WikiLeaks cables expose Saudi Arabia as a cash machine for terrorists.

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Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.

“More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said.

Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them.

The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.

One cable details how the Pakistani militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, used a Saudi-based front company to fund its activities in 2005.

Meanwhile officials with the LeT’s charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, travelled to Saudi Arabia seeking donations for new schools at vastly inflated costs – then siphoned off the excess money to fund militant operations.

Militants seeking donations often come during the hajj pilgrimage – “a major security loophole since pilgrims often travel with large amounts of cash and the Saudis cannot refuse them entry into Saudi Arabia”. Even a small donation can go far: LeT operates on a budget of just $5.25m (£3.25m) a year, according to American estimates.

Saudi officials are often painted as reluctant partners. Clinton complained of the “ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority”.
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Washington is critical of the Saudi refusal to ban three charities classified as terrorist entities in the US. “Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas,” she said.

There has been some progress. This year US officials reported that al-Qaida’s fundraising ability had “deteriorated substantially” since a government crackdown. As a result Bin Laden’s group was “in its weakest state since 9/11” in Saudi Arabia.

Any criticisms are generally offered in private. The cables show that when it comes to powerful oil-rich allies US diplomats save their concerns for closed-door talks, in stark contrast to the often pointed criticism meted out to allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Instead, officials at the Riyadh embassy worry about protecting Saudi oilfields from al-Qaida attacks.

The other major headache for the US in the Gulf region is the United Arab Emirates. The Afghan Taliban and their militant partners the Haqqani network earn “significant funds” through UAE-based businesses, according to one report. The Taliban extort money from the large Pashtun community in the UAE, which is home to 1 million Pakistanis and 150,000 Afghans. They also fundraise by kidnapping Pashtun businessmen based in Dubai or their relatives.

“Some Afghan businessmen in the UAE have resorted to purchasing tickets on the day of travel to limit the chance of being kidnapped themselves upon arrival in either Afghanistan or Pakistan,” the report says.

Last January US intelligence sources said two senior Taliban fundraisers had regularly travelled to the UAE, where the Taliban and Haqqani networks laundered money through local front companies.
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One report singled out a Kabul-based “Haqqani facilitator”, Haji Khalil Zadran, as a key figure. But, Clinton complained, it was hard to be sure: the UAE’s weak financial regulation and porous borders left US investigators with “limited information” on the identity of Taliban and LeT facilitators.

The lack of border controls was “exploited by Taliban couriers and Afghan drug lords camouflaged among traders, businessmen and migrant workers”, she said.

In an effort to stem the flow of funds American and UAE officials are increasingly co-operating to catch the “cash couriers” – smugglers who fly giant sums of money into Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In common with its neighbours Kuwait is described as a “source of funds and a key transit point” for al-Qaida and other militant groups. While the government has acted against attacks on its own soil, it is “less inclined to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators plotting attacks outside of Kuwait”.

Kuwait has refused to ban the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, a charity the US designated a terrorist entity in June 2008 for providing aid to al-Qaida and affiliated groups, including LeT.

There is little information about militant fundraising in the fourth Gulf country singled out, Qatar, other than to say its “overall level of CT co-operation with the US is considered the worst in the region”.

The funding quagmire extends to Pakistan itself, where the US cables detail sharp criticism of the government’s ambivalence towards funding of militant groups that enjoy covert military support.

The cables show how before the Mumbai attacks in 2008, Pakistani and Chinese diplomats manoeuvred hard to block UN sanctions against Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

But in August 2009, nine months after sanctions were finally imposed, US diplomats wrote: “We continue to see reporting indicating that JUD is still operating in multiple locations in Pakistan and that the group continues to openly raise funds”. JUD denies it is the charity wing of LeT.

• This article was amended on 15 December 2010. The original caption referred to the Chatrapathi Sivaji station in Mumbai. This has been corrected.

Source: http://bit.ly/1Yfbr3T

Buddhist Monks Issue Death Threats To Social Activists for Teaching Sexual Health

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Female activists in Myanmar, also known as Burma, say they’re receiving death threats from extremist Buddhist monks with the Ma Ba Tha, the nationalist group that controls much of the country. The activists are attemping to teach fellow Burmese women about sexual health, an effort that’s turning them into enemies of the state.

The Guardian has a fascinating story today about one piece of the struggle for women’s rights in Myanmar: the fact that Burmese has no word for “vagina.” That makes it extraordinarily difficult to communicate about women’s health issues or articulate if something is wrong. A local paper that recently printed the word “vagina” in English also faced a barrage of angry emails. There are also powerful social taboos dictating that anything having to do with a woman’s genitalia is unclean:

Garments that have come into close contact with a woman’s lower half, such as the traditional htamein (a wraparound skirt worn by most women in Myanmar) or underpants, are considered unclean, even after they have been washed. They are also believed to have the ability to rob men of their hpoun – a concept that could roughly be translated as “masculine power”.

As such, it is taught that these items of clothing should never be hung in a place where men will have to walk under them. It is also unacceptable to wash men’s clothes in the same bowl or machine as women’s garments, for fear of contamination or loss of power.

“It’s not right that people should tell us we’re dirty just because we menstruate. It is discrimination,” says 19-year-old Thu Thu, an activist from Shan state.

Activist organizations are increasingly running workshops to teach women about sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights. That’s drawn the ire of the Ma Ba Tha, they told the Guardian; the organization is known in English as the Committee to Protect Race and Religion. The Ma Ba Tha has broad political and social control in the country: they recently backed a law preventing Buddhist women from marrying non-Buddhist men. It was one of four laws dealing with “race and religion” protection; all of them are seen as efforts to crack down on both women’s rights and to discriminate against the Rohingya, the country’s small Muslim minority.

One activist who asked not to be named told the Guardian that she and other people she works with have found their “names, photos and phone numbers” put on posters and displayed at Ma Ba Tha monasteries. They’ve received death threats, intimidation and public humiliation from the monks, she says. Human Rights Watch recently reported that supporters of the Ma Ba Tha recently held a massive, jubilant rally, celebrating the passage of the race and religion laws and signaling the monks’ growing power.

Source: http://bit.ly/1StLxpe

Starbucks Offers All Veteran Employees Free College For Their Spouse Or Child.

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What a gift, timed perfectly for Veterans Day: Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks has just announced that it will now extend a 100% tuition-free four-year college benefit to the spouse or child of every U.S. veteran or active military reservist employed 20 or more hours a week.

This new benefit, whose zero-tuition price point results from a 42-58 partnership between ASU and Starbucks, will be an additional benefit atop the previously-announced college benefit (also four years, 100% tuition free) that Starbucks extends to every employee who works 20 hours per week or more, which is offered through the online campus of Arizona State University (ASU), an accredited (and generally well-respected) institution, in an approach that has been lauded by the leadership of the U.S. Department of Education.

Starbucks will also now be paying for up to 80 hours per year for service obligations of employees who are active duty or reservists in the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard.

Starbucks: Air Force Spouse Apron • Credit: Starbucks Coffee

Starbucks: Air Force Spouse Apron • Credit: Starbucks Coffee

At the same time, Starbucks also announced a variety of other benefits, support, and milestones related to the employment of U.S. veterans, active military reservists and military spouses.

These include two achievement milestones in its provision of services for veterans and their families:

• Starbucks announced that it has already succeeded in hiring more than 5,500 veterans and military spouses, fulfilling more than 50% of the commitment made just two years ago to employ at least 10,000 vets and their spouses by 2018. In order to achieve this, Starbucks has invested in several specific strategies: It hired four dedicated military recruiters in key focus cities across the country including Seattle, D.C. and Austin, established more than 80 connections with military bases, installation transition and educational offices across the country and overseas, attended more than 200 military hiring fairs across the nation that recruit veterans and military spouses, and expanded their employee affinity group, the Starbucks Armed Forces Network, from one to 12 regional chapters. (Starbucks Armed Forces Network is intended to connect veterans and create mentorships across the company to ease transition from military to civilian life.)

• The company has extended its ambitious Military Family Stores commitment with plans to reach 30 Military Family Stores near U.S. military bases in 2016. Starbucks’ Military Family Stores are run by veterans and military spouses and partner with service and community organizations like Blue Star Families, Team Red, White and Blue, The Mission Continues, USO and others to offer transition services and build connections between military and civilian communities.

Source: http://onforb.es/1PFOu72

Research shows children from religious homes are less generous than non-religious children.

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An argument often advanced for the encouragement of religion is that, to paraphrase St Matthew’s report of Jesus’s words, it leads people to love their neighbours as themselves. That would be a powerful point were it true. But is it? This was the question Jean Decety, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, asked in a study just published in Current Biology.

Dr Decety is not the first to wonder, in a scientific way, about the connection between religion and altruism. He is, though, one of the first to do it without recourse to that standard but peculiar laboratory animal beloved of psychologists, the undergraduate student. Instead, he collaborated with researchers in Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey, as well as with fellow Americans, to look at children aged between five and 12 and their families.

Altogether, Dr Decety and his colleagues recruited 1,170 families for their project, and focused on one child per family. Five hundred and ten of their volunteer families described themselves as Muslim, 280 as Christian, 29 as Jewish, 18 as Buddhist and 5 as Hindu. A further 323 said they were non-religious, 3 were agnostic and 2 ticked the box marked “other”.

Follow-up questions to the faithful among the sample then asked how often they engaged in religious activities, and also about spirituality in the home. That let Dr Decety calculate how religious each family was. He found that about half the children in religious households came from highly observant homes; the spiritual lives of the other half were more relaxed. He then arranged for the children to play a version of what is known to psychologists as the dictator game—an activity they use to measure altruism.

In truth, the dictator game is not much of a game, since only one of the participants actually plays it. In Dr Decety’s version, each child was presented with a collection of 30 attractive stickers and told that he or she could keep ten of them. Once a child had made his selection, the experimenter told him that there was not time to play the game with all the children at the school, but that he could, if he wished, give away some of his ten stickers to a random schoolmate who would not otherwise be able to take part. The child was then given a few minutes to decide whether he wanted to give up some of his stickers—and, if so, how many. The researchers used the number of stickers surrendered as a measure of altruism.

The upshot was that the children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample), showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3. Moreover, a regression analysis on these groups of children showed that their generosity was inversely correlated with their households’ religiosity. This effect remained regardless of a family’s wealth and status (rich children were more generous than poor ones), a child’s age (older children were more generous than younger ones) or the nationality of the participant. These findings are, however, in marked contrast to parents’ assessments of their own children’s sensitivity to injustice. When asked, religious parents reported their children to be more sensitive than non-believing parents did.

This is only one result, of course. It would need to be replicated before strong conclusions could be drawn. But it is suggestive. And what it suggests is not only that what is preached by religion is not always what is practised, which would not be a surprise, but that in some unknown way the preaching makes things worse.

Source: http://econ.st/1kFkwo0

Buddhism loses ground in Japan – Over 27,000 temples will close in the next 25 years.

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More than one in three temples are expected to close over the next 25 years as religion faces an ‘existential crisis’

Perched on a hilltop and surrounded by mountain forests ablaze in autumn reds and yellows, Kaigenji is a picture postcard image of old Japan. The stone steps leading to the entrance of the 300-year-old Zen Buddhist temple take visitors past a lovingly tended landscape of rocks, trees and pale gravel raked into swirls to symbolise water.

Inside, the head priest, Bunkei Shibata, is in a contemplative mood. But it is not the path to enlightenment that occupies his thoughts. Instead, he is pondering the future of his, and tens of thousands of other Buddhist temples across Japan.

Over the next 25 years, 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 temples are expected to close, in one of the biggest existential crises facing Japanese Buddhism since it was introduced from Korea in the sixth century.
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Its decline mirrors that of hundreds of small communities that have traditionally helped finance their local temple. In a report released last year, the Japan Policy Council warned that if the exodus, particularly among young women, from rural areas continues at the current rate, almost half of Japan’s municipalities will disappear by 2040, along with their places of religious worship.

With no parishioners left to pay for their upkeep, temples will have no choice but to close their doors for good, according to Hidenori Ukai, a journalist and depute head priest of Shogakuji temple in Kyoto.

“The popular image of Buddhist priests as wealthy might still be true in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, but it’s not the case elsewhere,” said Ukai, author of Vanishing Temples: the Loss of Rural Areas and Religion.

“At my temple, we have about 120 local patrons, but you need at least 200 to make a living,” added Ukai, who, like many priests, decided to pursue a second career.

Not even Japan’s busy funeral industry appears able to come to Buddhism’s rescue. While almost 1.3 million Japanese died last year, few relatives can afford the millions of yen it costs to hold a traditional Buddhist funeral. More are opting for cheaper, secular ceremonies, while priests say they feel duty-bound to drastically lower costs to give deceased parishioners a fitting sendoff.

“Japanese Buddhism has gone on a strange direction,” said Shibata, a retired businessman who traces his interest in Zen Buddhism to early-morning meditation sessions as a child. “These days most people associate it with funerals, but there is much more to it than that.”

Some priests are attempting to reverse the decline and challenge the “funeral Buddhism” image by opening temple cafes, supporting volunteer activities and hosting music and theatre productions. In Tokyo, priests at Vowz Bar dispense spiritual guidance along with alcohol, to their young clientele.

The crisis facing Japanese Buddhism isn’t a simple matter of demographics. In the early 1700s, Japan’s population stood at around 30 million – almost 100 million fewer than today – yet there were 46,000 temples. Surveys show that an increasing number of Japanese regard organised religion as inaccessible, cheerless and – since the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult – even dangerous.

“In this kind of environment, new membership recruitment will remain difficult,” said Mark Mullins, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of Auckland. “There may be some winners in the shrinking religious market, but it seems likely that most religious organisations will be struggling to maintain their institutions and activities as the number of active clergy and members continues to decline.”
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That goes as much for priests as for followers. More than 12,000 Japanese temples have no resident priest, according to a recent survey by the Asahi Shimbun, as the pool of young people interested in the priesthood continues to dwindle.

Shibata, who trained with the Rinzai-Myoshinji sect before being sent to Nagano prefecture, says Buddhism must start dismantling the wall it has built around itself, before it is too late.

For Japanese Buddhism to survive another 1,500 years, he believes 50 percent of priests should be appointed from outside the traditional family succession route, although he concedes that “there is resistance” to the idea among traditionalists.

Undaunted, Shibata is trying to turn Japan’s skewed demographics to the religion’s advantage by reaching out to retirees who want to fill their twilight years with more than rounds of golf and trips to hot springs.

“Years ago people reckoned they had about 10 years left after retirement, so they would just try to enjoy themselves,” said the 80-year-old, who trained as a priest after his retirement in 2006. “But people are living much longer now, and they want to do something more meaningful with their time after they retire.

“Older people have a wealth of life experiences and that makes them ideal material for the priesthood. And, let’s be honest, the older you get, the more you think about your own mortality, and the more open you are to religious ideas.”

Of the 47 people, including a small number of women, who have completed his course for retirees, 23 have gone on to train as priests, and seven are now running their own temples.
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“Society is changing at a rapid rate, but the Buddhist world has missed out on that because its connection with ordinary people is focused on funerals and memorials for the dead,” Shibata said.

Funerals aside, the modern priest, he insists, must act as a mentor and counselor and, crucially, to spread Buddhist teachings to a skeptical public.

He points to the community role Buddhism played in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake, when temples opened their doors to survivors, and priest and monks walked the length of the disaster zone offering spiritual advice and comfort.

“That’s exactly what they should be doing. When people are going through difficult times in their lives, it is our responsibility to help them.”

Source: http://bit.ly1LYkxg6/

Largest Jewish group in America changes rules to embrace transgender people.

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The biggest Jewish movement in North America has endorsed a policy to embrace transgender people and to campaign against discrimination in a move hailed as a historic step.

The biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, meeting in Orlando, Florida, overwhelmingly backed a motion on Thursday detailing specific steps to be taken by synagogues and congregations. They include the adoption of gender-neutral language and the provision of gender-neutral restrooms, as well as training and education.

The new policy was in keeping with the welcome Reform Judaism had offered to lesbian and gay congregants for decades, she added.

Catherine Bell of Keshet, a grassroots LGBT Jewish campaign group, said: “We applaud this historic resolution.” It was a far-reaching statement from the largest Jewish denomination in North America, she added.

Around 1.5 million Jews in North America are affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. Unusually, delegates to the conference gave a standing ovation to the approval of the motion.

The motion said: “North American culture and society have, in general, become increasingly accepting of people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual – yet too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens.”

Transgender people face legal and cultural bigotry, hate crimes and harassment, and discrimination in employment, healthcare and housing, it said.

Reform Judaism congregations should advocate for the rights of transgender people, it said. But congregations should also create inclusive and welcoming communities by training staff, organising education programmes, delivering sermons on gender identity, reviewing use of language in prayers, forms and policies, and providing gender-neutral facilities.

The use of gendered titles and honorifics, such as “Mr”, “Mrs” and “Ms” should be avoided, and congregants should be asked in private for their preferred pronouns. Children should be grouped not according to gender, but by birth months or seasons. Synagogues should invite transgender speakers to address congregations.

The move was also welcomed by Jewish LGBT campaigners in the UK. “This is a step beyond what we’ve seen in UK Judaism, because it’s not only supportive but has concrete action points,” said Maxwell Zachs of Queer and Transgender Jews UK.

Reform Judaism in the UK was more conservative than its American counterpart and, although it was supportive of transgender people, “practical changes will be more difficult”, said Zachs.

In the US, Conservative Jewish movements were lagging behind Reform Judaism, said Bell. “Every denomination has its own pace and distinctive characteristics. My hope is that the conservative movement will follow on the heels of this, but it might not happen overnight. But they are moving on this trajectory.”

According to the US Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBT rights, other faiths and denominations have adopted transgender anti-discrimination policies, but none as far-reaching as the Union of Reform Judaism. They include the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Source: http://bit.ly/1WEqwJR

ISIS closes women’s clinics to prevent male gynecologists treating female patients.

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Isis is believed to have ordered the closure of all women’s clinics supervised by male doctors in its Syrian heartlands in its latest assault on the rights of women.

A culture of rape, forced marriages for child brides, the persecution of doctors and the exclusive use of medicines for militants have resulted in a crisis for women’s health under Isis’s brutal regime.

According to activists, Isis has drastically restricted the work of male gynaecologists in accordance with its leaders’ belief that men and women should be kept apart at all costs.

Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the rights group which this year won the CPJ International Press Freedom Award, has reported threats and harassment towards doctors in the city on Wednesday night.

“A lot of doctors have [already] left, especially gynaecologists who were barred from practising their work and [threatened] with death,” said Abu Mohammed, the group’s founder.

Sources told another activist network, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that all women’s clinics in Raqqa state overseen by men had been shut down. Gynaecologists working in the province’s larger hospitals had their involvement in operations “confined”.

The Observatory, a London-based network of activists, said it had previously reported on the closure of women’s clinics in smaller provinces held by Isis.

“People expressed their resentment over these steps taken by [Isis] regarding health and medical staff in the city, which already suffers from the lack of female medical staff engaged in these tasks,” it said in a statement.

Source: http://ind.pn/1MeaMvG