Sunday, November 27, 2005

Snow in my courtyard

Paris received this season's first snowfall this morning! For me, this was my second snowy encounter... the first being in Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh)! Here are two shots of the counrtyard in front of my residence. There is something magical about snow that lights up an incredibly dull day.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What do we do with such a character...

The VHP leader (Acharya Dharmendra) also supported RSS supremo K S Sudarshan’s suggestion that Hindus should have at least three children to multiply the community population and said, “when we cannot control the population of the minorities, to maintain the balance between the minority and the majority, Hindu women should be prepared for more labour pains”.

More here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

India's foreign minister bows out...

There was a quote Natwar Singh would repeat often when India was at its peak during the campaign of securing a permanent seat at the UN Security Council - "It reflects the world in 1945, not 2005". Don't you think that could be also said for our gerontocrat at the MEA? Read this edit from The Indian Express.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Iranian Jews to move out of Israel

Exclusive: Immigrant moves back 'home' to Teheran

Orly Halpern, THE JERUSALEM POST Nov. 3, 2005


Ishak can't wait to get "home" to Teheran.

After he immigrated to Israel two years ago, said the short man with dark circles under his eyes, his life became increasingly miserable.

Standing and fretting inside his empty shop on Jerusalem's Rehov Ben-Yehuda, Ishak (not his real name), a 51-year-old Jewish-Iranian who is in Israel now only for a final visit, said the jewelry shop he opened here never sold anything, the renters to whom he leased a property did not pay and his heart began to fail him from the stress of monthly mortgage payments and no income.

So 10 months ago gray-haired Ishak gave up on the Zionist dream and began to move his family and belongings back to Iran. He filled some of his numerous suitcases and trunks with the Persian carpets, silverware, and home decorations he came here with, and flew to Turkey with his two sons. There they sent their new Israeli passports by express mail back to his daughter in Israel. Then they took out their Islamic Republic of Iran passports and boarded a flight to Teheran.

When he arrived, his Muslim friends were incredulous.

"I have a lot of Muslim friends and they all knew I'd moved to Israel," he said. "They asked me, 'Why did you come back?'" His Jewish friends in Iran already knew the answer.

Despite the declaration last week by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel must be wiped off the map, the Shihab missiles displayed in Teheran with "Israel" painted on them, the broadcasting of anti-Semitic films on national television and the much-publicized trials of 13 Jewish Iranians on spy charges, Ishak insists that life in Iran is far better for Jews than life in Israel.

"If you have problems there, people help you - and they know you are Jewish," said Ishak, who has now briefly returned to Israel to sell his shop and leave for good. "But here, everyone is looking out for himself. You can't trust anybody."

Ishak is not the only recent immigrant who prefers his Islamic birthplace to his Jewish homeland. Jerusalem's Jaffa Road and Rehov Ben-Yehuda are lined with shopkeepers originally from Iran who say they are desperate to go back - some to visit, some to live.

And while most outsiders might believe that routine contact between the citizens of the two sworn enemies is impossible, in fact, not only are the phone lines between Teheran and Tel Aviv used actively, but so also are flight routes via Istanbul.

Jewish Iranians travel frequently to Israel. To avoid getting the Iranians in trouble back in their home country, Israeli border authorities do not stamp entry visas into their passports. As with journalists, the entry visa is stamped on a separate slip of paper, which is later thrown away upon exit from the Zionist state.

"My parents came for a visit and left two months ago," said Avi, who owns a shoe store on Jaffa Road. But the elderly couple has no intention of moving here.

"The Jews there live very well," he explained. "When [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini got in power he said there is a difference between Persian Jews who are from Moussa (Moses) and Zionist Jews."

Avi acknowledges that initially Jews were not allowed to travel. "No one was," he said. "But now it's no problem."

Summertime is the most popular season for travel but sometimes Iranians come for just a wedding.

At Avi's, all the shoe salesmen are Iranian Jews. One of them is expecting his mother-in-law back in Israel from a two-month visit to Teheran. Meanwhile, his wife speaks to her mother regularly. "My mother-in-law buys calling cards there for $10 and they speak one hour."

But even more curious is the cooperation of Iranian authorities in allowing Iranian-Israelis who don't have an Iranian passport to visit the country of their birth and roots.

"My uncle's cousin had not been in Iran for over 20 years," said David, who runs a gift shop on Rehov Ben-Yehuda with his brother and parents and asked that his last name not be printed because he does not want the Iranian government to know who he is. "He went to the Iranian embassy in Turkey and told them, 'I am Persian and I am now Israeli. I want to go back to Iran. If you give me a passport great, if not that's fine, too. And they gave him one,'" said David, who is considering trying the method.

The 30-year-old is afraid to ask and he thinks he won't get one because he left Iran by illegally crossing the border into Pakistan some 15 years ago without a passport. But he, too, is dying to go back to Iran.

"I love the country, I don't like the people," stressed the young man dressed in jeans and a black kippa who said he came to Israel because of Zionism.

"I thought that here it was good. I thought that all the Jews leave their doors unlocked and no one stole. But the Israeli people are not cultured. They are rude and disrespectful. In Iran people trust each other and when they give their word they keep it. Here you need a lawyer to get anyone to keep their promise."

Moussa (also not his real name) is a 42-year-old clothing salesman on Jaffa Road who came to Israel in the 1970s when he was 10. His family members own four shops along the street. Many from his family travel frequently between the two enemy states. "They come and go and do business," he said.

Many of the Iranian-Israelis said that after former moderate president Muhammad Khatami got in power in 1997 the government turned a blind eye to the travel. Now some fear that may change since hardline president Ahmadinejad took over in August.

"I'm scared," said Moussa. "Especially after what Ahmedinejad said. He's a new leader and he wants to show off like a peacock. We don't know what it will be like now."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Were do we draw the line?

Muslims march over cartoons of the Prophet
By Kate Connolly in Berlin
From Telegraph

A Danish experiment in testing "the limits of freedom of speech" has backfired - or succeeded spectacularly - after newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed provoked an outcry.

Thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets in protest at the caricatures, the newspaper that published them has received death threats and two of its cartoonists have been forced into hiding.

Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's leading daily, defied Islam's ban on images of the Prophet by printing cartoons by 12 different artists.

In one he is depicted as a sabre-wielding terrorist accompanied by women in burqas, in another his turban appears to be a bomb and in a third he is portrayed as a schoolboy by a blackboard.

The ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries called on Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister, to take "necessary steps" against the "defamation of Islam".

But Mr Rasmussen, the head of a centre-Right minority coalition dependent for its survival on support from an anti-foreigner party, called the cartoons a "necessary provocation" and refused to act.

"I will never accept that respect for a religious stance leads to the curtailment of criticism, humour and satire in the press," he said.

The Danish debate over how to integrate Muslims has raged for years, with nursery school menus and women-only opening hours for swimming pools particular battlegrounds. But the cartoons satirising the Prophet have injected a dangerous new element into the controversy.

"This is a pubescent demonstration of freedom of expression that consciously and totally without reason has trampled over the feelings of many people," said Uffe Ellemann Jensen, a former foreign minister and member of Mr Rasmussen's party.

Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten, spurned demands that he apologise, saying he "would not dream" of saying sorry.

"To demand that we take religious feelings into consideration is irreconcilable with western democracy and freedom of expression," he said. "This doesn't mean that we want to insult any Muslims."

Juste commissioned the cartoons after learning of the difficulties a children's writer, Kare Bluitgen, had in finding an illustrator for his book on the Koran and the Prophet's life. Bluitgen said all the artists he approached feared the wrath of Muslims if they drew images of Mohammed.

Many cited the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamist as a reason for refusal.

Juste said he wanted to counter growing "self censorship" and see how many cartoonists would be "bold enough" to draw the Prophet.

One artist, Franz Füchsel, said he intended no offence. "But I live in 2005, not 905 and I use my quill in the way that Danish law allows me."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch MP famous for her criticism of Islam and author of the screenplay for Mr Van Gogh's film Submission, supported the paper. "It's necessary to taunt Muslims on their relationship with Mohammed," she said.

"Otherwise we will never have the dialogue we need to establish with Muslims on the most central question: 'Do you really feel that every Muslim in 2005 should follow the way of life the Prophet had 1,400 years ago, as the Koran dictates?' "