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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2000, Pages 59-61

Northern California Chronicle

Demonstrators Protest Russian Bombing of Chechnya at Russian Consulate in San Francisco

By Elaine Pasquini

More than 300 people gathered in front of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco on Nov. 26 to protest Russian military action against the people of Chechnya, a Russian Federation republic seeking independence. The demonstration was sponsored by American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice, the Muslim Students Associations of City College of San Francisco, and the University of California Berkeley, Irvine, and Los Angeles campuses.

Speakers included Lyoma Usmanov, Chechnya’s representative in Washington, DC, Yousef Al-Yousef of American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice, Hatem Bazian, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at U.C. Berkeley, and Ameena Jandali of Islamic Networks Group.

Professor Bazian recounted Chechen history prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, through the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and up to the present. The bombing, which began in September 1999 after raids into neighboring Daghestan by a dissident Chechen leader, has forced more than 220,000 persons, one-fifth of Chechnya’s population, from their homes into neighboring Ingushetia and Georgia.

Lyoma Usmanov, Chechnya’s representative to the U.S., described savagery committed by the Russian forces against innocent civilians in Chechnya. In Grozny, even before the ground assault on the capital city, many residents had been forced to take shelter from the bombing in basements without heat, electricity and donated food. Any hospitals still functioning lacked heat, antibiotics, and medical supplies.

Then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, now president following the Dec. 31 resignation of Boris Yeltsin, had stated the Russians were only pursuing rebels they believe responsible for the raids into neighboring republics, the bombing of apartment houses in Moscow on Sept. 9 and 13, and kidnapping for ransom. Usmanov charged the Russians are actually pursuing a policy of “ethnic cleansing” to rid the Russian Federation of Muslim minorities. He adamantly stated there is no proof that Chechens are responsible for the apartment house bombings. Instead, Usmanov believes, “the Russians are trying to end the Chechen problem” (a conflict dating back more than 150 years) “once and for all.”

“The Chechen people want peace, they do not want war,” said Usmanov. He also believes the Russians are using the current offensive to distract the Russian public from their country’s dire economic problems, corruption in government, and to raise support for Vladimir Putin prior to the presidential election now scheduled for March 27.

As some believe the larger area contains oil reserves as large as Kuwait’s, a struggle for access to the oil fields also looms over the situation, Usmanov said. He condemned Russia’s systematic destruction of Chechnya’s infrastructure and carpet-bombing of villages.

He urged the American people to protest Russia’s actions to the U.S. government which, he said, has not aggressively criticized the war, and which does not object to the IMF’s continued payments to Russia. “Clinton should condemn the war against innocent people,” he said.

Yousef Al-Yousef, directing his words to the staff inside the Russian Consulate, exclaimed, “We all come from Adam. Why are you killing us?” And to the crowd he pleaded, “If you have a conscience, stand up for justice.”

The only response from inside the consulate during the all-day event came through a police officer who said consulate staffers asked him to “do something about the noise.” Al-Yousef attempted to deliver personally a letter on behalf of American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice to Consul General Yury Popov or his staff.

The letter requested immediate cessation of bombing, that international media be allowed inside Chechnya to report freely without being escorted by Russian officials, and called for negotiations between Russian officials and elected officials of Chechnya.

Neither Al-Yousef nor Usmanov were allowed inside the consulate. Only after much delay did a member of the consulate staff appear at the consulate gate to accept the letter. In contrast to the consulate’s behavior to the Muslims attending the rally, two days prior to the rally Russian Consul General Popov hosted the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal at a reception inside the Russian Consulate. Guests at the reception included a group of 100 Jewish activists who had participated in hundreds of demonstrations in front of the consulate over the last 30 years.

San Rafael Discussion Group Exchanges Ideas for Ending Sanctions Against Iraq

Janet Shirley of the Humanist Center of Cultures hosted 20 individuals, including 8 members of the Iraqi Community Center (ICC) of San Francisco, at her home in San Rafael on Nov. 20. The purpose of the event was to bring members of the local community together to discuss ways to end the nine years of U.N.-imposed sanctions against Iraq.

Among guests were Golshan Beujalli, director of the ICC, Maad Abu-Ghazalah of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and David Glick of the Social Justice Center of Marin. The ICC, in existence for more than two years, provides assistance to the local Iraqi community in San Francisco, particularly new immigrants, to help them with housing, education, medical needs and all aspects of coping with a new environment and culture.

Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Hashem, a ninth grader at Galileo High School in San Francisco, described the difficulties he experienced in overcoming the prejudices many students have against Iraqis. “Since we’re different, we’re bad,” he explained. Ahmed, along with Golshon Beujalli, had just returned from Washington, DC where they participated in a workshop on “Refugees in the Eyes of a Child” at a conference sponsored by the Office of Refugee Relocation.

Ahmed strongly believes it is important for American children to be educated about the plight of refugees and to understand other cultures. He also described his family’s experience during the bombing of Baghdad on Jan. 17, 1991, when he was 5 years old.

The small group exchanged ideas as to the best manner to bring attention to the importance of ending the sanctions. ADC’s Abu-Ghazalah proposed placing a message and visual images on billboards which he felt would attract the attention of the thousands of commuters in the Bay Area to the hardships Iraqis are facing as a result of the economic sanctions. The practicalities and problems of this idea were discussed at length.

David Glick explained the Social Justice Center’s resolution, endorsed by the Marin County Human Rights Commission, condemning and calling for an end to the economic embargo of Iraq. Members of the Social Justice Center and Humanist Center of Cultures have been working to obtain as many endorsements as possible from local organizations to the resolution before it is presented to the Marin County Board of Supervisors for approval. A similar resolution calling for an end to sanctions was passed on Aug. 31, 1999, by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and sent to President Clinton.

Islam Awareness Week at City College of San Francisco

A series of lectures was the focus of City College of San Francisco’s “Islam Awareness Week” Nov. 30 through Dec. 3, 1999. Sponsors included the Women’s Islamic Association, Women United, Muslim Students Association, La Raza Unida, African American Achievers Club and Economics Club.

The movie “The Message, the Story of Islam,” was shown at the Rosenberg Library on Nov. 30. “Women & Islam” was the topic of a lecture by Ameena Jandali of Islamic Networks Group on Dec. 1. Jandali also deplored the equating of terrorism with Islam.

On the same date, Abdel Malik Ali, the imam of Masjid al-Islam in Oakland, addressed the subject “African Americans and Islam.” On Dec. 2 University of California Professor Hatem Bazian spoke on “Islamic Economics.” On Dec. 3 Tito “Abdul Hadi” Bazurto spoke on “Islam in Latin America Before and After Columbus.”

The week-long event, preceding the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was aimed at creating a greater awareness and understanding of Islam, the second largest religious group in the U.S., with more than 6 million followers. Some 200,000 Muslims reside in the San Francisco Bay Area. During the same week, the Islamic Networks Group of San Jose spoke to a group of high school students at St. Ignatius Catholic high school in San Francisco.

Donald K. Emmerson Speaks on Indonesia’s Future

Donald K. Emmerson, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Asia/Pacific Research Center, spoke on the topic “Can Indonesia Survive?” at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco on Dec. 7. A leading authority on Indonesia, Emmerson has visited the archipelago many times, and is editor and co-author of the recently published book, Indonesia Beyond Suharto.

Emmerson believes Indonesia will survive its current problems, but probably not in its present form. Explaining his belief, he stressed unity, democracy and diversity.

Regarding unity, he elaborated on two categories of possible change, “quantitative” and “qualitative.” With respect to quantitative change, or diminution of space, he pointed out that since East Timor became independent after its Aug. 30, 1999 U.N.-supervised referendum, the number of provinces in Indonesia decreased from 27 to 26.

Some experts, including Emmerson, believe that Aceh, located on the northwestern edge of Sumatra, and the scene of massive independence protests in November 1999, will become independent. Regarding qualitative change, or devolution, Emmerson believes that “even full-scale devolution may not be enough to deflect independence in Aceh.”

He pointed out that devolution could have two different effects. On the one hand, it could inspire secession in that people may want more control once they have experienced a little of it. On the other hand, devolution could prevent secession in that the people may be satisfied with a little self-determination.

Emmerson described Aceh as “a tropical Chechnya,” with a dispute with the central government dating back for decades, and 98 percent of its residents Muslim.

With respect to democracy and the Oct. 20, 1999 election, Emmerson believes that Indonesia is not a full-fledged democracy, but is becoming more so. Discussing Indonesia’s fourth president, Emmerson described Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as “Gus Dur,” as a “liberal democrat.”

Emmerson believes the new president’s popularity with Americans is due in part to his forthrightness and sense of humor. “He shoots from the lip,” quipped Emmerson. Because of the 59-year-old leader’s frail health, many people believe he will not survive his five-year term. Emmerson hopes he will because he believes Wahid has “moral integrity” and is already moving away from an authoritarian regime toward democracy. By contrast, Emmerson said Megawati Sukarnoputri, Wahid’s vice president, has “poor to non-existent” political skills. “She is a reverse Gus Dur,” he asserted.

Regarding the unrest in Aceh, Emmerson believes a major cause is the appropriation of 95 percent of the revenues from its petroleum and natural gas by the central government in Jakarta. He believes returning some of these revenues to the 4 million Acehnese for their use and benefit would help defuse the situation.

Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world with 212 million people, is extremely diverse, with 300 ethnic and linguistic groups and a variety of religions, although 87 percent of Indonesians are Muslim.

Asked by an audience member whether the Indonesians were energized or exhausted by the current political situation, he acknowledged “euphoria is waning.” The people were “a little disappointed” in May of 1998, when B.J. Habibie was elected president, as he was vice president under Suharto, and changes were not as far-reaching as most Indonesians had hoped.

Emmerson ended the evening pondering the question, “Are the days of large countries over?” citing the breakup of the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, and the recent independence of East Timor. In this regard, he asked the audience, “What about the United States?”

U.S. OMEN 38th Annual Christmas Banquet

The United States Organization for Medical and Educational Needs (U.S. OMEN) held its 38th annual Christmas banquet on Dec. 11, 1999, at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco. Among the more than 250 guests were Father George Jweinat of St. George Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem; Fay Afaf Kanafani, author of Nadia, Captive of Hope ; and Honorary Consul of Jordan and Mrs. Kamel Ayoub.

Mistress of Ceremonies Abla Aranki introduced U.S. OMEN President Salim Dahud. President Dahud spoke briefly about the activities and purpose of U.S. OMEN, reminding the audience, “The political landscape has changed, but the needs are still there.”

A lifetime achievement award was presented to Alice Nashashibi for her outstanding contributions to the Arab-American community. Mrs. Nashashibi, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, together with her late husband Zafer Nashashibi, worked tirelessly for 23 years on a volunteer basis to support the Arab-American community. She continues her volunteerism as a hard-working member of various organizations, including NAAA, U.S. OMEN, and the Arab Cultural Center of San Francisco, and spends many hours meeting with U.S. congressional representatives on behalf of the Arab-American community. U.S. OMEN member Showki Jadallah was also honored with an award for his many years of volunteer service to the organization.

Musical entertainment was provided by The Lark ensemble, which performed Gypsy music from Russia, Hungary, Rumania and Moldova. Lorna Zilba, artistic director of LifeDance Theater, performed a Russian Gypsy Dance and Classical Arabian Dance. DJ Nader Musleh provided Arabic dance music at the conclusion of the dinner and entertainment.

U.S. OMEN, established in 1961, is an organization which provides medical assistance and humanitarian needs to refugees and others in the Middle East and around the globe. Due to its all-volunteer staff, administration costs are minimal. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to U.S. OMEN, P. O. Box 16308, San Francisco, CA 94ll6.

Arab Cultural Center Hosts Mayor Willie Brown

On the eve of the run-off mayoral election between incumbent Mayor Willie Brown and Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the Arab Cultural Center of San Francisco hosted the mayor at a Dec. 12 reception at its center. Brown thanked the audience of Arab-American leaders for their support during the past four years and urged everyone to vote on Dec. 14.

Since he was first elected mayor in 1995, Brown has supported members of the local Arab community in their many activities. With the help of a $30,000 grant from the City of San Francisco, the Arab Cultural Center has created a service network for the purpose of assessing the needs of the local Arab community.

Honorary Consul of Jordan Kamel Ayoub stated his hope that the mayor would include more Arab Americans in his administration during his last term. Dr. Nasser Abou Khalil of the Lebanese American Association asked the mayor if he would consider having Beirut as a “Sister City” to San Francisco. To the audience’s delight, Brown responded enthusiastically, “Yes, I love having a ”˜Sister City’ relationship with cities I’ve never visited.” Brown’s Palestinian campaign assistant Hala Hijazi recruited volunteers from the audience to walk districts of the city in order to increase voter turnout.

Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in Ignacio, California.