Yemen’s anti-Islam policies harming children, not “terrorists”

Developing Just Leadership

Crescent International

Shawwal 28, 1426 2005-12-01

Occupied Arab World

by Crescent International (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 10, Shawwal, 1426)

President Ali Saleh of Yemen often boasts publicly that his country's "all-out war on terror" is the most effective weapon against international terrorism. He has even claimed that he regularly compares notes with US president George W. Bush and heads of US intelligence agencies, who seek his advice and admire his contribution. Saleh – so keen to demonstrate his influence with American and European leaders – travels to their capitals (most recently Washington and Paris), where he discusses the ‘war on terror' and other issues vital to Arab and Muslim countries. But he ignores completely the real acts of terrorism being committed in his country, not by ‘Islamic terrorists' ( a phrase often used by him and his Western allies) but by his own security forces and civilian supporters. For instance, a large number of child employees are terrorised by their employers, and local journalists are frequently attacked; even the ministry of the interior describes this as "criminal".

The problem of child-employment is a familiar situation in many Muslim countries, where schools run or funded by Islamic groups have been forced to close as a result of ‘anti-terrorist' measures by governments. Even where there is no direct order to close shari'ah-teaching schools, the denial of funds is resulting in widespread closure. Moneys contributed to Islamic groups and schools by local Muslims or Muslims working abroad are now widely blocked in pursuit of official ‘anti-terror' policies. The result is that huge numbers of young children are not only being denied educational opportunities but are forced to seek work, only to find themselves exploited viciously by ruthless employers.

The situation in Yemen is proving particularly bad because of the closure of a very large number of schools as a result of Saleh's ‘anti-terror' measures. The authorities do not even try to be discreet. At least twice, for instance, they have announced the closure of more than 5,000 religious schools accused of teaching ‘religious extremism', so paving the way for the introduction of a culture of terrorism. Thousands of children who should be in school have been forced to seek work, as their families cannot afford to support them.

According to a recent study by a Yemeni trade union, 43 percent of children at work are 12 to 14 years old; 19 percent are between the ages of 15 and 18. The study also shows that 27 percent of those covered by its investigation are engaged as street-sellers. Other children are employed as follows: 22 percent at car garages and in trade; 7 percent in restaurants and bread factories; and 6 percent in agriculture. About 4 percent of children ‘earn' their living by begging, according to this study. Sadly but not surprisingly, the children at work (and their families) are even poorer than when they were at school. Far more seriously, they are now the victims of exploitation and violence by their employers; some are even disabled as a result, the study has found. The violence inflicted can be both physical and psychological. The millions of dollars the US government claims to give Yemen to spend on new schools – and which Ali Saleh admits that he receives – are not being spent to help these children and their families.

But this vicious treatment of schoolchildren, and their families, is not the only terrorism visited on sections of the Yemeni population under the pretext of curbing ‘Islamic terrorism'. Yemeni journalists are also at the receiving end, as the recent assault on Nabil Subai, a journalist and writer, shows. Nabil was attacked on a street in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, on November 12 by two hooded men who stopped him and demanded to see his identity card before stabbing him in several places. According to a statement by the Yemeni Union of Journalists, this assault is not an isolated case, but part of "a series of attacks on journalists" which the Union fears could lead to the profession becoming too dangerous to pursue. According to the statement, "the failure of the authorities concerned to prevent the violence" is turning the current attacks into a serious threat to the lives of journalists.

The Yemeni interior ministry condemned the attack on Nabil unconvincingly, describing it as "a criminal act", yet showed no interest in investigating it. Arab journalists outside Yemen have described the continuing daily attacks on journalists like Nabil, who are opposed to the government's policies, as a threat to "freedom of expression" in a country that is heavily engaged in the "war on terrorism", and generously financed by the US, the EU and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia. Equally unsurprisingly, the attacks on journalists in Yemen, including the assault on Nabil, have not been criticised, let alone condemned, in the US and EU countries, although these often claim to be in favour of democratic reforms in Muslim countries. Freedom of expression is of course at the centre of democratic rule, but since free media will undoubtedly take to task the hypocritical policies of those countries and expose the governments' corruption, the US and Europe are naturally not keen to criticise Saleh's suppression of the Yemeni media or acts of terrorism against it.

The Yemeni president, like other Arab rulers, knows very well that any tyrannical action that is part of the war on Islam will not only be ignored but also be financed by those countries behind the ‘war on terrorism' – as he must have found out during his visit to Washington on November 10 and to Paris soon after. In both capitals, he discussed the ‘war on terrorism' and the best ways of conducting it – including the disbursement of millions of dollars. Some days after his visits, the Italian foreign minister flew to Sanaa to inform Saleh that the EU would give 20 billion Euros to Yemen to make it more secure and better able to fight terrorism. But Ali Saleh and other Arab dictators should know that such conduct on their part will only encourage the growth of Islamic ‘radicalism', not stem it.

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