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September 16, 2009
Reading the Israeli and Arab press on Gaza war crimes

Tuesday, the United Nations released the results of its fact-finding mission on human rights abuses during the Gaza war this past winter.

The report said there was evidence war crimes had been committed and criticized both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants. Still, the majority of headlines around the world focused on the allegations against Israel.

Israel did not cooperate with the investigation and has refused to launch its own inquiry. The U.N. report was met with outrage by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who called it “a mockery of history” that legitimized terror.

The findings dominated the news in Israeli papers this morning, where it was met with hostility from both commentators and authorities. It also got heavy play throughout the Arab world.

Worldfocus producers Yuval Lion, a fluent Hebrew speaker with an Israeli background, and Mohammad Al-Kassim, an Arab speaker of Palestinian descent, actively monitor the press in both regions. Al-Kassim says many reports in the Arab press tended to downplay the fact that the U.N. criticized Palestinian militants as well as Israel.

Both Israeli and Arab media picked up on an interview on an Israeli radio station with Nicole Goldstone, who said her father, who headed the investigation, is a Zionist who loves Israel.

Watch videos below of Al-Kassim and Lion  talking about how the news played out.

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September 15, 2009
Daljit Dhaliwal on the importance of international news

Daljit Dhaliwal

Worldfocus anchor Daljit Dhaliwal offers her take on the importance of international news to Americans.

What’s happening to international news? American viewers need quality information and analysis so that they can get a better handle on how the world is changing — and at the same time, changing their lives. But instead, mainstream international coverage is hemorrhaging and the shutters are coming down on overseas bureaus.

Over and over again, I read or hear that most Americans have no interest in what’s happening overseas, as if this is supposed to be some kind of justification for not telling them. Not that long along, I was invited to speak to a group of several hundred PBS viewers in Portland, Oregon. While nobody there doubted the importance of global news, several people talked about how the world is often presented to Americans — full of insurmountable problems and at times even frightening. With better information, it doesn’t have to seem that way.

I believe that if most Americans don’t care, its partly because they’ve been short-changed into thinking that what happens in the far-flung corners of the globe has no bearing on their lives. Well, we are in the middle of a global economic meltdown that sent shockwaves throughout the world, as well as fighting wars in two foreign lands, trying to broker peace in the Middle East and looking to ”reset” the button with a former superpower.

The U.S. has a leadership role, whether we like it or not. Americans need to be more engaged with the world than ever, but to do that there has to be some a level of public understanding about global events.

That’s what we try to do every weeknight on Worldfocus. As a journalist and a consumer of international news, it’s gratifying to be a part of program that is shining a light on global events — not just the day’s big stories, but those that are under-reported or ignored because they are deemed too complex or not ”sexy” enough. In my view these stories are the real gems because they surprise and enlighten.

Enjoy the program, tell your friends and colleagues and please join the discussion on the “How You See It” section on our home page.

– Daljit Dhaliwal

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September 11, 2009
Leveling the gender playing field in Turkey

Photo: Gizem Yarbil

Correspondent Gizem Yarbil, a native of Turkey, recently reported with producer Bryan Myers on the signature story Female soccer players shoot down Turkish taboos. Gizem shares how women are pioneering a place in traditionally male-dominated sports.

Turks are mad about football (soccer), but most of them are unaware of a new development in the field: A new professional women’s football league. Now, a group of brave girls is trying to challenge the gender divide in Turkey.

The new league has been met with resistance, and some boundaries have yet been broken down. Many in Turkey still believe that women should be confined to the home, and that the football field is no place for women.

The team we followed is from a conservative city called Sakarya in the northwest corner of Turkey near Istanbul. I got to know the girls on a 12-hour bus ride en route to a crucial away game.

The girls we interviewed grew up playing ball on their neighborhood streets. Parents opposed them playing football — thinking it un-ladylike. And there was a concern that girls were too physical with guys on the streets.

But despite disapproval and some jeers, these girls continue to pioneer their new league, trying to prove to all of Turkey that football is not only a men’s sport. I read a New York Times story about how men are going to their games and heckling them from the bleachers.

“We should play you” some of the men yelled sarcastically, implying they’d beat them right away.

“To them, we’re just women,” says the team captain Esra Erol.

To me, our story about women’s football in Turkey is about women being capable of doing anything. We still have a long way to go in Turkey. And, it’s not only soccer. I recently read a story about a Turkish woman who won an international weightlifting competition.

The female weightlifter talked about how she wasn’t accepted by the weightlifting community. For Turks, weightlifting is one of the most important national sports and it’s also emblazoned as men’s turf. The female weightlifter explained how professional coaches did not believe in her because she was a woman and how they thought it would be a waste of time to train her. But she proved them all wrong.

It’s a huge improvement to have a professional women’s football (soccer) league in Turkey after it’s been established in so many European countries for many years. Girls playing football or lifting heavy weights for competition are at the beginning of a long road to establish total equality for women and men in Turkey.

It’s not going to be easy, but these women — from the Sakarya women’s football team to the victorious female weightlifter — insist on proving they can be and do anything they want.

– Gizem Yarbil

For more Worldfocus coverage of Turkey, visit our extended coverage page: Turkey between East and West.

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September 11, 2009
At home in Morocco with an Islamist…and a feminist

Madame Nadia Yassine is the public face of a Moroccan Islamist association. She describes the social and political goals of her organization and the situation of women in Morocco.

Producer Rebecca Haggerty describes her experience interviewing Yassine for the Worldfocus signature story “Moroccan single moms cope with hostility, shame.”

Madame Nadia Yassine is not what I expect. We’ve arranged an interview with her in her role as the public face of a Moroccan social movement called Al-Adl wal Ihsane, translated variously as Justice and Spirituality and widely described as Islamist.

By the time we arrive at her home, we’re two hours behind schedule and it’s nearly 8:00 p.m. Yassine has two other visitors patiently waiting — a young British convert to Islam researching her doctoral thesis at Oxford, and a French photographer. This, I learn, is typical. As the charismatic female leader of a conservative Islamic group, Yassine frequently plays hosts to curious journalists and academics from the West. She chats with us in her salon, a traditional Moroccan receiving room furnished with long sofas and her original artwork. Her daughter, Amina Shabani, a graduate student and a fluent English speaker, translates from her mother’s assured French.

We’ve come to see Yassine in part because of her role as a leader of the protests against the reforms of Morocco’s family laws. Yesterday, we spent the day with Madame Aisha ech Channa, a passionate supporter of women’s rights — and the reforms — who has dedicated her life to supporting women shunned by their families after getting pregnant outside of marriage. I assumed that Yassine would oppose the work that Madame ech Channa does. But the reality, like so much in Morocco, is more complicated than it first appears.

“We are for abstinence, “ she affirms, dismissing Western sexual mores as irrelevant to Moroccan women. “But to be a Muslim is also to be a realist. I am against punishing single mothers, because these people are the victims.”

According to Yassine, 30 percent of her movement’s followers are women. Founded by her father, Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine, the group claims to be flourishing despite –- or perhaps because of — its opposition to the ruling elite. Four years ago, Madame Yassine faced criminal charges after publicly criticizing Morocco’s system of monarchy in a newspaper interview. Insulting the king remains a crime in Morocco, one that the government takes seriously. Last month, officials seized copies of a newsweekly that reported a public opinion poll on the King.

Ironically, King Mohammed VI holds a reputation as a moderate and a reformer, particularly when it comes to women. His sweeping reform of Moroccan family law in 2004 granted women greater rights than in many countries throughout the Arab world. But Yassine dismisses these and other reform efforts by the King as window dressing in a poor, closed society. Nearly 50 percent of Moroccan women can’t read – and the percentages climb even higher in rural regions . The concerns of most women, Yassine argues, remain largely economic and spiritual.

To her many critics among Morocco’s secular intellectuals, Yassine offers a disturbingly palatable version of fundamentalism that — if given a chance — would turn Morocco into a theocracy. Yassine counters by taking pains to avow her group’s commitment to non-violence. She also claims a “true” reading of Islam – including sharia, or Islamic religious law — in fact offers significant protection for women.

Yassine touches on a tricky area between secular feminists and Islam. According to a 2006 Gallup poll of women in the Muslim world, most Moroccan women believe sharia should be a source –- if not the only source –- of law in society. And the survey also reveals that while women throughout the Arab world admire many things about the West, including gender equity, they also disapprove of some aspects of women’s status here –- primarily the overtly sexualized images of movies, television and magazines. Freedom of expression may be laudable, but the West, after all, also provided the world with endless reruns of Baywatch.

This summer, Moroccan courts once again postponed Nadia Yassine’s trial. Presumably, the case will eventually settle. But the debate over women’s roles in Morocco seems likely to continue.

– Rebecca Haggerty

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September 11, 2009
Wrangling Google Earth into submission

In addition to editing video and keeping track of the goings-on in Europe and Brazil, lately I’ve developed another pastime: learning how to use Google Earth, the alternately fascinating and infuriating global satellite technology.

Using the detailed mapping software, you can see into your own backyard – literally. You can look out across the Himalayas from the peak of Mt. Everest. But how to navigate Google Earth’s decidedly un-user-friendly customization settings to make them suitable for a television broadcast? That’s a different story.

An example: thanks to increasingly specific satellite imagery, we now have the ability to zoom into cities not only in the U.S. or Europe, but also in many African cities, where for a long time detailed satellite imagery was lacking.

The problem: as you can see in this most recent 2009 composite view of satellite images of Africa, the continent now resembles a 19th-century impressionist painting. Pixelated splotches of color dot the landscape, where some areas have much more satellite coverage than others.

Happily, we were able to figure out a solution to this dilemma. Google Earth has an underused “history” button, which allows the user to view satellite images from different dates in the past. (Naturally, the number of dates available depends on what part of the world you are looking at and how far away from Earth you are.)

So if I want to show a view of Africa, but want to see a clean view of the continent, without all the satellite clutter, I can simply select the earliest date possible on the “history” view – in this case 1930.

This won’t actually show you 1930s satellite views if there were none from that time, but in the absence of such satellite imagery, Google Earth will automatically default to a clean satellite view of the landscape. So with this simple work-around, we’ve gotten one step closer to implementing Google Earth on our broadcast. Stay tuned!

Watch this video for some more Google Earth history tips and an interesting visual comparison of how the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan has shrunk over the years.

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September 9, 2009
Misinterpretation of Qur’an holds back gender equality

Hoda Osman reports from Morocco. Photo: Hoda Osman

Egyptian-American reporter Hoda Osman reported from Morocco on the Worldfocus signature story “Moroccan single moms cope with hostility, shame.” She writes about her own perceptions of equality and Islam.

As we prepared to air our piece on single mothers in Morocco, the case of the Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein caught world attention and once again raised the issue of the treatment of women in Islam. Hussein was facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers, which was supposedly in violation of the country’s so-called “decency law.” On Monday, she was fined but given no lashes — probably as a result of the international attention the case received. Sudan claims to be following “Islamic Law.”

To many in the West, the case is another example of how Islam promotes subjugation and repression of women. To me it’s yet another example of something I’ve long concluded was Muslim women’s main problem, especially in the Arab world: Men’s manipulation of the interpretation of the religion and their abuse of it, as well as societal and cultural norms dictating what women can and cannot do

For centuries, Islam was used as an excuse to stop women from entering certain fields, to suppress them and make them believe they were inferior to men. It worked. Many Muslim women I’ve met throughout my life actually believed they were less important than their male counterparts and obligated to serve them.

I’ve read the Qur’an numerous times and spent time studying different interpretations of its verses. To me, the spirit of justice and equality are clear throughout its 114 chapters. Reading it always made me feel powerful, not helpless.

In the 1990s, small groups of Muslim women in different countries started fighting for rights they believed where given to them under Islam, but taken away by society. They decided to use the same weapon used against them. They went back to the religious text and reinterpreted it to prove that their religion honors and respects them and sees them as equal to men. The movement is sometimes referred to as “Islamic Feminism,” but the term is controversial.

Small accomplishments were achieved across the Muslim world. In Egypt, women were at the mercy of men to get a divorce and some spent years in limbo if the man refused to grant a divorce. In 2000, women finally got the right to divorce. Last year, Egyptian women who have children outside of wedlock also won the right to register them under their own name and without a marriage certificate, which is also the case in Morocco. In Kuwait, four women were elected to parliament for the first time last year. And in Bahrain, feminists are planning to debate the interpretations of Qur’anic verses for the first time.

While working on the stories for Worldfocus in Morocco, I was impressed by the tolerance and openness of the society — a result of the influence of Sufism on the culture, we were told by some.

But the status of women who had children outside of wedlock was no different than in any other Arab country. They were a source of shame, often outcast by society. You can’t blame religion or the law for that.

Whereas women and men are seen on equal foot by Islam when it comes to fornication, societies seem to be much more forgiving of men. Women who have sex outside of marriage, especially those who get pregnant and have children, face a myriad of problems and dangers as you will hear from them in the piece first hand. Even the woman who dedicated her life to helping those single mothers was the subject of a death threat by religious extremists.

To clarify, having sex outside of marriage is considered a sin in all Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to the Qur’an, the punishment for both man and woman is flogging. In my opinion, many of Islam’s harsh punishments are meant as deterrents rather than for actual implementation. For example, to prove that a man and woman had sex, you need four witnesses to step forward and say they actually saw the act, which is obviously nearly impossible.

Unfortunately, whereas the “Islamic feminists” have a tool –- the reinterpretation of the text -– that they use to try and free themselves of unwarranted restrictions, this story will show how much harder it is to change societal attitudes and cultural norms.

– Hoda Osman

For more coverage of women in Morocco, visit our Women in Islam extended coverage page.

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September 9, 2009
Women hold the keys to Iran’s future

Women outside Tehran University. Photo: Richard O’Regan

Producer Richard O’Regan ventured to Iran for the Worldfocus signature story “Women in Iran race ahead, but still face gender block.” He describes his impressions of the changing role of women in Iranian society.

The problem Iran has with its women citizens comes into sharp focus when you’re hanging around the gate of Tehran University. As the class day begins, students gush through the turnstiles. Little knots of friends eddy into campus and head off in their separate ways. Two out of three of the students passing by are women. Young women. They are, of course, Iran’s future.

What to do about the pressure for legal rights from young, educated women seems an intractable problem for the men responsible for the last few decades of Iran’s past. Like it or not, women will soon be their nation’s educated elite.

The women you talk to on campus — those few willing to risk being quizzed later about their contact with foreign reporters — say there are aspects of the system that they like. The Islamic dress code does prevent men from “checking you out.” Iranian women can’t imagine how women elsewhere put up with it.

Visiting Iran as a foreigner, you get the feeling that you have parachuted into a work in progress that no one involved can quite figure out; one which leaves outsiders thoroughly baffled. Some women push the limits of what the law permits. Others take comfort in it.

The closest we came to being in danger during our pre-election trip was when a young man took exception to his sisters and female cousins being filmed. The young women teased him for what they saw as an old-fashioned attitude. They were doing they best they could to be noticed. The law says everything but your face and hands must be covered. They went out and got nose jobs so what little the world saw of them was as attractive as possible.

From the look of things — and as a TV crew you sometimes never get past how things seem –- women are oppressed. But then there is the scene at the university gates, and even more revealing scenes outside the medical and pharmaceutical schools. Seventy percent of Iran’s medical students are female. The idea that a democratic nation can suppress its own professional class seems absurd.

Like many really knotty problems, this one stems from internal contradictions. Revolutionary Iran rooted its legal system in Islamic law. But they also were determined to create a Democracy. Not a Western-style democracy, to be sure, but Iran is governed by elected legislators. Soon after the revolution, the Islamic government began a campaign to spread literacy. The campaign worked. Nearly 100 percent of Iranian women educated since the Revolution can read and write. Before the 1979 Revolution, that figure was less than 50 percent.

But the Islamic legal system also took hold. Enshrined in it was a very traditional interpretation of what the rights of men and women should be. To an outsider, they seem a throwback to long-discredited sexist attitudes. When you sit down, as we did, with the men in power, they put forward their belief that the system keeps families stable and that women enjoy the protections it affords them. It sounds reasonable and thoughtful. But it also sounds uncannily like the defenders of patriarchy I met years ago in apartheid South Africa. They assured me that the vast majority of black people loved the system. It turned out they didn’t have that exactly right.

The problem for the men running Iran today is that the cohort of educated women they have helped create are perfectly capable of reading the Qur’an for themselves. When they do, they don’t find in it the rules they have had to live by for their entire lives. The movement to upend Iran’s legal patriarchy seems to be building. Mostly surreptitiously, activists have begun gathering signatures on a petition demanding change. Their stated goal: A million people.

So many Iranian women have come to think that the current laws of the Islamic Republic — which, in most cases, put them under the legal supervision of their male relatives — are not part of their religion at all, but part of the social customs of the Arab nomads who first adopted Islam and brought it to Persia in the Seventh Century. (Arabs in general, and nomads in particular, are not widely admired in Iran.)

Their reading has led to a nightmare for those in Iran who like the system just as it is. They see any movement for change as an attempt to overthrow the government. In one sense, it is. In a patriarchy, after all — it is the patriarchs who have all the power. Upend the system and other people take charge.

To Iran’s current leaders, a faithful religious opposition to laws and policies that they have declared to be a divine mandate is the worst kind of revolution -– one that strips them of their religious and political legitimacy by using the tools of democratic change.

You’d have thought they might have seen it coming when they started that literacy campaign.

– Richard O’Regan

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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August 27, 2009
Afghanistan news hunt results

Last week, Worldfocus partnered with News Trust to find some of the best journalism on Afghanistan and its second-ever presidential election. The results are in — and the top stories from last week’s Afghanistan News Hunt cover a broad range of issues related to the Afghan election, many coming from mainstream media with resources to send correspondents to the country.

As Afghanistan prepared for this highly anticipated election last week, former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah emerged as a legitimate threat to incumbent President Hamid Karzai — who has fallen out of favor with many Afghans, as well as Western leaders — and news media portrayed a run-off election as plausible.

But as results trickle in from last Thursday’s vote, in which some 7 million ballots were cast, the outcome remains unclear. Images of inked Afghan fingers gave way to claims of widespread fraud and intimidation. As the vote count continues, reports on the results have been contradictory.

For the full results of last week’s News Hunt, read their blog summarizing media coverage, check out the top rated stories and browse a full listing of all stories posted on the topic.

Explore our complete coverage of the election and war in Afghanistan.

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July 17, 2009
Worldfocus goes “commercial”

A television advertisement for Israel’s largest cell phone provider Cellcom has sparked heated criticism. Watch the ad, see the show and join the debate.

If you saw the show Tuesday and stayed to the end, then you caught our first commercial on Worldfocus. No, we aren’t giving in to advertising. It was actually part of a story and a debate.

The commercial was by an Israeli telephone company that was advertising itself using a sort of feel-good theme of “things that can bring us together.” In this case, it was the sport that the rest of the world calls football — but we call soccer.

I read about the ad the day before, then saw it on one of our incoming video feeds. I mentioned it in the newsroom and this triggered a lot of talk and debate. To understand why, take a look at the commercial yourself. If you didn’t see the story we ran about it that evening, you can check out Tuesday’s show and fast-forward to the end. If you do both, you will see how a commercial for a phone company in Israel suddenly has people around the world talking.

Some have suggested that was the goal all along. Television commercials overseas are often provocative by American standards. As I said, we were doing a lot of talking amongst ourselves — which generally is our indicator that it would be a good story to share.

In this particular case, we went one further and posted the unedited commercial spot on our site, then encouraged your thoughts. We got quite a few. There is no subject on our show that has generated more rancor, outrage and claims of outright bias on our part from all sides than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We were not looking to trigger a debate on who is right or who is wrong. Instead, we were looking more for a limited discussion on the appropriateness of the subject used as the storytelling tool of the commercial.

So watch the ad, see the show and join the debate.

– Martin Savidge

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July 14, 2009
Worldfocus receives two Emmy nominations!

Worldfocus received two Emmy nominations today for the “Crisis in Congo” and the “21st Century Africa” series.

Worldfocus was nominated for an Emmy in the “Best story in a regularly scheduled newscast” category for our coverage of the “Crisis in Congo” (Executive Producer: Marc Rosenwasser, Correspondent: Michael J. Kavanagh of the Pulitzer Center, Producers: Lisa Biagiotti, Taylor Krauss). The “Crisis in Congo” videos also won the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the international television category.

Pascal and Vestine are alive, but still not home

Rape as a weapon of war

Worldfocus was also nominated for an Emmy in the “Outstanding feature story in a regularly scheduled broadcast” for our coverage of “21st Century Africa” (Executive Producer: Marc Rosenwasser, Correspondent: Martin Seemungal, Producer: Yuval Lion).

China strengthens trading ties in Africa

Middle class sprawls in Nairobi, Kenya

Tech advances rev up across Africa

Rwanda aims for one laptop per child

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