Terrorism begins at home


Hamas patrols beaches in Gaza to enforce conservative dress code

From today’s Guardian newspaper (UK) comes an article worth reading about the efforts of Hamas to “Islamize” the Gaza area of Palestine, where they are the elected government, by controlling dress and behavior–––especially of women, of course. Ownership must be maintained!

It began with a rash of unusually assertive police patrols. Armed Hamas officers stopped men from sitting shirtless on the beach, broke up groups of unmarried men and women, and ordered shopkeepers not to display lingerie on mannequins in their windows.

Then came an effort to force female lawyers to abide by a more conservative dress code, and intense pressure on parents to dress their daughters more conservatively for the new school term. Last week police began enforcing a new decree banning women from riding on motorbikes.

For the first time since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections nearly four years ago, the group is trying to Islamise Gazan society. In public, Hamas leaders say they are merely encouraging a social moral code, and insist they are not trying to imitate the religious police who operate in some other rigid Islamic countries. But to many it feels like a new wave of enforcement in what is already a devoutly Muslim society.

Asmaa al-Ghoul, a writer and former journalist, was one of the first to run up against the new campaign. She spent an evening with a mixed group of friends in a beachside cafe in late June. After dark, she and another female friend went swimming wearing long trousers and T-shirts. Moments after leaving the water they found themselves confronted by a group of increasingly aggressive Hamas police officers. “Where is your father? Your husband?” one officer asked her. Ghoul, 27, was told her behaviour had not been respectable. Five of her male friends were beaten and detained for several hours….

Mostly the campaign focuses on what women wear. One startling poster decries the trend for young women to wear their headscarf along with tight jeans as a “satanic industry 100%”. It shows a red devil holding an image of a fashionable young woman and recommends a fuller, less glamorous head covering, counselling: “The right hijab is your way to heaven.”

Asked about his attitude to those few Gazan women who do not cover their hair, Abu Shaar said: “We tell them it is an essential element to being a Muslim. Wearing the headscarf is as essential as prayer.

If you think my comment about maintaining ownership goes too far, note the enquiry of the police officers, “Where is your father? Your husband?” and the beating of the male companions. Women must not be allowed out in public without their owners being present to control them. Men are responsible for the behavior of “their” women, their wives, daughters, sisters; if they do not exercise that control, they may be punished too, a powerful example to other men. The excuse for honor killings, of disobedient women, even women who have been raped, is that these “immoral” women bring upon the family dishonor which can only be washed clean with their blood.

Some women are resisting the increased Islamization in Gaza:

When the Hamas-appointed chief justice, Abdel-Raouf al-Halabi, ordered a new uniform for all lawyers, which for women meant a headscarf and a jilbab – a full-length robe – he had not counted on the temerity of the response. Nearly all of Gaza’s 150 female lawyers already wear headscarves, but they challenged the ruling on the grounds that it had no basis in law. The chief justice was forced to back down.

“It was absolutely illegal,” said Dina Abu Dagga, a lawyer who has covered her hair since she was at university in Cairo.

It was not the chief justice’s right to change the dress code, she said. Under Palestinian law, that power rested with the lawyers’ union.

“We’re not against the hijab. I wear it myself,” she said. “We’re against imposing it and restricting our freedoms. Today you impose the hijab, but tomorrow it will be something else.”

But, unlike the lawyers with their union, most women do not have a “place to stand” in order to resist safely.

We are obsessed with terrorism, since 9/11. But only when it is directed against a national government. When women are threatened, murdered, and repressed, that is terrorism too: the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion (Merriam-Webster). What is more political than the subjugation, by fear and violence, of one portion of a population?

As politicians well know, religion can provide the best justification for terroristic acts, since they are being performed at God’s behest. Once a behavior (like not wearing a headscarf, or wearing one that is too revealing) has been linked with the devil, anyone who fits the description is risking their mortal soul, and endangering the entire society by their example. As Barry Goldwater famously said, “Extremism in defense of virtue is no vice”. Or “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out”; much easier if it is someone else’s eye, or even your own daughter. [image below from a painting by John Singer Sargent, A Spanish Woman.]


In China, some things never change

Even with the world’s attention upon their country during the Olympics, the Chinese hive leaders can’t successfully pretend to be other than what they are.

In its effort to look good, the government named 3 parks in Beijing as demonstration zones. To demonstrate there, one needed to apply for a permit. Not only have no permits been approved, but some applicants—including two women in their late 70s—have been punished. A grassroots activist who applied for a permit was last seen being taken away in a car by officials.

Here’s part of the report from the Guardian:

Chinese authorities have sentenced two women in their 70s to a year’s “re-education through labour” after they applied to protest during the Olympic games, a relative said today.

This week, officials said they had not approved a single permit for a demonstration, despite designating three parks as protest zones….

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbour Wang Xiuying, 77, sought to protest about their forced eviction from their homes in 2001. They went to the Beijing Public Security Bureau four times this month to request permission to demonstrate in the new zones — created for the Olympics to counter criticism of the limits to political expression in China.

Their applications were neither granted nor denied, but on their first trip PSB officers interrogated them for 10 hours, Wu’s son, Li Xuehui, told the New York-based group Human Rights in China.

On August 17, the two women received an order dated July 30 from Beijing’s “re-education through labour commission” sentencing them to one year for “disturbing the public order”. It placed restrictions on their movements and warned that if they breached any of the requirements they would be sent to a labour camp. The system does not require formal hearings or allow appeals.

Li told the Associated Press the women were at home under the observation of a neighbourhood committee. He said no cause had been given for the order.

These are two resolute and stouthearted old women; they made three more visits even after being interrogated for ten hours the first time, and apparently went back again after their sentence of a year’s re-education through labor. At that final visit, “officers said they could not apply to protest because of their sentence.”

What a foolish illusion (or vicious pretense), to think (or say) that allowing China to host the Olympics would result in any substantive positive change there. China has put on a big show in Beijing while earthquake victims in Sichuan are still homeless, and multi-national corporations made money. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Left, He Kexin, one of China’s allegedly 16-year old gymnasts, performs on the uneven bars. Kexin won the gold medal. The Associated Press/Amy Sancetta. Source.

Below, An elderly woman mourns her grandson buried under the debris of a collapsed building after the Sichuan earthquake. Daily Mail. Source.

July 4 edition

On July 4 in the US we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776; we should also celebrate December 15, 1791 when the Bill of Rights came into effect after being ratified by three-quarters of the states.

Two events reported this week got me thinking about civil liberties.

Court orders Google to release information to identify all YouTube viewers

Viacom has been suing Google, owner of Youtube, alleging that Youtube has acted “as a willing accomplice to Internet users who put clips of Viacom’s copyrighted television programs on the popular video-sharing website.” Google tried to resist Viacom’s “request for data on which YouTube users watch which videos on the website in order to support its case in a billion-dollar copyright lawsuit against Google.” Google maintained that “the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns,” citing the (Video Privacy Protection Act) VPPA, 18 U.S.C. § 2710 but US District Court Judge Louis Stanton, San Francisco, found in favor of Viacom and ordered Google to release to Viacom “all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website.”

How many people does this affect? In January 2008, nearly 79 million users used YouTube, making over 3 billion video views. Over 80 million videos are hosted on YouTube, uploaded by users. Not bad for a business founded in 2005, which Google says makes a “negligible” profit. (from Wikipedia.)

Handing over the identifying information on 79 million distinct users is a huge breach of privacy, and unjustifiable given that a study of videos removed from YouTube at the request of copyright holders found that only 2% of them were from Viacom.

Google was apparently hoist by its own petard, having previously claimed in a blog post, titled “Are IP addresses personal?”, that “We . . . are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data that could identify you. The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot.” The judge evidently reasoned that this made release of the data acceptable despite restrictions of various federal legislation concerning electronic privacy. Many of the comments posted in response to this post disagree. It seems that people using home computers, as opposed to mobile laptops, are particularly likely to be identifiable.

Will this ruling begin another round of lawsuits against individuals, like those filed by the Recording Industry Association of America over music downloads? Seems very possible.

But of more concern is the breach of the principle of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988. The VPPA

was passed in reaction to the disclosure of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental records in a newspaper. The Act is not often invoked, but stands as one of the strongest protections of consumer privacy against a specific form of data collection. Generally, it prevents disclosure of personally identifiable rental records of “prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual material.” [see information at EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center]

The Patriot Act, of course, trumps everything, from the Bill of Rights to the VPPA, but legally it can be considered (and I hope that day comes soon) as ad hoc legislation to meet a temporary need, or perceived need; as something to be retired after the need, or the panic, or the madness, has subsided. When privacy legislation––not passed in response to a specific political crisis––is bypassed or invalidated, that loss may be permanent.

But it’s worse in Britain

Britain may have pushed things along, in the civil liberties, field, with the Magna Carta in 1215, but they never got around to anything like a Bill of Rights. So citizens there have much less legal basis to protest violation of their rights by a government bent on reforming behavior and cracking down on terrorism.

Habeas corpus?

The British government recently extended the period for which it could hold terrorism suspects, without charges, to 42 days. In a recent public debate, the new law was criticized on pragmatic grounds: “The problem with 42 days is we keep innocent people for longer than we do guilty ones,” said House of Commons member David Davis, because those with clear evidence against them were charged first. That, he said, did nothing to encourage “moderate Muslims” to help counterterrorism operations. Davis is resigning his MP position in order to force an election for the seat; he will run (or “stand,” as they say there) and he promises to make threats to civil liberties a central issue of the election.

Watching everyone

Britain has gone into video surveillance in a big way; the BBC presented the finding of a report, that in 2006 there were “are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.” The BBC cited another report issued about the same time, from the human rights group Privacy International, which found that “figures suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.” The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is down there with them in the bottom five because of “endemic surveillance”. Must be pretty safe there, you’d think. Wrong. Some liberals in the London city government used their Freedom of Information Act to get crime statistics: London has 10,000 closed-circuit TV cameras for crime fighting––costing 2 million pounds––but 80% of crime goes unsolved, and districts with more cameras don’t do better than those with fewer.

Recently their CCTV cameras became even more Robocop-like:

Britain is already one of the most watched nations on earth and now “talking” CCTV cameras are to be installed in 20 areas across the country. Britain is believed to have 20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras already. The loudspeakers will allow CCTV operators to bark orders at people committing anti-social behaviour.


Photo from Global Security Challenge. (I assume the painter is covering up this anti-social graffiti, or maybe he is the graffiti-ist himself, caught on camera.).

The neighbors are complaining about you…Off you go, then.

Since 1999 the British government has made use of Anti-social Behaviour Orders or ASBOs to control a wide range of behaviors

Anti-social behaviour has a wide legal definition – to paraphrase the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it is behaviour which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more people who are not in the same household as the perpetrator. Among the forms it can take are:

graffiti – which can on its own make even the tidiest urban spaces look squalid

abusive and intimidating language, too often directed at minorities

excessive noise, particularly late at night

fouling the street with litter

drunken behaviour in the streets, and the mess it creates

dealing drugs, with all the problems to which it gives rise. [from a Home Office page]

ASBOs are civil, not criminal actions against an individual and thus the individual doesn’t have the procedural safeguards––being charged, evidence being produced, and so on––that go along with criminal actions. What is the impact of an ASBO?

They stop people from doing stated things or going to stated places. They last for a minimum of two years, but can last longer. Those given ASBOs can be ‘named and shamed’ in local media, and sometimes are. Orders have been granted for abusive behaviour, vandalism, flyposting, and harassment as well as more the more celebrated exotic problems such as elderly people incessantly playing gramophones. Whilst ASBOs are civil orders, criminal penalties can result from breaching them.

Students can be barred from attending school, individuals can be banned from a certain area, or required to agree to a contract banning certain behaviors such as graffiti, rowdiness, drunkenness, or being too noisy. Violation of the contract can have criminal penalties, even though the justification for the ASBO itself was never tested or proved.

And how is this “Criminalisation of Nuisance,” as one author titled his book on ASBOs, working? Once again, not too well, it seems. “Hooliganism” is still common, and in 2006 a year-long study in England and Wales found that half the Asbos were broken, and “some teenagers saw them as glamorous….an Asbo was now viewed as a “diploma” that boosted a child’s street credibility. “Some of the friends are left out now because they are not on an Asbo,” said the mother of three young men who were all on Asbos.” Moreover, the report was published on the same day that “a separate study by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggest[ed] Britain’s youth are among the most badly behaved in Europe.”

So, if all this tough action by the British government is just as effective as requiring American travelers in airports to take off their shoes, and randomly surrender their laptops for two weeks…what purpose is being served? Ah, I wouldn’t care to say, could be hazardous to my liberty. Here’s to the Bill of Rights, and a citizenry wise and bold enough to defend it.

Photos from Breakthroughgen.org.

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