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News from the Middle East and around the Mediterranean.

Young Iraqis Beginning to Favor Western Style of Clothing over Traditional Garbs

Traditional outfits and modest clothing are being abandoned in favor of sleek new styles for this generation of youth in Iraq. For both young men and women, they are beginning to adopt western styles of fashion. This means skin tight jeans and high heels for girls, and slacks and spiky hairdos for guys. While the youth are enjoying more freedom with their wardrobe selection, the transition is a nightmare for the older generation who feel that customs and tradition are being abandoned in favor of what is hip and popular.

A few clerics, however, find the fashion sense to be in violation of religious morality and have took it upon themselves to dispatch a group of security guards to assume the role of fashion police and crack down on youth who dress provocatively.

Posters have also been displayed warning people, especially women, to dress conservatively and to be covered from head to toe. Posters have also reminded women to wear a head scarf.

Some residents in Baghdad have even petitioned for a law to pass to require women to be veiled when walking in public areas. The government, however, has been in support of personal freedoms and even ordered posters that enforced dress codes to be removed.

By law, women are only required to wear a headscarf when entering a mosque. Outside, however, they are encouraged to wear one out of modesty though it is certainly not against the law not to wear one.

Western styles have become more prominent ever since the U.S. invasion that lead to the topple of Saddam Hussein’s regime. More women are beginning to abandon their head scarves and favor tight fitting clothing. Men are also beginning to break from tradition by getting tattoos and piercings.

There is a clear division between the youth who value personal freedom and the older generation who maintain that traditional customs and respect for religion must be adhered to.

11-year-old Pakistani Girl Faces Possible Death Sentence for Blasphemy

While spirituality is generally a good thing, when belief in God turns into religious fanaticism, it creates nothing but chaos and gives religion a bad name. This is what is happening right now in Pakistan with a young girl who is being imprisoned and faces a possible death sentence for burning pages out of the Koran.

The girl in question is 11-year-old Rimsha Masih, and there are reports that she has Down’s syndrome. The incident occurred August 16th when a neighbor reported that he saw Rimsha set a page of the Noorani Qaida on fire and placed the burnt remains in a plastic bag. The Noorani Qaida is an Arabic learning guide used by children.

Muslim fundamentalists dispute the reports that Rimsha is only 11 and suffers from downs syndrome. Some claim that she is 16, mentally sound and was completely aware of what she was doing when she lighted up the Noorani Qaida.

After the news spread, Rimsha and her mother was taken into custody where they currently sit in a prison cell. However, her arrest was not enough for some of the locals in her city. They wanted to dish out justice themselves. Reports have already spread of Christians, a minority in the country, being mobbed and having their homes vandalized. It is also believed that as many as 600 Christians were forced to flee their homes near Islamabad for fear of being targeted.

News of Rimsha’s arrest has spurred human rights activists in the country and all over the world to spring to action. They are challenging Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law, which states that anyone who desecrates the Koran or speaks ill of the Prophet Mohammed is a crime punishable by imprisonment and even death. The law does very little to protect Christians and other religious minorities. They are left to fend for themselves from vigilantes and violent extremists.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad Calls Israel “An Insult to Humanity”

Israel has made it blatantly clear that it is seriously contemplating a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. If Iran wants to avoid the possibility of a military showdown, then it is certainly not helping matters when the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, openly called Israel’s presence as an “insult to humanity.”

Ahmadinejad spoke in front of a large crowd
at Tehran University following a series of pro-Palestinian marches that swept through the nation.

Israel has long considered Iran a threat due to its nuclear facilities and support for organizations with an anti-Israel agenda. Ahmadinejad, along with the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, have made repeated references about the need to bring about Israel’s destruction.

While Israel stated that it hopes for the issue to be resolved through diplomacy, it has also made it clear that it will not hesitate to launch a military assault if Iran does not abandon its nuclear uranium program, which Iran continuously insists is for peaceful purposes. Iran has threatened retaliation if Israel were to proceed with plans of a military strike and has also pledged to do the same to the U.S. if it allies itself with Israel.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad also called Israel “corrupt” and “anti-human.” He also added that Israel needs to be confronted in order to protect “the dignity of all human beings.” During his speech, demonstrators burned the Israel and American flag and chanted “death to Israel and the U.S.”

The White House has publicly condemned Ahmadinejad’s speech and also blasted him for defending Syrian president, Bashar Assad, despite the government’s repeated violation of human rights and the brutal assault on its own people, which claimed over 20,00 lives since March of last year.

Ahmadinejad’s words are really nothing new. In 2005, he denied the events of the Holocaust and called it a myth. He also vowed for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.

Email from Asma al-Assad

Just got this email. I am sure it real… But its hopefully the virtual writing on the wall…The end is near?

Greetings,

I will like to formally introduce myself, I am Mrs. Asma al-Assad, First Lady of Syria which is the wife of Syria President Bashar al Assad.

I have a Profitable business transaction for you which involves transfer of funds,Please if interested do contact me via email for more details on this transaction but if this does not suit your business ethics, kindly delete this e-mail as I will gladly appreciate.

I await your swift response, to my email.

Regards
Mrs. Asma al-Assad

Turkish Jet Shot Down by Syria

A tense situation is unfolding between Turkey and Syria after the latter shot down a fighter jet belonging to the former. According to Turkish officials, one of their aircrafts was shot down while in international space. Authorities are now convening with NATO allies to decide what kind of measures should be taken in response. Syria claims that the jet crossed over to its airspace, which is a violation of its sovereignty.

Members of NATO will be gathering for a conference in Brussels to discuss the issue. No military action is expected at this point.

Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, said that Syria was merely acting out of self-defense and dismissed claims that the aircraft was in international space. It was also reported in the Syrian media that the jet may have been on an espionage mission and flew over the area to spy on the country’s radar system located in Latakia.

Turkey has said that no actions will be taken until it has discussed the matter with NATO, but has warned that the incident will not go unpunished. The matter may escalate even further after a claim that a second plane was fired at while on the search for wreckage of the downed jet.

Taner Yildiz, Turkey’s Energy Minister, said that a possible response may be to cut off Syria’s electricity supplies, since Turkey currently supplies Syria with about 10 percent of its power.

Turkey has also leaked news that several high ranking military members from Syria have defected due to souring relations between the two nations. Syria, in the meantime, has vowed that it will not stand idly by if NATO responds in an aggressive nature.

From the start of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has taken a firm stance against Syria’s government and has provided a refuge for defectors. About 33,000 Syrians have crossed over to Turkey for shelter.

Another Malware Threat Discovered in the Middle East

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been marred by the intrusion of viruses that have sabotaged its computers. So far, two major cyber-attacks have been reported and have been given the name Stuxnet and Flame. While the U.S. and Israel have been accused of being the masterminds behind the virus assault, both nations have denied involvement.

The cyber-attack continues on with the emergence of a new virus. This one is being dubbed the “Gauss” and appears to be created for the purpose of hacking into banking institutions in the Middle East. This virus is so complex and advanced that it is believed that it could only be carried out by a nation and not by a lone hacker or small organization. Once again, the U.S. and Israel are being blamed for the attack though both countries are claiming innocence.

So far, Gauss has mainly targeted banking institutions in Lebanon though attacks have also been verified in 25 other countries. However, it is believed the virus is more directed for the purpose of monitoring transaction information rather than stealing money. It is also capable of stealing passwords and monitoring audio and keystrokes. Gauss was discovered in June though the virus is believed to have been active since last September. About 2,500 accounts have been reportedly hacked and monitored by Gauss though it is believed the actual number of infected accounts could be in the tens of thousands.

In the past few months, The Middle East has come under the assault of extremely sophisticated malware. Stuxnet was the first to be discovered and was responsible for hampering the progress of Iran’s nuclear facilities. This was followed by Flame and Duqu, which targeted various computer systems throughout various regions in the Middle East. It is believed all these viruses are linked and originated from the same creator.

Syria’s Prime Minister has Reportedly Defected

The unending onslaught of violence brought on by Syria’s regime has resulted in an unimaginable death toll of civilians. News has been surfacing of military generals and other high ranking commanders defecting from the regime and fleeing the country with their families.

There is now rumor that Syria’s Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, has packed up his bags and fled as well. If the news is true, then this will make Hijab the highest ranking administer to defect from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The news of Hijab’s defection was initially reported by opposition forces. Syria’s government-run media, however, has denied all rumors of Hijab making an about-face. The media has insisted that Hijab was fired and did not defect as reported by the opposition. There are also reports that the country’s finance minister defected as well; this is also being disputed by the media.

Since the conflicts began about 17 months ago, Syria’s regime has consistently been fazed by the sudden defection of top military and civilian officials. According to an activist, while Hijab had close ties to President Assad’s brother, he appeared to be deeply disturbed by the atrocities committed by the government he was heading.

Aside from the defections, Iran’s role in the melee is also becoming more tangled. Rebel fighters have reported the capture of 48 Iranians in Damascus. Iranian officials have also called for an international emergency conference to be held in Tehran. According to the rebels, the captured Iranians are members of the country’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran has denied the claims and insisted the men were merely visitors embarking on a pilgrimage to a religious shrine in the city of Tadamon.

Iran has been an ardent supporter of President Assad and has continuously blamed Syrian rebels for the violence and civilian deaths. It has also blasted neighboring countries for siding with the opposition.

Syria Hints that it may Possess Chemical Weapons

Syrian authorities have issued a stern warning that it will not hesitate to employ an arsenal of chemical weapons against foreign invaders. The threat appears to be directed at Western nations in the event that they decide to deploy ground troops to the region.

For the U.S. and its allies, this appears to be an admission by Syria that they indeed own a stockpile of chemical weapons. The Syrian authorities have also issued a statement that its chemical arms will only be used to ward off a foreign invasion and would never be used against its own citizens.

According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Jihad Makdissi, the weapons will only be used to defend itself from foreign aggression and will be up to the generals whether they are to be deployed. However, when asked whether this was confirmation that Syria possesses such weapons, Makdissi would not give a direct confirmation. He only says that if such weapons exist, that they would only be used against foreign invaders and never be used domestically.

It is believed that Makdissi’s ambiguous statements were directed particularly at the U.S., Israel and Turkey. According to a report sent to Congress, Syria has steadily built a cache of chemical weaponry, which includes cyanide, sarin nerve agent and mustard gas, all of which can be spread through the use of firing from artillery rockets, missiles and aerial bombs.

While Syria continues to keep its enemies guessing over what it possesses in its arsenal, a diplomat from the United Nations said that in a conference with Kofi Annan, a message was leaked suggesting that any chemical weaponry Syria may own is stored in a safe location.

Aside from Syria, Israel has also been just as equally ambiguous about its own stockpile of chemical weapons. In fact, Syria and Israel are two of eight nations that continue to refuse to relinquish its cache of chemical arsenal, despite a 1997 convention for all countries to dismantle their collection of chemical-related weaponry.

Middle East Plagued by another Cyber-Attack

Cyber-attacks are the preferred weapon these days by lone wolf attackers and even orchestrated by one nation against another. Another wave of cyber-attacks has been hitting the Middle East with over 800 victims unknowingly downloading a piece of malware that spies on their Web activity.

The attack is being called “Madi,” and the culprits behind it are believed to be a group of Iranians who operate off a location in Canada. The hackers stole mostly email and Facebook accounts belonging primarily to businessmen and government officials in Israel, Iran and Afghanistan.

The victim’s computer becomes infected when a malicious malware, usually disguised as a harmless file, is downloaded. Once downloaded, the malware can spy on the user and record everything from keystrokes to login information. It can also monitor messages exchanged via email and social network as well as record audio activity of meetings that take place through Skype.

The email containing the downloadable malware was sent specifically to the intended targets and were not spam emails sent to thousands of random people at a time. The downloadable content often came with videos of missile tests or religious pictures, anything designed to lure the person into clicking on the material.

Madi is actually less sophisticated than other types of malware that has been implemented in the past. In fact, some experts are puzzled at how such a basic Trojan virus was capable of successfully making its way into the computers of high profile people.

Madi is just one of the many cyber-attacks that have been taking place in the past year. Two other attacks known as Stuxnet and Flame sent a malware that was intended to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities. It has been speculated that Israel and the U.S. have been behind these attacks, though neither country has ever confirmed or denied involvement.

Poison Suspected in the Death of Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat

Nearly eight years after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat fell ill and died, the circumstances surrounding his death is now being investigated with closer scrutiny.

Arafat died in late 2004 after falling ill and being admitted to a hospital in France. An autopsy done at the hospital found no evidence that would suggest foul play surrounding his death. To this day, his cause of death still remains a mystery.

A separate investigation lead by Al Jazeera, however, revealed a completely different story. They concluded that Arafat was in optimal health before suddenly becoming violently ill. What’s even more intriguing is that an examination of his personal belongings, such as his toothbrush, clothes and even the kaffiyeh that he was always seen wearing, showed high traces of a radioactive element known as polonium.

The tests were done at an institute in Switzerland and showed that the belongings all had traces of Arafat’s urine, saliva and sweat. Further tests also suggest that Arafat may have had high levels of polonium in his internal system at the time of his passing.

Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, has now requested for authorities to have his body exhumed and have a full autopsy done. If traces of polonium are found in his bones, then it will suggest that someone may have had him poisoned.

Polonium is also suspected in the death of two scientists involved with Israel’s nuclear program. Its symptoms are still being studied and it is believe that the element kills by poisoning the intestines.

Laboratory tests concluded that polonium found on Arafat’s belongings did not come from natural sources. Most forms of cancer have also been ruled out as the cause of death. Even if Arafat’s body were to be exhumed and tests show that he indeed had levels of polonium, then it would only lead to an even greater question: who killed him?

Women in Iraq Forced to Undergo Virginity Tests

Most countries in the Middle East have a notorious history of treating women as second class citizens. There is now even more reason to believe that women are being held to unfair standards in a male dominated society.

In Iraq, some women are now being ordered by court to take a virginity test. In most Middle Eastern societies, women are expected to remain a virgin until marriage. Sexual activity before tying the knot is considered a dishonor to the family. In more traditional villages, some women are even killed by a male relative if it is discovered that she had engaged in premarital sex.

In the Baghdad Medical Legal Institute, women are being taken into a windowless room where tests are being done to prove or disprove their virginity.

Most women are admitted when the husband suspects his wife of not being a virgin. He then takes the matter to court where a judge can order the women to undergo a virginity test.

Aside from the women, the husband may also be tested for erectile dysfunction. Often times, the man will accuse his wife of not being a virgin in order to deflect attention away from his own shame.

If the test shows that the woman is indeed not a virgin, then there is no law to protect her. Her family would also then be required to repay for all gifts and expenses given during the courtship.

The human rights organization, Amnesty International, is currently looking into the matter and has described the virginity testing as a violation of human rights. The group has also said that the tests can be inaccurate at times.

In a culture where family honor is everything, women’s rights are being trampled on through these virginity tests. It is degrading and further illustrates that women are still being viewed as inferior to their male counterparts.

The Jihad Kindergarten

Children clearly are unable to distinguish between right and wrong and just follow what they are shown by adults. This is why you cannot blame the children from a Jihad kindergarten who are involved in a mock campaign to promote violence against Israel.

The students are from a kindergarten in Gaza that is owned and operated by Islamic Jihad. As part of the graduation ceremony for completing their first year of school, the children were dressed in military uniform and waved plastic AK-47s in the air while chanting anti-Semitic epithets.

The director of the kindergarten said that it is the children’s duty to continue with the resistance and recognize Israel as the enemy.

During the ceremony, the children stood in formation next to cardboard coffins draped in flags bearing the image of militant factions. There was also a segment where one child was dressed as an Israeli prison guard and dunked the head of another child dressed as a Palestinian prisoner in water. The demonstration was done to depict the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in detention.

One of the students said that he wanted to become a martyr by blowing himself up and killing as many Jews as possible in the process. That same child went on to say that the ideal scenario would be for him to blow himself up on a bus.

In attendance were the parents and relatives of the graduates, many of whom are actively involved with extremist Palestinian factions.

One of the teachers says that the goal is for each of the children to follow an active role in the resistance in the name of Allah and to protect the soil of Palestine.

Due to such influences, it is a shame that these children will likely end up on the battlefield as adults where they will be more than happy to claim innocent lives, even at the cost of their own.

Iran Announces Arrests in the Murder of Two Nuclear Scientists

Iran announced that arrests have been made in the murder of two nuclear scientists. Officials claim that the suspects in custody have ties to Israel and have been relocated to a detention facility for questioning. The arrests were made following an 18 month investigation involving heavy intelligence and surveillance work abroad.

So far, no further information has been released regarding the number of suspects or their identities. According to the Iranian intelligence ministry, the suspects are being held for the murder of Majid Shahriari, who was a member of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. He was killed in November of 2010. The following January, the director of Natanz nuclear facility, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was also assassinated along with his bodyguard.

Both men were killed in the same manner. An assailant on a motorbike placed a bomb on their moving vehicles during Tehran’s rush hour traffic. The murders reportedly caused widespread panic among other scientists and hindered the progress of the nuclear enrichment program.

Initially, Iran pointed the finger at the U.S., whom they also blamed for the killings of two other scientists. So far, Israel has not come forward with any public statements to confirm or deny any involvement.

Just a month prior, Iran convicted and hanged a man it accused of being a spy for the Mossad. The man was Iranian citizen Masoud Ali Mohammadi, and he was also the prime suspect in the murder of a nuclear scientist, who was killed from a bomb blast outside his home back in early 2010.

Since then, Iran has sporadically made announcements about the arrests of people suspected as spies for the U.S. and Israel but has not provided evidence or released further details about the case. Iran has also fervently blamed the two countries for attempting to wreck its nuclear program by sabotaging its computers with malicious malware.

Assad continues Syrian genocide in full force

Syria has become a hotbed of bloodshed in the 15 months since the country’s people lead a revolt against the rule of their president, Bashar Assad. In total since March 2011, over 11,400 were killed so far, including 9,862 civilians, 3,470 soldiers and 783 army deserters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

No one, not even civilians, are safe from the shelling and gunfire that is taking place nearly on a daily basis. Some activists are now claiming that militia members supportive of the government are now targeting unarmed civilians. The latest massacre is believed to have taken place in the province of Hama where 78 people were killed.

The victims included women and children. Some of the bodies showed signs of stab punctures, while other bodies were burned. Blood is spilling on the street every day and all signs are pointing in the direction of civil war if nothing is done to put a stop to the senseless killings.

Just two weeks before, another mass killing took place in the city of Houla. A pro-Assad gang known as Shabbiha slaughtered 108 civilians; half of the confirmed dead were children. The town of Mazraat al-Qabeer and Maazarif have been heavily shelled by Syrian forces. After the shelling, that’s when members of Shabbiha entered the city and began the massacre.

The slayings have been witnessed by United Nation members who were sent to observe a ceasefire agreement set in place by envoy Kofi Annan. Both the government and rebel fighters have since called off the truce to ceasefire due to recent attacks.

The government has refused to comment on the massacres and has restricted ground access for the international media. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, is calling for an immediate investigation.

Until there is deeper international involvement, it looks like there are no plans for either the government or rebels to lay down their arms. This means that similar massacres will likely take place in the coming weeks and months. The death tally is expected to rise.

Sunni and Shiite Muslims Battle for Control of Holy Site

Shiite and Sunni Muslims have been killing each other for years over trivial differences in the way they interpret the Koran. The violence took a turn for the worse in 2006 when the two sects began fighting for control over the Askariya Shrine in Samarra, a site that has been deemed holy. Since then, retaliatory attacks have been exchanged and left hundreds of civilians dead.

A recent attack by a suicide bomber who rammed his car into a Shiite religious building killed 18 and left 125 wounded. Later that day, a bomb was found lodged in the back of a Sunni Endowment office. The area was cordoned off where police safely detonated it.

Sunni and Shiite endowment offices are the logistical centers for religious matters regarding mosques and cultural locations. The two authorities have been disputing over how the Askariya shrine and surrounding perimeter should be reconstructed and developed.

While violence in Iraq has quelled in recent months, sectarian attacks remain a serious epidemic. Just a few days before, a series of bombings took place at a Shiite neighborhood market, killing 17 and injuring scores of others.

Some locals suspect that some of the attacks are orchestrated by government officials, as it is believed that some who hold office have ties to militia.

Following the 2006 bombing, an army brigade was dispatched to seize control of the shrine from the Sunni locals. This began a steady transition where rights to the shrine were given to the Shiite endowment. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, has taken measures to prevent full control from being granted to the Shiites. Sunni officials from Sumarra have vowed to take legal action to limit Shiite authority over the shrine.

Though Sunni Muslims are the minority, they held control over most of Iraqi policy and law. That is, until the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s reign. Since then, the tide has shifted to the Shiite majority. This has created embitterment that led to the back and forth violence that has resulted in nothing other than countless civilian deaths.

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