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Friday, July 12, 2013

Muslims From Yangon Share Stories of Discrimination

Myanmar’s Muslim minority has faced a series of deadly attacks over the past year that have tarnished the country’s image even as it is trying to transform itself into a stable, peaceful democracy after decades of military rule. As my colleague Thomas Fuller has reported, sectarian clashes in the western state of Rakhine in 2012 left at least 167 dead and forced 100,000 people, most of them Muslims, to flee their homes. Buddhist mobs went on a rampage in Meiktila in central Myanmar in March, killing dozens. And critics say a radical Buddhist movement has fanned theflames of discrimination, discouraging Buddhists from doing business with Muslims or intermarrying.

The violence has raised fears among Muslims in Yangon and elsewhere that they, too, could come under attack.

Asked on Facebook to share with The Times their personal experiences with religious discrimination, a handful of Burmese Muslims wrote to us about the prejudice they have felt from colleagues, fellow students and even teachers. One woman said several members of her extended family, including one who was pregnant, were killed 10 years ago in an attack by Buddhists. The responses reflected a sense that while there has been an increase in attacks since Myanmar, also known as Burma, began opening up, the sectarian divisions within society have deep roots.

Below are four such responses, which were submitted in English.

Moe, 34, grew up in Yangon and was one of the few Muslim students in a school with mostly Buddhists. Classmates and some teachers, he wrote in an e-mail, harassed him for being Muslim and called him “kalar,” a pejorative word used to describe people from South Asia or people of Indian ancestry.

“When you dig out the history, today violence towards Muslims are not new. We have grown up with fears,” wrote Moe, who asked to be referred to by his middle name.

When Moe was 18, he applied for a national registration card with his friend, who was Buddhist. The cards are used to prove citizenship, according to the State Department. While the friend received his card two weeks later, Moe said his never came. After a few months, Moe asked the immigration officer about the delay. According to Moe, the officer told him that he had been directed not to give such cards to Muslims.

“He took out my application form and threw it on the floor. I collected it from the floor with tears in my eyes,” Moe wrote. “Some Buddhist applicants were laughing at me.”

Moe applied again years later. After a lengthy process, which he said included the paying of multiple bribes and being forced to incorrectly identify his race as Bengali, he received the card.

“That day was happiest day for me. But my mother owed debt for me,” he wrote.

Ten years ago, one reader wrote, Buddhist activists attacked the home of a cousins’ family in Kyaukse, a town in central Myanmar about 70 miles from Meiktila. She said the activists blocked the entrance to the home as they set it on fire, causing five of the relatives, including two children and a pregnant woman, to burn to death.

The reader has since moved abroad, but did not want to be identified as she returns to the country for visits. She now worries for the safety of her family in Yangon.

“After some recent events, I am still worried for my family in Myanmar, especially for my old mother, so I try to call them and check now and then to make sure they are all right,” she wrote. “I really hope some peaceful days will be ahead for my fellow Muslims living in Myanmar.”

One woman who identified herself as a teacher at a public high school in Yangon said that in May she was forced by the head of her school to quit her job and transfer her class to a different teacher. After pressing for a reason, the teacher, who asked that her name not be used, was told it was because she was a Muslim. Local officials, she said, told the school that there could be no Muslim teachers in the area this year.

“As soon as I heard that, tears flowed down n I couldn’t stand up straight,” she wrote. “Then I transferred my class. I feel regret: being a teacher in Myanmar, studying hard for 6 years to get M.Ed. degree, molding the students as good citizens, trying my best during 10 years experience as a senior teacher & having hobby of teaching. How cruel discrimination it is!”

Wayne, 22, grew up in Yangon and said that he faced discrimination in school from the age of 5 because he is Muslim.

“Almost everyday in school, people made fun of me and my other friends of minority religions such as Islam and Christianity,” said Wayne, who has since moved abroad.

Some teachers in his schools also made derogatory comments against non-Buddhists during class.

“They sometimes mentioned unnecessary things during history classes such as how Muslims (especially Indians) made good slaves in the past and the class would break into a mocking laughter,” wrote Wayne, who asked to be identified by his middle name.

“Another teacher (ironically my best English grammar teacher) mentioned openly” that he hated Muslims, he wrote.

Wayne said that when he was in his final year of high school, he received a merit-based scholarship to attend an education program abroad. However, he said, the teacher announced to the class that the scholarship had been revoked because of his religion.

“She spilled her words with such a cold and cruel tone as if it was my fault that I am not a Buddhist and as if the action was completely fair,” Wayne wrote.

Wayne said that his relatives back home now face even greater difficulties because of the radical Buddhist movement, which calls itself 969.

“Because of these, some of my friends and relatives there in Myanmar now are having difficulties in running their businesses,” he wrote.

Parents Mourn Photographer Killed in Cairo

The parents of Ahmed Assem, a 26-year-old photographer for a Muslim Brotherhood newspaper who was killed on Monday in Cairo shortly after recording video of an army sniper, described their grief in an emotional interview broadcast by CNN on Friday.

CNN interviewed the parents of a photographer for an Islamist newspaper who was killed on Monday just after recording an image of an army sniper during clashes in Cairo.

Mr. Assem’s father, a doctor who did not share his Islamist politics, held his son’s autopsy and described the fatal gunshot wound. The young man’s mother said that she had warned him of the danger posed by his work, but her son had insisted that he was not afraid of death and was driven by an urge to uncover the truth.

In a discussion of Mr. Assem’s death online Friday, Egyptians who are even more skeptical of the Brotherhood’s ideology pointed to disparaging remarks about Egypt’s Coptic Christians posted on the young man’s Facebook page just two days before his death.

In a note apparently motivated by the conspiracy theory that Christians had played an important role in the overthrow of the elected Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi, Mr. Assem attacked Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Church, who was present (along with a senior Muslim cleric) when the president’s removal was announced at the defense ministry last week.

As the British-Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr explained, the note was addressed to “Nazarenes” â€" a term frequently used by Egyptian Islamists to refer to followers of Jesus of Nazareth, but “associated with sectarian rhetoric” and considered deeply insulting. According to a translation provided by Ms. Carr, the note read:

Morsi had kept a lot of catastrophes away from you, and with your stupidity you’ve lost the chance to live safely. Take this, cowards; Tawadros threw you into the fire. So you may understand that your safety lies in the application of Islam, not fighting it. You are the first to lose.

An image of a graffiti tribute to Ahmed Assem, a photographer for a Muslim Brotherhood newspaper who was killed on Monday in Cairo, posted on Facebook by his brother. An image of a graffiti tribute to Ahmed Assem, a photographer for a Muslim Brotherhood newspaper who was killed on Monday in Cairo, posted on Facebook by his brother.

Health Sites Under Scrutiny Over Mining of Data

Millions of people rely on Web sites like WebMD and Health.com for information about depression, sexually transmitted diseases, cancer and other sensitive personal health issues. But it can be difficult for consumers to understand how health sites may capture, analyze and share information about user searches and other activities â€" even the small minority of people who manage to slog all the way through the privacy policies.

In an effort to increase industry transparency, Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, has opened an inquiry into the data-mining practices of some popular health sites.

On Tuesday, she sent letters to officials at eight sites asking for detailed information about their companies’ data collection, data storage and data sharing practices. The sites included: about.com; drugs.com; health.com; mayoclinic.com; menshealth.com; mercola.com; WebMd.com; and weightwatchers.com.

In the letters to the sites’ executives, Ms. Madigan said she was concerned about the potential dissemination of information related to people’s private health concerns.

“Health-related information, which would be protected from disclosure when said in a doctor’s office, can be captured, shared, and sold when entered into a Web site,” she wrote. “These concerns are likely overlooked by consumers, as the disclosures about capturing and sharing their information are often buried in privacy policies not found on websites’ main pages.”

WebMD’s privacy policy, for example, says that the site does not make a user’s personal information - like a name or address â€" available to third parties for marketing purposes.

But third parties, the privacy policy says, may use non-personal data to target WebMD users with ads related to their interests. The policy added that WebMD may combine personal and nonpersonal information about users on the site, or may collate that data with information gathered from external sources.

Risa Fisher, a spokeswoman for WebMD, said that the company had just received Ms. Madigan’s letter of inquiry and planned to provide the information she requested about its user data practices.

“Privacy is very important to WebMD and our policies are designed to fully protect the personal health information of our users,” Ms. Fisher said.

The Illinois inquiry comes after the publication a few days ago of a research letter in a medical journal reporting that some popular health portals leaked information about users’ health searches to third parties, like social networks or ad networks, operating on their Web sites.

For his research, Marco D. Huesch, a health care policy researcher at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at University of Southern California searched for content related to depression, herpes and cancer on 20 popular health-related Web sites.

In the letter about his study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, he said that 13 of those sites used third-party tracking elements like cookies or social media plug-ins. Seven of the sites, he wrote, leaked his health searches to third-party trackers.

Although Mr. Huesch wrote that he could not determine whether the third parties misused the information, he found the leakage of the health searches worrisome in itself.

“The ramifications could span embarrassment, discrimination in the labor market,” Mr. Huesch wrote, “or the deliberate decision by marketers not to offer or advertise particular goods and services to an individual, based solely on the companies’ privately gathered knowledge.”

The online advertising industry is keenly aware of such concerns.

This year, the Network Advertising Initiative, an industry self-regulatory association for third-party digital ad companies, revised its code of conduct to require that its members obtain user permission before collecting information about certain specific health conditions.

The conditions that would require user permission include “all types of cancer, mental health related conditions, and sexually transmitted diseases,” the revised code said, but not acne, high blood pressure, heartburn, cold and flu, or cholesterol management.

The self-regulatory group has nearly 100 members, according to its site. The updated version of code of conduct is scheduled to take effect next year.

Video of Malala Yousafzai at U.N. Calling on World Leaders to Provide Education to Every Child

In a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, called on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” Ms. Yousafzai told young leaders from 100 countries at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

Ms. Yousafzai, noting that she was proud to be wearing a shawl that had once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, spoke in a calm, self-assured voice as she delivered her first major speech since she was shot on the left side of her head Oct. 9 on her way home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

She recalled that day and how her attackers had also shot her friends. “They thought that the bullets would silence us,” she said, “but they failed.”

And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same

As my colleagues, Taha Siddiqui and Declan Walsh report, Taliban militants have pressed their violent campaign against girls’ education in northwestern Pakistan, attacking more than 800 schools in the region since 2009.

But it was not until a Taliban hitman’s efforts to silence Ms. Yousafzai, the outspoken and eloquent advocate for education rights in Swat, that the problem gained worldwide attention and propelled the young advocate onto the global stage.

Among those who introduced Ms. Yousafzai was Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister and now United Nations special envoy for global education who helped organize what was being called the Malala Day event. On Twitter, thousands of people shared updates about the event with the hashtag #malaladay.

But Ms. Yousafzai stressed in her speech that it was “not my day,” but a moment for all people around the world struggling for their rights.

“Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured,” she said. “I am just one of them. So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself but for those without voice.”

She also emphasized that she had no desire for revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. She included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Mother Teresa as among the leaders who have inspired her.

She said she wanted education for every child, including the “sons and daughters of the Taliban” and terrorists.

“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me,” Ms. Yousafzai said. “Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was in front of me, I would not shoot him.”

She attributed her nonviolence philosophy and ability to forgive from lessons “learned from my father and my mother.”

As Promised, Icahn Adds to His Bid for Dell

Carl C. Icahn lived up to his word on Friday, offering a sweetener to his alternative to a $24.4 billion leveraged buyout of Dell by adding a warrant to his stock buyback plan.

As Promised, Icahn Adds to His Bid for Dell

Carl C. Icahn lived up to his word on Friday, offering a sweetener to his alternative to a $24.4 billion leveraged buyout of Dell by adding a warrant to his stock buyback plan.

First Image of Snowden in Moscow Appears

As my colleague Ellen Barry reports on Twitter from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Human Rights Watch has released the first image of Edward Snowden in Russia, taken at a meeting with rights groups on Friday.

The image was sent to reporters by a participant in the meeting, Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch. The woman seated to Mr. Snowden’s right appeared to be Sarah Harrison, a British WikiLeaks activist.

Ms. Lokshina also revealed that Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, said that he has decided to apply for political asylum in Russia.