CAIR and U.S. Muslim leaders to ask Iranian President for release of hikers

Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with other national Muslim leaders, will meet Thursday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to seek the release of three American hikers who were detained after apparently straying across Iran’s border.

Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were detained in July while hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The case has added to tensions between Iran and the United States.

The Marwa Al-Sherbini Case: Investigators Believe Killer ‘Hated Non-Europeans’ and Muslims

Two months after the brutal murder of an Egyptian woman in a courtroom in Dresden, investigators believe the German-Russian immigrant who killed Marwa al-Sharbini was motivated by xenophobia. The case, which has not yet gone to trial, continues to be the focus of intense pressure from abroad. The tragic events were set in motion at a swing set in a plain wooden sandbox in Dresden, a major city in eastern Germany. A huge ash-leaf maple tree casts its shadow. East German-era prefab tower blocks are located next door, and tenants hang their laundry out to dry next to the small playground in the city’s Johannstadt district. Everything is regulated here — even playtime, which is permitted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer months. It was on this playground that Alexander W.* and Marwa al-Sherbini met for the first time on August 21, 2008. He was a 27-year-old Russian-German from Perm; she a 30-year-old Egyptian from Alexandria. Both had been stranded in eastern Germany by chance. They hadn’t encountered each other before — and there was no reason to think they ever would again. But an ominous confrontation ensued following a dispute over a swing, culminating 10 months later with a crime that rattled the Islamic world, battered Germany’s reputation and gave Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad another excuse to hurl invectives. Steffen Winter reports.

The Culture War Descends on Columbia

In the past few years, the students and faculty of Columbia University have found themselves in the midst of a culture war. They’ve seen their Middle East Studies department targeted as “anti-Israel” by one right-wing organization, the David Project. Two assistant professors, Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El-Haj, were publicly smeared by another right-wing outfit, Campus Watch, as they underwent tenure review (see “The New McCarthyism” by Larry Cohler-Esses). And at the start of this school year their own president, Lee Bollinger, seemed to pander to this right-wing pressure by slamming Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of “the modern civilized world.”…

German Businesses Watch Middle East Unrest With Concern

Boycotts across the Islamic world have targeted goods from European nations involved in the Mohammed cartoon row. Germany has the added worry of being involved in another serious dispute with main regional partner Iran. Escalating tensions in the Middle East over the Mohammed caricatures, the west’s nuclear stand-off with Iran and the election success of Hamas militants in the recent Palestinian elections are having an adverse effect on European trade in the region. Since the row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed surfaced over a week ago, a boycott of goods from a number of European nations has been gaining ground across the Muslim world. In the first flush of anger, Danish products were the first to be banned as a response to the images of which first appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten last year. In the days that followed, the images were reprinted in a dozen publications across Europe sparking further boycotts of goods from Norway, France, Italy and Britain. As the conflict continues, Germany now finds itself in the firing line as one of those countries involved in both the Mohammed dispute and the Iranian nuclear stand-off. One of the most important western trading partners in the Middle East, specifically in Iran, Germany has a lot to lose economically if relations between Islamic nations and the west deteriorate further. German businesses are already nervous and some predict that even if the areas of conflict are resolved, trade relations may be severely damaged. The importance of western trade with Iran has not been lost on the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As the threat of economic sanctions hangs over the Islamic Republic due to its decision to restart its controversial atomic research program, Ahmadinejad is considering a counter-strike against those involved in pushing for those sanctions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad may implement his own sanctionsBildunterschrift: Gro_ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad may implement his own sanctions Channeling the anger stirred by the Mohammed cartoons, the Iranian president aims to garner support from his Islamic neighbors by instigating his own trade embargos with the west. Denmark, as the main culprit in the cartoon row, is the first to suffer. Iran stopped the import of Danish goods on Tuesday. The harsh words coming out of Tehran aimed at the German administration may precede similar action towards Germany. For a country which has worked long and hard to develop such strong commercial relations with Iran and the Middle East as a whole, such a development is worrying. “Iran is Germany’s most important trading partner in the region,” said Jens Nagel, an expert at the German Federation of Wholesale and Foreign Trade, in an interview with the business weekly Manager Magazin. Only the United Arab Emirates carries more weight in business in Iran than Germany. Germany’s reputation in the region has been built on the quality of products and the good business relationships it has built up over years, something that is highly prized in Arab countries. Germany’s metal producers provides the raw material for Iran’s automotive industryBildunterschrift: Gro_ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Germany’s metal producers provides the raw material for Iran’s automotive industry German businesses exported goods and services to Iran last year to the tune of about 4.5 billion euros ($5.38 billion), and did business worth about 450 million euros with both Syria and Lebanon. The main areas of trade have traditionally been chemical and industrial products and machinery. It is the metal industry in particular that could be most at risk if Iran were to retaliate to United Nations sanction by hitting back at its western trade partners. “Germany would be the western industrial nation to suffer most if economic sanctions went against Iran,” Nagel said. “German businesses deliver far more to the region than possibly Great Britain, France or Italy.” He added that the United States would not feel any effects as they had broken off economic relations years ago. Experts consider the economic fallout from the Mohammed caricature row to be a lot lower risk for Germany. Knee-jerk boycotts and short embargoes would not necessarily affect German trade to any significant degree in the Middle East. If and when the climate cools, analysts believe it will be “business as usual” for German companies doing business in the region. Many believe the current boycotts are unlikely to remain intact indefinitely. Partnerships in Middle East should hold firm “We have no indication that business connections have gotten worse between German enterprises and their partners in the Middle East,” said Jochen Clausnitzer, Middle East expert at the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). Many German enterprises have maintained their long-standing partnerships in the region through personal interaction and trust. This is a base which cannot be destroyed so quickly — even if the outrage continues to surge through the region. “In the short term, sales of some European consumer goods producers could suffer,” Clausnitzer said. “However, on the other hand, western consumer goods in the region enjoy a high prestige.” Iran may seek to inhibit business The main concern for German businesses then remains Iran. Since the election of President Ahmadinejad, many top positions in the economy and management have been taken by new people and there is little connection between German businesses and those who initially paved the way for the business links the two countries have enjoyed until recently. Those in the new positions are also likely to receive orders from the president not to do business with Germany if relations deteriorate further. Any German involvement in sanctions against Iran would also see sales of products already in the Islamic Republic drop off dramatically. “Sanctions weld together the state and the population,” said Clausnitzer, suggesting Iranians would show support for their government by choosing not to buy German goods. However, Germany — and Europe as a whole — has a bargaining chip. If Ahmadinejad wants to carry out his promised infrastructure reform plans in Iran he will have to depend on the EU as a trading partner. In 2004, almost 50 percent of all imports into Iran came from Europe. The president’s election promises to fight poverty and youth unemployment would be a lot harder to fulfill if he were to be denied that.