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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Muslim weightlifter fights to compete, hijabi-style


Barred from competing with arms and legs covered, American appeals to sport's world body


By Kari HuusReporter
msnbc.com
updated 6/27/2011 5:54:54 AM ET

She can “deadlift” 240 pounds, and “snatch” more than 100. But, as Kulsoom Abdullah recently learned, she can do neither in a national competition unless she agrees to bare her arms and legs.
That is a non-starter for Abdullah, a 35-year-old Muslim-American who says that such exposure would violate her deeply held religious beliefs. But rather than giving up on her dreams of competitive weightlifting, she’s pressing for a change in the sport’s international rules.
Abdullah may be the only woman in the world who lifts in sanctioned competitions while wearing a hijab — the traditional Muslim dress that covers the head, arms and legs. But her dilemma is one that is cropping up in many organized sports in which Muslim women are seeking to compete, sometimes for the first time.
“I think it would just be nice that in any sport, if there’s a lady who covers her arms and legs … they could still be involved,” Abdullah said. Turning to her chosen sport, which is male-dominated, she adds: “With the dress code (as it is) Muslim women might think it’s not something they should do.”
Abdullah, whose parents immigrated from Pakistan, was born and raised in Georgia. In her teens she chose to start wearing the hijab in keeping with her family’s Muslim faith. The style, considered an expression of modesty and dignity in Islam, generally allows only the face, feet and hands to be exposed.
Abdullah’s wardrobe hasn’t slowed her down. While she was in graduate school at Georgia Tech, getting a PhD in computer networking, she reached the black belt level in taekwondo, the Korean martial art. She started lifting weights about four years ago as part of her overall training regimen. It turned into a passion.
“I found it addictive … not just physically but also psychologically,” said Abdullah.



“I got to where it was enough (weight) to qualify for my weight class at the national level in October 2010,” said Abdullah, who normally trains in loose-fitting pants and long sleeves. “That was the first time clothing came up.”
International rules At present, the rules require arms and legs to be bare so judges can see when elbows and knees are “locked” to determine if a lift is successful. Most competitors wear a form-fitting body suit with short sleeves and short pants called a singlet.
Abdullah argues that there are clothing alternatives — close-fitting sports gear with long sleeves and leggings — that could meet the requirements for modesty and fairness.

But when she sought to compete in the 2011 US National 
Weightlifting Tournament scheduled for July in Council Bluffs, Iowa, using a modified uniform, USA Weightlifting, the sport’s national governing body, slammed her to the mat.
“As USA Weightlifting is governed by the rules of the International Weightlifting Federation, we must adhere to those regulations and therefore reject your request, as is, to modify your competition costume,” wrote CEO John Duff in an email to Abdullah.
So Abdullah is taking her case to the IWF. She has created a 43-page presentation detailing clothing options that she says would meet her Muslim modesty requirements, allow competition officials to make clear calls and avoid concerns that she was obtaining any competitive advantage.
With the help of a lawyer, Muslim activists and the US Olympic Committee, her case is on the agenda of the IWF for consideration during its annual meeting in Penang, Malaysia, that began on Sunday. A decision could be announced within days.



Faith and sports Religion and sports have often come into conflict, often resulting in some degree of accommodation.
In 1965, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in the first game of the World Series because it was scheduled on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
In 2009, the National Football League agreed to change its schedule after the New York Jets complained about games that conflicted with consecutive Jewish holidays.
NFL defensive back Husain Abdullah fasted from sunrise to sunset for Ramadan last year, when the Muslim holy month coincided with training camp, despite what Minnesota Vikings team doctors said were health risks.
The Women’s Sports Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for women athletes set up by former tennis pro Billy Jean King, keeps an eye on controversies surrounding women’s uniforms, including some involving hijab.
The WSF issued guidelines laying out legitimate reasons to impose restrictions on sports uniforms — including prohibiting garments that provide an unfair competitive advantage, present a safety hazard or create difficulty for officiating.
Beyond those guidelines, they urge decision-making organizations like the IWF to be flexible and inclusive.
Use a little ingenuity “They have every incentive to broaden the reach of their sport … especially this heretofore excluded group,” said Nancy Hogshead-Maker, the WSF senior director of advocacy, referring to Muslim athletes. “They should use a little ingenuity” to modify the uniform, she added. “This isn’t rocket science.” 
Some Olympic sports including track and field, skiing, archery and taekwondo have put in place rules to allow Muslim athletes to compete in head scarves.
The invention of the “burqini” — a swimsuit with full-length sleeves and leggings —has allowed women to observe modesty and work as lifeguards, and may pave the way for Muslim women to compete in Olympic swimming.
Still, Muslim dress continues to be an issue, as occurred recently when the Iranian women’s soccer team was barred from World Cup competition over uniforms designed to meet modesty requirements. Officials of the International Federation of Association Football, FIFA, said the head coverings posed a risk of strangulation.
The WSF called the decision discriminatory, comparing the form-fitting head scarves to hoods worn by bobsledders or helmets worn by some soccer players.
Similar debates have cropped up at high schools around the country, where Muslim girls are increasingly enrolled in sports, raising questions about permissibility of uniform modifications. 
Modesty versus marketing While Muslim women are making some gains in pushing for modest dress to be permitted, there is a simultaneous push in the opposite direction from marketing and sports promoters, said Hogshead-Maker of the WSF.
“Usually the promoters are frankly trying to take off garb,” she said.
In one recent controversy, the Badminton World Federation attempted to force professional female players to wear skirts, in an attempt to make the players “look feminine” and have “more marketing value,” according to a federation official. The BWF backed down when the proposal came under fire.
Inbeach volleyball, the International Volley Ball Federation lays out detailed specifications for allowable uniforms for women that include a one-piece swimsuit or bikinis.
“The top must fit closely to the body and the design must be with deep cutaway armholes on the back, upper chest and stomach,” reads a section of IVBF regulations on the bikini. “The briefs should … be a close fit and be cut on an upward angle towards the top of the leg. The side width must be maximum 7 cm. The one piece uniform must closely fit and the design must be with open back and upper chest," reads a section of the IVBF regulations.
In exceptional weather conditions “such as cold temperatures below 16 degrees C… a technical delegate may authorize them to play with warm-up sportswear,” that is tight-fitting and of the same color and fabric.
Most American players opt for the bikinis for ease of motion.
But in some cases, including the 2007 South Pacific Games in Samoa, the rules have been relaxed in order to assuage sensitivities in the host country. In that competition, beach volleyball players were allowed to wear shorts and sports tops, in a bow to conservative Christian values in the region.
Still, the skimpy uniforms don’t offer leeway to meet many Muslims modesty requirements. At the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, where 16 Muslim countries were represented, only one predominantly Islamic country fielded a beach volleyball team. That team, from Iraq, was made up of two Christian sisters.
Caught in such cultural cross-currents, Kulsoom Abdullah continues to work out — five or six times a week, from an hour to 90 minutes per session — and to await a decision by the International Weightlifting Federation. She said she’s hopeful her appeal will receive a fair hearing.
But Hogshead-Maker, the advocate with the Women’s Sports Federation, said the IWF should view the issue through a clear set of principles that focus on excellence with an eye to casting the widest possible net.
“In a contemplative world, we would think about how to come up with attire that would bring out the best in all competitors, regardless what their religious or personal level of modesty is,” she said. “This is not a beauty contest, not a religious litmus test.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dutch court acquits lawmaker Geert Wilders of Muslim hate speech charges


Politician claimed Islam is violent by nature, called for banning of Quran

A Dutch court acquitted right-wing politician Geert Wilders of hate speech and discrimination Thursday, ruling that his anti-Islam statements — while offensive to many Muslims — fell within the bounds of legitimate political debate.
Presiding judge Marcel van Oosten said Wilders' claims that Islam is violent by nature, and his calls to halt Muslim immigration and ban the Muslim holy book, the Quran, must be seen in a wider context of debate over immigration policy.
The court said his public statement could not be directly linked to increased discrimination against Dutch Muslims.
He looked unmoved as the verdict was read, but his supporters in the public gallery hugged one another and clapped after the acquittal.
Wilders, one of the most powerful and popular politicians in the Netherlands, was accused of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims through numerous public statements, and with insulting them by comparing Islam with Naziism.
PhotoBlog: Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders back in court
"I'm incredibly happy with this acquittal on all counts," Wilders said outside the courtroom.
"It's not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands. Fortunately you're allowed to discuss Islam in public debate and you're not muzzled in public debate. An enormous burden has fallen from my shoulders," he said.
The court found that Wilders' rhetoric was "on the edge of what is legally permissible" but not illegal.
Legitimate debate The judge described statements about a "tsunami" of immigrants as "crude and denigrating," but legally legitimate given wider context and his acknowledgment that those who integrate are acceptable and do not call for violence.
In speeches, written articles and a short film that incited riots around the Muslim world, Wilder said Islam is an inherently violent religion, and he compared the Quran with "Mein Kampf," Hitler's tirade against Jews — an especially touchy image because of the large number of Dutch Jews handed over to the Nazis in World War II.
Story: 'Islam is regarded as the biggest threat to Europe for many Europeans'
Wilders argued that his statements represent the views of millions of Dutch voters, that they are protected by freedom of speech law, and that the court is biased against him, while the charges are politically motivated.
Even the prosecutors called for his acquittal, saying that his remarks may be offensive, but they are part of legitimate political debate.
Despite their reluctance, the judges ruled last year that the case should be put to a judicial test and Wilders should be prosecuted.

Israel urges Apple to remove pro-Palestinian app


Israel's information minister sent an email request to Steve Jobs

By JOSEF FEDERMAN
updated 6/21/2011 6:02:50 PM ET
The Israeli government on Tuesday appealed to Apple Inc. to remove an application called "ThirdIntifada" from its App Store, saying the program glorifies violence against the Jewish state.
Israel's information minister, Yuli Edelstein, sent the request in an email to Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive.
"Intifadah" is the Arabic term for two violent uprisings against Israel over the past two decades. The free application encourages its followers to share opinions and organize protests against Israel.
It is linked to a website that, among other things, helped organize violent clashes with Israeli troops recently along Israel's frontiers with Lebanon and Syria.
"Upon review of the stories, articles and photos published by means of the application, one can easily see that this is in fact anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. Furthermore, as is implied by its name, the application calls for an uprising against the State of Israel," Edelstein wrote.
"I am convinced that you are aware of this type of application's ability to unite many toward an objective that could be disastrous," he added. "I therefore turn to you with the request to instruct the immediate removal of the application in question."
There was no immediate comment by Apple.
Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center also urged Apple to remove the application. The center's associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a release issued on Tuesday that "the leading new media and technology companies should not be facilitating entities with a track record of promoting incitement and violence."
Apple's guidelines for developers say that applications "containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected."
The guidelines also reject depictions of weapons that encourage "illegal or reckless" use.
A similar campaign by Edelstein last March prompted Facebook to remove a related page.

Italy's call for Libya ceasefire exposes NATO rift


Britain, France want to increase pressure on Gadhafi


By Matt Robinson
updated 6/22/2011 6:23:07 PM ET

A split opened within the NATO-led air campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday when France and Britain rejected an Italian call for a halt to military action to allow aid access.
China also signaled a shift in its stance on the conflict, describing as a "dialogue partner" the rebels who, four months into the uprising, are making only slow gains in their effort to reach the capital Tripoli and topple Gadhafi.
Story: Children in Libya's rebel east await end of war
Rebels said NATO air strikes hit government weapons depots south of the rebel-held western mountain town of Zintan, while an unverified Libyan TV report said "dozens" of people were killed in a separate NATO attack on the town of Zlitan.
NATO's first acknowledgment this weekend that it may have caused civilian casualties risks hurting support for a mission that secured a U.N. mandate despite deep misgivings from states in the Arab world, Europe and beyond.
"The need to look for a ceasefire has become more pressing," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament.
"As well as the ceasefire, which is the first stage toward a political negotiation, a humanitarian stop to military action is fundamental to allow immediate humanitarian aid."
An Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman later clarified that Rome was not making a specific proposal and was interested in any ideas to reduce civilian casualties. But his comments got short shrift from NATO allies.
'Intensify pressure' "We have to intensify the pressure on Gadhafi. Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to gain time and reorganize himself," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
Britain, which along with France was one of the first countries to put their weight behind the rebellion, agreed.
"Our position is that this is in Gadhafi's hands. He has called several ceasefires and none of them have resulted in ceasefires," Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said.
"The right approach at the present time is to increase the pressure on Gadhafi."
NATO air strikes hit government weapons depots south of the rebel-held western mountain town of Zintan on Wednesday evening, said rebel spokesman Juma Ibrahim.
A series of large explosions followed the air strike, he said. Live footage from Zintan broadcast on Al Jazeera TV showed huge balls of fire lighting up the pitch-dark horizon.
Separately, four rebels were killed and at least 12 wounded in artillery fire on the Dafniya front near the coastal city of Misrata, a medical worker at the field hospital there said.
Three of them were killed as they ate their lunch in a group, underlining concerns about the amateurishness of a force on which Gadhafi's opponents are counting for regime change.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi shelled Nalut near the border with Tunisia on Wednesday, firing more than 20 Grad rockets into the rebel-held town, a rebel spokesman called Salem said by phone.
Several houses were damaged in the attack, he said.
Hope for Tripoli uprising The lack of any sustained rebel advance has led some analysts to believe NATO is banking on an uprising in Tripoli to remove Gadhafi, and is choosing its bombing targets accordingly.
A senior official of the African Union, many of whose member states are uncomfortable with the sight of NATO bombs hitting the continent, said NATO would ultimately have to rally to its policy of promoting a ceasefire as a first step to a settlement.
"(The bombing campaign) was something which they thought would take 15 days," Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, told Reuters in Addis Ababa.
"The stalemate is already there. There is no other way."
Time is now a crucial factor for both sides in the conflict, with unity in the NATO-led coalition likely to come under more strain and Gadhafi having to deal with the economic impact of international sanctions.
In a sign of the increasing impact of the crisis on daily life, Libyan state media issued instructions that ordinary people should follow "to deal with the fuel shortage."
They called on people to use public transport instead of cars, avoid using air conditioning when driving and stick to 90-100 kph (55-63 mph) as the ideal speed. They also asked Libyans to be patient when queuing at petrol stations.
Exports of oil have ceased, depriving Gadhafi's government of the funds it used during peacetime to provide the population with heavily subsidized food and fuel. Petrol queues in Gadhafi -held areas now stretch for miles.
China hosts rebel chief The rebel National Transitional Council got a further boost on Wednesday when China, the only veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council not to have urged Gadhafi to stand down, hosted its diplomatic chief for talks in Beijing.
"China sees you as an important dialogue partner," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Mahmoud Jibril, according to comments published on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mfa.gov.cn).
The statement, however, stopped short of aligning China with the 19 countries which have recognized the Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
Action on the ground was inconclusive. At least three explosions were heard in Tripoli in the morning and again in the afternoon but it was not clear what had caused them.
Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gadhafi's soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said on Wednesday that "dozens" of people were killed there after NATO ships shelled the town.
The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan. NATO normally comments on its Libya operations the following day.


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