Don't cry for me Argentina….

Because I won’t be back. Just returned from South America to Oz after a grueling 30 hours in a tin can, and  I’m not impressed.  Argentina is a nation stuck in a time warp, obsessed with past glory and what they call the ‘Malvinas’, (the Falkland islands.)   They are a people obsessed with Marx, Che Guevara, Mao and Eva Peron. Yes, there is the Tango, and there’s music, and the whole place is like a giant antique shop. But if they really believe that their national survival  depends  on the conquest of the Falklands and 2000 proud Englishmen and women who voted to remain British,  Argentina is a lost cause. More later.

In light of the above, another piece of the puzzle falls into place:

Argentina’s Former President Carlos Menem faces bombing trial for cover-up, complicity in deadly Iranian attack on a Jewish centre

Menem is a convert from Islam to Catholicism.  Many say he converted out of convenience, as Argentina’s constitution used to require the President to be a Roman Catholic.

He is still very close to Islam (go here), so of course he is Jew-hater.

“He had to renounce Islam and become Catholic to be President.”

Argentina’s history is stained with virulent anti-semitism. Shocking as this is, it’s hardly surprising. Perhaps human justice will be served ….. finally.

Argentina’s Carlos Menem faces bombing trial BBC  (via Pamela Geller)

Carlos Menem, speaks at the Senate in Buenos Aires on July 17, 2008
Carlos Menem was president at the time of the attack
Part of his legacy is this mega-mosque:

Buenos Aires Argentina Mega Mosque – Muslims Want To Take Over Argentina

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem is to stand trial for allegedly obstructing an investigation into an attack on a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires, officials have said.

Argentina blamed the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for the 1994 bombing, which killed 85 people. But prosecutors say evidence indicating the involvement of local accomplices in the attack was covered up.

No-one has ever been convicted of the car bombing.

The attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association took place on 18 July, 1994, during Carlos Menem’s first term in office as president.

The bombing demolished the seven-storey cultural centre.

Argentine prosecutors said Iran planned and financed the attack, and that a Hezbollah cell carried it out.

The prosecutors say there is evidence that the Argentine intelligence services and security forces helped cover up the tracks of local accomplices of the attackers.

Mr Menem was initially accused of a cover-up in 2009, but has never faced trial.

As well as Mr Menem, the former judge in charge of the investigation, Juan Jose Galeano, has been ordered to stand trial for obstructing the investigation.

So too have the former heads of the intelligence service, Hugo Anzorreguy and Juan Carlos Anchezar, and two commanders of the federal police.

The federal magistrate in charge of the case, Ariel Lijo, said Mr Menem overstepped the powers accorded by the constitution and local laws.

In his statement, the magistrate said that Mr Menem - the son of Syrian immigrants – put pressure on Mr Galeano to abandon inquiries into the possible involvement in the attack of a Syrian-Argentine businessman, Alberto Kanoore Edul.

Read the rest.

Here’s more:

Islam Under Wraps logo

By Jamal Arif
June 11, 1999

The mere mention of South America can conjure up visions of tall spires and stately steeples bedecking the enchanting and somewhat mysterious landscape of the continent. A common bond of Catholicism runs through the skein of South American countries that have emerged over the last century. It is no wonder then that one might typically perceive this region as a “baptized continent,” devoid of any significant Islamic influence or presence. And even if the observer were to recognize the survival of some smattering of Islamic communities today, the palpable perception might be to leave them to their inevitable fate as geographic, economic, linguistic and religious minorities.

But the continent that is home to the Amazon and its splendors, the Piranha, the Andes, Carnival and some of the best bred cattle in the world, holds a few more surprises for those too myopic to look beyond the exotic. And the Muslim presence in South America is indeed a surprise.

The original influx of Muslims to South America took place in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Syrians and Lebanese who felt persecuted in their homelands or who were economically destitute moved to the greener pastures of the sparsely populated continent. After the turn of the century, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the Palestinian diaspora forced Muslims from those areas to seek safer havens. A large percentage of this oppressed and deprived populace planted their roots in South America’s large and fertile valleys. These immigrants were generally farmers or merchants who toiled hard to improve their economic fortunes. Their descendants continue to toil to eke out a living, and to retain some semblance of cultural and religious cohesion.

Buenos Aires, a city of eleven million inhabitants was the last major outpost of European colonizers in the Southern Hemisphere. Its wide boulevards, rectangular streets and innumerable churches testify to the fact that the architecture and fiat of the Vatican have ruled supreme in this land. But amongst these teeming millions of Catholics lives a community of perhaps 160, 000 (over 3 million by unofficial count) Muslims.

One needs to look no further than the small but elegant mosque standing on Calle Alberti in the city’s center to understand the manner in which the Buenos Aires’ Muslim community strives for cohesion in a land of crucifixes and bell towers. “We have been here for 17 years,” says Abdel Kareem, who is the mosque’s Muezzin (the person who vocalizes the daily call to prayer) and runs a small restaurant adjacent to the mosque. “When it was built, only a few people came, but now we are blessed to have a large and regular congregation”.

According to Kareem, when his parents emigrated from Syria in 1920s, there were no mosques to be found. Like other immigrants, Kareem’s parents imparted Islamic teachings to him and his five brothers at home. But in the absence of an organized Muslim community, it was only a matter of time before some such children began to be swayed by the religion and culture of the dominant society.

A majority of Argentine Muslims today barely make a living. The continuous sub-division of tractable land amongst the immigrants’ offspring, and the recessions that the continent has endured, has left indelible scars on the once prosperous farming community of Muslims. The few individuals that have prospered would risk the ire and scorn of high society if it were known that they followed Islamic precepts. Many of these Muslims reserve the practice of their faith for times of death or celebration, and do so within the sanctuary of their homes. Kareem remembers how his teenage friend and fellow Sunni Arab, Argentine President Carlos Menem, slowly turned away from Islam.

“Menem wanted to move on to higher things and the burden of Islam was too heavy for him,” says Kareem. “He had to renounce Islam and become Catholic to be President.”

According to Kareem, Zulema Fatima Yoma, the former wife of Menem, visits her Muslim relatives very discreetly, lest it be known that she and her daughter have any ties with the Muslim community or to Islamic observances.

Kareem strongly believes however that his old friend Menem, with whom he has not communicated for over two decades, is still a Muslim at heart.

“When Menem’s only son died four years ago, I was personally requested to give him a Muslim ‘Ghusal’ (the ritual burial cleansing) and he was buried according to Muslim rites in an Islamic cemetery,” says Kareem.

As further evidence of Menem’s Islamic ties, Kareem also points to Menem’s decision to donate to the Muslim community, an expansive piece of real estate in Buenes Aires’ diplomatic quarter of Palermo, a region known for its lush greenery and choice real estate.

But Muslims in Argentina are not only confined to Buenes Aires. The official count puts the Muslim population at approximately 700,000, spread throughout the country; but with particularly strong numbers in Cordoba, Mendoza, Tucuman and Rosario. However according to Kareem there could be about nine to ten million denizens of Argentina’s population of 34 million that are either Muslims or who have Muslim ancestry.

Arab immigrants did not settle in Argentina, alone. Brazil opened its arms to many Muslim immigrants as well. It is therefore no surprise that Muslims reside from Brazil’s borders with Paraguay and Argentina to Manaus in the Amazon. The biggest concentration of Muslims however is found in the greater Sao Paulo region, which is presumed to be home to approximately 500,000 Muslims.

The Muslim influence in Brazil is widespread. Perhaps seventh of the population is of Arab descent and names of Muslim/Arab origin are prevalent. Architecture and cuisine also bear the trademarks of the culture brought to the hemisphere by the Arabs. Not even fast food has escaped the immigrant influence, as the largest fast food chain in Brazil is “Habib’s” which serves Arab food. And the diversity of influence stretches to businesses such as the textile industry, which is dominated by Arab merchants. The Sao Paulo city council even has a Muslim Councillor by the name of Mohammad Murad, who is a lawyer by profession.

But despite the infiltration of Arab culture in Brazil, Islam as a religion has failed to remain as robust. Like their brethren in other parts of South America, early Muslim immigrants lacked the counsel or vision to realize that the establlishment of schools, mosques and social centers would be crucial in the retention of the Islamic character in later generations. As a result of this lack of foresight, second and third generation Muslim immigrants slowly drifted away from the religion of their forefathers. Only recently has Islam begun to rebound. A number of mosques dot the greater Sao Paulo area. The oldest and most popular of these is found on Av. Do Estado. Since its establishment 70 years ago, the mosque has added a Quranic school, a small library, a large kitchen and meeting hall for various functions. But despite its popularity, the Av. Do Estado mosque has suffered from a dearth of religious leadership.

As has been the case in many of the larger metropolitan mosques in South America, foreign assistance and individual effort have played major roles in the sustainability of the mosques in the greater Sao Paolo area.

For example the Imam of the Av. Do Estado Mosque is from the Middle East and often times Imams are chosen jointly by the Mosques’ management committees and the Arab governments that pay for the Imam’s services. While such support is sorely needed amongst South American Muslim communities, the prevalence of this foreign assistance signifies that the majority of Muslim communities do not have the educational infrastructure to produce an indigenous religious leadership. However, some of the local Muslims are making an effort to reduce this reliance on outside aid.

Ismail Hatia, a South African who came to Brazil in 1956, built a mosque in Campinas two years ago. Hatia, who also runs a language school, felt that the approximately 50 Muslim families in Campinas were in dire need of some community organization to help provide cohesion and direction for Muslims, especially the youth who have been lured away from Islamic practice by the attractions of the dominant culture.

The Campinas mosque now holds regular Friday congregational prayers and is in the process of establishing regular night prayers on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The mosque is currently in need of a full time Imam whose salary would be paid for by the Saudi Arabian government.

“We do not want to ask for donations as it could drive away some Muslims who have just started to come to the mosque,” says Hatia. “At the end of the month, two or three people, including myself, just pay the bills that come due.”

Despite the obstacles, this small community and many others throughout South America continue with endeavors to bring people back into the fold of Islam. And South American Muslims are indeed resurfacing after decades of hibernation. They are rediscovering their identity and forging unity and cohesiveness amongst their scattered communities; communities which, some day, could carry weight in social and political structures.

For more information on Islam and Muslims in South America please visit the Islamic Association of Latin America website at

3 thoughts on “Don't cry for me Argentina….”

  1. The Falklands War was a just war

    30 years ago today, on 2nd April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The ensuing Falklands War (or Guerra de las Malvinas) lasted 74 days (despite neither side never having actually declared war) and cost 255 British lives. In total, 904 people died and hundreds more were injured on the offence/defence of the islands . Argentina ultimately lost the war, though sovereignty is still disputed and exocets of rhetoric are even today being launched by both sides.

    There were those who viewed this conflict as the last gasp of British imperialism; others favoured negotiation and compromise. Still others wondered why on earth the United Kingdom had any interests at all in a few godforsaken and inhospitable rocks in the South Atlantic.

    The truth, of course, is that the inhabitants were and are British and free. This was a war between liberty and tyranny; freedom and oppression; good and evil. Margaret Thatcher knew that, even if some of her Cabinet colleagues and the US State Department did not. Since the Lord’s Prayer is no longer taught in our schools, it is highly unlikely that future generations will ever be introduced to Augustine or Aquinas. But to understand war and peace it is necessary to grasp the development of the understanding of evil, and so the ‘just war’. To Augustine, the Pax Romana was a false peace: Rome conquered and was herself conquered by her own lust to dominate over others. He wrote: ‘Think of all the battles fought, all the blood that was poured out, so that all the nations if Italy, by whose help the Roman Empire wielded that overwhelming power, should be subjugated as if they were barbarous savages.’ Rome was driven by a lust for vengeance and that impulse triumphed under the façade of peace. That Empire became a kingdom without justice, its rulers little more than a big-scale gang of criminality.

    Here Augustine famously repeats the story of rejoinder given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great when Alexander queried him about his idea in infesting the sea. ‘And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, “The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.”’ And so peace became another name for dominion. If the ravages of war are, in part, punishment for sin, human beings sin, often savagely, in enacting that punishment.

    If we reflect on the terrible slaughter of war carried out for wicked motives and to unworthy ends, we will determine to wage only limited, justifiable wars even as we lament that they must be waged. The wise ruler takes up arms only with great reluctance and penitence. Given Augustine’s account of limited justifiability, he is considered the grandfather of ‘just war’ thinking. It involves living, as the Falklanders now do, in the penumbra of fear and worry, because such insecurity is intrinsic to our transient, temporal humanity. As Augustine observed, the only place which promises eternal peace and security is ‘the mother, the Jerusalem which is free’.

    Margaret Thatcher waged a justifiable war of necessity against unwarranted and unprovoked aggression. She rescued the innocent and free from oppression and destruction. The motive was the love of kinship and the desire for a more authentic peace. This was the grudging endorsement of a lesser evil: the Falklands War was a tragic necessity. She did not engage in it to rescue herself, but in the understanding of her responsibility as a ruler for the well-being of a people who desired and desire to remain British and free.

    Today is a time to reflect on and lament even this justifiable war. Not to look back with grief marks one as pitiable: there were no victory parades in Augustine’s world; for, however just the cause, war stirs up temptations to ravish and devour, often in order to ensure peace. The Just War is a cautionary tale, not an incautious and reckless call to arms. For peace is a great good, and there is nothing better to be found.

  2. The Falklands/Malvinas: From history to a modern day story

    By Mariana Marcaletti

    Since 2006, 2 April has been a national holiday in Argentina to mark the beginning of the war with Great Britain over the Malvinas/Falklands islands. All over the country, we yesterday remembered a series of events that happened 30 years ago, and we cannot prevent our memories from being tinted with new versions of the past. Like Michel Foucault used to say, we cannot help reading old facts from our current perspective.

    In 1982, the whole country talked about Malvinas/Falklands and supported the attack. Making the most out of nationalism, the former military dictatorship encouraged everyone to write letters to people in combat, send them gifts and donations, because they were considered heroes. But when soldiers came back 74 days after 2 April, Argentine society seemed to turn a blind eye because they were perceived as losers.

    The defeat at war ousted the military government and gave way to the so-called process of desmalvinización: it was wrong to talk about the islands or mention the conflict, and starving soldiers returned home and were fed on their way back in order not to give the wrong (actually the right) impression. They couldn’t speak; they were encouraged to keep quiet throughout the nineties because nobody would listen to their words. Years went by, and the history of war, its aftermath and victims remained silent, until now.

    Over the past few years, we have been witnessing a new era as far as Malvinas/Falklands are concerned: the re-malvinización. We are discussing about the statement we were taught at schools that “Malvinas are Argentine” and we are taking a fresh glimpse of our past. Is this territory actually ours? Why did we go to war in the first place? Why did we lose? Is there any other way to get the islands back?

    The vision conveyed by the current government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner supports diplomatic negotiations and criticizes politics taken by the dictatorship. The president not only claims this through speeches and measures (like blocking trade or forbidding ships with the Falklands islands flag from circulating in Latin American shores), but also through news and fiction.

    The most emblematic social production fostered by the government is probably the cartoon La Asombrosa Excursión de Zamba en las Islas Malvinas (The Amazing Visit of Zamba to the Malvinas islands), aired yesterday in the state-run TV channel for children Paka Paka. In this episode, the boy Zamba travels back in time to 1982. The heroic soldier Sapucay tells him all about the war and Zamba ends up with a few discoveries: “I learned that Malvinas are Argentine and that the British occupied them long time ago and they won’t give them back. I also found out that our soldiers fought hard, they were really brave and stood up for our sovereignty. War is sad. I will never forget this story.”

    Apart from countless documentaries and TV specials by news programmes, Malvinas/Falklands also arouses the attention of other shows, like the local version of Dancing with Stars, the prime time, best-rated Bailando por un sueño. A rumour spread through gossip magazines has it that producers are looking for a former Argentine soldier to team up with a female kelper (islander) in the contest. International politics, in this view, becomes part of showbiz.

    Although the idea promoted by the reality TV show only pursues commercial interests, the Zamba cartoon suggests several interpretations. This story illustrates the official version of Malvinas/Falklands: the British are colonialists; they invaded our land and stole a territory that belongs to us.

    At present, the re-malvinización is stronger than ever before. On Twitter, the hashtag #MalvinasArgentinas was yesterday a trending topic in the country: “They Malvinas were, are and will be ours”, “If you are Latin American, join Argentina. Outside pirates from Latin America!”, “What’s the use of war? Let’s not forget, let’s not forgive”. Posters uploaded in the social network also claimed a similar cause.

    Still, on Twitter, people were more concerned about the lack of service of a cell phone company than about the islands. The same happened with newspapers: covers divided the attention between the coverage of Malvinas/Falklands and the victory of one of the country’s biggest soccer teams, Boca. So, it is a relative re-malvinización and maybe we will talk about something else when the anniversary blurs and new stories come along.

    Like Paka Paka’s cartoon proved, history can, indeed, be turned into a story. Maybe the best way to convert the undecided is to tell it as gripping fiction. So far, the re-malvinización is awakening interest through patriotic feelings that didn’t do us good some years ago. Nobody knows what the future holds in store; but at least we are reviewing our past.

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