ishaan tharoor

A French Muslim girl was kicked out of class because her skirt was too long

By Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, April 29, 2015

According to French media reports, a 15-year-old French Muslim girl was banned from her class twice for wearing a skirt that was too long, and therefore supposedly a conspicuous display of religion. France’s state secularism has led to very strict laws prohibiting students from wearing overtly religious symbols in institutions of education.

The student, identified as Sarah, already apparently removed her headscarf before entering the school, in accordance with French law. But her long skirt was deemed a “provocation,” and potential act of protest.

The news sparked an outcry on social media, with commentators remarking on the hypocrisy and bigotry lurking beneath Sarah’s treatment. On Twitter, the hashtag #JePorteMaJuppeCommeJeVeux (“I wear my skirt as I like”) trended.

One Twitter user set Sarah’s skirt against those worn by three other white public figures.

Others made gestures to the United States, posting pictures of Michelle Obama in a long dress.

The user above quips that Michelle Obama’s dress is “unworthy of the Republic.”

Critics of France’s secularist laws in schools say they often thinly conceal a widespread bias against Muslims and immigrants in French society. Studies have revealed how Muslims face systematic discrimination on the basis of their race, creed and culture.

Speaking to local newspaper L’Ardennais, Sarah said that her skirt was “nothing special, it’s very simple, there’s nothing conspicuous. There is no religious sign whatsoever.”

What Saudi Arabia has achieved after bombing Yemen for a month

By Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, April 23, 2015

Saudi Arabia may have changed the name of its operation in Yemen–from Decisive Storm to Restore Hope–but not much has changed on the ground. Even after officials declared the near month-long Saudi-led bombing campaign over on Tuesday, airstrikes continued, pounding the capital Sanaa and Houthi positions in the city of Taiz.

According to figures from the U.N.’s World Health Organization, at least 944 Yemenis have been killed and nearly 3,500 injured since the Saudi-led campaign began.

The Saudis say the next phase will scale back airstrikes and focus more on providing humanitarian assistance and kick-starting a political process to reconcile Yemen’s warring factions. The country’s toothless government, driven out of Sanaa last year, had come to power in 2012 through a Saudi-authored transition.

It’s unlikely Riyadh will have as much say a second time around. Critics, including some American officials, fear the intervention may backfire.

Here’s what a month of bombing has achieved:

Rolling back the Houthi tide. The initial spur to Operation Decisive Storm was the steady advance of Houthi rebels, a Shiite political movement that receives some support from Iran, into Yemen’s south last month. The airstrikes appear to have thwarted the Houthis continued takeover of key military installations in the country, particularly a few air bases pulverized by the Saudi coalition.

That may reduce threats posed by the Houthis to Saudi territory–one of the supposed justifications for the campaign. But it does little to stabilize Yemen itself, which is in the grips of continued conflict between the Houthis and southern factions arrayed against it.

The country’s army has more or less dissolved, with some units allying with the Houthis. While the Saudis have mooted dispatching ground troops, no such force has been cobbled together as yet.

The hope is that a month of heavy bombardment compels the Houthis to come to the negotiating table. But openings for peace still look thin.

Houthi forces continue to encircle the southern coastal city of Aden where, until a month ago, the erstwhile Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had taken sanctuary. It’s likely the Saudis will have to continue their strikes to prevent the Houthis from taking the city.

A Houthi spokesman said the Houthis would consider dialogue only after the “complete end” of Saudi “aggression against Yemen.”

A looming humanitarian catastrophe. All the while, civilian casualties are mounting and what’s left of the Yemeni state is on the brink of “an imminent collapse,” reports the WHO, referring to the country’s health care services. This is from a press release issued on Wednesday:

Health facilities are struggling to function as they face increasing shortages of life-saving medicines and vital health supplies, frequent disruptions in power supply and lack of fuel for generators. Lack of fuel has also disrupted functionality of ambulances and the delivery of health supplies across the country.

Power cuts and fuel shortages also threaten to disrupt the vaccine cold chain, leaving millions of children below the age of five unvaccinated. This increases the risk of communicable diseases such as measles, which is prevalent in Yemen, as well as polio, which has been eliminated but is now at risk of reappearing.

Shortages of safe water have resulted in increased risk of diarrhea, and other diseases. “Over the past 4 weeks, national disease surveillance reports show a doubling in the number of cases of bloody diarrhea in children below the age of 5, as well as an increase in the number of cases of measles and suspected malaria. High rates of malnutrition among women and children below the age of 5 have also been reported,” says Dr. Ahmed Shadoul, WHO Representative for Yemen.

Gains for al-Qaeda. The conflict in Yemen was complicated enough before the Saudis got directly involved. A capable branch of al-Qaeda operates in parts of Yemen’s south and east, and has clashed over the past year with the Houthis.

The turmoil unleashed by the Saudi bombing campaign, according to some reports, presented the extremist militants with an opportunity to make their own gains, including a successful assault on a Yemeni air base and a major sea port.

Combating this wing al-Qaeda, known as AQAP, has been the primary objective of U.S. policy in Yemen for the past decade, and has involved an extensive drone operation.

A deepening polarization. Ever since Operation Decisive Storm began, experts have looked at the wider context of Saudi Arabia’s regional rivalry with Iran: the former is a Sunni orthodox kingdom, the latter a Shiite theocracy; their proxies are battling in other pockets of the Middle East.

Iran’s exact role in Yemen’s conflict–which itself was not a sectarian battle–is a matter of debate. Its shadow in the country, as well as the heavy-handedness of the Saudi response, has led to a bitter war of words across the Middle East and worries that a spiraling crisis could trigger a larger, dangerous conflagration.

Moreover, the enmities within Yemen are hardening, with factions in Aden steeling themselves for a grim fight against the Houthis. Ironically, they’re all largely united in their total disregard for Hadi, the “legitimate” president who has taken shelter in Riyadh and was powerless to prevent his country’s unraveling in the preceding years.

“The strategic challenges of warfare in failed states must either address the broader reasons for those failures, or run a critical risk of becoming failed wars,” writes Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In the case of the Saudi intervention, so far, that risk seems rather acute.

Profiles of the 2 American Al-Qaeda Officials Killed in January 2015 Drone Strikes

April 23, 2015

The two slain al-Qaeda operatives who were U.S. citizens

Ishaan Tharoor

Washington Post

April 23, 2015

Two American citizens working with al-Qaeda were among those killed by U.S. drone strikes earlier this year in Pakistan’s rugger borderlands with Afghanistan.

This March 7, 2010, image obtained from the Site Intelligence Group shows Adam Gadahn, the al-Qaeda U.S. spokesman also known as Azzam the American, in a 25-minute video recording posted online by al-Qaeda. (Site Intelligence Group via AFP)  

Adam Gadahn

An American convert to Islam, Adam Gadahn, 36, was raised on a remote farm in California by Protestant parents who themselves had undergone a religious transformation, changing their last name to Gadahn, a reference to the biblical warrior Gideon. Gadahn also lived for a time with his Jewish grandparents.

He is thought to have converted to Islam in 1995. A 2003 story in The Washington Post found that Gadahn’s radicalization could have taken place in the shadows of a “placid, middle-class congregation” in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where he fell in with a group of more orthodox, angry young men and even physically assaulted the mosque’s chairman in 1997.

He eventually made his way to al-Qaeda’s havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan. By the mid-2000s, Gadahn started making prominent appearances in al-Qaeda propaganda videos, calling on Muslims to attack Western interests around the world, and went by the nom de guerre Azzam the American.

As a 2007 profile in the New Yorker observed, Gadahn began speaking in what might be described as “Jihadlish,” blending extremist slogans with American vernacular. “If you die as an unbeliever in battle against the Muslims, you’re going straight to hell, without passing Go,” he once declared.

  Al-Qaeda member Adam Gadahn rips up U.S. passport(1:24)  Adam Gadahn, an American member of al-Qaeda who was also known as “Azzam the American,” rips up his U.S. passport in this video released in 2008. “Don’t get too excited,” he says. “I don’t need it to travel anyway.” Gadahn was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan earlier this year, the White House said Thursday. (SITE/AFP)    

Ahmed Farouq

Ahmed Farouq, an American national and prominent al-Qaeda operative, was in the compound with hostages Warren Weinstein, an American contractor, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker, when the compound was struck. U.S. officials say that Farouq was not “specifically targeted” in the attack and that they didn’t have knowledge that he would be at the site.

There’s little known about Farouq. News in January that a drone strike had killed an al-Qaeda emir with his name did not indicate that Farouq was a U.S. national, Long War Journal notes. The assumption is that he is a Pakistani American.

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That picture of the Garissa University massacre which left 148 students strewn across the floor—I did everything in my power not to come across it on Twitter. But that picture, heavy with death and desperation, forced itself on me. Young bodies, partially clothed, now robbed of a future, killed off like rats.
Young students who, the day before that massacre, were thinking about love, about exams, a forthcoming trip, the end-of-the–year party, the latest song by that rap group that is so popular now. Young men and women full of simple, beautiful thoughts. Young men and women who were just like me when I was twenty years old. Then death: brutal, murderous.
Eventually, I did look at that picture, and I found that there was something wrong with it. Something deeply and terribly wrong in my—in our—looking at it. My unexpressed uneasiness took shape (and heart, I might add) after I read the tweet by the Washington Post writer Ishaan Tharoor. Addressing the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson who had tweeted the picture, Tharoor wrote: Would you tweet the images of these bodies if it was in the US?

Read Igiaba Scego’s entire brilliant post: I Did Not Want to See That Picture | Mass Review)

Echoes of Stalin in the murder of a Putin foe in Moscow

By Ishaan Tharoor

See if this sound familiar to you….

On Dec. 1, 1934, a lone gunman walked into the offices of Sergei Kirov, the top figure of the Communist Party in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and a member of the Politburo. Not long thereafter, Kirov was dead, with a bullet hole in his neck.

The murder of the handsome Kirov, a great orator and one of the most influential Bolshevik leaders, was a shock. “The enemy did not fire at Kirov personally. No! He fired at the proletarian revolution,” declared the state broadsheet Pravda a day after Kirov’s funeral. Stalin, the Soviet leader, directly took charge of the investigation into the incident.

Hmmm.

Read more at Washington Post

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Video: Hong Kong Protest Movement a ‘Rearguard Action’ to Protect City’s Unique Identity

Asia Society’s October 28 panelists saw the pro-democracy demonstrations as the latest manifestation of a longstanding cultural rift—and as a chance to bolster a local sense of community.

Read the full story here.

Rescue workers in the eastern Turkish city of Van sift through debris in search of survivors after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake left nearly 500 dead and dozens missing. This remote, mountainous corner of the country is highly quake-prone. Many, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the high death toll was the result of shoddy construction and the failure of local governments to enforce safety standards.
—  Ishaan Tharoor

World in Time
(via ibrahim hamza ak)