillery of international condemnations, criticisms and reimposition of sanctions.

How long do you think it might take?

Well, there are estimated one million Rohingyas who fit the textbook example of refugees – although Dhaka chose to invent its own term “displaced people of Myanmar,” even under the most conducive circumstances it will take 10-20 years, especially at the rate Myanmar side wants to receive.

Do you think the Rohingya people’s return will be “safe, voluntary and dignified”?

Absolutely not. I actually avoid that international mantra coming from INGOs, UN agencies and governments following Kofi Annan’s phraseology. How can the return ever be “safe, voluntary and dignified” for a million people whose physical, cultural, economic, social and intellectual existence, as a minority community has been completely and intentionally destroyed from its very foundations? Myanmar military burned nearly 350 villages systematically in a region stretching 100 kilometres within several months. Myanmar’s Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing viewed – and officially told the nation of anti-Rohingya racists – that the army is engaged in completing the “unfinished business” from the WWII. I will say the “finished business” is charred villages where any physical traces of Rohingyas are being bulldozed. Those thousands of Rohingya who still remain inside Myanmar today just told the Canadian Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, last week that they feel like they are “in a big cage” where they have absolutely no freedom of movements for accessing food, medicine, jobs, etc. I want to ask those politicians and officials who spit out this mind-numbing delusional phrase, why they are knowingly pussyfooting around Myanmar’s blatant violations of the Genocide Convention – an inter-state treaty, and focusing on sending the Rohingya survivors back to what really is a vast complex of past and future concentration camps inside Myanmar.

What role can the UNHCR play?

UNHCR is primarily mandated to protect Rohingyas. Its leadership has been doing a good job, telling the Security Council – and the world at large – the unpalatable truth being that the conditions inside Myanmar are absolutely non-conducive to any form of return of Rohingyas. It should continue to discharge its main mission of protecting and promoting the well-being of the one million Rohingyas on Bangladeshi soil. It should persuade Dhaka to accept Rohingyas as legally defined refugees and genocide survivors – not simply “forcibly displaced persons from Myanmar.”

How much power does the military still have over the state and how much power does the government have to address this crisis?

The military has all the power to end the persecution of Rohingya. But the military will not cease the genocide because it has since late 1960’s institutionalized the eradication of Rohingyas from the group’s very foundations on the false, racist and paranoid ground that they are Bangladesh’s “proxy” Muslim population inside the strategic Western region. Suu Kyi’s civilian leadership shares these paranoid and anti-Muslim racist policies as well. The difference between the Myanmar generals and Suu Kyi government, particularly Suu Kyi herself, is not in kind, but in degree. This is the racist woman who cannot bring herself to respect the right of Rohingya to self-identify as Rohingya or cannot embrace the truth that Rohingyas are a part of Myanmarese society at large, despite her Oxford education and decades of life in liberal western societies. It’s no longer about whether if Suu Kyi had more power would she have been able to end it. The fact is whatever limited power the civilian government has it uses it to deny, dismiss and cover up the military’s crimes against humanity and genocide against Rohingyas. Remember, Suu Kyi has consistently praised the ethnic cleansing and Myanmar army for “doing a good job.”

How effective do you think are the recommendations made by the Advisory Commission?

Absolutely zero effect, despite the loud chorus of support from UN and government quarters for its recommendations. To start with, the military did not welcome Kofi Annan’s involvement from day one at all. It attempted to derail, block or otherwise mitigate the commission’s influence on policy and public opinion. As a matter of fact, it was Myanmar military that was determined to kill the final report upon delivery in August 2017: Annan’s recommendations stand in the way of the military’s attempt to complete its “unfinished business.” One has to be absolutely delusional and stupid not to see how this report plays right into the hands of the Myanmar generals. The military strategists simply honey-trapped the young, primitively armed angry Rohingya militants to attack a few military and police outposts as they wanted the pretext to launch the large scale genocidal campaign of terror within a few days of Kofi Annan’s report.
My reading of the turn of events since August 26, 2017 stands in sharp contrast with the mainstreamed but patently false view that ARSA triggered these military operations by Myanmar that led to the displacement of 688,000 Rohingyas, burning of nearly 350 villages. ARSA is no Hamas in terms of its capacity or strength. Not even Israel has inflicted this level of genocidal destruction of its target. Myanmar is worse than Israel.
Lt General Kyaw Swe, the home affairs minister, who was in Dhaka on an official visit mentioned that Myanmar was keen to implement a few Annan Commission recommendations. It is a complete act of deception. When the military failed to derail Kofi Annan commission’s work, it attempted to use Annan as its outermost shield internationally. The ex-major and Myanmar spokesperson Zaw Htay said this openly.

What should be done to ensure the security and basic rights of the Rohingya people?

In the short run, the world needs to monitor the Rohingya’s plight very closely. Four types of large Rohingya populations exist today: 307,500 pre-existing Rohingya refugees and 688,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh; nearly half a million inside Myanmar among whom 120,000 are in IDP camps where they are languishing in inhuman conditions; then there are Rohingyas in vast open prisons in areas that are not yet attacked or destroyed by Myanmar military and its Rakhine local militia and vigilantes. Dhaka needs massive infusion of humanitarian assistance both in cash and in kind so that no public health epidemics break out in these large refugee areas of Cox’s Bazaar and Chittagong. 100,000 Rohingyas who are apprised as the most vulnerable as soon as the monsoon season begins, need urgent assistance with relocation, and material support.
In the long run, the only viable safeguard for Rohingyas against Myanmar’s evidently genocidal national policies is to help establish North Arakan sub-region – which has been predominantly Rohingya since Myanmar’s independence – and historically, as UN-protected self-administered Rohingya home. Of course, Myanmar will resist any attempt to help put Rohingyas back on their own ancestral soil. But no genocides ever end without the intervention of some sort from outside power. The Security Council will never authorize intervention although it is tasked with the principal duty of promoting peace and protecting world’s population. Just remember how Bangladesh was liberated from the nasty genocidal attacks by West Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh had 12 million Bengali or East Pakistani refugees back then. Now you are a nation with a vibrant economy.
Rohingya people deserve and need a piece of earth they can call home, where they can be Rohingya, where they go to school, access medical services, have proper villages, tend to their farms and look after their families – without having to fear being locked in this cycle of large scale terror and violence, forced repatriation, living in “big cages” inside Myanmar – until the next waves of killing and destruction comes.

Rohingya Houses set on Fire at Late Night

Rohingya Houses in Buthidaung were set of fire by Myanmar Authorities fire on 18th Feb 2018, claims RVISION TV

Rohingya Houses on Fire at Late Night
February 18
Buthidaung: A huge flame of fire was seen at Monirkul village of Lawadong village track at 02:00 AM, burning for more than 7 houses in the area.
According to villagers all houses belonged to Rohingyas who were forced to flee in late 2017.
After the mass exodus of more than 800, 000 people residing in squalid camps of Bangladesh, Burmese forces are forcing the remaining Rohingya to flee their ancestral land.

Trump’s Miss Universe Gambit

Jeffrey Toobin has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993 and the senior legal analyst for CNN since 2002. He is the author of “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.”
His article on Donald Trump is very interesting. For years, Trump used his beauty pageants to boost business interests abroad. A 2013 contest, in Moscow, may also have helped give him the Presidency.
"The first-round results of the 2013 Miss Universe pageant seem to have come as a surprise to some of the competition’s judges, who thought that they would declare the finalists. The seven judges of the pageant’s preliminary round were charged with winnowing eighty-six contestants to fifteen finalists. Divided into two groups, they had brief conversations with each of the contestants, who then paraded onstage, first in bathing suits, then in evening gowns. The judges—including public-relations professionals, a modelling entrepreneur, and a fashion reporter—rated each woman on such qualities as “appearance” and “personality,” after which the ballots were whisked away. “They told us not to share how we voted with each other, but we did anyway,” one of the preliminary judges told me. When the finalists were announced, he said, the winners included several who hadn’t been selected. “I was shocked,” the judge told me. “I didn’t know what had happened. I felt ridiculous.” The contestants were not so naïve—they understood who was in charge," writes Toobin. The man in charge was Donald Trump.

The New Yorker article by Toobin can be read by clicking here.