INS gets rid of backlog

From the NY Times:

Tens of thousands of pieces of mail come into the huge Immigration and Naturalization Service data processing center in Laguna Niguel, Calif., every day, and as at so many government agencies, it tends to pile up. One manager there had a system to get rid of the vexing backlog, federal officials say. This week the manager was charged with illegally shredding as many as 90,000 documents.

Among the destroyed papers, federal officials charged, were American and foreign passports, applications for asylum, birth certificates and other documents supporting applications for citizenship, visas and work permits.

The manager, Dawn Randall, 24, was indicted late Wednesday by a federal grand jury, along with a supervisor working under her, Leonel Salazar, 34. They are accused of ordering low-level workers to destroy thousands of documents from last February to April to reduce a growing backlog of unprocessed paperwork.

Ain’t that grand!

UPDATE: Here.

Valentine’s Day Dinner

I thought making reservations for dinner with my wife in a nice French restaurant on Feb 14 two weeks ahead of time would be enough. However, it seems everyone is booked solid. Finally, after calling about a dozen restaurants in the NYC/NJ area, I was able to get a reservation for 10pm. The only other available time: 5pm.

Evolution Controversy

When I came to the US, I was very surprised to find out that a lot of people here consider the theory of evolution to be wrong of “just a theory” (the word “theory” as used by laymen is very different from its scientific use.) I come from a country (Pakistan) where most people do not believe in evolution, but I had better hopes of the US. Now comes the story of a student who’s suing a biology Professor for not giving recommendations to students who do not believe in evolution. According to the AP,

[T]he Liberty Legal Institute … calls Dini’s policy “open religious bigotry.”

“Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the institute.

The student had this to say:

“It’s a theory. You read about it in textbooks. I could explain the process, maybe how some people say it happens, but I could not have said … I believe in it,” Spradling said Wednesday. “I really don’t see how believing in the evolution of humanity has anything to do with patient care or studying science.”

Eugene Volokh thinks it’s a complex case and gives arguments for and against based on legality and academic ethics. But I like what CalPundit had to say about this:

I would venture to say that belief in creationism indicates a striking lack of competence in understanding evolution, but hey, that’s just me.

Of course, I also wouldn’t recommend someone who didn’t believe in general relativity to a physics program, or someone who thought the Earth was 10,000 years old to a geology program. Blinkered of me, I know….

Volokh Conspiracy has a number of posts and readers’ comments about this case (1, 2, 3, 4).

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden had a short post on this and the comments there are worth reading.

INS Problems

I can tell you a lot of horror stories of INS bungling, but I’ll desist for now and point out a post on Ginger Stampley’s blog. She is one of the few bloggers who knows something about immigration issues.

It’s difficult for an alien to follow the law when nobody knows what it is, and the interpretation of the laws and regulation are totally at the discretion (read: whim) of the INS flunky you’re currently dealing with. And even if you follow those instructions in good faith, the next INS flunky you deal with may still throw you in jail or out of the country for failing to meet a different interpretation of the applicable laws and/or regulations.

It’s considered bad form to ask “why do they hate us?”, but it would take a real idiot to miss that the INS’ inept handling of student visas and special registration (among its many other flaws) does not endear the US to anyone who’s had to deal with it, alien or citizen.

Fall of Pakistani Government

I have read and heard this statement that the Pakistani government might fall to Islamic extremists any day. The latest comes from Jim Henley on Stand Down:

Pakistan. It’s got nukes. It’s got a shaky government and an intelligence service full of Al Qaeda/Taliban sympathizers. I think an invasion of Iraq makes Pakistan’s government that much more likely to fall and Pakistani nukes that much more likely to make it into Al Qaeda’s hands.

Now, that is slander. Pakistanis can be accused of a hundred vices but overthrowing their government because they don’t like it is not one of them. Guess how many times there has been a people’s revolution in Pakistan? None. How many times has a group of militants or intellectuals or any other civilian group overthrown a government? None. How many times has the army taken over the government? Four. Who in the army was incharge? The Army chief, not some clique of junior officers. So why should it start now?

The WildMonk War Personality Test

Wid Monk has a political personality test on his blog. I scored 52 (just into Center-Right territory) and a perfect 10 on the rationality test. (via Unmedia)

Election in Israel

Today, people in Israel are electing a new government. Let’s hope brings peace and prosperity for the people. Since I don’t have much to say on the election (other than that I am a Mitzna supporter), I am going to point out some weblogs with Israeli coverage. These cover a wide range of opinion.

The Head Heeb
The Talking Dog
The View from Here
Balagan
Brian Blum
Expat Egghead
Not a Fish
Ribbity Blog
Sha!
Aron’s Israel Peace Blog
Tal G

UPDATE: Two more blogs with Israel coverage are Gideon’s Blog and Kesher Talk.

Activist Islam in Pakistan: Post 2

Continuing from where I left off with Al-Muhajabah’s “A field guide to Islamic activists”:

Second, we can look at recent developments in Islamic thought in Pakistan as a whole. Pakistan was created in 1948 as a state for the Muslims of India after India won its independence from Britain. The Muslims had been an active part of this struggle for independence; in fact, the roots of their struggle go back to the 1700s when Britain was first colonizing India. In concert with the political struggle for independence there was a renaissance in Islamic thought, which is popularly associated with the Dar al-Ulum (University of Islamic Sciences) of Deoband, India, and is thus called “Deobandi” (the Deobandis were mentioned briefly above.)

Partition of India into two countries was part of the independence package from Britain in August 1947. I won’t go into the details (or even the desirability) of Partition since Aziz will talk of the “conceit of Jinnah” and Zachary Latif will talk of the greatness of Pakistan as compared to India.

I should mention here that Dar-ul-Ulum, Deoband was not the only school of Islamic thought in India/Pakistan at the time. There were a number of others taking different approaches. I plan to go into some detail of that later.

After Pakistan achieved independence, the Deobandi movement gave rise to a new offshoot. The founder of this was Abu’l-Aala Maududi. Like Qutb, Maududi had his own new vision of Islam. It also was centered around the struggle (jihad) against the oppressive forces. Maududi felt that Pakistan might have escaped the political domination of Britain, but it was still suffering under the cultural oppression of the West (i.e., secularism) and that the struggle must continue in order to establish a truly Islamic state as the Prophet (pbuh) had done. Maududi founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (Islamic Group), a political party dedicated to establishing Islamic law in Pakistan.

Maududi can be considered an offshoot of the Deobandi movement since his education and early affiliation was with them. In the 1920s, he was the editor of two newspapers published by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (Party of the scholars of India), the religio-political party of the Deobandis. He diverged soon however with his writings. [A brief biography is available at the website of the political party he founded, Jamaat-e-Islami. I’ll try to find some better references online soon.] He founded his party Jamaat-e-Islami in the 1940s somewhat before the founding of Pakistan. Originally, it was supposed to stay away from politics. When Maududi decided to take part in politics after Pakistan was founded, a faction of his party, including I believe Dr. Israr Ahmad, broke off.

The word “taliban” is Arabic for “students” and the Taliban are so named because they were students at the religious colleges in western Pakistan. Maududi’s Jamaat-i-Islami had originally established many religious colleges as part of its own struggle against the secularism of Pakistani society, and Azzam had been teaching his militant version of Islam in Baluchistan since the crisis first erupted in Afghanistan, and working among the youth of Afghanistan. It would be a small thing to send them off to Peshawar or Quetta to learn the religious justifications before they came back to begin the actual armed struggle. This is what the Taliban have come out of.

Well, not really. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) hasn’t really been strong in NWFP or Balochistan. They are more of an urban party with support in parts of Punjab (the province with about 60% of the population of Pakistan) and Karachi (the largest city). Plus the Taliban did not come out of Maududi’s madrassas. JI definitely played a role in the Afghanistan war. However, they supported Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami. Remember Hekmetyar? He was the darling of the Pakistani ISI (Interservices Intelligence) liked and provided the most weapons to. After the communists were driven out of power and the mujahideen started fighting each other, the major fighting was between Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masud. Masud controlled Kabul and so Hekmatyar’s forces completely destroyed it by continuous shelling. Finally, Hekmetyar became Prime Minister while Rabbani (leader of Masud’s party) was President and Masud I believe was Defense Minister. The arrangement did not really work. And the Taliban took over soon after. When the Taliban were at their peak, Hekmetyar, much weakened, was part of the Northern Alliance. He parted ways with them over US support in the overthrow of the Taliban (or so he said.)

So where did the Taliban come from? The religio-political party of the Deobandi ulema (scholars), of course. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind became Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) [Party of the scholars of Islam] in Pakistan. JUI has been popular among the Pashtuns since at least 1970. The two factions of JUI, led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Maulana SamiulHaq, have a lot of madrassas in the Pashtun areas of NWFP and Balochistan. That is where the Taliban came from. Obviously, the ISI also had something to do with it. I’ll have more later on the JUI. A good book on the Taliban is Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

The series will continue with an analysis of the different political and religious parties and groups in Pakistan.

Blogroll

Recently, I have added some weblogs to my blogroll. So I should probably mention them:

Path of the Paddle is Ikram Saeed’s blog who can been present in the comments section here and on a lot of other blogs. Now he has his own blog to pontificate on everything from Islam, War on Terror, Iraq to Canadian politics and frigidity and even nekkid news.

Perverse Access Memory is Ginger Stampley’s blog. She is a liberal blogger from Houston, TX (do they have liberals there??) with interesting thoughts on politics, immigration, gaming, etc. I used to be a regular reader of her old blog before she retired. Now she’s back.

The Talking Dog is Seth Farber’s effort to make a dog talk interestingly. He has had extensive coverage of the upcoming Israeli elections and is a fellow fan of Amram Mitzna (or at least was until Labor collapsed.) He also claims trademarks on Club Med for Dictators and Ten Most Evil Men of the Twentieth Century.

Activist Islam in Pakistan: Post 1

I promised this series quite some time ago, but didn’t get around to doing it. I’ll use Al-Muhajabah’s “A field guide to Islamic activists” as a jumping-off point (Yes, I remember mentioning it earlier and promising a critique of its Pakistan-related items.)

Taliban also need to be understood as a product of the situation in Pakistan. This is not the place to go into a detailed history of Pakistan. We can, however, look briefly at two factors in the creation of the Taliban. First, it helps to understand that the western parts of Pakistan (which were formerly called Baluchistan) are home to the same Pashtun ethnic group that forms the majority of the population of Afghanistan (if you will pay very, very close attention to the reports of unrest in Pakistan in fall 2001, you will find that the rioting took place almost entirely in Baluchistan, not across the whole of Pakistan.) This has a lot to do with why Pakistan is so involved in Afghanistan.

Pashtuns are actually the majority in NWFP (North Western Frontier Province) and the exclusive residents of FATA (Federally administered tribal areas). FATA is basically an area inhabited by Pashtun tribes and ruled by tribal laws, rather than Pakistani laws, on the border with Afghanistan. NWFP and FATA form the northern part of Pakistan’s western border. There are also a large number of Pashtuns in Balochistan (especially its northern part), Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area but smallest in population. The exact number of Pashtuns in Balochistan is disputed but they are probably somewhat less than a majority. Balochistan has a border with Afghanistan as well as with Iran. (In fact, 2% of Iran’s population is Baloch as well.) According to CIA World Factbook, Pashtuns number about 8% (12 million) of Pakistan’s population and about 44% (12 million) of Afghanistan’s. However, Taliban were almost exclusively Pashtun.

Pakistan’s Pashtun population is one reason why Pakistan and Afghanistan have been so much intertwined for a long time. There are others as well. Historically, the Muslim rulers of India usually entered India (which obviously included Pakistan) from Afghanistan. A number of those rulers ruled over parts of Afghanistan as well. When the British ruled India, they finally decided a border between India and Afghanistan, known as the Durand line. After Pakistan was founded on August 14, 1947, the only country that opposed its entry into the United Nations was Afghanistan because it claimed the Pashtun areas of Pakistan and considered the Durand line to be an artificial border and wanted to change it. Hence, the relations between Pakistan and Afganistan (under Zahir Shah until 1973) were never good. The situation was further complicated by Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan who were all over the spectrum from more provincial autonomy to a land for the Pashtuns. Bacha Khan, mentioned here by Al-Muhajabah, is considered a Pashtun nationalist in Pakistan.

Another reason is (you guessed it) India. After all, no discussion of Pakistan can be complete without India. Not India itself really, but Pakistan’s perception of it as an enemy and the number of wars both have fought since independence. Since Pakistan is quite narrow in width, military strategists came up with the hairbrained idea of “strategic depth.” It relied on having a friendly government in Afghanistan. That is why when Zahir Shah was overthrown by Sardar Daud in 1973 and some conservative Pashtun groups (later to be part of the Afghan mujahideen) came to Pakistan, Bhutto offered them help. However, it remained a very small effort until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and Pakistan became a frontline state with a lot of help from the CIA. Somewhere in there though the idea of strategic depth through a friendly regime morphed into one with a client regime.

Since this post has gotten long, I’ll continue later with the actual discussion of the Islamic activists in Al-Muhajabah’s article .