Saturday, December 24, 2005

Seasonal story

The Word

by Vladimir Nabokov

New Yorker 26 December 2005

Swept out of the valley night by an inspired oneiric wind, I stood at the edge of a road, under a clear pure-gold sky, in an extraordinary mountainous land. Without looking, I sensed the lustre, the angles, and the facets of immense mosaic cliffs, dazzling precipices, and the mirrorlike glint of multitudinous lakes lying somewhere below, behind me. My soul was seized by a sense of heavenly iridescence, freedom, and loftiness: I knew that I was in Paradise. Yet, within this earthly soul, a single earthly thought rose like a piercing flame—and how jealously, how grimly I guarded it from the aura of gigantic beauty that surrounded me. This thought, this naked flame of suffering, was the thought of my earthly homeland. Barefoot and penniless, at the edge of a mountain road, I awaited the kind, luminous denizens of Heaven, while a wind, like the foretaste of a miracle, played in my hair, filled the gorges with a crystal hum, and ruffled the fabled silks of the trees that blossomed amid the cliffs lining the road. Tall grasses lapped at the tree trunks like tongues of fire; large flowers broke smoothly from the glittering branches and, like airborne goblets brimming with sunlight, glided through the air, puffing out their translucent convex petals. Their sweet, damp aroma reminded me of all the finest things I had experienced in my life.

Suddenly, the road on which I stood, breathless from the shimmer, was filled with a tempest of wings. Swarming out of the blinding depths came the angels I awaited, their folded wings pointing sharply upward. Their tread was ethereal; they were like colored clouds in motion, and their transparent visages were motionless except for the rapturous tremor of their radiant lashes. Among them, turquoise birds flew with peals of happy girlish laughter, and lithe orange animals loped, fantastically speckled with black. The creatures coiled through the air, silently thrusting out their satin paws to catch the airborne flowers as they circled and soared, pressing past me with flashing eyes.

Wings, wings, wings! How can I describe their convolutions and their tints? They were all-powerful and soft—tawny, purple, deep blue, velvety black, with fiery dust on the rounded tips of their bowed feathers. Like precipitous clouds they stood, imperiously poised above the angels’ luminous shoulders; now and then an angel, in a kind of marvellous transport, as if unable to restrain his bliss, suddenly, for a single instant, unfurled his winged beauty, and it was like a burst of sunlight, like the sparkling of millions of eyes.

They passed in throngs, glancing heavenward. Their eyes were like jubilant chasms, and in those eyes I saw the syncope of flight. They came with gliding step, showered with flowers. The flowers spilled their humid sheen in flight; the sleek, bright beasts played, whirling and climbing; the birds chimed with bliss, soaring and dipping. I, a blinded, quaking beggar, stood at the edge of the road, and within my beggar’s soul the selfsame thought kept prattling: Cry out to them, tell them—oh, tell them that on the most splendid of God’s stars there is a land—my land—that is dying in agonizing darkness. I had the sense that, if I could grasp with my hand but one quivering shimmer, I would bring to my country such joy that human souls would instantly be illumined, and would circle beneath the plash and crackle of resurrected springtime, to the golden thunder of reawakened temples.

Reaching out with trembling hands, striving to bar the angels’ path, I began clutching at the hems of their bright chasubles, at the undulating, torrid fringes of their curved wings, which slipped through my fingers like downy flowers. I moaned, I dashed about, I deliriously beseeched their indulgence, but the angels trod ever forward, oblivious of me, their chiselled faces turned upward. They streamed in hosts to a heavenly feast, into an unendurably resplendent glade, where roiled and breathed a divinity about which I dared not think. I saw fiery cobwebs, splashes, designs on gigantic crimson, russet, violet wings, and, above me, a downy rustling passed in waves. The rainbow-crowned turquoise birds pecked, the flowers floated off from shiny boughs. “Wait, hear me out!” I cried, trying to embrace an angel’s vaporous legs, but the feet, impalpable, unstoppable, slipped through my extended hands, and the borders of the broad wings only scorched my lips as they swept past. In the distance, a golden clearing between lush, vivid cliffs was filling with the surging storm; the angels were receding; the birds ceased their high-pitched agitated laughter; the flowers no longer flew from the trees; I grew feeble, I fell mute. . . .

Then a miracle occurred. One of the last angels lingered, turned, and quietly approached me. I caught sight of his cavernous, staring, diamond eyes under the imposing arches of his brows. On the ribs of his outspread wings glistened what seemed like frost. The wings themselves were gray, an ineffable tint of gray, and each feather ended in a silvery sickle. His visage, the faintly smiling outline of his lips, and his straight clear forehead reminded me of features I had seen on earth. The curves, the gleaming, the charm of all the faces I had ever loved—the features of people who had long since departed from me—seemed to merge into one wondrous countenance. All the familiar sounds that came separately into contact with my hearing now seemed to blend into a single, perfect melody.

He came up to me. He smiled. I could not look at him. But, glancing at his legs, I noticed a network of azure veins on his feet and one pale birthmark. From these veins, from that little spot, I understood that he had not yet totally abandoned earth, that he might understand my prayer.

Then, bending my head, pressing my singed palms, smeared with bright clay, to my half-blinded eyes, I began recounting my sorrows. I wanted to explain how wondrous my land was, and how horrid its black syncope, but I did not find the words I needed. Hurrying, repeating myself, I babbled about trifles, about some burned-down house where once the sunny sheen of parquet had been reflected in an inclined mirror. I prattled of old books and old lindens, of knickknacks, of my first poems in a cobalt schoolboy notebook, of some gray boulder, overgrown with wild raspberries, in the middle of a field filled with scabiosa and daisies—but the most important thing I simply could not express. I grew confused, I stopped short, I began anew, and again, in my helpless, rapid speech, I spoke of rooms in a cool and resonant country house, of lindens, of my first love, of bumblebees sleeping on the scabiosa. It seemed to me that any minute—any minute!—I would get to what was most important, I would explain the whole sorrow of my homeland. But for some reason I could remember only minute, quite mundane things that were unable to speak or weep those corpulent, burning, terrible tears, about which I wanted to but could not tell. . . .

I fell silent, raised my head. The angel smiled a quiet, attentive smile, gazed fixedly at me with his elongated diamond eyes. I felt he understood me.
“Forgive me,” I exclaimed, meekly kissing the birthmark on his light-hued foot. “Forgive that I am capable of speaking only about the ephemeral, the trivial. You understand, though, my kindhearted, my gray angel. Answer me, help me, tell me, what can save my land?”
Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices. The word he spoke was so marvellous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower. The fragrance and the melody of the word spread through my veins, rose like a sun within my brain; the countless cavities within my consciousness caught up and repeated its lustrous edenic song. I was filled with it. Like a taut knot, it beat within my temple, its dampness trembled upon my lashes, its sweet chill fanned through my hair, and it poured heavenly warmth over my heart.

I shouted it, I revelled in its every syllable, I violently cast up my eyes, which were filled with the radiant rainbows of joyous tears. . . .

Oh, Lord—the winter dawn glows greenish in the window, and I remember not what word it was that I shouted.
(Translated, from the Russian, by Dmitri Nabokov.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Oredzenia Prez Kaczynski / Kwasniewski

Orędzie Prezydenta L. Kaczyńskiego

Gazeta PAP 23-12-2005

Szanowny Panie Prezydencie! Panowie Marszałkowie Sejmu i Senatu! Wysokie Zgromadzenie! Eminencjo Księże Prymasie! Ekscelencje Księża Arcybiskupi i Biskupi! Dostojni Przedstawiciele Innych Wyznań! Dostojni Goście!

Staję dziś przed Zgromadzeniem Narodowym świadom wielkiej odpowiedzialności jaką nakłada na mnie przysięga którą przed chwilą złożyłem. Wiem, że decyzja podjęta przez naród w wyborach prezydenckich, a także w wyborach parlamentarnych wyrasta z oczekiwania wielkiej, pozytywnej zmiany w życiu publicznym i społecznym.Zadaniem przed którym staję ja, ale także ci wszyscy, którzy dzisiaj dzierżą w Polsce władzę jest sprostać temu oczekiwaniu, nie zawieść nadziei, podjąć budowę nowego kształtu naszego życia. Jestem przekonany, że sens tej nadziei, która tak głęboko zapadła w umysły Polaków można określić słowami sprawiedliwość, solidarność, uczciwość. Znaczenie tych słów, jeżeli odnieść się do życia społecznego, do międzyludzkich stosunków wiąże się ze sobą. Nie może być sprawiedliwości bez solidarności. Nie ma takiego mechanizmu, który pozwoliłby realizować zasadę solidarności bez uczciwości, w szczególności uczciwości tych, którzy podejmują decyzję dotyczące innych. Dotyczy to także rządzących w państwie, jaki winnych instytucjach gł6wiie ekonomicznych.

Gdy chodzi o państwo uczciwość łączy się ściśle z gotowością do traktowania sprawowania urzędów jako służby publicznej, którą odnieść trzeba do dobra wspólnego, do nieustannych zabiegów o jego realizację Gdy mówimy o państwie jako całości, tym dobrem wspólnym jest dobro Polski, dobro narodu. Tam, gdzie chodzi o sferę pozapaństwową uczciwość jest związana z gotowością do zachowań solidarnych, z samą solidarnością, która jest podstawowym spoiwem życia społecznego. Gdy spojrzeć na wydarzenia ostatnich 16 lat to niczym nie uchybiając twórcom naszych sukcesów, a tych sukcesów było niemało, trzeba jasno powiedzieć, zbyt mało było solidarności, zbyt mało było sprawiedliwości a często brakowało też i uczciwości.

W wielu przypadkach zabrakło gotowości do traktowania władzy jako służby publicznej oraz woli i energii do zabiegania o dobro wspólne. I właśnie w tej sferze musi nastąpić zmiana głęboka, dostrzegalna dla społeczeństwa. Jest bowiem rzeczą oczywistą, iż nie ma możliwości budowania dobrego porządku publicznego bez ludzi, którzy kierują się w swoich działaniach wartościami zasadniczymi, zabiegają o dobro wspólne, gdyż jest ono dla nich wartością samą w sobie.Tylko w oparciu o takie motywacje, w oparciu dążenie do zapewnienia Polsce pomyślności w jej rozwoju, powiem więcej, jej wielkość, można dążyć do naprawy Rzeczpospolitej. Ta naprawa Wysokie Zgromadzenie, to zadanie konkretne, to usunięcie z naszego Życia zjawisk patologicznych, a przede wszystkim wielkiej dziś przestępczości, szczególnie zaś przestępczości korupcyjnej całego, wielkiego pędu do uzyskania nieuprawnionych korzyści, który to pęd zatruwa społeczeństwo, deformuje jego konstrukcję, tworzy zbyt wielkie i niczym nieuzasadnione społeczne dystanse, degeneruje instytucje rynkowe, a przede wszystkim degeneruje aparat państwowy i uniemożliwia prawidłowe wypełnienie przez państwo społeczne dystanse, degeneruje instytucje rynkowe, a przede wszystkim degeneruje aparat państwowy i uniemożliwia prawidłowe wypełnienie przez państwo jego elementarnych zadań. Te zadania to zapewnienie bezpieczeństwa narodowego, bezpieczeństwa osobistego obywateli, elementarnego bezpieczeństwa socjalnego, bezpieczeństwa zdrowotnego, podstawowych przesłanek dla rozwoju rodziny i wreszcie bezpieczeństwa obrotu gospodarczego i podstawowych warunków dla rozwoju gospodarki.

Panowie Marszałkowie! Wysokie Zgromadzenie! Ze szczególną mocą chciałbym podkreślić, iż obowiązki państwa odnoszące się do jednostek i do rodzin z równą siłą muszą być wykonywane zarówno w mieście, jak i na Wsi. Polska jest jedna i wszystkie środowiska muszą mieć możliwość awansu i rozwoju.Ogromne różnice, jakie mają dzisiaj miejsce, muszą być systematycznie niwelowane. Dotyczy to również różnic między regionami.Panowie Marszałkowie! Wysokie Zgromadzenie! Panie i Panowie Senatorowie i Posłowie! Zagrożenie bezpieczeństwa energetycznego Polski i związane z tym wydarzenia, wysoki poziom przestępczości, ogromne bezrobocie, poważny kryzys służby zdrowia, daleko niewystarczający stan budownictwa mieszkaniowego, godzący w rodziny, ich rozwój, groźne dla małych i średnich przedsiębiorstw niepewność obrotu, fatalny stan dróg, wieloletnia niezdolność do budowy autostrad to fakty, których nie da się podważyć, nie da się im zaprzeczyć. Państwo nieprawidłowo wykonuje swe zadania i dlatego musi być oczyszczone i przebudowane.

Obok, moralnej zmiany nowej postawy rządzących jest to podstawowy warunek spełnienia społecznych w pełni uzasadnionych oczekiwań. Bezwzględnie potrzebna jest taka polityka gospodarcza, która będzie łączyła zabiegi o szybki rozwój z zabiegami o rozwiązanie problemów społecznych z bezrobociem na czele.Panie i Panowie Posłowie! Partie i Panowie Senatorowie! Wydarzenia ostatnich trzech lat, narastający sprzeciw wobec zła, mobilizacja i wielkie moralne napięcie w pamiętnych chwilach po śmierci naszego papieża, niezapomnianego Jana Pawła II stwarzają nadzieję. Chrońmy ją i podtrzymujmy. Gdy mówią o wadze sfery moralnej, nie mogę pominąć jeszcze prawdy. Naród jako wspólnota buduje się również wokół tradycji. Nie wolno przeciwstawiać jej koniecznym zmianom, koniecznej modernizacji Polski. To jest sprzeczność wymyślona. To jest szkodliwy sposób myślenia. Największe sukcesy w Europie odnosili ci, którzy potrafili połączyć modernizację z dobrą tradycją.Nasze państwo w całej swej praktyce, w swoim ustawodawstwie, w sferze edukacji szkolnej i innych rodzajów powinno wejść na tę drogę.

Panowie Marszałkowie! Wysokie Zgromadzenie! Jako prezydent Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej uczynię wszystko, wszystko co możliwe, by oczekiwanie na wielką pozytywną zmianę nie zostało zawiedzione.Będę wykorzystywał wszystkie uprawnienia jakie daje mi konstytucja i ustawy, w tym także te, z których dotąd korzystano rzadko, by nakłaniać rządzących do wprowadzenia koniecznych zmian, by piętnować tych, którzy szkodzą odrzucają dobro wspólne, działają w imię partykularnych interesów, albo zgoła we własnym interesie. Nie będę w tych sprawach kierował się lojalnością wobec nikogo więcej poza lojalnością wobec Polski.Podejmę też wysiłki zmierzające do umocnienia społecznych podstaw całego procesu przemian, a w szczególności nowej polityki gospodarczej. Polsce potrzebna jest swego rodzaju umowa społeczna, która określi na następne lata sposób dzielenia wspólnego dorobku. Polacy muszą wiedzieć czego mogą się spodziewać jako konsumenci, jako pracownicy, jako pracodawcy, spodziewać od państwa. Trzeba zacząć o tym rozmawiać, trzeba podjąć trud, wielki trud porozumienia. Jestem głęboko przekonany) że Polsce potrzebna jest nowa ustawa zasadnicza, która będzie lepiej niż obecna odpowiadać potrzebom czasu, likwidować sfery wyjęte spod społecznej kontroli, zmniejszać niebezpieczeństwo patologizacji i państwa, eliminować nieodpowiedzialność. Wiem, że w obecnym parlamencie będzie ją niezwykle wręcz trudno, niemniej o to zabiegał odwołując się do poczucia odpowiedzialności wszystkich obecnych w parlamencie frakcji.

Uchwalenie nowej konstytucji ułatwiłoby bowiem w bardzo wysokim stopniu naprawę państwa, byłoby też uwieńczeniem budowy tego co nazywamy czwartą Rzeczpospolitą.Panowie Marszałkowie! Wysokie Zgromadzenie! Polska jest częścią światowego porządku. Prezydent Rzeczypospolitej ma konstytucyjny obowiązek strzeżenia naszej suwerenności, ponosi wysoką odpowiedzialność za politykę obronną i politykę zagraniczną. Wypełnianie tych zadań następuje zawsze w konkretnych okolicznościach. Dziś moim zadaniem jest uczynienie wszystkiego by zapewnić bezpieczeństwo I sprzyjające warunki polityczne i gospodarcze dla wielkiej przebudowy którą powinniśmy w Polsce podjąć. Więcej Ś moim zadaniem jest doprowadzić do tego, by nasze stosunki z innymi państwami stały czynnikiem dynamizującym przemiany, wzmacniającym nasze poczucie wartości i nasze przywiązanie do ojczyzny.

Drogą do tego jest odrzucenie narodowych kompleksów, ciągłego podnoszenia naszych słabości, chorobliwej tendencji do naśladownictwa także wtedy gdy chodzi o zjawiska i podstawy wątpliwie czy też jawnie szkodliwe. Aby być traktowany jako duży europejski naród trzeba chcieć nim być. Gdy się chce szacunku innych trzeba najpierw szanować siebie.Polityka zagraniczna, którą chcę wraz z rządem prowadzić musi być energiczna, nastawiona na zarówno na kontynuację tego co jest jej niezaprzeczalnym dorobkiem, to jest na stosunki euroatlantyckie, stosunki ze Stanami Zjednoczonymi, które trzeba w najlepiej pojętym narodowym interesie zacieśniać, a w trudnych momentach podtrzymywać stawiając jednak zdecydowanie nasze postulaty, jak i o stosunki wewnątrz Unii Europejskiej, gdzie nie możemy ograniczyć się do obrony bieżącym interesów. Odnieśliśmy tutaj ostatnio wielkie sukcesy a poprawa stosunków z Niemcami i Francją jest zjawiskiem pozytywnym, co nie oznacza, że nie istnieją w dalszym ciągu, szczególnie w stosunkach z tym pierwszym państwem, Niemcami, bardzo istotne problemy. Ale musimy podjąć bardziej dalekosiężne działanie. Aktywna rola w przygotowaniu nowego projektu dla Unii po upadku projektu traktatu konstytucyjnego powinna być szczególnie istotnym elementem naszej polityki zagranicznej.

Naszym celem jest Unia będąca organizacją tworzącą podstawy stałej, ściślej, ścisłej, przepraszam, i zinstytucjonalizowanej współpracy państw europejskich opartej o zasady solidarności. Będę podejmował wysiłki, by przekonać naszych partnerów, że jest to najwłaściwszy i najbardziej odpowiadający dzisiejszym realiom kształt Unii Europejskiej.Nową jakość trzeba nadać także temu wszystkiemu co wiąże się z naszymi stosunkami z krajami leżącymi na wschód od naszych granic. Strategiczny sojusz z Ukrainą powinien nabrać bardziej konkretnych kształtów. Ścisła współpraca Z Litwą, a także Łotwą i Estonią, czyli pozostałymi krajami nadbałtyckimi i dążenie do nadania im trwałego charakteru to nasze cele. Wielkie znaczenie ma także obrona praw obywatela na Białorusi, w tym szczególnie obrona praw polskiej mniejszości.Żywą treść trzeba nadać porozumieniu wyszehradzkiemu naszym stosunkom z Republiką Czeską, Republiką Słowacką oraz Węgrami. Wiele wskazuje na to, iż nie wykorzystane są możliwości współpracy z państwami skandynaWSkimi szczególnie w odniesieniu do sytuacji na Morzu Bałtyckim.Istotną kwestią są nasze stosunki z Rosją, która pozostaje od wieków, mimo zmiennych kolei losu naszym wielkim sąsiadem. Patrzymy na nie uwzględniając przede wszystkim historyczną perspektywę zachowując cierpliwość i przekonanie, że nie ma obiektywnych powodów, dla których nie mogłyby być one dobre.Polska i jej prezydent nigdy nie mogą zapomnieć o rodakach żyjących poza granicami kraju. Istnieje wielka potrzeba daleko idącej zmiany, intensyfikacji naszych stosunków z Polonią. Ich utrzymanie i umocnienie jest naszym narodowym obowiązkiem.

Panowie Marszałkowie! Wysokie Zgromadzenie! Polska bezpieczna, rozwijająca się, rozwiązująca problemy społeczne, odnosząca sukcesy, osadzona w tradycji i jednocześnie nowoczesna to cel, wokół którego mogą dziś jednoczyć się Polacy. Powtórzę tu słowa, które już powiedziałem nasz kraj potrzebuje rozliczenia przeszłości, bo bez tego nie może być porządku moralnego. Potrzebuje też zgody i jedności w sprawach najważniejszych. testem przekonany, że możemy je osiągnąć. Całe moje doświadczenie mówi, że dobra praca, uczciwe wykonywanie zadań, sprawiedliwe traktowanie ludzie jednoczy ludzi różnych światopoglądów i życiorysów. Inne doświadczenia sprzed lat 20 I 30 pokazały, że historię tworzą ci, którzy mają odwagę działać. Na moich oczach niewielkie grupy opozycjonistów, kilkudziesięciuosobowy wolny związek zawodowy przekształcił się w wielki ruch narodowy ŃSolidarnośćń i mimo zadanych ciosów zwyciężył.Chcieć to móc. Te słowa wydawałoby się nierozważne towarzyszyły nam w tamtych trudnych ale pięknych czasach. Towarzyszyły też twórcom naszej niepodległości II Rzeczypospolitej.

Zwracam się do was rodacy, abyście mimo wszystkich zawodów w trudnych, ale pięknych czasach. Towarzyszyły też twórcom naszej niepodległości II Rzeczpospolitej. Zwracam się do was Rodacy, abyście mimo wszystkich zawodów raz jeszcze uwierzyli. Mamy zmienić Polskę, ale bez Was jej nie zmienimy. A zmienić ją koniecznie trzeba.

Orędzie Prezydenta RP

22 grudnia 2005 roku Prezydent Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej Aleksander Kwaśniewski wygłosił telewizyjne orędzie do Narodu.

Prezydentowi RP towarzyszyła Małżonka – Jolanta Kwaśniewska.

W orędziu Prezydent RP powiedział:

Szanowni Państwo, drodzy Rodacy!
To było 10 niezwykłych lat. Niezwykłych dla mnie, dla mojej Małżonki, niezwykłych dla Polski i dla Europy. Dzisiaj upływa ostatni dzień mojej prezydenckiej służby. Jestem dumny, że przez dwie kadencje dane mi było z woli wyborców, obywateli Rzeczypospolitej, pełnić najwyższy urząd w Państwie. Razem dokonaliśmy rzeczy wielkich. Nasza Ojczyzna mądrze i konsekwentnie kroczyła drogą zapoczątkowaną przez zryw „Solidarności”, porozumienie Okrągłego Stołu i pierwsze wolne wybory.

Dzisiaj chcę Państwu z satysfakcją powiedzieć: podstawowe cele mojej prezydentury zostały osiągnięte. Polska demokracja działa. Mamy Konstytucję, wahadło polityczne wychyla się od lewej do prawej, ale polska demokracja jest silna. Jesteśmy bezpieczni, bowiem jesteśmy w NATO i mamy gwarancje najpotężniejszych państw tego świata. Mamy wielkie szanse rozwojowe bowiem jesteśmy w Unii Europejskiej. Uzyskaliśmy silną i przyjazną pozycję w regionie. Zbudowaliśmy dobre stosunki ze wszystkimi sąsiadami, dążyliśmy zawsze do pojednania i przyjaźni. Stąd, z Polski, eksportowaliśmy stabilność, dialog oraz koncepcje porozumienia. Rozwinęliśmy partnerstwo strategiczne z Ameryką. Pomogliśmy „Pomarańczowej Rewolucji” na Ukrainie. Chcę z radością, w poczuciu spełnienia powiedzieć Państwu: jestem szczęśliwy i jestem przekonany, że był to jeden z najlepszych i najbardziej pomyślnych okresów w dziejach naszego państwa.

Gdy ogarniam te dziesięć lat, gdy patrzę na przełomowe zmiany, na polskie sukcesy – chcę jak najserdeczniej podziękować wszystkim, którzy pracowali dla Ojczyzny. Dziękuję całemu narodowi i każdemu z Pań, z Panów z osobna.

Dziękuję wszystkim parlamentom, rządom, instytucjom państwowym; premierom, ministrom, urzędnikom, Siłom Zbrojnym, Policji i innym formacjom, wszystkim, którzy przez te lata budowali, którzy cegiełka po cegiełce, budowali i tworzyli nasze osiągnięcia i wysoką pozycję Polski.

Słowa wdzięczności i uznania kieruję do różnych środowisk – samorządowych, naukowych, gospodarczych, kulturalnych, sportowych; do polskich rolników, do młodzieży; do – jakże wielu - organizacji pozarządowych. Szczególne podziękowanie składam Kościołowi katolickiemu w Polsce za wkład w umacnianie naszej niepodległości, demokracji; za przyczynianie się do rozwoju społeczeństwa obywatelskiego. Dziękuję za dobre owoce współpracy wszystkim innym kościołom i związkom wyznaniowym.

Miałem ten niezwykły honor i otrzymałem od dziejów wyjątkowy dar, że lata mojej prezydentury przypadły na czas pontyfikatu Jana Pawła II, wielkiej postaci współczesnego świata, która wywarła tak ogromny wpływ na przemiany w naszym kraju, na losy Europy, na ludzkie serca. Wszyscy doskonale wiemy, jak wiele Janowi Pawłowi II zawdzięczamy – każdy z nas, Polska i Polacy. Ze wzruszeniem przywołuję moje liczne spotkania i rozmowy z Ojcem Świętym. Będę je pamiętał i będę pamiętał, ile zawdzięczam Mu osobiście.

Drodzy Rodacy! Panie i Panowie!
Chciałbym, żeby z tego pożegnalnego spotkania wynikało również przekonanie, że ta prawdziwa siła tkwi także w nas samych, że to my stworzyliśmy polskie sukcesy, że trudno by było, gdyby nie było takiej determinacji i konsekwencji wśród milionów moich rodaków i żebyśmy również pamiętali, że byłoby je trudno osiągnąć bez życzliwości i poparcia licznych państw i narodów na całym świecie. Dzisiaj wyrażam im wdzięczność, dzisiaj powtarzam, że jesteśmy partnerem solidnym i lojalnym i że Polacy nigdy nie zapominają o swoich przyjaciołach.

W sposób szczególny chcę podziękować Wam, Drodzy Państwo. Wszystkim obywatelom. To Wy jesteście Polską, to Wy na co dzień ją tworzycie. Dziękuję za Waszą wytrwałość, energię, ambicję; za ten często anonimowy, ale jakże ważny powszedni trud. Było dla mnie – mówię z całego serca – zaszczytem reprezentować Polski Naród. Cieszę się, że wspólną pracą tak wiele osiągnęliśmy.

Zawsze starałem się budować dom wszystkich – Polskę. Starałem się łączyć, a nie dzielić. Budować, a nie burzyć. Nigdy nie kierować się żądzą odwetu, ale okazywać wielkoduszność i szanować partnera. Ja zawsze ludziom wierzyłem, rzadko – może zbyt rzadko – ich podejrzewałem. Ale ja takiej Polski chcę, ja taką Polskę budowałem, gdzie zaufanie jest wartością, gdzie ludziom dajemy szansę, żeby spełniali siebie i współtworzyli Ojczyznę.

Patrzę w przyszłość – i mocno wierzę w sukces Polski. Wierzę w silną Polskę w silnej i solidarnej Europie. Życzę mojemu następcy, Panu Prezydentowi Lechowi Kaczyńskiemu, i nam wszystkim, aby była to Polska jeszcze bardziej bezpieczna, jeszcze bardziej stabilna, żeby była pojednana ponad historycznymi podziałami, żeby była to Polska, która nie wyklucza żadnego człowieka dobrej woli, żeby Polska była wierna swoim tysiącletnim korzeniom, swojej tożsamości, ale również Polska bez kompleksów, otwarta wobec innych, ufna w swoje siły i zdolności. Taką Polskę powinniśmy przekazać przyszłym pokoleniom, tej naszej młodzieży, która z takim zapałem zdobywa dziś wiedzę. Której setki tysięcy, miliony studiują tu i za granicą, która śmiało wkracza do Europy, która wspaniale świadczy o nas wszystkich, o swoim kraju. Ta właśnie młodzież, młode pokolenia są naszą szansą i nadzieją.

A nam wszystkim chcę powiedzieć, co jest doświadczeniem tego dziesięciolecia i co jest czasami tą niewypowiedzianą, może czasami brzmiącą zbyt mocno, ale ważną opinią o nas samych: chwalmy swoje możliwości, nie jesteśmy wolni od wad, ale jesteśmy wielkim i dzielnym narodem! Jesteśmy społeczeństwem, które potrafiło przeciwstawić się nadzwyczajnym dramatom i trudnościom, które wykazało wielką elastyczność wobec wyzwań współczesnego świata. Ale czasami nam potrzeba więcej wiary w samych siebie i więcej wzajemnego szacunku. Szanujmy sąsiadów, kolegów z pracy, siebie – będziemy także bardziej szanowani przez innych.

Panie i Panowie!
Wraz z Panią Prezydentową chcieliśmy złożyć najgorętsze życzenia spokojnych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia. Wszelkiej pomyślności w nowym roku i w kolejnych latach. Życzymy Wam, aby spełniały się Wasze plany te rodzinne, bardzo osobiste, ale żeby spełniał się również ten projekt i marzenie wielu pokoleń Polaków, że jesteśmy silni, dobrze zorganizowani, że mamy znaczenie w świecie i w Europie, że możemy na siebie nawzajem liczyć.

Drodzy Rodacy, szanowni Państwo!
Dziękujemy za wszystko! Dziękujemy Polsce za honor, który wypełnialiśmy przez ostatnie 10 lat. Polsko – życzymy Ci pomyślności. Nam wszystkim, Panie i Panowie, życzymy, abyście byli szczęśliwi, że żyjecie w tym właśnie kraju, że możecie dawać z siebie to wszystko, co macie najlepszego. Dziękujemy za wszystko, kochamy Was. Nie żegnamy się, ale mówimy: do zobaczenia! Do zobaczenia! Wesołych i spokojnych Świąt!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Changes for Saudi Women

Saudi Women See Changes, and Reasons to Expect More

By Hassan M Fatah

New York Times December 21, 2005

JIDDA. Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi journalist in this Red Sea city, was in Manhattan when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. She scrambled to contact her editors and send reports, but was rebuffed because they did not trust the work of a woman.
Ms. Sharif, who has since been promoted to a midlevel editor position, said it would be different today because much has changed for Saudi women - and Sept. 11 is one of the reasons. Wrapped in black, still paid less than her male counterparts and still barred from driving, Ms. Sharif sat in her office inside the cramped "ladies section" of the newspaper Al Watan, sighing about the difficulties someone like her faces.
Nonetheless, she ticked off numerous substantive changes, beginning with something that happened recently. Two women were elected to the 12-member board of directors of the Jidda Chamber of Commerce, the first time that women were elected to, or even permitted to run for, such a visible post in the kingdom.
There is more. Until a few years ago, Saudi women were completely excluded from the public sphere. Now their photographs appear in newspapers, heads covered, and they have their own picture identification cards rather than being disembodied names on their husbands' or fathers' cards. That means that Ms. Sharif, who went to New York in 2001 accompanied by her husband, can and does travel alone now, although she still needs her husband's permission.
In addition, the first university courses for women studying architecture or law have begun. Divorce is easier to obtain, and women no longer need a front man to register a company. Individually, and to a Westerner, such changes may seem minor. But taken together, they represent a real shift.
"We came from below zero," said Ms. Sharif, 37, who is pregnant with her seventh child and whose eldest is in the first class of female architecture students. "Now we have reason to be optimistic."
The changes, rapid and radical by Saudi standards, are noticeable to anyone who has not been here in some years. Of the dozen women interviewed for this article, most agreed to meet male journalists without being accompanied by a male relative, a rarity a decade ago. Several even agreed to have their photographs taken although the others declined, saying their parents or husbands would object.
The shifts, which are largely limited to the well off and well educated, have a number of sources. One is the double shock produced here by the fact that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi and the subsequent wave of terrorism by Al Qaeda that struck this country. Suddenly, the ruling family had reason to push back against some of the more reactionary practices imposed by the powerful clergy.
The huge national debt created by the Persian Gulf war in 1991 was another factor. The country needed to expand its economy, and many women here hold a great deal of idle cash. Finally, the rise to power this year of King
Abdullah, a moderate, is widely viewed as significant.
The women leading the movement for more rights are not presenting themselves as secular feminists. Rather, they are citing Koranic scripture for their demands, hoping to beat the clerics at their own game. When Saudi clerics say women should not drive, these women say the Prophet Muhammad spoke approvingly of a day when women could travel alone. They say women played crucial roles in the days of the prophet and that his wife, Khadija, was an important merchant.
"We have been insufficiently educated in our own religion," said Ghada Angawi, a personal coach for businesswomen who considers the Koran a vital weapon in the fight for women's equality.
To make their point, leaders for women are acting with caution. Lama al-Suleiman, 39, one of the two women elected to the Chamber of Commerce, holds a doctorate from King's College in London and runs a company. Trilingual and sophisticated, she has gone around Jidda for years without covering her hair and greeted journalists from The New York Times at her house in jeans. For a photograph, however, she changed clothes, saying that, having entered public life, she did not want to give her opponents any excuse to discredit her. "You have to melt the culture, not break it," she said.
Ms. Sharif, the editor, made the same point. She said she kept the article about Ms. Suleiman and Nashwa al-Taher, the other woman elected, off the front page lest it attract too much attention. Maha Fitaihi, the wife of Jidda's mayor and a prominent women's activist, said, "We don't want a civil war, we just want this to be an evolutionary change."
Ms. Fitaihi learned firsthand the risks of overpublicizing her activities this year when she organized a basketball tournament for girls. Religious figures contacted local leaders to put a stop to it. Girls were forbidden to play sports, they insisted. Ms. Fitaihi scrapped the event.
The changes tend to come two steps forward, one back. Women have risen in the ranks of banks and hospitals, running segregated sections for women, but they still do not have real authority to make decisions. They no longer need a man to sign documents for them, but few have been made aware of it.
The Chamber of Commerce elections are widely expected to be a prelude to women running in Saudi municipal elections in 2009. But it did not take long for some clerics to object to the elections, saying, as one imam put it, that they produced a "dangerous and corrupt association of women and money."
It was not always so difficult, Ms. Fitaihi said, especially not in Jidda, a cosmopolitan city where for centuries many cultures have passed through on their way to pilgrimage in nearby Mecca. As a girl, she had drama, arts and sports in her school, and there were movie theaters in the city. None of that is true today.
"I always tell my kids that I had a better childhood than they did," Ms. Fitaihi said.
Many restrictions followed the Iranian revolution and the siege of Mecca by extremists in 1979, as the government sought to appease them through a broad expansion of extremist policies and power: strict segregation of the sexes, the removal of women from the public sphere and laws firming up existing measures against women.
Today, along with changes for women, there is talk of other forms of opening up. Several malls under construction in the city include movie theaters, in the hope that they will be permitted to function in a few years, Ms. Fitaihi said. Achieving change requires care and stealth, she and others said.
"It's like being on an island where no one will come to save you," said Ms. Angawi, the business coach. "You have to learn to survive."
When Ms. Angawi sought a divorce from an abusive husband five years ago, no one was there to help her. She was forced to enter a man's world and fend for herself.
She now encourages all women to make choices for themselves.
The choices, however, remain limited. Ms. Angawi, a mother of five, has remarried, but somewhat unhappily as a second wife to a man with another family. Having more than one wife, permitted by the Koran, is common in Saudi Arabia. Some issues will not be easily overcome.
But women say that persistence is the key. Ms. Sharif, the journalist, said that only a tiny number of Saudi women were journalists, and that most worked for a few years, married and then quit. But she is planning on sticking it out.
"I'm like a mountain," she said with a laugh. "You can't move me."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Korla, an expanding (oil) town, Xinjiang

A Remote Boomtown Where Mainly Newcomers Benefit

Howard W French

New York Times 20 December 2005

KORLA, China - The prop plane packed with businessmen swoops into this once sleepy oasis town in far western China, flying in low over the spectacular Tian Shan mountain range, now snowcapped.
At the tiny, primitive airport here, where people have to wait outdoors in the biting cold for their luggage, a billboard over the shabby terminal announces the arrival of change clearly enough: "Petroleum Hotel," it reads, in Chinese, English and the Arabic script used by the region's Uighur ethnic minority.
There are three ways to get to this city, sprouting on the edge of one of the world's largest deserts, the Taklimakan, and they all bespeak the remarkable boom under way. By night, flares from new oil fields blaze on the horizon in every direction on the bleak roads that cross the desert and run along its edge.
By day, trains disgorge passengers: newly arriving ethnic Chinese migrants from the country's crowded east or, in the harvest season, day laborers who come by the tens of thousands to pick cotton and fruit grown on spreads owned by big east coast investors.
Since this little airfield hardly befits a boomtown, a fancy new airport is being built a short distance away.
Thriving "insta-cities" are common on the prospering eastern seaboard. But in many ways what is happening in Korla and cities like it here in Xinjiang Province is even more impressive. And to a degree little suspected back east, the country's future depends on their success.
China has a bottomless thirst for oil and gas, and Xinjiang these days is producing both in ever greater quantities. Moreover, because of its proximity to Central Asia, the province has become the favorite route for pipelines bringing imported energy from Kazakhstan and beyond.
Since this is China's largest province in area, and home to the largest Muslim minority population, what happens here is crucial to the country's future stability. As with Tibet to the south, China's hold on Xinjiang is recent. Elements of the Uighur and Kazakh minorities have long yearned for independence and have sporadically engaged in terrorism.
Beijing has cracked down harshly on separatists and has banned religious schools in Xinjiang, for fear they will foment Islamic radicalism and separatism. But for now, as elsewhere in China, the government seems to be betting that strong economic growth is the best way to consolidate its control.
The province's recent record of discovering new sources of oil has certainly created an air of confidence here among government leaders and business people, most of whom hail from the east. Natural gas output has doubled in the last five years, and oil production is also rising fast, especially from the nearby Tarim Basin.
"This place is blowing and a-glowing," said Jim Scott, an ebullient Louisiana native who spends much of the year here, selling high-pressure valves and other oil field equipment to Chinese companies. "I guarantee you there's a boom on here. There's more drilling and exploring around here than you can imagine."
Beyond foreign oilmen, the explosive growth in the petroleum sector is drawing thousands of Chinese entrepreneurs from coastal cities like Shanghai and Wenzhou. Some arrive wealthy, ready to invest. Others, like, Qian Bolun, 36, who has been here for 15 years, sought their fortune in Korla when it was little more than a dusty township.
"See this," he said, nudging a glass across the lunch table at a fancy downtown restaurant owned by a Wenzhou entrepreneur. "In the old days if I bought one of these for one yuan I'd sell it here for 1.20." Nowadays Mr.Qian, who dresses in nice suits and drives a late-model Japanese sedan, deals exclusively in big-ticket items like industrial generators, tractors and mining equipment.
The new petroleum economy has left its mark all over downtown Korla, from the smart department stores and shopping malls that line the broad streets of the central city to a large nightclub district that bathes in flashing neon after sunset.
At one club, Chinese fashion models strut and Russian dancers shimmy on a stage for ogling oil workers. An entertainer with an atrocious voice belts out karaoke songs urging patrons who disapprove to "throw your money, your cellphones, whatever you've got at me."
The local Communist Party leaders speak proudly of the city's development. "In the 1990's we were a relatively backward, small and poor agricultural city, with only 100,000 residents," said Hao Jianming, deputy party secretary.
Now the city boasts 420,000 residents and is growing by 20,000 people a year. "People come here because we've become a tourism city, a recreational city with a good environment," the official said.
For all of these economic successes, Korla's problems with minorities have not been solved so much as pushed aside. On the streets of the fancy downtown, Uighur-owned shops are a rarity and Uighurs themselves are few. Across the river that divides the town into old and new, that balance is reversed.
"Uighurs usually don't have a storefront - they'll rent a place in a corner," said Hao Lin, 32, a personal computer merchant in a new computer mall. "Their main customers are Uighurs. Very few of them have business with the Tarim oil company. Those who do are Han," members as he is of China's main ethnic group.
In a barbershop that sits amid a frigid outdoor market across the river from downtown, three Uighur men sit in chairs near a coal-heated stove that warms the place.
"I studied at the university in Urumqi," the province's capital, "for three years, majoring in mechanical engineering," said the Uighur barber, Yasen Keyimu, 25, "but I can't find a job with the oil industry. Such great skills, and I can't get work."

Other sources on Korla:
About the city:
The area surrounding Korla
Photos from City and area around Korla
Korla Declaration (wetlands)
Xinjiang Region / China overall,13673,501041025-725174,00.html

Bye to Baghdad

Goodbye to Baghdad

Caroline Hawley

BBC: From Our Own Correspondent 17 December 2005

Caroline Hawley has been the BBC correspondent in Iraq since before the fall of Saddam Hussein, but is packing her bags to move to Jerusalem to take up a new role as Middle East correspondent. As she leaves Baghdad, she reflects on the memories she will be taking away with her.

It has been a nostalgic business packing up.
Sifting through all my belongings I found little reminders of the chaotic days of spring 2003 just after the American-led coalition arrived.
You would still hear a lot of gunfire then but it was not until the summer that the bombings began - the Jordanian embassy first, then the UN, and the Red Cross.
Later it was Shia civilians who were massacred in their market places and mosques.
But that spring was a heady time for millions of people, relishing the toppling of a hated dictator and able to talk without fear about the brutality they had been through during the long years of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
But how quickly the resentment of the coalition crept in.
And no wonder.
It took weeks before a single public service worker was paid. Doctors and nurses turned to their savings to pay for taxi rides to work. Garbage festered in the streets.
The civilian administrators, who had followed the soldiers in, were ill-equipped. One senior coalition official admitted to me: "We can't even organise ourselves let alone a country."
The American troops were struggling too.
Once, in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, I had to help translate for them. There was a suspected bomb, and they had blocked off a road.
But they had no means of communicating that to an increasingly angry queue of drivers. Another time, a soldier shouted at me to "get off my road".
Imagine how Iraqis feel being treated like that in their own country.
As the people of Baghdad tried to make do with little power, and in some areas no water, coalition officials were settling into Saddam Hussein's marble-floored palaces, complete with their chandeliers, and gold-tapped bathrooms.
But on the streets outside, American soldiers were increasingly being targeted and when they hit back, Iraqi civilians were often killed.
They still are.
Go to the main emergency hospital in Baghdad at any time, and you are likely to find Iraqis injured by mistake by US troops.
I remember in May last year standing in the rubble of a house in Falluja, where I was told 36 members of one family - including five children - had been killed during an air bombardment.
They had been crushed to death and you could still smell the decomposing bodies as a neighbour shouted: "Is this George Bush's freedom?"
Earlier I had been on an American military base, where I had read the words "Die Raghead" written on the side of a portable toilet.
But American soldiers have been dying here, too, and been horribly maimed.
At a field hospital north of Baghdad I saw a 19-year-old brought in with half his face blown off - the day after his birthday.
Amid all the shooting and bombs there have been lighter moments, too.
You cannot help but have a smile with an emergency room doctor who is called Doctor Coffin. And it was with a Captain Gherkin that we arranged a visit to the Burger King on the main American base in Baghdad.
I never met him but a commander in charge of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib jail, the prison at the heart of the scandal over detainee abuse, was called Colonel Foster Payne. You could not make it up.
There is a lot I will miss about Iraq.
I will miss the radiant smile of Hanan, the little girl who lives next door - one of four children growing up fatherless in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
I will remember with admiration the brave Iraqi doctors who deal every day with horrific injuries from a conflict that has killed tens of thousands.
But I am relieved to be escaping a city where it is not unusual to be woken up by bombs.
Over the past couple of years, when I have been away on holiday, I have jumped out of my skin when I have heard thunder or fireworks, even doors slamming.
Imagine what it is all doing to the collective nerves of Iraqis who cannot get out of the country.
Plenty of well-off Iraqis have been quietly leaving.
A few days ago, we went to the wedding party of a young Christian couple who danced the afternoon away.
It was the afternoon - not the night - because most people in Baghdad make sure they are safely home by 8pm.
But as we watched, with glasses of champagne in hand, I noticed that there were a lot of empty chairs. Many of their relatives had emigrated.
Then I think of the determination of the little girls we met, competing in Iraq's first national junior gymnastics championships since the war.
The winner, a nine-year-old called Mariam, smiled between her somersaults and told us she wanted one day to be an Olympic champion.
There was a different kind of determination on display at polling stations on Thursday, as Iraqis voted for their first proper parliament since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
I watched as an old man with an artificial leg shuffled in on crutches. A heavily pregnant Iraqi dentist called Suraa told me the elections would draw a line between the suffering of the past and the good life that must be coming.
For her sake, and the sake of her baby, I hope she is right.
The parting words to me from an Iraqi friend were: "Pray for us."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Saudi economy booming

Saudi Arabia Looks Past Oil in Attempt to Diversify

Jad Mouawad

New York Times 13 December 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The ultimate oil state is seeking to shift its economy away from oil.
Saudi Arabia may be experiencing its third oil boom in three decades but it is also undergoing an economic revolution that its leaders hope will finally insulate it from the oil producer's curse: the next price collapse.

The Saudi kingdom remains the 600-pound gorilla of the global oil market. Given its vast reserves, Saudi Arabia can keep pumping oil for the next 70 years. Oil, along with Islam's holy cities, Mecca and Medina, provides the country's rulers with wealth, power and influence. Oil sales account for 40 percent of the economy and about 90 percent of government revenue. But that reliance on a volatile commodity - with big booms but also big busts - is also a problem that the royal family is determined to overcome. The nation's leaders, of course, have made similar vows before to translate their vast oil wealth into a more diversified economy. Will this time really be different?

There are signs that it may be. Unnoticed by many outsiders, the Saudi private sector has flourished in recent years, thanks to structural changes started by King Abdullah in the late 1990's when he was crown prince and oil prices were at $10 a barrel. "There's a gold rush in Saudi Arabia right now," said Mohammed al-Sheikh, a Saudi lawyer associated with the White & Case law firm here in Riyadh, the capital. "You can feel it everywhere in the economy. Everyone wants to invest here."

Driven by a construction boom that is already replacing many of the buildings thrown up in the 1970's, sprawling shopping malls, paved with white marble and featuring Gucci stores and Starbucks coffee shops, have become fixtures of the landscape in Riyadh, Khobar and Jeddah.
Analysts at the Samba Financial Group in Riyadh expect the economy to grow by 6.5 percent this year thanks to record oil prices, which have helped fuel the third consecutive year of rapid expansion. But the private sector, which also stands apart from the state-run oil industry, has outpaced the rest of the economy for 7 of the last 11 years and is expected to grow 7.4 percent this year. "The diversification of our national income and our economy away from oil is key to our well being," said Abdullah Alireza, a minister without portfolio and a member of the Supreme Economic Council. "It's absolutely key."

The Saudi stock market has become one of the world's top performers, and growth in its market value for this year is about twice as large as the country's oil revenues.

Saudi Arabia is also opening to real competition. It joined the World Trade Organization on Sunday after 12 years of negotiations, a move expected to give a powerful push to the country's private sector. "It's going to be a long road to bring ourselves up to international standards," said Fouad al-Humoud, a local businessman, sitting in his office in the center of this sprawling city, at the end of a long strip of neon-lighted stores. "But we have a tsunami of opportunities here. No one wants to be left on the back seat."

The government has relaxed foreign ownership laws, loosened credit rules, liberalized the telecommunications market, passed a new capital markets law and created regulatory agencies to oversee these changes. "That's a structural shift," said Brad Bourland, chief economist of Samba. "In terms of reforms, this is where the rubber meets the road, because it creates a regulatory environment where a private economy can operate."

Unlike in the oil booms of the past, Saudi companies are the main beneficiaries of today's bonanza. Major local industries, like petrochemicals, mining, plastics or fertilizers, have been created from scratch. Sabic, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, is now the largest nonoil company in the Middle East; Ma'aden, the government-owned mining company, is not far behind. "They feel the need to develop industries that create added value and jobs and develop fields where they have a natural advantage," said Jean-François Seznec, a professor at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University.

Abdallah Dabbagh, the president of Ma'aden, told a group of reporters on a recent visit here that within 10 to 15 years he expected Saudi Arabia to dominate the fertilizer business. "The world will depend on Saudi Arabia for its food the same way it depends on its energy today," he said.
That's an exaggeration, but Saleh al-Husseini, a member of the Majlis al-Shura, a consultative assembly appointed by the king, claims that the current boom is more sustainable than past oil-led expansions. "Saudi businessmen have gained a huge experience since the first oil boom," Mr. Husseini said.

Like most oil producers, Saudi Arabia has found that oil was as much a curse as a blessing. In the 1970's, the state modernized rapidly; built roads, schools, hospitals and universities; and gave safe government jobs to its people. But when energy prices collapsed, the state found it could not pay all its bills. "They have learned the lessons from the first and the second oil booms," said El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the resident coordinator for the United Nations here. "These had lots of redistribution, lots of consumption, lots of public sector recruitment and lots of waste. I don't think they'll go down that road anymore."

This year, analysts estimate the kingdom will earn between $150 billion and $160 billion from oil sales, a figure exceeded only in 1974 and the early 1980's. Thanks to its budget surplus, the government raised public salaries by 15 percent, for the first time in two decades; it also laid out a more smartly devised $8 billion public works program to build roads, schools and hospitals over the next five years.

The oil wealth is also trickling down in the economy and spreading beyond the elite. While vast disparities in wealth persist, economic output per person is expected to reach $13,600 this year, after averaging $8,000 throughout the 1990's. But mostly, the windfall has been used to improve public finances significantly. Debt as a share of annual economic activity has been cut to 51 percent, down from 119 percent in 1999. At the same time, the government has bolstered its foreign reserves, which now total $177 billion, including $135 billion held by the central bank, according to Samba. Five years ago, foreign holdings totaled less than $70 billion.

This kind of management has even earned Saudi Arabia kudos from the International Monetary Fund, which recently praised the government's "prudent macroeconomic management, the effective use of oil revenues to invigorate the development of the private sector and the economy's impressive performance." [Full text of IMF commendation of 5 Dec 2005 is on ].

The privatization of Saudi Telecom, at the beginning of 2003, shook the stock market's lethargy and set off a trading frenzy that has not slowed since. Public offerings of insurers, banks and a mobile phone company have led to a doubling this year of the market's value, after gains of 85 percent in 2004 and 76 percent the year before. With a total capitalization of $620 billion as of November, the market is now larger than Spain's or South Korea's. More than $4 billion changes hands every day on the Riyadh exchange, twice as much as in Hong Kong, according to Timothy S. Gray, the managing director for investment banking at HSBC Saudi Arabia.

In contrast to the old handouts, stock-buying has become a principal means for sharing the bounty more widely. "They have used I.P.O.'s of public companies to disseminate the wealth to the little guys," Mr. Gray said. "In a country where only the big guys used to benefit, it's not an unreasonable objective." The most remarkable aspect of the stock market's performance is that it happened without Saudi Aramco, which remains a government-run concern. Bankers here expect that oil-related projects like the giant refinery venture between Aramco and Sumitomo of Japan might eventually sell stock to the public.

To be sure, the government has not deserted its oil sector. It plans to inject some $50 billion into it by 2009 to increase production and build refineries.

Some analysts also suspect that Saudi Arabia, to help balance the budget and sustain the economy, is seeking higher oil prices than it had in the past. Since the price collapse of 1998, the country's oil minister has ruthlessly enforced discipline within OPEC, taking the reins of the oil cartel and setting a more active policy. While OPEC has not identified a new price to defend, analysts believe the so-called floor might now be in the $40 to $45 range.

"We'd like to achieve rapid economic growth," said Amr Dabbagh, the governor of the country's foreign investment agency, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority. "Unless our economy grows twice as fast as our population, we'll have a challenge."

Achieving that kind of growth might be a challenge in itself. More than two-thirds of all Saudis were born since 1975 and the country, with a population of 17 million, has one of the world's highest population growth rates. Male unemployment, according to Samba, is about 9 percent.
Yet Saudi Arabia still relies on legions of foreign workers - from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Arab countries like Syria or Egypt - who number six million. They fill both low-paying and midmanagement jobs that Saudis either shun or are not trained to do. Getting more Saudis into the work force, a goal of a government "Saudization" program, would first mean overhauling the education system, which is run by the religious establishment and provides little practical training for the real world.

Asem Arab, an economics professor at the King Saud University of Riyadh, also runs a consulting firm with 20 employees. He acknowledged the problem he faced in filling jobs with Saudis. He said most of his employees were from Egypt, Syria or Jordan, and added: "We have eight Ph.D.'s, eight master's and just four Saudis."

The economic debate is taking place against the backdrop of a battle against home-grown radicals. Paramilitary police patrols and random checkpoints have become a common sight in the capital and other cities, along with heavy security, makeshift concrete barriers and machine-gun-equipped jeeps guarding most ministries, city landmarks and hotels frequented by foreigners. While no major terrorist act has occurred in nearly a year, leaders here hope that creating jobs will serve as the most effective counterpoint to the recruiters of Al Qaeda.

"You have a young and growing population, but I don't think they are as angry as they used to be," said Mr. Sheikh, the lawyer. "One of the fundamental reasons of their anger was economic, and the economic situation has improved drastically."

Friday, December 09, 2005

OBL in '70s Jeddah

Young Osama

by Steve Coll

How he learned radicalism, and may have seen America.

New Yorker 12 December 2005

Osama bin Laden’s old school—the Al Thagher Model School—sits on several dozen arid acres lined by eucalyptus trees, whose branches have been twisted by winds from the Red Sea. The campus spreads north from the Old Mecca Road, near downtown Jedda, the Saudi Arabian port city where bin Laden spent most of his childhood and teen-age years. The school’s main building is a two-story rectangle constructed from concrete and fieldstone in a featureless modern style. Inside, dim hallways connect two wings of classrooms. In bin Laden’s day—he graduated in 1976—there was a wing for middle-school students, and another for the high school. Between them is a spacious interior courtyard, and from the second floor students could lean over balcony railings and shout at their classmates below, or pelt them with wads of paper. Most Al Thagher students, including bin Laden, were commuters, but there were a few boarders; they lived on the second floor, as did some of the school’s foreign teachers. It was in this upstairs dormitory, a schoolmate of bin Laden’s told me, that a young Syrian physical-education teacher led an after-school Islamic study group for a few outstanding boys, and it was there, beginning at about age fourteen, that bin Laden received his first formal education in some of the precepts of violent jihad.

During the nineteen-sixties and early seventies, Al Thagher was the most prestigious high school in Jedda; compared with other schools in Saudi Arabia, it had a relatively secular flavor. Many wealthy Saudi parents sent their sons abroad for secondary education—to Lebanon, Egypt, England, or the United States—but for those who kept their boys in Jedda “Al Thagher was the school of the élite,” Saleha Abedin, a longtime Jedda educator, said. (Abedin is now a vice-dean of Jedda’s Dar Al-Hekma College, a private women’s college.) Al Thagher—the name means, roughly, “the haven”—was founded in the early nineteen-fifties, initially in the nearby city of Taif, with support from Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, who became the King of Saudi Arabia in 1964. Faisal was a complicated man; he developed the kingdom’s schools, roads, and hospitals very rapidly, yet he also tried to preserve Saudi Arabia’s austere Islamic traditions, partly as a defense against international Communism. The Al Thagher Model School showcased Faisal’s interest in science and Western methods of education; in the nineteen-sixties, it was the only school in Jedda with air-conditioning. Its students did not wear the national dress, a thobe and cloth headdress, but, rather, a uniform that imitated the styles of English and American prep schools: white button-down shirts with ties, gray slacks, black shoes and socks, and, in the winter months, charcoal blazers.

Each year’s graduating class numbered about sixty boys. Among them were young princes from the Saudi royal family, as well as privileged commoners like bin Laden. Every morning, the students would assemble in rows for a military-style call to order; on a stool to one side sat a schoolmaster with a cane, ready to discipline boys who misbehaved, by beating them on the soles of their bare feet. The school’s curriculum included English-language instruction given by teachers from Ireland and England and demanding courses in mathematics. At the same time, as with all institutions in Saudi Arabia, Al Thagher adhered to Islamic ritual. At midday, students would kneel together for the Zuhr, or noon prayer.

Assuming that bin Laden is still alive, he is now forty-eight years old. He developed his vision for his global jihad organization, Al Qaeda, over the course of more than three decades, and his formative experiences have included participation in combat during the anti-Soviet Afghan war of the nineteen-eighties; prolonged exile from Saudi Arabia; the survival of at least two assassination attempts; at least four marriages, which produced at least a dozen children; and, lately, the trials of being the world’s most wanted fugitive. (Several American intelligence officers and diplomats have told me in recent months that they assume bin Laden is hiding somewhere in Pakistan, or perhaps in a remote area of Afghanistan, but there has been no visible progress in the effort to locate him.

His most recent videotaped speech was a rambling diatribe broadcast four days before the last United States Presidential election. A few weeks later, the Al Jazeera television network broadcast an audiotape attributed to bin Laden, in which he praised Al Qaeda’s new leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Since then, bin Laden has not been heard from, and there has been speculation—not for the first time—that he is dead. Late last month, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, told a television interviewer, “I heard today that he may have died in the earthquake that they had in Pakistan.”)

Bin Laden has never spoken publicly about his time at Al Thagher, and the record of other reliable testimony is thin. Still, from interviews with people who knew him as a teen-ager, or who knew his family or the school, a portrait of bin Laden’s high-school years has begun to emerge, one that may help to explain some of the earliest sources of his beliefs.

In a 1998 interview, later broadcast on Al Jazeera, bin Laden said that he was born in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on March 10, 1957. “Then God was gracious to us as we went to Holy Medina six months after I was born,” he continued. The rest of his youth, he said, was spent in the western Saudi Arabian province known as the Hejaz, which lies between the Red Sea and central Arabia; it is the site of the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, where the most important events in the life of the Prophet Muhammad occurred.

Bin Laden is the only child of the marriage between Alia Ghanem, who was born in Syria, and Muhammad bin Laden, who was born in Yemen but migrated as a child to Jedda, where he made his fortune as a building contractor for the Saudi royal family during the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Osama’s parents divorced soon after he was born, according to Khaled M. Batarfi, a Saudi journalist who knew Osama during the nineteen-seventies. Osama’s mother then married a man named Muhammad al-Attas, who worked at her former husband’s company. The couple had four children, and Osama lived in the new household with three stepbrothers and one stepsister. Bin Laden’s natural father, who had more than fifty children by more than a dozen wives, died on September 3, 1967, when his company airplane, a twin-engine Beechcraft, which was being flown by an American charter pilot, crashed as it attempted to land on a mountain airstrip in Saudi Arabia’s southern Asir province, where bin Laden had been overseeing road-construction projects.

The next year, Osama bin Laden enrolled at Al Thagher, according to Brian Fyfield-Shayler, a Briton who taught English at the school at the time. Fyfield-Shayler has said that when bin Laden arrived at the school he was already unusually tall (today, his height is estimated at six feet four). He was not, however, a particularly forceful personality. In an intermediate-English class, “I was trying to push the spoken aspects of the language,” Fyfield-Shayler recalled in an interview for a documentary film produced in Britain last year. “To succeed, the student needs to be prepared to make mistakes. They need to make a bit of an exhibition of themselves, and Osama was rather shy and reserved and perhaps a little afraid of making mistakes.” Seamus O’Brien, an Irishman who taught English at Al Thagher, told me that he remembers Osama as “a nice fellow and a good student. There were no problems with him. . . . He was a quiet lad. I suppose silent waters run deep.”

A schoolmate of bin Laden’s told me that during the eighth or ninth grade, around 1971 or 1972, bin Laden was invited to join the Islamic study group. In that period at Saudi high schools and universities, it was common to find Syrian and Egyptian teachers, many of whom had become involved with dissident Islamist political groups in their home countries. Some of these teachers were members of, or were influenced by, the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization founded in Egypt in 1928 by a schoolteacher, Hassan al-Banna. The Brotherhood was initially a religious-minded movement opposed to British colonial rule in Egypt; later, following Britain’s withdrawal from the region, the Brotherhood’s leaders continued their struggle against the secular, socialist Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who took power in 1952. In his approach to the Brotherhood, Nasser alternated between periods of accommodation and brutal crackdowns. Some of the Brotherhood’s organizers were forced into exile, and they began to form new chapters across the Muslim world. Their aim was to replace secular and nationalist Arab leaders with Islamic governments, and they often operated clandestinely. Today, the movement typically recruits its members from élite, well-educated families; its goals include the imposition throughout Muslim societies of sharia—law as set forth in the Koran—and the empowerment of Islamic scholars as cultural arbiters and dispensers of justice. Brotherhood members have openly held seats in elected parliaments in Kuwait and Jordan; last month, the movement’s members made a strong showing in parliamentary elections in Egypt, despite being formally banned there. Over the years, the Brotherhood has operated both in the open and in secret, through peaceful political campaigning and through support for terrorism.

In Saudi Arabia during the nineteen-sixties, King Faisal welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, even if they were influenced by the Brotherhood, because he believed that they had been unfairly persecuted for their religious and political beliefs. He also hoped that their emphasis on Islamic teachings might help to inoculate Saudi Arabia against ideas such as socialism and secular pan-Arab nationalism, which were then spreading through Arab societies. Moreover, as he expanded Saudi Arabia’s schools, Faisal faced a shortage of qualified instructors of all kinds. The King “needed teachers,” Khaled al-Maeena, a prominent Jedda newspaper editor, told me. “Where would you get them?” Egypt and Syria offered Saudi Arabia a ready source at a time when the kingdom, barely a generation removed from widespread poverty and illiteracy, was struggling to produce teachers from its own population.

Formal political activity was banned in Saudi Arabia, so the Brotherhood-influenced teachers had to be careful. “When they came here, they realized the system does not allow any association” that might smack of politics, said Muhammad Salahuddin, a magazine publisher and journalist in Jedda who came to Saudi Arabia from Egypt. Rather than organize a political network, the teachers often introduced their students more informally to the Brotherhood’s precepts of Islamic activism, political consciousness, and violent jihad against Christian occupiers or secular leaders. The principal mission at Al Thagher, as laid out by the headmaster and wealthy supporters in the Jedda merchant community, was to prepare élite young Saudis for roles in the kingdom’s modernizing economy; it had nothing to do with the Brotherhood’s goals. The after-school Islamic study group that bin Laden joined was initially offered to exceptional students with the promise of earning extra credit.

Bin Laden’s experience in the group was described for me during several interviews with a schoolmate who is now a successful professional in Saudi Arabia, and who asked not to be further identified, because, he said, he did not want to risk reprisals from bin Laden’s sympathizers. The schoolmate had never given interviews about Al Thagher’s after-school Islamic study group, but he decided to do so, he said, because he hoped his account might warn other Saudi parents about the potential dangers of such informal tutoring, particularly of the young and impressionable. His specific account of the group’s meetings is in accord with the more general recollections of several other Saudis who knew bin Laden during his Al Thagher years.

The Syrian physical-education teacher who led the group at Al Thagher was “tall, young, in his late twenties, very fit,” the schoolmate recalled. “He had a beard—not a long beard like a mullah, however. He didn’t look like he was religious. . . . He walked like an athlete, upright and confident. He was very popular. He was charismatic. He used humor, but it was planned humor, very reserved. He would plan some jokes to break the ice with us.
“Some of us were athletes, some of us were not,” the schoolmate said of the group’s initial membership, which, besides bin Laden, included the sons of several prominent Jedda families. The Syrian “promised that if we stayed we could be part of a sports club, play soccer. I very much wanted to play soccer. So we began to stay after school with him from two o’clock until five. When it began, he explained that at the beginning of the session we would spend a little bit of time indoors at first, memorizing a few verses from the Koran each day, and then we would go play football. The idea was that if we memorized a few verses each day before soccer, by the time we finished high school we would have memorized the entire Koran, a special distinction.
“Osama was an honorable student,” the schoolmate continued. “He kept to himself, but he was honest. If you brought a sandwich to school, people would often steal it as a joke or eat it if you left it on the desk. This was a common thing. We used to leave our valuables with Osama, because he never cheated. He was sober, serious. He didn’t cheat or copy from others, but he didn’t hide his paper, either, if others wanted to look over his shoulder.”

At first, the study group proceeded as the teacher had promised. “We’d sit down, read a few verses of the Koran, translate or discuss how it should be interpreted, and many points of view would be offered. Then he’d send us out to the field. He had the key to the goodies—the lockers where the balls and athletic equipment were kept. But it turned out that the athletic part of it was just disorganized, an add-on. There was no organized soccer. I ended up playing a lot of one-on-one soccer, which is not very much fun.”

As time passed, the group spent more and more time inside. After about a year, bin Laden’s schoolmate said, he began to feel trapped and bored, but by then the group had developed a sense of camaraderie, with bin Laden emerging as one of its committed participants. Gradually, the teen-agers stopped memorizing the Koran and began to read and discuss hadiths, interpretive stories of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, of varied provenance, which are normally studied to help illuminate the ideas imparted by the Koran. The after-school study sessions took place in the Syrian gym teacher’s room, on the second floor. The teacher would light a candle on a table in the middle of the room, and the boys, including bin Laden, would sit on the floor and listen. The stories that the Syrian told were ambiguous as to time and place, the schoolmate recalled, and they were not explicitly set in the time of the Prophet, as are traditional hadiths. “It was mesmerizing,” he said, and increasingly the Syrian teacher told them “stories that were really violent. I can’t remember all of them now, except for one.”

It was a story “about a boy who found God—exactly like us, our age. He wanted to please God and he found that his father was standing in his way. The father was pulling the rug out from under him when he went to pray.” The Syrian “told the story slowly, but he was referring to ‘this brave boy’ or ‘this righteous boy’ as he moved toward the story’s climax. He explained that the father had a gun. He went through twenty minutes of the boy’s preparation, step by step—the bullets, loading the gun, making a plan. Finally, the boy shot the father.” As he recounted this climax, the Syrian declared, “Lord be praised—Islam was released in that home.” As the schoolmate recounted it, “I watched the other boys, fourteen-year-old boys, their mouths open. By the grace of God, I said ‘No’ to myself. . . . I had a feeling of anxiety. I began immediately to think of excuses and how I could avoid coming back.”

The next day, he stopped attending the after-school sessions. Eventually, after an awkward period of pulling away from his study-group friends, he joined a different circle of boys. During the next several years, he said, he watched as bin Laden and the others in his former group, who continued to study with the Syrian, openly adopted the styles and convictions of teen-age Islamic activists. They let their young beards grow, shortened their trouser legs, and declined to iron their shirts (ostensibly to imitate the style of the Prophet’s dress), and, increasingly, they lectured or debated other students at Al Thagher about the urgent need to restore pure Islamic law across the Arab world. It is unclear whether the Syrian teacher was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or was simply influenced by some of its ideas about political activism and violent jihad against unbelievers; his whereabouts today are unknown. Bin Laden’s schoolmate said the teacher left Al Thagher twenty-five years ago.

Khaled Batarfi is a soft-spoken man in his mid-forties who works as a senior editor at Al Madina, an Arabic-language newspaper in Jedda, and who also writes a weekly column for Arab News, an English-language paper in the city. He earned a doctoral degree at the University of Oregon and, since September 11, 2001, has become an occasional interlocutor for American journalists and diplomats who visit the kingdom. Batarfi is sometimes invited to participate in foreign-policy seminars sponsored by the United States government; last month, he joined a roundtable discussion in Jedda with Liz Cheney, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and a daughter of Vice-President Cheney’s. In addition to his work as a Saudi political journalist and commentator, Batarfi has emerged during the past several years as a source of detailed, firsthand information about bin Laden as a teen-ager. He has talked about his recollections of Osama and has published an interview with bin Laden’s mother, and remains in touch with other members of the family.

In 1971, Batarfi moved in a few doors down from bin Laden, and they played on the same club soccer team. (When he could, Batarfi said, he encouraged bin Laden to play forward, so that the tall youth could use his head to send balls into the opposing team’s goal.) Although Batarfi did not attend Al Thagher, he saw bin Laden frequently during Osama’s years there. Over the course of several interviews, Batarfi told me that he witnessed his friend’s emergence during those years, at about age fifteen or sixteen, as an increasingly committed schoolyard Islamic activist. “In Al Thagher, he was part of an Islamic group,” Batarfi recalled. “He was a prominent member. . . . That group was influenced by the Brotherhood. He was influenced by this philosophy.”

Batarfi’s recollection is corroborated by Jamal Khashoggi, a former acquaintance of bin Laden’s who is now an adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The longtime Middle East correspondent Jonathan Randal, in his 2004 book, “Osama,” quoted Khashoggi as saying that Osama “grew up as a Muslim Brother” and did not split from the movement until the mid-nineteen-eighties. The Brotherhood’s influence on bin Laden was particularly striking, Batarfi told me, because the movement’s emphasis on the need for political transformation in the Muslim world differed from the more introspective Islamic theology then prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom’s dominant school of Islam is often called Wahhabism by non-Saudis, in reference to Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, an eighteenth-century desert preacher who allied himself with the al Saud family when it first established political control over the Arabian Peninsula, and whose descendants are still among Saudi Arabia’s most important official clergy. Many Saudis reject the term “Wahhabism” as pejorative; they regard Wahhab’s ideas as Islam itself, properly interpreted, and they argue that no other label is required. Some Saudis acknowledge their country’s dominant theology as a distinct school of Islamic thought, but they will typically refer to this school as Salafism, a term that refers to the beliefs and practices of the earliest followers of Islam. With some exceptions, adherents of the Salafi school steer away from purposeful political organizing; instead, they often emphasize matters of personal faith, such as the strict regulation of Islamic rituals, and of an individual’s private conduct and prayer. Bin Laden’s group at Al Thagher, Batarfi said, was influenced to some extent by Salafi ideas, because there was no escaping the presence of such ideas in Saudi society, but bin Laden’s group adopted “a more activist or a political agenda,” as Batarfi put it, which was drawn largely from the Muslim Brotherhood’s advocacy for political change in Islamic countries.

In this respect, bin Laden’s years at Al Thagher appear to have been an intellectual prelude to his better-known experiences as a student at King Abdul Aziz University, in Jedda, where he studied during the late nineteen-seventies. At the university, bin Laden was influenced by several professors with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Among them was Muhammad Qutb, an Egyptian, whose brother Sayyid Qutb had written one of the Brotherhood’s most important tracts about anti-Western jihad, “Signposts on the Road.” (Sayyid Qutb was hanged for treason by the Egyptian government in 1966.) Bin Laden’s early exposure to the Brotherhood’s ideas and recruiters may help to explain why later, in Afghanistan, he was attracted to the causes of so many Egyptian exiles, including his future deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose experiences also included early exposure to the Muslim Brotherhood.

High school shaped bin Laden’s future in another way as well. In Afghanistan, he worked at times with a former Al Thagher biology teacher, a Saudi named Ahmed Badeeb. During the nineteen-eighties, Badeeb took up a new job, as chief of staff for Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was then the head of Saudi intelligence and whose department, in collaboration with the C.I.A., sent hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Afghan war effort. In describing his occasional work with bin Laden on the Afghan frontier, Badeeb has said that they enjoyed a warm personal relationship, one that had its origins in their shared experiences at Al Thagher.

As a young man, bin Laden drove a white Chrysler and a gray Mercedes, often very fast, according to Batarfi. On occasion, he joined gatherings of the larger bin Laden clan. By the early nineteen-seventies, this group, on his father’s side of the family, included a number of half brothers who had studied abroad, in places such as Lebanon and England. Some of Osama’s older half brothers had travelled to Europe and, occasionally, the United States. The leader of this side of the family then was Muhammad bin Laden’s eldest son, Salem, an ebullient, guitar-playing graduate of an English boarding school. By the mid-nineteen-seventies, Salem had acquired a private jet, and he travelled widely, to Switzerland, England, and Texas. At about that time, Osama’s mother arranged for her teen-age son to marry a first cousin, who was from Syria.

The subject of Osama’s youthful travels has been muddled by a number of accounts of his teen-age years, published shortly after September 11th. These have included reports, for example, that bin Laden attended boarding school in Lebanon, where he supposedly engaged in drinking and disco dancing. Some of bin Laden’s half brothers did attend school in Lebanon, but no credible evidence has surfaced that Osama ever did. There have also been published reports that bin Laden joined his family on vacation in Sweden, and that he enrolled in a summer language course in England, but there is some uncertainty about these reports; several people who have met bin Laden say the reported trips amount to cases of mistaken identity.

Khaled Batarfi offered a new account of bin Laden’s travels during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. He said that, as far as he knew, bin Laden had ventured outside the Middle East as a young man only three times. The first time, when he was about ten, he went to London with his mother to receive medical treatment for an eye condition. Bin Laden stayed in England for at least a month and did some sightseeing, according to Batarfi. On a second trip, as a teen-ager, bin Laden joined some friends and relatives on a big-game safari in East Africa. And, finally, according to Batarfi, Osama bin Laden made one trip to the United States, in about 1978.
According to Batarfi, the trip to America came about because bin Laden’s first child, a son named Abdullah, who was born in about 1976, had a medical problem—apparently cosmetic. Bin Laden, his wife, and his toddler son travelled together to the United States for treatment, Batarfi said, although he is not certain where the procedure took place. By his account, only one aspect of the journey made a particularly strong impression on bin Laden: On the way home, Osama and his wife were sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for their connecting flight. In keeping with their strict religious observance, his wife was dressed in a black abaya, a draping gown, as well as the full head covering often referred to as hijab. Other passengers in the airport “were staring at them,” Batarfi said, “and taking pictures.” When bin Laden returned to Jedda, he told people that the experience was like “being in a show.” By Batarfi’s account, bin Laden was not particularly bitter about all the stares and the photographs; rather, “he was joking about it.”

If Batarfi is correct, bin Laden’s American visit took place before he travelled to Afghanistan to participate in violent jihad, and about ten years before he founded Al Qaeda; it might never have surfaced in intelligence and law-enforcement investigations of bin Laden, which began in the midnineteen-nineties. Spokesmen at several government agencies, including the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., said that their Al Qaeda specialists had no information about a visit by bin Laden to the United States. A State Department spokesman said that its consular section had no record of ever having issued a visa to bin Laden, but that the department no longer has complete records of visas that were issued that long ago.

Abdullah bin Laden, Osama’s son, today lives in Jedda and enjoys good health, according to several people who know him. (He did not respond to requests for an interview.) In a story published in a London-based Saudi-owned newspaper in 2001, Abdullah said that he left his father’s household in the mid-nineties, when Osama was preparing to leave Sudan, where he had been living in exile, for a new and uncertain exile in Afghanistan. Not wishing to endure such hardship any longer, Abdullah sought and received his father’s permission to return to Saudi Arabia, where he has since taken up a career in advertising and public relations.

Abdullah runs his own firm, called Fame Advertising, which has offices near a Starbucks in a two-story strip mall on Palestine Street, one of Jedda’s busiest commercial thoroughfares. “Fame . . . Is Your Fame” is the company’s slogan, according to its marketing brochures. Among the firm’s advertised specialties is “event management,” which refers to the staging of attention-grabbing corporate galas and launch parties for new products or stores. The firm makes this promise: “Fame Advertising events are novel, planned meticulously, and executed with efficiency.” On the back of this brochure is printed a single word: “Different.”

Many Saudis follow the search for Abdullah’s father with fascination, and this is particularly true of alumni of the Al Thagher Model School. Some of Osama’s former classmates are now doctors or lawyers; others have followed their fathers into business. They use the Internet to stay in touch. On January 31, 2001, Al Thagher’s Class of 1976 started a message group on Yahoo, where they exchange news about old friends and occasionally discuss questions about religion and politics, a participant told me. That Yahoo group requires a moderator’s permission to join, but a second Al Thagher group for all alumni has publicly posted messages that give the flavor of the group’s discussions, particularly in that autumn after the September 11th attacks. Posted message titles include “Taleban,” “Northern Alliance Atrocities,” “Salman Rushdie article,” and, suggestively, “9 Unpopular Ideas, important to read.”

Al Thagher’s Class of 1976 is approaching the thirtieth anniversary of its graduation; no reunion has been scheduled. The class held its most recent reunion at a beach resort on the Red Sea. The party took place on a wintry night; in all, about fifty Al Thagher alumni turned up to mingle and share a meal. There was no word from Osama.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Immigrants in some European countries

Muslim women take charge of their faith

Marlise Simons

International Herald Tribune DECEMBER 4, 2005

Paris. Hanife Karakus, the soft-spoken daughter of Turkish immigrants, is a thoroughly European Muslim. She covers her hair with a veil, but she also has a law degree and married the man of her choice. There was no pressure from matchmakers. The couple met on the Internet.

Adding to this mix, Karakus recently became the first woman to preside over one of France's 25 regional Islamic councils.

"At first, the men didn't speak to me," she said. "They were uncomfortable - they didn't know how to work with a woman."

Karakus, 24, does not call herself a feminist; she simply says she is a French lawyer. But she qualifies as part of the quiet revolution spreading among young European Muslim women, a new generation that claims the same rights as their Western sisters while not renouncing Islamic principles.

For many, the key is education, an option often denied their mothers and grandmothers. These daughters of the poor immigrants from mostly Muslim countries are moving into universities, studying law, medicine and anthropology. They are getting jobs in social work, in schools, offices, business and media. French, English, German or Dutch may be their native languages.

Unlike their homebound elders, these emancipated Muslim women use the Internet and spend hours in the proliferating Islamic chat rooms. Web sites are now favorite trysting places, a chance for risk-free "halal dating" - that is, interacting with men in a way that violates no social or religious codes.

In the crowded immigrant suburbs ringing Paris, the scene of recent riots mostly led by young Muslim males, teachers say female students are the most motivated because they have the most to gain. This mirrors findings in young Muslim communities throughout Europe.

In interviews in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, young women repeat this like a mantra: studying offers an escape route from the oppressive housing projects, from controlling young Muslim fanatics and from strict social codes enforced by fathers and brothers.

"We all understood that education was our passport to freedom," said Soria Makti, 30, who left her Marseille housing project and now works as a museum curator.

The emancipation of Muslim women, like that of Western women before them, is uneven in its progress, often slow, sometimes deeply painful when women feel they have no choice but to break with their families. But some changes are pointing to a new form of Islamic feminism.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of religion, the centuries-old domain of men. Young women have begun carving out their spaces by following Islamic studies, a fast-growing field across Europe that offers a blend of theology, Koranic law, ethics and Arabic. Diplomas from the two-year courses allow women to teach in mosques and in Islamic schools or to act as religious advisers.

"This is a big shift," said Amel Boubekeur, a social scientist writing her thesis on Europe's "new Islamic elites."

"Instead of having to be passive, women become teachers. It used to be taboo for women to recite the Koran," she said.

Boubekeur has interviewed scores of Islamic studies graduates in France and elsewhere and said many felt that the knowledge of religion was empowering them.

"It offers them a new prestige, new jobs and, not least, it gives them a stronger voice in dealing with their parents, brothers and husbands," Boubekeur said. "To defend their rights, these women find that arguments based on religious texts have more effect than secular ideas."

Today, Islamic studies, often taken on weekends and accessible to secondary school graduates, are expanding in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. An informal survey for this article of France's six Islamic studies institutes showed that of this year's near 1,000 students, almost 60 percent are women.

La Grande Mosquée in Paris, a large white and green compound from the 1920s with a finely chiseled minaret, is France's leading Islamic religious institution. It has its own theological school, largely financed from Algeria. On a recent Saturday, students were milling around under the arcades for a mint tea break from psychology classes.

Abdelkrim Bekri, the director, said that in 2002, the school had begun a new program, unavailable elsewhere, to train young women as spiritual counselors for hospitals and prisons, much like the ministry of Christian chaplains. Twenty have already graduated and other women are in training. "There is a great need here," he said.

Religious tasks are low-paying, even for male clerics, and women are not allowed to perform the most prestigious ritual of leading the mosque in Friday prayers. Boubekeur said that for now women care about having a voice, participating in the debate. "What is new is that they want direct access to religion, without depending on the rigid views of the clergy," she said.

Change can be measured in other small steps. At the Islamic University of Rotterdam, a small group of theology students, most of them speaking Dutch but all tightly veiled, chatted after classes about Islamic segregation of men and women. They said that in Europe it was important to end this.

"In class we sit anywhere we choose," said a student who gave her name only as Aisha. "In the mosques we don't want to sit in separate or hidden spaces."

Ertegul Gokcekuyu, the university registrar, said more than 60 percent of his students were female. "The motivation of the girls is very remarkable."

As educated Muslim women assert their place, they appear to be forging a strand of Euro-Islam, a new hybrid that would at least attempt to reconcile the principles laid out in the Koran with life in a secular, democratic Europe.

They draw ideas from various Muslim writers and philosophers.

Among them is Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss university professor whose grandfather founded Egypt's Islamic revival movement, the banned Muslim Brotherhood. While Washington revoked his visa last year to teach in the United States, Ramadan has a large following in Europe. He urges Europe's Muslims to make their mark as active citizens rather than get trapped in a what he calls a "victim mentality."

Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan sociologist, is read for her defense of women's rights and her writing on early Islam, when women, she argues, held a more favorable position than they do today.

In France, Dounia Bouzar, a respected anthropologist who is both Algerian and French, is following in Mernissi's footsteps. "I tell women, 'we can honor the Koran from our perspective and apply it to our experience today,"' she said in a recent conversation.

"Women now have access to knowledge, so we must recover the religious texts. We have to free them from an exclusively male interpretation that belongs to the Middle Ages. Most important right now is that women get into the universities."

The implications of women flocking to Islamic studies are disturbing to some, who see a potential for more radicalization. Tokia Saïfi, a former deputy minister for development and one of the few women of Arab descent to reach a high post in the French government, said she worried that many young women were flocking to religion as a refuge.

"I see it as a regression," she said. "It means we need less discrimination, more ways to promote integration."

Such debates are far from the concerns of Muslim girls who are abused by their brothers because they are not submissive enough, or who are pressed into marrying virtual strangers because it suits their parents. In France's large housing projects, home to many immigrants, jobless young men often take out their frustration on women, the latest trend being gang rape. Rape in the housing projects has increased 15 percent per year since 1999, according to the government.

Theology has meant little to Latifa Ahmed, 25, who arrived in the Netherlands from a Moroccan village when she was 8. As she grew up near Amsterdam, her family turned against her because she preferred her Dutch classmates.

"They were bad, they were infidels, I was told," she said. "My parents and my brothers started hitting me." She was told she could study as long as she eventually married a Moroccan.

At home until she was 23, Ahmed said, "I was going crazy from all the fights and the lies, but I was afraid to run away and lose my family." One evening, returning from a concert with a Dutch friend, her father yelled: "Let's take a knife and we'll finish with her," she recalled. "He didn't kill me, but he put a curse on me. It was very frightening."

Now living alone in another city, she is hiding from her brothers, who have sworn to kill her. She has put herself through college doing odd jobs and does not care about religion. "I don't feel discriminated here," she said. "Moroccan girls can find work easier than Moroccan boys. Boys have a bad name."

Changes in the lives of Muslim women in Europe come at different speeds, at different places. They are hard to gauge in France, where the law forbids the census to collect data by ethnic origin or religion. One telling signal is the rise in divorce among immigrants in the Netherlands. According to Dutch government statistics, divorces among Moroccan families have increased by 46 percent since 2000 and in Turkish families by 42 percent, with a majority believed to be instigated by wives.

Some daughters of immigrants, now educated and well-placed to throw light on practices little understood in Europe, have begun to study the obstacles and abuse women face. Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born German lawyer, and Necla Kelek, a Turkish-born sociologist, have both recently published widely read books on the fate of Muslim girls in Germany. Kelek's "The Foreign Bride," a best-seller, denounces the plight of often illiterate girls, brought in from the Turkish countryside "as modern slaves" to act as obedient servants to their husbands and in-laws.

Other immigrant women are fighting for change through parliaments. In Belgium, Mimount Bousakla, whose family is from Morocco, and in the Netherlands, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia, are both members of Parliament who were raised as Muslims. They are pressing for changes in policies affecting women, including tougher sentences for men who kill women to "save the honor" of their families. In France, a movement called "Neither Whores nor Doormats," created in 2003, addresses the problems of underclass women who suffer violence or discrimination.

At the group's spartan office in eastern Paris, Algerian-born Sihem Habchi said conditions were improving, but that many young women still had to lead double lives. "They feel they have to lie all the time, put on head scarves not to be hassled," she said. "It's very hard to become an adult. Many girls have psychological problems." Now working in multimedia, Habchi, 30, recalled her own efforts to leave home, which took years of begging and negotiation.

Reminded that even French women do not enjoy full equality in the workplace, she said: "Immigrant women have to fight even harder because we are doubly discriminated," she said. "We are not fully accepted in France. But we are beginning to be everywhere; there are many of us now."

As Muslim women take advantage of democracy and civil liberties in Europe, the question remains whether the impact of an educated minority will be continually blunted by the arrival of often poorly educated young brides from North Africa, Pakistan or Turkey.

And as Europe rethinks its faltering integration policies, the question of importing brides is a new target of scrutiny. Critics, including immigrants themselves, argue that importing young women who are kept in the home perpetuates segregation. They say that such marriages violate European standards of freedom for women and are used as false pretexts for family reunion permits.

In Germany, Kelek said, up to 15,000 such girls are "imported" every year through arranged marriages and she is now campaigning for a new law to set age limits.

A study prepared for France's Council for Integration in 2004 says that about 70,000 young women are living in France in arranged or forced marriages. In Denmark, the Institute for Social Studies found that in recent years, 90 percent of the immigrants had imported a spouse from their homeland, and a Dutch study put that figure at 70 percent in the Netherlands. In Britain, bringing a bride from the homeland is still the norm for many Pakistanis. Several European countries have recently raised the age limit for "imported spouses" - in the case of Denmark and Sweden to 24.

"Obviously women are a key to integration," said Senay Ozdemir, an opponent of importing spouses and forced marriages. She is the editor of SEN, a Dutch magazine aimed at immigrant women. "If the woman cannot or will not integrate in a new country, it affects the whole family. She will isolate her children."

Karakus, the lawyer, believes more change will come. When she arrived in Limoges, in central France, she was the first law student to wear a veil, and was asked to remove it. Now, as a lawyer with a veil, she is accepted by both the men of the Muslim Council and the local French authorities with whom she negotiates.

This fall she was working on obtaining plots for Muslim burials at the local cemetery and arranging the site for the slaughter of sheep for Eid-el-Kebir, a major Muslim holiday. She is now helping to organize courses for imams arriving with little knowledge of French or French traditions.

How does she feel about being the first woman to head a Muslim council? She hesitates, then replies: "I'm pleased if my work helps change the image of women."

At home in Italy, but still apart

Elizabeth Rosenthal

International Herald Tribune NOVEMBER 16, 2005

Sassuolo, Italy By almost all measures, the Qasim family are model citizens, the kind of people you would want as neighbors.

Zahi Qasim, a serious man in V-neck sweater and slacks, is a machine factory foreman, a hard-working community leader. His wife, Khalwa Ghannam, is a teacher, fluent in three languages. Osama, 12, is popular - the top in his class. Ebullient Ali, 1, likes to crawl the scrubbed tile floor of the living room - decorated with proverbs from the Koran - pursuing soccer balls under tables.

In a recent visit to this northern industrial city just outside Modena, the Qasims were obsessively apologetic that they could not offer lunch, because they were fasting for Ramadan.

But in Italy, the Qasims, who were born in Palestine, are not citizens, even though they have spent half a hard-working lifetime here, raising a family. Italy's restrictive citizenship law only allows immigrants to apply after 10 years of residency, and it is filled with hard-to-meet requirements. Their children, both born in Italy, will only be eligible at age 18. "We would love to be Italians," said Ghannam, 37, six months pregnant, dressed in a maroon hajib.

Their lives, though financially comfortable, are filled with little nasty reminders that they are not fully accepted in a country they have called home for 20 years.

After the London bombings this summer, Qasim, 42, was interrogated by the police, who also searched his home. He believes his cellphone is tapped. When friends from Turin came for Ramadan dinner, the police called to ask who they were and chastised the Qasims for not reporting them. Qasim's efforts to purchase a building for a Muslim Sunday school were blocked for two years by local leaders who objected that the site lacked parking. Sassuolo's churches do not have parking lots, he noted.

"Sure it bothers me, because this is because I am a Muslim and they wouldn't do it to a European," he said. "We tell our children you have to work harder, to be the best in Italy, that hate gets us nowhere. This isn't our city and they have a right to control us if they want."

European leaders have been forced into uncomfortable introspection these past two weeks, as cars and buildings burn in France, set afire by second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants, who have never felt that Europe offered them a welcoming home. If it is happening in France, where most Muslims are at least citizens, could it happen here in Italy, or in Germany, or England - or any one of the more than half a dozen other European countries that have large Islamic underclasses.

"If we do not intervene seriously with social programs and with housing construction, we could soon have many Paris's here," predicted Romano Prodi, the former president of the European Union and now an Italian opposition leader.

While it was a particular mix of alienation, unemployment and anger that set the suburbs of Paris ablaze, government policies and social attitudes in many European countries conspire to isolate, rather than integrate, immigrants in general - and Muslim immigrants in particular - even if they have lived in Europe for years.

Many Muslims say they have felt particularly vulnerable since the London bombings, as European governments intensify scrutiny of their communities to ferret out terrorists who may be hiding there. One suspect in the July bombings was discovered in Italy weeks later.

In Sassuolo, a northern industrial city of 40,000, known for its ceramic factories, there have been no fires or violence. But there have certainly been a few figurative sparks and a good dose of tension since Muslims - generally recent arrivals in Italy - started pouring in a decade ago.

This summer, there were angry protests by immigrants and leftist labor groups after officials evicted the residents of a hulking green apartment building, called Casa San Pietro, who were almost all Muslim immigrants from Morocco.

"There were drug dealers, the lights and drains didn't work anymore, it was falling apart," said Mayor Graziano Pattuzzi, explaining his decision. "Citizens said there were weapons in the building, and police refused to answer calls there, for fear of being pelted with rocks and bottles. The situation was untenable."

Another motivation, the mayor said, was to end the ghettoization of new immigrants and to promote integration, noting that many experts believed that districts should contain at most 4 percent immigrants. Higher concentrations only isolated immigrants from Italians and vice versa, he said.

About 9 percent of Sassuolo's population is non-Italian, and 68 percent of those foreigners are Muslims. A few apartment buildings had become almost entirely Moroccan, the mayor said.

While protest leaders acknowledged that the neighborhood around Casa San Pietro was beset by petty crime, they said it had nothing to do with the residents, most of whom worked and even owned their apartments.

In fact, the leaders said, Sassuolo's government has helped to foster a climate of racism, or at least has done little to counteract it.

"We're at the point now that if a call center or a Pakistani restaurant opens, you've got a resident's association put together to protest against it," said Paolo Brini, a union leader who has helped organize the immigrants.

Currently a residents' association in the city's Rometta neighborhood is trying to block the construction of a housing complex because it is likely to attract immigrants, Brini said, adding, "It's a ticking social bomb."

Unlike France and Britain, whose Muslim immigrants started coming from former colonies many decades ago, those in Italy are relatively new. In Sassuolo, single men began to arrive 15 years ago, followed by their families in the last 7 to 10 years. Today, about half the schoolchildren in some neighborhoods are from immigrant families, Pattuzzi said.

It has been something of an uncomfortable adjustment. Ghannam said her son had endured teasing about his name, Osama, especially after 9/11. On the other hand, teachers have been understanding when the boy missed Muslim Holy Days, and one even called for advice on how to figure the direction of Mecca, so that Osama could pray during a school trip.

When the Qasims first moved into their apartment, on the third floor above a fruit store, their Italian neighbors were cold and hostile. But that has improved with time, they said.

Qasim said he did not participate in the protests over Casa San Pietro, believing that Muslims should mix more with the locals, no matter how difficult that is.

Many Italian families complain about the influx, the mayor acknowledged, equating Muslims with petty crime. In fact, he said that one of the reasons Casa San Pietro had turned into a ghetto was that many Italian landlords were unwilling to rent to Muslims.

"We've got a way to go to arrive at inclusion or integration, when it comes to work, culture, education and civic life," the mayor said.

Still, many experts say that Sassuolo is not a potential tinderbox, like the Paris suburbs, since jobs are still relatively plentiful and "foreign" laborers are needed in these industrial towns.

"I don't want to be a cock-eyed optimist, but one important difference is that there is a lot of unemployment and that isn't a problem here," said Antonio Oriente, a principal of one of Sassuolo's high schools.

Indeed, Qasim says he has always been treated with respect at work, even given a place to pray five times a day, for example. At work, he said, he feels "like an Italian."

But with Italy's economy declining, Brini said the factories would soon be laying off 500 workers, which could prove a flash point. Italian society has not been welcoming, offering platitudes about brotherhood and little else.

"We never thought of immigrants as people who would stay and live here for the future," said Renzo Guolo, a sociologist and Islamist at the University of Padua, adding, 'We just don't know how to build a society of different ethnic groups."

One important first step, he and others say, would be to allow easier access to citizenship. "How can we expect them to follow the law, unless we give them something to make them feel part of the nation?" Guolo asked.

Italy is one of the few countries in Europe where birth does not confer citizenship. And, although immigrants may apply after 10 years' proven legal residency, the state has no obligation to respond in a timely manner and the process often drags on, experts said.

But if Qasim is not Italian, then it is hard to know what he is, since he has no other place that he considers home. The family keeps a house in Ramallah and returns there for summer vacations, but Osama no longer fits in with the boys there his age, who he said are mostly working part time. Qasim, who lived in Italy through the two intifadas, does not feel safe in Palestine. When Osama speaks Arabic with his parents, it is peppered with Italian.

"I will never lose my roots, but we have to live as Italians because it is our country now," said Qasim, who, though devout, has given up some of the more orthodox trappings of Islam - ones that he considers cultural but not essential to religious practice.

For example, men and women mix and work side by side in the Islamic Association that Qasim runs, even though they would be separated in the Middle East. Also, while he would like a daughter to wear Muslim dress - like his wife - he says he would let the girl choose. "There are aspects of Islam that work in Palestine that don't work here," he said.

Many Muslims in Italy, including the Qasims, have followed the riots in France closely, on Al Jazeera, the Arabic cable TV network. Ezzedin Fatnassi, 41, the Tunisian-born Imam of a prayer hall in another northern industrial city, Bassano Del Grappa, opposes the violence, but said that "once it starts, one must try to understand the reason for it." He was shocked when his home was searched after the London bombings.

Like Qasim, he believes arrests and curfews have only aggravated the situation in France. "It's wrong to use police," Qasim said. "When you speak with people, you make them feel as though they're part of a larger society. If you make them feel marginalized, they'll put up a fight."

It is a lesson that many European countries are struggling to learn. Sassuolo's two Muslim prayer halls, home to thousands of worshipers, are makeshift plywood structures in old industrial spaces, and forever fighting for their survival.

After two years of delays, Qasim was able to open his Islamic Center - which includes a prayer hall and a weekend school - though he warns members to park far away, so as not to provoke authorities. The imam he hired, a Yemeni who had already been screened for a visa by the Italian authorities, was reinterrogated by local police.

When he talks to his son, Osama, after 20 years in Italy, Qasim still repeats the immigrants' mantra: ignore the slights, work harder than classmates. "Anyway, I tell him, Palestinians are used to being controlled: just think what it is like in Ramallah."

Turks in Germany are in bullish mood

Carter Dougherty

International Herald Tribune NOVEMBER 15, 2005

At a time of soul-searching among Europeans about their large and growing Muslim communities, Germany's Turkish businessmen are surprisingly optimistic.

They see a boom in trade and investment in Turkey coming as that country negotiates the tricky path toward its eventual membership in the European Union, and expect this to translate into profits for the vibrant entrepreneurial community here in Germany.

Some, like Vural Oger, who runs Oger Tours, a flourishing travel company, believe they can capitalize on their success in business to help push forward Turkey's political efforts to become part of Europe. He is one of several Turkish businessmen who have also entered politics to change the image of Turks here.

Others, like Kemal Sahin, head of the Turkish-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, say the private sector, unlike the European public at large, views Turkey's accession to the EU as inevitable, despite significant political opposition to it.

The evidence is there, Sahin believes, with many Turkish-run companies reporting heightened interest in their work in Germany, similar to the interest that major investors took in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s as that region's integration into the EU looked increasingly likely.

"The private sector has understood what's going on here, but the people of Europe have not yet reached that step," said Sahin, who is also chief executive of Sahinler Holding, a multinational ready-to-wear clothing firm. These days, he added, "I'm finding it easier to sell Turkey to Europe."

As sales jobs go, that looks like a tough assignment given the skepticism of a broad swath of Europeans on the wisdom of inviting a large Muslim nation like Turkey into the predominantly Christian European club. Here in Germany, 60 percent oppose Turkey's entry to the EU, according to a poll conducted by the research institute Emnid in March, when the European Commission recommended negotiations.

The rioting this month in French cities, which has involved many North African youths, has sharpened negative feelings about Muslims in Europe among those already opposed to immigration - a factor brought home this week when the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged Turks in Europe to avoid getting caught up in civil disturbances.

For the last 10 years, Oger has campaigned for the Turkish community, pressing the flesh with politicians and appearing on enough talk shows and news programs to make him a celebrity in Hamburg. He was elected to the European Parliament last year as a Social Democrat, and lobbied hard for EU membership for Turkey ahead of the start of accession talks on Oct. 4.

In tune with the current optimism, Oger says his place in the business community that gives him privileged access to speak up for Germany's Turks.

"Turkish entrepreneurs are integrated here better than almost any immigrant group," said Oger, 63, a tall man with a fondness for fat cigars. "Someone who runs a business is someone whom German society always welcomes."

Germany's corps of Turkish entrepreneurs emerged from a peculiar set of circumstances in the early 1980s to become an economically significant group in the 1990s.

The country's Turks now number 2.6 million overall and make up about 3 percent of the population and one-quarter of the non-ethnic Germans in the country. The majority call Germany home thanks to a 1960s program to recruit "guest workers" amid a shortage of people willing to perform hard manual labor. Others, far fewer, came to Germany to study.

Both groups expected to return to Turkey with the skills they had obtained. But, for a mix of political and personal reasons, many stayed on. Oger, for one, felt more tied to Germany as he started a family here. For others, a 1980 military coup in Turkey enhanced Germany's appeal.

Those who entered on student passports were barred from working for German companies. But self-employment was an option, and many took it. Turkish businesses - from kebab stands and grocery stores to food processing plants - took off.

Oger founded his small enterprise in 1982, ferrying Turks back to their homeland for visits. Business exploded in the 1980s as Germans discovered Turkey's pristine beaches and booked his package tours en masse.

Others encountered similar success, so much so that Germany's 64,600 entrepreneurs of Turkish descent - many of whom are now German citizens - had sales of 29.5 billion in 2004, according to Sahin's Cologne-based chamber of commerce.

In 2004, with the approach of accession talks, bilateral trade between Germany and Turkey rose to 19.6 billion, an increase of 34.1 percent over 2003.

Overall trade between Turkey and the EU began increasing after a customs union was cemented in 1996, rising to 42.5 billion in 1998, up from 31.8 billion the previous year. It suffered because of a banking crisis and earthquakes in the next few years, but resumed a steady march upward to 49.2 billion in 2003 and 66.6 billion last year.

Yonus Ulusoy, a researcher with the Center for Turkey Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, anticipates that the trend will continue now that EU negotiations have begun. "Turkey suffered from uncertain political conditions and the occasional economic crisis," Ulusoy said. "Now, it's perspectives toward the EU have changed entirely."

Ulusoy said that interest in Turkey had risen substantially as EU negotiations drew near and then began. These days, he said, his institute is fielding numerous inquiries from German cities and states that want to organize trade missions to Turkey for local businesses - a sign that not only large German companies, but also smaller ones, are turning their attention toward Turkey.

Hans-Dieter Fricke, the Hamburg representative of the finance arm of Turkish shipping giant Turkon, recalled a period in the early 1990s when he was placing orders with shipyards in Poland as outside interest in that country rose sharply. Turkey, he said, is reaching a similar point in its relations with Europe, and he is already working with banking giants like Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank.

"I no longer have to justify doing business with Turkey," Fricke said. "What I have to do is beat our national competitors."

The problem, according to Turkish entrepreneurs like Oger, is translating their success in business into positive headlines in Europe - or even in Germany. Oger says Turkish businessmen are partly to blame for failing to create a more positive image of Turks. For one thing, their calling nudges them toward conservative parties that favor lower taxes and deregulation, but these parties have also anchored German opposition to Turkey's EU bid.

But opposition is entrenched on the German left as well. Although Chancellor Gerhard Schröder helped get negotiations between the EU and Turkey started last month, the bitter reality is that many other members of the Social Democratic Party - his party - were against it.

Oger's decision to enter politics dates to the early 1990s, when the wave of rightist violence that engulfed Germany after unification arrived on the doorstep of the Turkish minority. In 1998 he established a foundation devoted to German-Turkish understanding, and later served on a government commission drafting a new immigration law. Last year, he handed over active management of his company to a daughter after joining the European Parliament.

Efforts like this win kudos from other leaders in the Turkish community as long overdue, but those leaders caution that public relations will not be enough. Turkish entrepreneurs, said Bulent Oztoplu, a Turkish activist in Vienna, "also have to play a role in the integration of the other Turks in Europe."

Oztoplu worries about what he calls Europe's Turkish "Lumpenproletariat." These Turks, often young people in the second or third generation, speak neither proper German nor Turkish, offering a searing reminder of failed integration.

Sahin acknowledged the failure and said that Turkish-German organizations like the chamber, which is only a few years old, would expend more resources on training Turkish workers in Germany. That, combined with a vigorous political effort to court conservative politicians, has the potential to give Turkish entrepreneurs political influence consistent with their commercial heft.

"At some point, the conservatives will have to take notice of what they are missing here," Sahin said. "Perhaps in the coming years."

New Islam in an old English town

Graham Bowley

International Herald Tribune NOVEMBER 7, 2005

Leicester, UK. As Europe gropes for answers to the recent surge of questions regarding its large and growing population of immigrants, many of them Muslims, one place to look might be this slightly down-at-the-heel town smack in England's center.

Leicester, surrounded by rolling fields, was historically a small, prosperous manufacturing town rooted in the traditions of the English countryside. Farmers brought their cattle and sheep to be sold near the cobbled medieval heart of the town, where red-brick Victorian buildings hark back to a less complicated era.

The picture has changed, however. Leicester today is a multicultural city of 300,000 where descendants of the textile workers and farmers share the streets with Hindus, Sikhs and, increasingly, Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, East Africa and the Balkans.

Over the past 30 years, immigrants poured into Leicester - and were welcomed thanks to the progressive policy of city elders, who convinced local people of the value of a multicultural future. The newcomers established peaceful lives, turning Leicester into a model for the rest of Europe of a mixed city that works.

Yet Leicester is now being challenged by troubling new dynamics, officials admit, one of which is a growing Muslim assertiveness. The city's success with multiculturalism is being put to the test by ethnic tensions between Muslims and Hindus, fresh Muslim immigration from countries like Somalia and Bosnia, and a simmering resentment among the city's poor white groups toward the immigrants. This last factor has assumed a darker meaning in Britain's charged atmosphere since the Islamist terrorist bombings in London in July.

The local government, meanwhile, projects that Leicester - whose white population is now about 65 percent - could become the first city in Britain with a nonwhite majority by the start of the next decade.

That would make Leicester a still more prominent battleground in Europe's struggle to sketch a blueprint for multiculturalism with a place for Islam in Western society.

"What you see on the surface is quite fragile," warns Manzoor Moghal, a prominent Muslim leader in Leicester and a self-made businessman who arrived here from Uganda in the 1970s. "There are different currents running that threaten to split this asunder."

Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, an umbrella group dealing with Muslim issues in Leicestershire, is one of many who worry that Leicester's tradition of peaceful coexistence is threatened by the pace of change.

Leicester's racial transformation has been breathtaking. The town of 30 years ago, where a boy could sit with his grandfather beside the cattle and sheep stalls at the market, has segued into a city where offices and shops cleared at sunset in October for Ramadan and Indian districts prepared for Diwali, the Hindu winter festival of light.

In Leicester today, northern districts like Melton Road have a profusion of Hindu temples, Muslim centers, halal butchers, and Indian and Pakistani restaurants, jewelers, banks and clothes stores. In the 700-year-old covered vegetable market, a multiracial mix of shoppers pick through piles of mushrooms and papayas, jumbled tables of belts, underwear and Chinese kites. The cattle market went under concrete years ago and is now a supermarket.

Local opposition to this transformation peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, when nationalists marched through town. But Leicester's leftist local government, declaring that the city's future was multicultural, successfully responded with a progressive policy that is still finely attuned to the cultural sensibilities of the newcomers.

"We don't talk about what the immigrants have to do to fit in with us," said Trish Roberts-Thomson, a policy officer at Leicester City Council. "Leicester has a very softly-softly approach."

The council embraced ethnic leaders in a multiplicity of race committees and interfaith councils. This civic integration was combined with economic integration as Leicester got a willing pool of labor to work in its textile and shoe factories, hospitals and other areas of the public sector. There was soon a prosperous ethnic middle class of entrepreneurs who now have begun to move into the city's leafier outer suburbs.

"Some have gained a lot of wealth, and bought hotels and property," said Jiva Odedra, chief executive of the Leicester Asian Business Association.

The result of civic and economic integration is that Leicester is without the edginess of its bigger Midlands neighbor Birmingham, where clashes between Asian and Afro-Caribbean gangs this month ended with two people dead and left officials and leaders asking why.

When race riots broke out in a string of northern English cities - Bradford, Oldham and Burnley - in the summer of 2001, Leicester stayed peaceful.

"Leicester is successful," said Robert Colls, professor of English history at Leicester University. "People of many ethnicities have come to live here in less than a generation, and there is no civil disorder and never has been - in spite of early attempts in the 1970s to foment it."

Hindus traditionally dominated the city's ethnic politics, but the Muslim population has grown in recent years through a higher birth rate and immigration; each of the two groups now accounts for about 15 percent of Leicester's population.

Muslims "are becoming more articulate," says Paul Winstone, an officer with the council who came to Leicester in the 1960s, worked against the early racist backlash and has been an important witness and guide of the city's multicultural transformation.

Muslims are demanding more on a number of fronts, such as their own faith-based schools and the freedom to wear their religious dress at work or to have halal food in the city hospitals, as well as broader political power within the city council. Winstone says the change is leading to "the perception that Hindus could leave the city - and Hindus have been Leicester's economic motor."

A further challenge to Leicester's equanimity is the risk of the re-emergence of white opposition toward the immigrants.

In 2002, in the wake of the northern riots, Leicester's council commissioned a report that found hitherto unnoticed and worrying levels of hostility among people in poor, white working-class districts toward their ethnic neighbors. This was mainly caused by resentment about the perceived generosity of public resources being channeled to the Asian districts. "The biggest threat to multiculturalism is from the white working class because multiculturalism gets the attention the white working classes don't," said Roberts-Thomson.

Asian leaders fear the resentment could be inflamed by antiterrorism legislation being put forward by the British government that is designed to crack down on Islamic extremism. Among other steps, the government proposes banning some Islamic groups, but Muslim leaders fear such action would encourage the white British public to view them as foreign rather than British.

Leicester's reputation as a strife-free city was not helped when two Leicester men originally from Algeria were arrested in the city and jailed in 2003 for providing financial support for Al Qaeda. Another was deported to France.

Even today, officials like Winstone report occasional attempts by Muslim extremists from nearby towns like Nottingham or Derby to infiltrate Leicester's mosques, "although they were roughed up and sent back," he says.

Colls, of Leicester University, says that in his experience there is a thirst among younger Leicester Muslims for more enlightened teaching and a rejection of the hard-line Islamists: A lecture at the university by a Muslim teacher on the need for a Muslim enlightenment drew in hundreds, he said.

One reason why Leicester's multicultural experiment has worked so well in the past, experts say, is that many of its Muslims and Hindus arrived indirectly via East Africa, from countries like Uganda or Malawi, where their families had settled in earlier generations. When they reached Leicester, they were already urbanized entrepreneurs used to British administration.

In contrast, English cities like Bradford took in thousands of Muslims directly from Pakistan's rural hinterlands, Leicester officials say.

But Leicester's newest wave of arrivals - Somalis, Bosnians, Kosovars - represent a new type of immigration: smaller, diverse groups in contrast to the Hindus and Muslims who had arrived en masse.

The biggest new group is from Somalia, a Muslim country. More than 10,000 Somalis have moved to Leicester over the past two to three years, according to city officials. Many have come from the Netherlands, where, they complain, they could not find work and faced dispersal under the strict housing policy.

Some of the Somalis are highly skilled professionals and are integrating well into the business community, according to Odedra of the Asian business group. But others have moved into the poorest inner-city districts, such as the tatty streets behind the city railroad station, the usual destination for the poorest new arrivals, and where, according to Winstone, some have clashed violently with West Indians.

According to Roberts-Thomson, who has worked with the Somalis, many are still deeply affected by the Somali civil war, which makes integrating harder.

In the newly febrile atmosphere, a debate has begun - even here in multicultural Leicester - about the degree of assimilation required by immigrants.

"When you want to live in a society, when you want to be part of that society, you have an obligation to blend in," says Moghal, who dresses in an impeccable business suit.

Others, like Ibrahim Mogra, a younger Muslim and one of Leicester's leading imams, take a stricter line and believe Muslims should be allowed to live and work in Britain on their own terms.

"I do not want to live in a Britain where my culture is second-class," said Mogra, who greets visitors to his small terraced home in one of the heavily Asian districts of Leicester in turban, robe and full flowing beard. "I have integrated as best as I could. I have done almost anything."

Mogra, who was one of a small group of Muslim leaders called to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair after the July bombings, believes businesses should accommodate Muslim dress in the workplace. But his views are not limited to clothing: He calls Blair a "tyrant oppressor" for his policy in Iraq and is equally scathing about the West's policy of restricting Iran's nuclear program.

Such conflicting views on assimilation reflect the current questioning and probing of Western Europe's multicultural model that is going on across the Continent.

It is an open question whether the experience of the past three decades will protect Leicester as a beacon for the rest of Europe, or whether the jolts of colliding populations will inevitably bring conflict to this once-tranquil place.