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Monday, May 28, 2012

What's The Matter With Kansas? Nothing!


I must applaud my home state of Kansas. It ignored this nation's lemming-like sprint toward the abyss of political correctness and now prohibits state courts and agencies from using Islamic or other non-U.S. laws when making decisions.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed that bill, dubbed the "Sharia bill," into law last week. Good for him!

That makes Kansas one of four states to enact such a law. The others are Arizona, Louisiana and Tennessee. Oklahoma voters approved a ballot initiative in 2010 that specifically mentioned Sharia law, but both a federal judge and a federal appeals court blocked it.

That has not stopped 20 other states from considering laws similar to the Kansas statute, according to the Washington-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

Obviously, given the attitudes of the current administration, the federal government has no such pending law so it is up to individual states to keep the onerous edicts of Sharia Law from attacking our freedoms and infesting our lives.

Sharia, or Islamic law, covers all aspects of Muslim life, including religious obligations and financial dealings.
Sharia Law on Display in Pakistan

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an e-mail that the bill "makes it clear that Kansas courts will rely exclusively on the laws of our state and our nation when deciding cases and will not consider the laws of foreign jurisdictions."

The new law takes effect July 1 and says courts, administrative agencies or state tribunals can’t base rulings on any foreign law or legal system that would not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by state and U.S. constitutions.

Muslim groups have condemned the law as discriminatory. However, any American used to our way of life and the broad freedoms we enjoy who has actually examined just what Sharia law is should be happy that Kansas and other states are looking out for them.

Sharia, which means "path" in Arabic, guides all aspects of Muslim life including daily routines, familial and religious obligations, and financial dealings. It is comes primarily from the Quran and the Sunna--the sayings, practices, and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.  

Marriage and divorce are the most significant aspects of sharia, but criminal law is the most controversial, a recent Voice of America report explained. In sharia, there are categories of offenses: those that are prescribed a specific punishment in the Quran, known as "hadd" punishments, those that fall under a judge's discretion, and those resolved through a tit-for-tat measure (i.e., blood money paid to the family of a murder victim).

There are five hadd crimes: unlawful sexual intercourse (sex outside of marriage and adultery), false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, wine drinking (sometimes extended to include all alcohol drinking), theft, and highway robbery.

Punishments for hadd offenses--flogging, stoning, amputation, exile, or execution--get a significant amount of media attention when they occur. These sentences are not often prescribed, however, say Islamic scholars.

Nevertheless, the U.S. has seen a rise in so-called "honor killings"--the murder of women by male family members in retaliation for bringing dishonor on one's family.

The fact is honor killings are a worldwide problem. While precise statistics are scarce, the UN estimates thousands of women are killed annually in the name of family honor. In the U.S. these murders have occurred because of some perceived behavior that is considered blasphemous to the Muslim faith or an affront to the family's honor. That behavior has included Muslim women dating and marrying non-Muslim men, dressing in a way considered "provocative" by a woman's father or brothers, or simply acting "too American."

Other practices that are woven into the sharia debate, such as female genital mutilation, adolescent marriages, polygamy, and gender-based inheritance rules, elicit as much controversy.

It is unfortunate that anybody who opposes sharia law in the U.S. is often labeled a bigot or an "Islam-a-phobe."  In fact, the debate as to whether Islam and democracy can co-exist is a valid one--and that includes sharia law.

In the U.S. it appears that many Muslims who support sharia law would like to see some kind of dual legal system that would allow Muslims to adjudicate certain matters outside of state and federal secular law.

According to a recent U.N. report many majority Muslim countries have such a dual system in which the government is secular but Muslims can choose to bring familial and financial disputes to sharia courts. The exact jurisdiction of these courts varies from country to country, but usually includes marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship. Examples can be seen in Nigeria and Kenya, which have sharia courts that rule on family law for Muslims.

The newly-signed Kansas law would appear to stop such duality in its tracks.

And for good reason. While I don't expect to see sharia law take hold in the U.S. in my lifetime, in places such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq where it exists life is much different. For example, in those countries it is forbidden to enact legislation that is antithetical to Islam. 

Saudi Arabia employs one of the strictest interpretations of sharia. Women are not allowed to drive, are under the guardianship of male relatives at all times, and must be completely covered in public.

Traditional Muslims who understand the Quran and the hadith believe that sharia expresses the highest and best goals for all societies. They insist it is the will of Allah.

 In Kansas, at least, it is not the will of Allah that rules. It is the law of the state-- Inshallah.






Friday, May 25, 2012

Pakistan Shows its True Colors

Once again, Pakistan has shown the world where it really resides when it comes to stopping Islamic terrorism.

As long as it doesn't occur in Pakistan, it simply doesn't care.

There is an exasperating ambivalence about radical Islam and the terrorism it encourages in Pakistan. I saw it when I traveled there as a foreign correspondent 20 years ago and I continue to see it in the way Pakistan is behaving today.

Take, for example, the outrageous treason conviction of Dr. Shakil Afridi by a Pakistani tribal court this past Wednesday. Dr. Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in a Peshawar prison for having assisted the United States in trying to uncover the location of Osama bin Laden last year under the guise of a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Dr. Shakil Afridi



Was it the fact that the good doctor helped the U.S. root out and kill the world's most wanted terrorist or the fact that he embarrassed the Pakistani government and military establishment by revealing bin Laden was essentially residing in the Pakistani government's backyard--and that they possibly even knew it?

Then there is the issue of the closed supply routes through Pakistani territory to Afghanistan in protest to the US aircraft that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border last November. Never mind that some of the soldiers were seen firing at NATO and U.S. forces across the border--how dare the U.S. respond in such a barbaric fashion?

The Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid voted to cut aid to Pakistan by 58% in fiscal 2013 from the request by the administration.

The senators voted $1 billion for Pakistan, including $800 million in foreign aid. However, funding for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund was limited to just $50 million, and that money was tied to the supply lines’ reopening, said Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel’s top Republican. The committee then voted for a symbolic but token $33 million cut in aid -- a million for each year of Dr. Afridi's sentence.

“We’re not going to be giving money to an ally that won’t be an ally,” Graham told reporters. 

 Indeed, some US lawmakers suggest that Pakistan is in league with terrorists rather than with the United States.

"We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don't need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama bin Laden to an end," said Sen. Graham, who pushed for the additional cut in aid said, while calling Pakistan a "schizophrenic ally."

Lawmakers on the House side have been less kind. California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said: "This is decisive proof Pakistan sees itself as being at war with us."
NATO Supply Trucks Backed Up At Afghan Border

Pakistani government officials say the 33-year prison sentence for Dr. Afridi is payback for way the U.S. went about getting bin Laden, and they shrugged off criticism of the verdict by telling America to stop “over-reacting” and “take a deep breath.”

“You got Osama bin Laden...but we're not happy with the way it was done. We didn't like that," a Pakistani official told reporters.

A statement released by Rep. Rohrabacher said when it came to Pakistan: "There is no shared interest against Islamic terrorism...Pakistan was and remains a terrorist state."

Rep. Rohrabacher is dead on in his assessment. That the U.S. continues to be so naive in its relationship with Pakistan--or, more likely, that it is willing to overlook Pakistan's perfidious behavior in deference to political and diplomatic expediency--is infuriating.

Conventional wisdom among the diplomatic corps in Washington is that we mustn't alienate the Pakistani's because we need them in our efforts to prop up the Afghani government and to keep the Taliban at bay.

Of course that assumes the Pakistanis actually care about propping up a pro-American government in Kabul or controlling the Taliban.

The fact is, they don't. The fact is, once Americans pull out of Afghanistan don't be surprised to see the Pakistanis looking the other way as the Taliban reassumes power.

After all, the last thing Pakistan wants is a militant Taliban along its borders.

As one Pakistani official told me years ago: "With you Americans it is always the same. You come to a country, you nation build and then you leave. But what about the people you leave behind? What about their neighbors? We have to live with the consequences of your failed policies."

No Love for the U.S. in Pakistan
A brutal assessment to be sure, but there is some truth in it. Look at Vietnam. Of course, there is also South Korea--hardly a basket case because of U.S. involvement.

Perhaps the only thing to do is to allow diplomats to be diplomats and allow Congress to pound  the table and withhold the dollars the Pakistanis so desperately need.

Of course, the U.S. would be wise to heed the words of that great Beatles song: "money can't buy me love."

May 30, 2012--The 50th Anniversary of Vietnam War. Or is it?


During 13 years as a Journalism Professor and Dean at the University of Illinois, I was often asked by students in the class I taught on International Reporting when the war in Vietnam began.

It was a question that I frequently contemplated during my career as the Chicago Tribune's Far Eastern Correspondent before entering academia.

The problem, as I discovered during my time as a correspondent in Vietnam, is that there are many different answers.

One could argue that it officially began May 30, 1962 when the first Vietnam Service Ribbon was issued.

Or you might argue that it was November 1, 1955  when the Pentagon created the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Vietnam to reflect its new direct combat advisory role with the South Vietnamese Army. The U.S. essentially took over the advisory role from the French, who were leaving Vietnam after their defeat at Diem Bien Phu in 1954. Indeed, the Department of Defense views this date as the earliest qualifying date for inclusion on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. 

Or you might say that it began on March 1959 when North Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh declared a People's War to unite all of Vietnam under his leadership. As far as the communists are concerned this is when "Vietnam War" against the U.S. officially began.

Then again, some might argue that the war began on August 7, 1964, when, in response to the incidents involving U.S. naval vessels U.S.S. Maddox and the U.S.S. Turner Joy, Congress overwhelmingly passed the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution," allowing the President "to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force" to prevent further attacks against U.S. forces. While there was never a declaration of war some view this as the "official" start of the war.

Finally, we have March 8, 1965, when 3,500 Marines land unopposed at China Beach to defend the American air base at Da Nang. They are the first U.S. combat troops to arrive in Vietnam. This event is considered by many to be the beginning of the war even though the Marines join 23,000 American military advisers already in Vietnam and American military advisers have been in Vietnam since 1955.

 It appears that the White House and Pentagon have decided that May 30, 1962--the date of the first Vietnam Service Ribbon--is the "official" date the war began.

"This month, we’ll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved -- a mistake that must never be repeated," President Obama said last week.

So what is planned for this historic occasion?

Following five years of planning, things will kick off with a Memorial Day gathering of the President and others at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of U.S. involvement in the 10-year-long Vietnam war. This curtain raiser is supposed to launch a series of national events co-sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the National Park Service and the Department of Defense. 

However, many Vietnam veterans and their advocates worry that plans are sputtering.
 They say few events are planned and crucial corporate sponsorship is nonexistent. Most veterans have not even heard about the effort.

Indeed, to many Vietnam veterans it's a replay of what happened when they returned home from Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. Few received the kind of welcome and recognition that troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq receive today. Instead many were treated with indifference and even scorn.

There is little direction and no real champions in the Pentagon or White House.

However, the Pentagon insists it will partner with State and local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to launch the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War—a 13-year-long program, it says, "to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced and pay tribute to the more than 3 million men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor."

There seems to be a genuine desire to "get it right" this time--given the fact that the nation didn't do that four and five decades ago.

But getting it right means raising money, and some Pentagon officials say that has been a major stumbling block. The commemoration office has received limited funds to organize, and officials have not designed a mechanism for corporations to contribute.

Nevertheless, the events and activities scheduled for this 13-year-long commemoration will:

·       Thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.
·       Highlight the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the armed forces.
·       Pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.
·       Highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to the military research conducted during the Vietnam War.
·       Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.

It all sounds great. But just as decades ago when people eager for an end of the war in Vietnam talked about seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, one hopes that through these planned events and activities those who served with little or no recognition will finally see that elusive light and find their way home.

Friday, May 11, 2012

ARE THE JAPANESE HEADED FOR EXTINCTION?




About 20 years ago I wrote a story from Japan which lamented Japan's declining birth rate and predicted dire consequences if something didn't happen to turn things around.

In 1991, according to the Home Affairs Ministry, births in Japan fell to 1.25 million--67,000 fewer than the year before. In 1989 the average Japanese woman of child-bearing age had 1.57 children, down from 1.77 children in 1979 and 4.54 in 1949.

Things have not gotten any better. In fact, they have gotten worse.

Government projections show the birth rate will hit just 1.35 children per woman within 50 years, well below the replacement rate.

Japanese Children are in serious decline


 According to the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in order to maintain a steady population that does not increase and does not decrease, a country must have a fertility rate of 2.1. This is the replacement rate.  If each woman has an average of 2.1 children, she will replace herself and a man, and allow for the occasion in which some children will not make it to maturity in order to replace themselves. A fertility rate below 2.1 children per woman means that a country will not replace itself.

Population experts say the world has already reached a milestone: half of humanity is having only enough children to replace itself. That means the fertility rate of half the world is 2.1 or below. This is the “replacement level of fertility”, the magic number that causes a country’s population to slow down and eventually to stabilize.

The United Nations population division reports that 2.9 billion people out of a total of 6.5 billion were living in countries at or below this point in 2000-05. The number will rise to 3.4 billion out of 7 billion by 2012 and to over 50% in the middle of the next decade. Those countries include not only Russia and Japan but Brazil, Indonesia, China and even south India.

The total fertility rate in the United States today is 2.01 children per woman, which is below the replacement fertility rate. However, U.S. population growth is among the highest in industrialized countries, because the vast majority of these have below-replacement fertility rates and the U.S. has higher levels of immigration.

In Japan things are much more serious. Japanese researchers have now warned of a doomsday scenario if it carries on this way with the last child to be born there in 3011 and the Japanese people potentially disappearing a few generations later.

Another study recently showed Japan's population is expected to fall a third from its current 127.7 million over the next century.

In 1991 I reported that when a 44-year-old housewife from Chiba named Hisako Misu gave birth to her 18th child--a childbearing record for modern Japan--bureaucrats were elated.

"Japan needs about 100,000 more like her," a Health and Welfare Ministry official told me.

Not content to hope that more Misu-sans will emerge and begin popping out babies at record rates, the nation's leaders responded by creating an unprecedented council of 15 government ministries and agencies to figure out ways of encouraging women to have more children and to solve what one official called Japan's "serious, silent crisis."

Now academics have created a population clock to highlight the fall and encourage public debate on the issue.


"By indicating it in figures, I want people to think about the problem of the falling birthrate with a sense of urgency," Professor Hiroshi Yoshida, who led the research team, told the Japan Times newspaper. 

Why is there a lack of children?  There are several answers to that question.

 The main reason may be cost. Japan is an exceptionally expensive country and putting child through the nation's highly competitive education system and eventually through college can wipe out a family's finances. But research shows it goes much deeper than that as the Japanese state does throw a lot of money at people with children.

Another reason may be Japan's growing number of effeminate men now called "Herbivores" who are either not interested in sex or who women don't find masculine enough.

Some researchers suggest many young Japanese people prefer "virtual" friends on the internet, while others suggest their fascination with comics rather than relationships is the cause for a lack of babies.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research study also showed one in four unmarried men and women in their 30s had never had sex, and most young women preferred being single.

It also showed more than 60 percent of unmarried young men didn't have a girlfriend, and nearly 50 percent of women of the same age weren't dating. And if that wasn't bad enough, young Japanese people are simply not interested in sex.

A survey by the Japan Family Planning Association found that 36 percent of males between 16 and 19 had "no interest" in sex.

More than 20 percent of Japan's people are aged 65 or over, one of the highest proportions of elderly in the world.

In 1991 I reported that the number of Japanese age 65 and older increased to 14.25 million. That figure grew to 25.6 million by the year 2010. Demographics experts predicted that senior citizens would outnumber those age 14 and younger within 10 years. There are now 16.6 million children under the age of 14 in Japan--almost 10 million fewer than those aged 65 and older. And that number is shrinking at a disturbing rate of one every 100 seconds.

If you do the math, Japan will have no children within a millennium.

Another study recently showed Japan's population is expected to fall a third from its current 127.7 million over the next century.

"This is really an intolerable situation for a country like Japan," said a Home Affairs Ministry official. "We must produce more children. The economic vitality and social energy of the nation are at stake."

Such hand-wringing has not moved women of childbearing age. Many single women are unwilling to forego their careers and independence for Japan's still traditional and often restrictive married life.

"I don't even want to think about marriage and raising children until I am at least 30," said Mayumi Mizukami, 22, a university graduate with a degree in marketing. "The quality of life is terrible. Newlyweds cannot even afford to buy the smallest house."

"I think the reason for the low birthrate is that women are not confident they will be bringing up their children in the proper environment," said Satoko Tanaka, head of the Tokyo League of Regional Women's Organizations.

"In the long term, it is probably not a good idea to have a population that is too small," she said, "but it is not something that can be decided by the government either."